USCB Helps Protect Water Quality in the Lowcountry
The Lowcountry consists of multiple counties, including Beaufort County, located in the coastal southern portion of South Carolina. The rivers of Beaufort County originate from the ocean rather than from inland areas, giving this area a uniqueness as compared with other coastal areas and allows for an optimal saltwater environment for the growth of shellfish, which is of pillar importance to this region, historically, socially, and economically. However, rapid population growth and development accompanied by land use changes over the past 20 years, increased impervious surfaces that foster the conveyance of contaminants and freshwater from stormwater runoff into the area’s waterways, resulting in decreased salinity and increased bacterial counts.
The Town of Bluffton, located along the May River in Beaufort County, experienced this degradation from land use changes as early as 2007, when South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) reported increasing fecal coliform concentrations at Shellfish Monitoring Stations in the headwaters of the May River. In response to the impending fecal coliform impairment, the Town of Bluffton established a formal partnership via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of South Carolina Beaufort to establish a water quality laboratory with funding provided by the Town of Bluffton for a laboratory manager and new equipment and fulfilling USCB’s mission of teaching, research, and service.
By 2009, the USCB Water Quality Laboratory was accepting weekly samples from both the Town of Bluffton and Beaufort County with the primary focus on identifying fecal coliform hotspots to identify failing septic systems, sewer overflows, or to identify the need for stormwater BMP (Best Management Practices) installations or retrofits. Since then, not only has the USCB Water Quality Laboratory increased areas served to include private communities but has expanded its analytical capabilities through a $250,000 contribution by Beaufort County for additional instrumentation to assume the analytical responsibilities of Beaufort County’s water quality monitoring program.
Both Beaufort County and Town of Bluffton have revised their water quality programs to include the requirements set forth by US EPA’S MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) Program and the USCB Water Quality Laboratory has accommodated accordingly. Currently, the laboratory holds and maintains SCDHEC State Certification (Certification # 07568001) for twelve parameters, including the much-needed microbiology methods. Holding certifications for pertinent water quality parameters allows the USCB Water Quality Laboratory to be an integral part of the surrounding community. Expansion to accommodate further entities is on the horizon as Beaufort County, Jasper County, the City of Beaufort, City of Hardeeville, Town of Port Royal and Yemassee work together on stormwater issues.
The USCB Water Quality Laboratory is located on USCB’s Bluffton campus in Beaufort County which is nearly 50% salt marsh and open water. These waterways have supported the Lowcountry’s community, commerce, cuisine, culture, and wildlife for hundreds of years. There isn’t a greater significance than to be part of the preservation of the backbone of this region.
Lab Director/LEAD Principal Investigator
One University Boulevard
Bluffton, SC 29909