Experts talk water quality with hospitality, tourism industry employees

Experts talk water quality with hospitality, tourism industry employees

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's environmental manager for Myrtle Beach said water quality along the Grand Strand is improving when comparing current long-term swim advisories against those of the last few years.

This was brought up during a Tuesday meeting at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which was organized by the North Inlet Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Preserve.

Sean Torrnes, and SCDHEC environmental manager, said the Grand Strand had 16 long-term swim advisories last year. Now, that number is down to 14.

"I'd hope that that would be some of a reflection of the efforts that we've got going on here on the land between the cities and the counties and the towns that are investing resources in some bigger infrastructure types of projects to try to address legacy issues," said Dave Fuss, watershed planner with Horry County Stormwater.

In 2014, there were 32 long-term swim advisories. Of those that are left, Torrens said only one isn't associated with a stormwater drainage pipe or swash.

He added urbanized runoff is the biggest concern for the beaches.

Torrens said the long-term advisories are based on five years of historical data and only a small portion of that data has to meet the top threshold for the bacteria count in order for the spot to be under that kind of advisory.

"Ten percent is all it takes to put a long-term advisory on there," he said. "So we're really being super cautious about when we put the long-term advisories up.".

Areas under long-term advisories are still safe for wading, walking and shell collecting, as the advisory only extends out 400 feet.

When word spreads on social media of swim advisories, hotels hear about it too.

"We have had a lot of calls from guests inquiring is it safe to swim in the beaches, should I cancel my vacation, etc.," said Juli Pray, director of management for DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Myrtle Beach Oceanfront.

Prior to 2016, there were not a lot of calls about water quality, according to Pray. She said the inquiries affected business.

"We can't say it didn't have an impact on revenues last year," Pray said. "It absolutely did."

While preparing for the upcoming tourist season, Pray came to the MBACC's information session to hear from the experts themselves about the status of the water.

"Is the problem truly exasperated like it was last year?" she said. "Like he said, the data showed every year it's going down, it's going down, it's going down. I personally have a better feel for it and comfort level for giving that information to our guests."

DHEC employees recommend tourists visit the agency's website to see all of the information about swim advisories and what they mean.

Fuss said sometimes people only hear of swim advisories, but they don't really know what that means. He added the county is part of the education efforts.

"When they just hear something, 'Oh my gosh, there's a problem at the beach,' they're not really looking into it and gathering that information," he said. "For us being able to insert some of that information into that, the way that information stream is flowing may be helpful to give people resources to look at it and evaluate it independently instead of just getting caught up in the panic attack."

Torrens said stormwater is really the main issue when it comes to water quality, but he added one factor right now during the off-season is the number of seagulls on the beach that aren't as present during the summer. Their waste causes water contamination.

Fuss said there is always an inherent risk with anything, but the risk of traveling to come to the beach on vacation is likely higher than the chance of getting sick from the water.

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