MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Have you ever wondered why advisories and warning signs are posted on the beach, urging you to stay out of the water?
The Watershed Assessment Report came about from a combination of efforts between the City of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Georgetown County, Horry County and Coastal Carolina University. This two-year study looked at what's going into the water.
Local scientists and officials in stormwater departments are testing different possible sources one by one, and the first up is your dog. Stormwater Program Coordinator Janet Wood says she is one of the people involved in the mission "to tackle this concern that we all have about elevated levels of bacteria in the water."
For the first time, local researchers are backing away from the beach, to find out the source.
"No studies have gone deep into the basin," said Wood.
It's a scientific "who-dunnit," and the first suspect is man's best friend. Researchers started the investigation with testing the stormwater runoff in the Withers Swash watershed. Its water trail spreads across a lot of Myrtle Beach, from 17th Avenue South all the way to 21st Avenue North.
Wood literally took to the streets, and walked for miles around the city to record all the evidence. Then she and other researchers compared it with water samples at the lab.
That's when things got a little hairy.
In some areas there was a very strong presence of dog waste in the water. It starts on the ground, the rain rushes it down the drains and pipes, and it can travel miles and eventually end up swimming with you in the ocean.
Many local dog owners had no idea.
"Wow," said Keoni Jackson. "Okay."
"It's pretty disgusting. It should be handled properly," said Ballard.
Wood says it should, but the truth is a lot of dog owners don't.
"Science was telling us, yeah we see it," said Wood. "We know it's there."
A Coastal Marine and Wetlands Studies grad student from CCU took a GPS unit to mark points on a map, and several dog droppings are piling up even at a local dog park, and that's just one area.
They hope this will get the attention of dog owners.
"Activities that we do every day have an influence on our water quality," Wood said.
But dogs are not the only culprits when it comes to adding bacteria to the water. Local researchers are saving water samples, so that as they get more funding and tools, they'll be able to test for other animals, like raccoons, deer, horses, and ducks. This study is a first in South Carolina, and there are plans to expand it to Murrells Inlet and other watersheds in the area.
Stormwater managers tell WMBF News these tests are crucial to finding out how to keep the water in our area and the ocean clean.
In the meantime, the Coastal Waccamaw Education Consortium has been working on a Pet Waste Campaign to inform dog owners of how they can help. They plan to launch a full-scale campaign in the Grand Strand starting in September.