A primary concern for beach water quality is the concentration of indicator bacteria such as Enterococcus. Enterococcus denotes the possible presence of fecal contamination and related pathogens in beach water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that increased concentrations of Enterococcus bacteria are correlated with increased illness of swimmers. Based on this correlation, the EPA has set concentration limits for Enterococcus bacteria in marine waters.
In 1997, a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC)-sponsored workgroup initiated a study to reevaluate the quality of marine bathing waters in South Carolina. This was the first bacteriological marine bathing water quality study since 1982. Project partners included Horry and Georgetown counties, the cities of North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, and the towns of Surfside Beach and Pawleys Island.
Since the completion of this successful cooperative venture, the EQL has worked with all of these project partners plus the town of Briarcliffe, to monitor the ocean water quality weekly each summer. The EQL has also monitored the ocean water quality every week since Aug. 5, 1997, for the city of Myrtle Beach to determine the baseline concentration of Enterococcus bacteria in ocean waters.
The results from testing of the Grand Strand’s beach waters for fecal indicator bacteria levels are available online at the websites listed below. All of these sites provide the information by date and site. They also include explanations of water quality standards that pertain to recreational safety. These sites are:
- From the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control: http://gis.dhec.sc.gov/beachaccess/
- From CCU’s EQL: http://bccmws.coastal.edu/enteroview/. This site provides data collected since monitoring began in 1997.
- From the University of South Carolina (this one includes predictions of future bacteria levels): http://howsthebeach.org/
- From the US EPA: https://www.epa.gov/waterdata/waters-geoviewer (select “Water Quality Assessment Information”)