Organization keeps close eye on bacteria levels in Charleston waterways

posted by Brad Streicher, Reporter/MMJ - 

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

A series of storms passing through the Charleston area has left waterways contaminated with high levels of bacteria in recent weeks, according to tests done by Charleston Waterkeeper.

Just last week, authorities from the organization reported 11 of 15 Charleston waterways had high levels of bacteria. Two of those waterways had about 50 times the state standard for safe bacteria levels.

"Rainfall drives water quality," Charleston Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderly said. "The more it's been raining, the worse water quality is. The less it's been raining, generally the better it is."

South Carolina standards note water is unsafe to swim in if measurements read 104 MPN/100 mL or higher.

Charleston Waterkeeper conducts weekly tests of local waterways that are popular for recreation from May through October.

A small team spends three hours every Wednesday morning during those months collecting small samples of water in designated waterways.

Samples are collected by two teams from 15 sites. One team collects water samples from land, while another collects the samples from the water.

"The sites aren't random sites," Wunderly said. "They're areas where we know folks are using the water, areas where we know folks are recreating, where they're paddling, where they're swimming, where they're sailing."

After the water is collected, the samples are sent to a lab at the College of Charleston, where they are analyzed for bacteria levels. The lab determines the results on Thursday and official readings are usually published by Charleston Waterkeeper on Friday morning.

"We unfortunately a lot of times are the bearer of bad news about local waterways," Wunderly said.

Charleston Waterkeeper's Andrew Wunderly said one of the most difficult parts of the testing is when the team sees people swimming in water they know to be contaminated. He said he often tries to warn people of the potential danger.

Representatives from Charleston Waterkeeper said the team continues to test the water and publish the results because they believe people have a right to know the condition of the water they are swimming in.

"We do this work so the public can have access to this information and know whether or not it's safe to go in," Wunderly said.

Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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