While our efforts to protect water from current threats are often reactive because we are fighting existing harmful activities, our efforts to protect water from future threats are also proactive as we work to advance legal protections and improve standards before additional natural systems become imperiled.
At the start the 2021 Legislative session, we secured a consistent and more protective bacteria standard for recreational saltwaters throughout the state. The new water quality regulation was the result of a year-and-a-half long effort we initiated with the Charleston Waterkeeper to better protect citizens who recreate in these waterways and to comply with current scientific findings.
Regulation 61-68, Water Classifications and Standards was amended so both Class SA and Class SB saltwaters have the same daily maximum enterococci standard of 104 MPN per 100 ml. Enterococci are bacteria that indicate the presence of fecal waste and disease-causing pathogens in water.
“This is big win for public health and anyone that likes to swim, paddle, boat, or just jump off the neighborhood dock. Nobody should have to risk getting sick just to take a swim. Our local creeks and rivers deserve the highest levels of water quality protection. We’re glad DHEC and the General Assembly recognize that too and acted to close this loophole,” said Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderley.
Prior to the rule change, the enterococci standard for Class SB saltwaters—a class of waters that includes Shem Creek, Charleston Harbor as a whole, Wappoo Creek, among others—was 501 MPN/100 mL. That meant the previous standard allowed nearly 5-times more bacteria than Class SA waters, even though both SB and SA waters are used for the same recreational purposes, such as paddling and swimming.
The new regulation will emphasize the severity of bacteria impairment in all such waters, highlight restoration priorities and hopefully help speed cleanup of many popular and iconic recreational waterways.
“This is an important first step towards improving the water quality of coastal waterways that desperately need it, such as Shem Creek here in Mount Pleasant,” said SCELP staff attorney Leslie Lenhardt. “We will continue our efforts with our partner Charleston Waterkeeper to protect and improve the waters we use and enjoy in the Charleston area.”
To hear an overview of the reasons for requesting the changes from Leslie and Andrew (recorded before the rules were officially changed), check out the video below!
But our work here has just begun. Along with advancing rules that give greater protection to water quality, we are working to improve statewide drinking water standards and regulations tied to the discharges from mines. We're also harnessing underutilized rules, including South Carolina’s 74 Municipal Separate Stormwater System (MS4) permits and the growing number of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) approved to remedy an ever-expanding list of impaired water bodies.