E. coli, Swimming Safety, Citizen Science, and YOU!

Any day now, temperatures should drop, and we will begin what I believe to be the best season in South Carolina – the Fall! This is not just a football-induced admiration. Fall is a great time to be outdoors and on the water. It’s also our best season to appreciate the culinary treasures of our estuaries – shrimp and oysters!

SC Department of Health & Environmental Control is charged with managing our SC waterways for safe recreation.

SC Department of Health & Environmental Control is charged with managing our SC waterways for safe recreation.
Clemson University

SC DHEC is our state’s authority on monitoring and managing the safety and suitability of waterways to serve drinking water, ecosystem, and recreational uses. The state maintains approximately 800 monitoring stations where water chemistry and bacteria are measured. In DHEC’s 2018 assessment of sites, 318 of these monitoring stations failed to meet standards for bacteria. Of these, 261 sites were in freshwater and failed due to E. coli colonies above acceptable limits for swimming and contact recreation. While E. coli may trigger thoughts of headlines and food recalls, E. coli is also the national recommended parameter to determine safety of our swimming freshwaters by the US Environmental Protection Agency. (In saltwater, recreational safety is determined by measuring a different bacteria, Enterococcus.)

While some E. coli is harmless and even has beneficial uses, some specific strains of E. coli can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. E. coli is found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals; therefore, its presence in a river is an indication of fecal-related pollution. This could include more harmful bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. More information on E. coli and waterway health will soon be available in an HGIC factsheet.

Whether you live in a rural community or in one of South Carolina’s growing cities, healthy waterways are a part of our culture, enjoyment, and economic prosperity.

With SC Adopt-a-Stream, volunteers can attend free workshops to learn how to sample, test, and record results for E. coli in freshwaters. This program is co-lead by Clemson and SC DHEC, along with several training partners.
Katie Ann Callahan, ©2019, Clemson University

Clemson University and SC DHEC are building partnerships across the state to certify residents in collecting data on our streams and soon, our estuaries. Following certification, volunteers are provided access to equipment to conduct their own citizen science monitoring. One of the protocols offered for certification is Bacteria Monitoring in our freshwater systems, allowing this monitoring network to narrow down where E. coli pollution may be occurring, when, and how it impacts downstream state monitoring stations. This collection of baseline data is non-regulatory and can help local authorities allocate resources better and respond more quickly to locally identified problems. The program is the SC Adopt-a-Stream program and offers FREE trainings at regular intervals across the state. You can learn more at www.scadoptastream.org and sign up for our E-News to continue to stay updated with program information.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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