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South Carolina Beach Water Monitoring Set To Begin …

And the ‘Dirty Myrtle’ is once again under the microscope … literally.

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South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) is preparing to begin its seasonal water quality monitoring efforts at more than a hundred locations along the Palmetto State’s 187-mile coastline.

By the time this season is over, though, these responsibilities will have shifted to a brand new state agency.

SCDHEC’s bureau of water – which runs the coastal monitoring program – is one of several divisions of the agency that’s set to be folded into the new S.C. Department of Environmental Services (SCDES), an agency scheduled to come into existence on July 1, 2024. The public health components of SCDHEC will be folded into a new S.C. Department of Public Health (SCDPH).

For those of you unfamiliar with this program, the water bureau collects weekly (or bi-weekly) samples from 122 locations ranging “from Cherry Grove Beach near the South Carolina-North Carolina border to the southern end of Hilton Head Island.”

According to a release from SCDHEC, the monitoring will begin on May 1, 2024 and continue through October 30, 2024.



When these samples turn up elevated levels of bacteria, SCDHEC issues public notices to swimmers and beach-goers. Specifically, the agency tests for enterococci? bacteria – which are bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, including humans.

“If levels of?enterococci?bacteria exceed the standard limit, we quickly issue a short-term swimming advisory for that portion of the beach to help alert beachgoers,”?said Bryan Rabon, aquatic science program manager at the bureau of water.?“A swimming advisory doesn’t mean a beach is closed, it just means that particular area of ocean water should be avoided until the bacteria levels return to normal. Most short-term swimming advisories last just a single day.” 

SCDHEC issues two types of warnings – short-term and long-term. Short-term warnings last 24-48 hours and are issued “when two consecutive water samples exceed the state water quality standard,” which is 104 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters (104 CFU/100mL). Such warnings are often issued after storms when “heavy rains … (wash) pollutants into the ocean.”




Longer-term warnings are issued year-round for areas which have “an increased possibility of high bacteria levels, typically where stormwater from pipes or small creeks flows across the beach and into the ocean.”

According to Rabon, “it’s considered safe to wade, collect shells and fish within a swimming advisory area, but we advise people who enter the water in an affected area to refrain from swallowing it, and we also advise people with open wounds or compromised immune systems to avoid contact with the water in a swim advisory area.”? 

South Carolina’s beaches have historically been among the dirtiest in the nation – especially the beaches in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a.k.a. the “Dirty Myrtle.” That trend has continued in recent years. According to the latest “Safe for Swimming” report by Environment America – published last July – Myrtle Beach featured “potentially unsafe levels of fecal indicator criteria” on 61 out of 74 (or 82 percent of) testing days in 2022.

Count on this media outlet to keep tabs on water quality levels over the course of the coming months … as we also continue keeping tabs on the agency (agencies?) doing the monitoring.



(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.



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1 comment

CongareeCatfish Top fan April 19, 2024 at 3:45 pm

Aw shucks!- nothing a little bactine wash and some antiseptic mouthwash [like Wild Turkey 101] can’t handle!


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