NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Bacteria in the watershed surrounding Cherry Grove has restricted shellfish harvesting on and off in the area for the past several years, but that could finally change after the city develops a watershed management plan.
Kevin Blayton, public works director for North Myrtle Beach, said the city has been trying to take a closer look at the bacteria sources in the watershed for the past ten years, but this is the first grant to come through for the city to be able to actually carry out that idea.
"We certainly don't want to discourage people from coming into town who visit the marsh to either fish or to shellfish in that area, so it ends up being somewhat of a tourist attraction, but also servicing the local population as well," Blayton said.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control will fund the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments, or COG, with a $21,000 grant to put together a watershed management plan.
COG will work with North Myrtle Beach, Horry County and Coastal Carolina University to evaluate bacteria levels from the Intracoastal Waterway to the beach in the Cherry Grove, Hog Inlet, Dunn Sound Creek and Little River Neck areas.
COG will mainly look at data DHEC already collects from nine sites around the watershed on a monthly basis.
Then, experts will identify sources of bacteria, such as septic systems, wildlife or pet waste.
"There's parts of the area that are urbanized, the Hog Inlet, for example, Cherry Grove, right along the oceanfront there," said Daniel Newquist, an environmental planner with COG. "And then you have other areas that are more rural, Little River Neck."
COG will write up a plan for how to control the bacteria with the end goal of increasing shellfish harvesting again.
Examples of bacteria mitigation tactics are educational programs for residents to pick up pet waste or infrastructure improvements.
"Areas that are relying on septic systems, either replacing the septic systems or potentially connecting them to the centralized sewer system," Newquist said.
Murrells Inlet is testing out storm drain filters after COG completed its study of the marsh there in 2014.
"We've been told by some of the folks at DHEC that ours was a really great example and they want to use that to hold up for other communities to sort of follow as a guide," said Stephen Williams, a board member for Murrells Inlet 2020.
Volunteers monitor bacteria levels around the marsh in Murrells Inlet and Williams said they'll evaluate the data to see what works.
"In the short term, we can look at some of that data and how it relates to what we put in place to see if some of these things are effective or not effective," he said.
COG wants to hear what people living in the North Myrtle Beach area think about the bacteria problem, so the community is invited to an informational meeting on March 10th at 5:30 p.m. at Boulineau's IGA.