Grant to benefit water, marsh walk and Murrells Inlet economy

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - Murrells Inlet, it's a place you boat, fish and eat. Thanks to grant money, the water might get a lot cleaner; it's all part of a new effort, the inlet community plans to dive into.

You can't just look at the water and tell it's safe, healthy and bacteria-free, but it is important to make sure it is, so thousands of dollars are being poured into the inlet. The money will be used to roll out a pilot program to see what works and keeps our inlet clean. It's all part of a grant from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The total amount requested for the grant is $271,742.79, That breaks down to $161,890.30 in federal funds and $109,852.49 in non-federal funds.

The program will be broken into three parts:

  • One, floating treatment wetlands which is essentially adding plants to the inlet to feast on bacteria, removing it naturally. The plan is to target two specific ponds.
  • The second part involves roadside ditches that discharge storm water into the inlet. By adding engineered bacteria filter strips to these ditches this will help remove the bacteria in the storm water, before it gets to the ditch, and even more important - before it gets to the inlet, your fish, and food.
  • Finally, the third part, constructing a storm water wetland, this will be on Murrells Inlet 2020 property near the bike bridge.

All these pieces add up to a big puzzle, to improve the inlet water. If this pilot program works, it can be used on a much greater scale.

"Trying to determine how effective some of these are early on will allow us to figure out long term which ones are better, and develop a strategy to implement those in a more timely fashion," said Stephen Williams with Earthworks Planning and Design Consultants.

This is a multi-jurisdictional project. The organizations involved are the Waccamaw Regional Council of Government, Murrells Inlet 2020, and Horry and Georgetown counties.

The overall goal is to improve the water quality which will impact Murrells Inlet as a whole. For example, when you head to local restaurants on the Marsh Walk, a good portion of the fish you eat, comes from just steps away, the inlet. Shrimp, oysters, clams, flounder, and grouper are some of those fish.

How the grant impacts Inlet businesses

When it comes to the Inlet, for local businesses, its sink or swim.

"During the summer I would say 90 percent of the tourists come in for local seafood," said Sean English, owner of Harrelson's Seafood.

It's places like Harrelson's Seafood, and the Marsh Walk restaurants that rely on the inlet, since that's where most of the fish they get, comes from. If water quality isn't up to par, neither is the fish and It's not just the fish and local businesses that suffer, but also you.

"I mean if the water quality was bad enough and we were forced to get it someplace else, it would impact their pocketbooks. By buying as much locally as we can, we try to keep our prices down," said English.

The Murrells Inlet community does not want to see this happen. Especially since the economic impact of the salt marsh is about $720 million, according to CCU Researchers. To keep that cash coming in, we've got to keep bacteria out of the water.

The new grant from DHEC, will make sure it stays clean. If the pilot program shows success, we may see it roll out on a broader scale, which organizers say will have a broader impact on the Inlet.

"There's a big incentive, not only for the businesses that rely on harvesting seafood from the inlet but also for the residents that like to go out there and casually harvest seafood for recreational reasons," said Williams. "Protecting our big economic engine is within everybody's interest."

As far as the project goes, the plan is to start assessing sites by the end of this year, beginning of next, but the overall project will span 30-36 months.

Copyright 2014 WMBF News. All rights reserved.