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A guide to gauging water quality in Charleston

Table of Contents

Enterocci. (noun) Bacteria that survive easily in salt water, and thus are commonly monitored to gauge health risk to humans in waterways that are popular for swimming + other recreational activity.

Yep – bacteria may not be as sexy a threat as, say, sharks, but when it comes to our waterways, the risk is real. Bacteria doesn’t have fins, or big teeth, so ‘safe’ water can’t easily be distinguished from water with high levels of contamination. Fortunately, the local nonprofit Charleston Waterkeeper collects + analyzes samples from 15 popular sites across the region every Wednesday from May through October. Those results are published weekly, so the public can take the proper precautions.


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⚠️According to South Carolina’s official water quality standards, water is considered safe to swim in if it the level of Enterococcus bacteria present at a given site measures less than 104 MPN/100 mL. If it registers at that amount or higher, it’s recommended if you take a raincheck on your paddleboarding trip – or at least choose another, cleaner route.

What factors can lead to high bacteria levels:

⛈ Storms

🌡 High temps

🚽 Sewers + septic tanks

⛵ Boats

🐶 Animal + pet waste

Here’s which areas you should avoid for the time being (as of May 30, 2019):

Parts of Shem Creek

The Brittlebank Park area of the Ashley River

Upper James Island / Ellis Creek

How to keep track of the latest water quality levels:

📱 Download the Swim Guide app

👍 Follow Charleston Waterkeeper on Facebook

💻 Check their website for the latest conditions


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