July 9, 2013

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A recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council raises questions about water quality at many of South Carolina’s most popular beaches, especially those along the Grand Strand.  Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches is released annually by the NRDC,  a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, and is based on a review of testing data from both EPA and state environmental agencies.

According to this year’s report, beaches in Horry County are South Carolina’s dirtiest, with bacteria levels exceeding the daily maximum standard in 15% of samples.  In contrast, beaches in Charleston County are the cleanest, with no samples exceeding the standard. Overall South Carolina was ranked 26th out of the 30 states that were analyzed for beachwater quality.

As reported in The State newspaper spokespersons for DHEC and the City of Myrtle Beach, among others, have a variety of criticisms of the NRDC report, pointing out that its rankings and analysis are arguably flawed in that they are based on data from different states and each state has its own method of testing and sampling.  Storm water runoff is thought to be one of the chief causes of higher bacteria levels, and South Carolina’s monitoring program is deliberately designed to test water quality at swashes and outfalls, where water quality is expected to be poorest, and in places where water quality has fallen below standard in the past.