It’s Your Money: Monitoring the quality of river and ocean water

It’s Your Money: Monitoring the quality of river and ocean water

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) -Horry County spends more than half a million dollars annually to monitor the quality of water throughout the county.

“A good stormwater management program is having an understanding of the condition of our local natural waters in order to recognize if we have a water pollution problem and prevent future problems by looking for trends both positive and negative,” said Horry County stormwater manager Tom Garigen.

Garigen said county uses $580,000 to monitor river and ocean water in the area.

This amount is funded from stormwater fees collected from properties in unincorporated areas of the county. Garigen explained there are no grants to do what is required by a permit.

Horry County operates with a Phase II permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The NPDES is a federal Clean Water Act program established to protect waterways throughout the country from harmful pollutants.

A phase II permit means Horry County must comply with six control measures: public education/ outreach, public involvement, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site stormwater runoff control, post-construction stormwater management and pollution prevention.

Garigen said the county goes beyond what is required.

“While we do more than the minimum necessary, it’s because we care about the health of our waters and our citizens and visitors,” he said.

Here’s a look at how this cost breaks down:

United States Geological Survey

The county pays the United States Geological Survey $368,000 a year to install and maintain seven gauges along the county’s rivers. The gauges measure river elevations and river flow to help with predict flood patterns. USGS also has devices that measure the water quality of the rivers. USGS takes the data from these devices and makes it publicly available.

Coastal Carolina University

Coastal Carolina University (CCU) receives $54,500 for additional testing along the river that require lab testing like fecal bacteria levels.

CCU operates an Environmental Quality Lab that works with outside agencies for projects addressing environmental problems of the Waccamaw watershed and offers technical assistance on water quality analysis.

Data from these tests can be viewed here: http://bccmws.coastal.edu/river_gauge/

Coordinated Ocean Water Quality testing

Another $75,000 a year is paid to Coastal Carolina University to test ocean waters for bacteria. This responsibility is shared with other coastal municipalities, including North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach. The three municipalities pay CCU for remote water testing and weather sensors that monitor oxygen and radon levels.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental (SCDHEC) also monitors ocean water levels with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, but only from May 1 to October 1.

CCU conducts tests year-round and reports its findings to the SCDHEC. The department issues swimming advisories based on the data.

The results from those tests cane be viewed here: https://gis.dhec.sc.gov/beachaccess/

Volunteer water testing program

The county pays $82,544 to CCU to provide test equipment and other supplied for the volunteer water testing program. Volunteers test water quality at the Waccamaw River in nine different locations. Data on bacteria, temperature and oxygen are collected twice a month. This data is used to establish trends and identify pollutants. The county provides the funding and CCU trains volunteers and control the data gathered.

You can view this information here: http://bccmws.coastal.edu/volunteermonitoring/index.html.

In 2018, the county allocated nearly $6 million for the stormwater management fund. The water monitoring efforts used around 10 percent of those funds.

Horry County 2019 budget stated the Stormwater Fund will increased by $2.2 million dollars for 2019 as the county increased stormwater fees by $15 to fund six additional staff members.

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