They aren’t talking trash. Water experts have another idea for keeping South Carolina clean, one that’s already proven.
“This is something I think you can expect to see, from Wylie to Wateree, people getting involved with,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is partnering with Clemson University Center for Watershed Excellence to create a new water quality monitoring program that relies on public help.
South Carolina Adopt-a-Stream is similar to a successful program in Georgia. A website and database for water quality monitoring data, training classes and other resources will be provided to volunteer groups. Those groups will spend several hours each month documenting stream conditions and alerting authorities of water quality problems, illegal discharges and other issues.
"This is an exciting opportunity to engage the public in a program to promote water quality awareness and provide interested residents opportunities to protect our shared water resources," said Katie Buckley, director of the Clemson watershed center.
The Georgia program, she said, has about 60 groups monitoring more than 100 streams. Program leaders hope South Carolina’s program sees similar success.
"South Carolina is home to some of the most beautiful streams, rivers and watersheds in the world, and we are committed to doing our part to protect these beloved natural resources," said Catherine Heigel, DHEC director. "Our citizens deserve the opportunity to fish, swim and play in clean rivers and streams, and this program helps make that a reality."
Adopt-a-Stream is not a litter pickup campaign. York County has an Adopt-a-Stream program dating back eight years, similar to Adopt-a-Highway where volunteers collect trash. The first stream adopted was Crowders Creek in Lake Wylie.
“We encourage residents of York County to adopt a portion of stream and clean the trash around the stream at least twice a year,” said Caci Nance, program coordinator. “We also ask participants to submit an analysis sheet that gives us a little more information about the health of the stream.”
The county effort is part of its stormwater permit with the state.
“We currently have four active groups cleaning up over 5 miles of streams,” Nance said. “We are always looking for more community participation.”
The new state program is different.
Perkins, who took the new training, said the Lake Wylie Covekeepers and other groups used to do chemical testing of area waterways. In recent years, they’ve focused mainly on runoff and sedimentation.
"We're not doing anything like that right now,” Perkins said. “In the past, Covekeepers have done some bacteria sampling and water quality monitoring in conjunction with Winthrop (University).”
Perkins is hopeful the program will provide standardized data with a variety of uses.
"It is a program focused on generating good, dependable data from highly trained and certified volunteers,” he said. "It's something that is really going to help South Carolina if (the state) fully embraces it."
Since a major state agency is behind it, odds are good results could be used to make changes.
"It's not just that it's well supported,” Perkins said. “It's a good framework to where you know the data is going to be considered by regulators. This gets it consistent and credible. I really hope South Carolina will use that data."
State waterways can be placed on an impaired list, signaling poor water quality, for a number of reasons. Sampling macroinvertebrates, bacteria levels and other results can put a stream, river or lake on it. Yet, water experts say, water testing is expensive and in places irregular.
"One of the biggest problems we have in water quality monitoring is that samples just don't get taken in space and time,” Perkins said. “Just because you don't have the data doesn't mean a stream is OK and shouldn't be on an impaired list."
Sediment control will remain a focus for area water watchers. Yet the new program will show if there are other concerns and, if so, give the state a better idea what to do about it.
"You can't fix a problem if you don't know you have it,” Perkins said. “This will help figure out whether there's one to be addressed."
For more on the program, including volunteer training opportunities, visit scadoptastream.org.