South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Local group files petition to DHEC to improve recreational water quality standards
June 25th, 2019

By Paola Tristan Arruda, Live 5 WCSC

A local organization is urging South Carolina regulators to implement stricter recreational water quality standards for Charleston’s waterways.

On Tuesday, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) filed a petition on behalf of the Charleston Waterkeeper, a local water quality nonprofit, to the State’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.

According to a news release, “the group petitioned the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to begin the process of imposing a more protective standard for enterococci—bacteria that indicate the presence of fecal waste and disease-causing pathogens in water.”

Andrew Wunderley, the executive director for Charleston Waterkeeper, says the standard the department has now is five times higher than what the group considers to be safe for recreational waters.

If the regulations are changed, waterways like Shem Creek, Charleston Harbor Wappoo Cut, and Clark Sound, will have stricter water quality guidelines.

The release continues to say,

"Since 2013, Charleston Waterkeeper has tested more than 380 samples from three distinct locations in Shem Creek, and their results consistently show extreme excess of acceptable levels of enterococci. On average, Shem Creek’s enterococci count is 830 MPN/100 mL, nearly twice the Class SB standard of 501 MPN/100 mL, and eight times the Class SA standard of 104 MPN/100 mL.

The state’s current standard for Class SB waters appears to be based on outdated guidelines from the EPA’s 1986 recreational water quality criteria and severely underestimates the extent of the water quality problem in Shem Creek and all other Class SB waters. Applying a new standard of 104 MPN/100 mL to Class SB waters would emphasize the severity of bacteria impairment in all coastal waters and highlight restoration priorities for regulators, dischargers, and the public.

The Waterkeeper seeks this rule change in order to have a consistent recreational standard across all saltwater quality classifications, to comply with current scientific findings, and to address societal concerns and community expectations."

“It’s about the health of people that like to swim and like to paddle, like to sail. If bacteria levels are too high we risk getting sick," said Wunderley.

In a statement to Live 5 News DHEC stated, “DHEC has received the petition from Charleston Waterkeeper/S.C Environmental Law Project. We welcome their input, and staff are currently reviewing the petition.”

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