Charleston Waterkeeper testing for fecal bacteria in local waterways

Updated: Apr. 30, 2019 at 5:27 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Charleston Waterkeeper is getting ready to start its sixth year of water sampling.

From May to October, the Charleston Waterkeeper will test almost 400 samples from local waterways.

“We live here in Charleston in the Lowcountry. Everybody’s got a dock or knows somebody that has a dock or there’s a public boat landing like this or we swim at the beach, we paddle these creeks and rivers,” said Charleston’s Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderley. “Folks have a right to know whether or not it’s safe to get in the water or whether or not you can get sick from swimming in the water.”

The organization tests area waterways once a week for bacteria that can come from human and animal waste.

“What we’re testing for is the presence of poop. If there’s bacteria in the water, it means there’s poop in the water,” Wunderley said. “It can come from sewer overflows. It can come from leaking or malfunctioning septic tanks. It can come from dog waste, people that don’t pick up after their pets, especially in their own backyards.”

It’s not a cheap endeavor. Each sample costs about $60 to test, but officials believe it’s important work to keep the public safe and to affect municipal changes when issues arise.

“Rainfall drives water quality,” Wunderley said. “If it’s been raining or it’s flooded, water quality is going to be poor. The more it’s been raining, the worse water quality is. It’s particularly bad after flooding events because so much of that polluted water drains away into our creeks or rivers without any kind of treatment.”

Wunderley said about 30% of the samples don’t meet state water quality standards for safe recreational use, and over the past five years, that trend has stayed about the same.

If you’d like water quality alerts, you can sign up at

You can also follow the organization on twitter and Instagram, and they have a Swim Guide application you can download on your phone to get those alerts when they are posted.

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