High bacteria levels found in Charleston area waterways


As of Wednesday, a number of Charleston area waterways have dangerously high levels of fecal bacteria.

Every Wednesday a local water quality nonprofit called Charleston Waterkeepers goes out on the water and collects samples from local waterways to then test for bacteria.

Shem Creek area 3, Ellis Creek, and the Ashley River near Brittlebank Park showed high levels of fecal matter found in the water, and it's recommended you stay out of it, according to the Charleston Waterkeepers latest Water Report.

According to South Carolina's water quality standard for water-based recreational activity, swimming is not recommended in water containing bacteria counts of 104 MPN/100mL or higher.

The portion of Shem Creek that had high levels of bacteria may not be the area that comes to many people's mind.

"Shem Creek is broken up into three regions, the upper creek almost to the McDonalds on Bowman is the area of Shem Creel 3," said Benjamin Toy, the co-owner of Nature Adventures on Shem Creek.

When it comes to what's being done to make waterways safer and lower bacteria levels, DHEC officials said Wednesday that there are ways to lower bacteria levels.

DHEC officials also said that DHEC, local municipalities, the Charleston Waterkeeper, and local organizations are constantly working to improve the water quality.

Officials attributed heavy rainfall to why the bacteria levels are high, and remain high.

However, officials said recent levels weren't high enough to believe it was directly related to a sewer line break or overflow.

When it comes to why no signage is posted for people to know when the water bacteria levels are high, officials with DHEC said it's because the bacteria levels can change drastically in a very short period.

Officials said they try to educate communities on when it's safe to swim instead of posting signs that could be dated.

According to DHEC, there is always a risk when it comes to swimming in a natural water body and you can't know when it's 100% safe.

Officials advise you to not go swimming right after a rain event, avoid swimming in a swallowing river, stream, or lake and never swim with an open wound.

As for Toy who works out on the Shem Creek every day, he said not many people go swimming in that area without a vessel, but still puts safety first.

"Safety is our number one key as much as we try to make sure folks know to be cautions of oyster and oyster cuts, we also don't want people swimming in that area," said Toy. "We will give the precautions and if anyone mentions it, we explain how to avoid that, where to avoid that, and what to do if there is an issue, especially with a fresh water hose washing off."

Charleston Waterkeepers collects water samples every Wednesday.

This week's newest report will be published on Thursday.

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