DHEC posts signs on beaches with consistently poor water quality

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Many parents don't want their children swimming in water with high levels of bacteria, or poor water quality. Those levels are more common in Horry County than anywhere else in the state. But now, the way DHEC is notifying the public about water qualities has changed a bit.

Small posted signs along the beach are the warning, and they're easy to walk by, but DHEC says the signs are posted near areas that regularly test high for bacteria levels and poor water quality.

There are 29 of them posted across the Grand Strand, from Surfside Beach up through Myrtle Beach. They indicate swimming in the water is not advised. DHEC says, as the signs note, wading, fishing and collecting shells don't pose a risk. But swimmers are advised not to enter the water, particularly young children and the elderly.

Because the water quality levels in these areas regularly tests higher for bacteria and worse water quality, DHEC is relying on the permanent signs to warm swimmers, day in and day out.

This has led members of the community to question why DHEC does not release media advisories in these 29 spots when levels worsen. DHEC says it can't guarantee visitors will see or read the news, so a standing permanent sign is the best place to notify swimmers about the water, which is what the Environmental Protection Agency suggests.

But lifeguards on the beach aren't sure the signs are the best way to reach swimmers the way they are now.

"They're not well-marked at all, so, I didn't even know this was here," said lifeguard Ian Anderson. Anderson and his co-worker said they rarely, if ever, get questions about the signs.

Anderson thinks DHEC should "definitely mark it better. Put it in a better position. Have it, maybe, with a better color so people actually notice the dangers of it, especially as severe as chemicals going in the water. And actually, the positioning of it is, it's in a bad spot because it faces the ocean. And who really faces this way on the ocean? So I can't expect anyone to really see it."

DHEC says the water levels are tested about weekly. People can actually check whether the water quality is good, and where DHEC advises against swimming before going to the beach by visiting the website: http://gisweb01.dhec.sc.gov/wsBeachAdvisory/Index.html.

Outside those 29 problem spots, if DHEC gets a water quality test back that shows too-high levels of bacteria or poor water quality, a temporary swimming advisory will be released.

That is sent to the media to get the message to viewers.

But it is important to note the beach isn't shut down in these cases. It's swimmers' call whether to swim or let children swim.

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