March 6, 2024

Groups take action against Georgetown County for Clean Water Act violations

MURRELLS INLET, SC – On March 6, 2024, on behalf of Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc., the South Carolina Environmental Law Project sent a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue letter to Georgetown County for serious and ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibits the discharge of pollutants into streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water unless the discharge complies with certain sections of the CWA. Section 402 provides for the issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, authorizing the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters subject to the conditions of each respective permit. In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) administers a general NPDES permit for stormwater discharges from MS4s (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) – which are systems of conveyances, including curbs, gutters, ditches, man-made channels and other storm drains that discharge into bodies of water. Over 70 municipalities in the state are granted coverage under a “small MS4” general permit, including Georgetown County.

Georgetown County has failed to ensure that it has adequate resources to comply with the requirements of this NPDES stormwater permit. The County has consistently ignored provisions that require it to actively carry out a monitoring and assessment plan for water bodies that don’t meet state water quality standards. The County also has not completed inspections of construction sites as required by regulation and regularly overlooks serious stormwater deficiencies. These deficiencies involve the failure to implement measures to safeguard against pollution, like using silt fences and properly constructing retention ponds. As a result, the water quality in Murrells Inlet and beyond has suffered and continues to suffer.

“Georgetown County’s Stormwater Permit requires them to make progress every year to reduce bacteria in stormwater discharges,” said Sandra Bundy, a member of Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc. “They have not fulfilled this responsibility. The County has a long history of disregard for its obligation to comply with Clean Water Act requirements, and a recent DHEC audit confirmed this.”

DHEC’s 2023 study on Shellfish Management in Area 04 (covering Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island/Litchfield), which analyzed sources of bacterial pollution, indicated that fecal coliform found in water bodies was likely not a result of municipal and community waste treatment facilities, or industrial wastewater discharges. In its report, DHEC said of stormwater runoff, “As stormwater flows over a construction site, it can pick up pollutants like sediment, debris, and chemicals and transport these to a nearby storm sewer system or directly to a river, lake, coastal waterway, or shellfish growing areas.”

“The Clean Water Act was designed to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters and, with regard to NPDES permits like Georgetown’s, to eliminate discharge of contaminated stormwater into these waters,” said Amy Armstrong, executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project. “As a resident of Georgetown County, I am alarmed by the numerous instances of failure to prevent such discharges, along with the lack of management of construction sites. Clearly, we have a serious problem when our shellfish harvesting grounds are becoming more polluted, not less.”

Georgetown County’s failure to comply with the regulations set forth in its NPDES permit, combined with intense rapid development in Murrells Inlet, has created a critical tipping point for water quality that must be addressed immediately.

“The results of the water sampling sites in Murrells Inlet for many years tell us that the creek waters there are severely degraded, and are likely getting worse,” said Leon Rice, current president of Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc. “Georgetown County has a legal duty to monitor new construction sites and runoff drainage issues within the watershed to prevent pollution but has failed to do so. We are now seeking a meaningful response from the County on issues that have been plaguing it for many years and are hoping that the letter spurs serious commitments to addressing stormwater runoff and water quality.”

“Murrells Inlet’s economy and quality of life depends on excellent water quality for fishing, shellfish harvesting and swimming,” said Bundy. “Georgetown County must work with its citizens to protect and improve our most valuable local resource, especially in the face of intense development.”


Amy Armstrong, Executive Director
South Carolina Environmental Law Project
(843) 527-0078

Leon Rice, President
Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc.
(843) 651-9977


The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm. We use our legal expertise to protect land, water and communities across South Carolina. Learn more at

The ecological health of Murrells Inlet, both as a waterway and a community, is totally dependent upon considerate and enlightened land use during the development of the community. Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc. (PMI) is dedicated to preserving the creeks of the Inlet and preserving the character and quality of life in the village by promoting sensible housing and development densities in order to maintain its unique character. PMI will use vigilance, public support, education and cooperation with governmental agencies to effect these ends.

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Groups take action against Georgetown County for Clean Water Act violations

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