Weston Newton

After the success of the Taste of Waddell celebration in early November – with great Andrew Carmines seafood, Bluegrass music from Lowcountry Boil, and superb fellowship from our like-minded Friends of Waddell – many of us felt like we might have turned the corner on our water quality challenges to local estuarine waters.

After all, we were on the high bluff over the Colleton-Okatie River, on the gorgeous grounds of the the Waddell Mariculture Center, the renowned research facility of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Our good mood dimmed a bit a couple of weeks later, when the multi-year May River Water Quality Report was published in the daily paper. Compiled and analyzed by USCB Associate Professor Dr. Eric Montie, the report said the coliform levels in our formerly pristine river have been incrementally rising for two decades.

While the absolute numbers were not so alarming, the trends in both quantity of bacteria detected, as well as the protective salinity levels, are moving in the wrong directions, the former higher, and the latter, somewhat lower.

It is axiomatic among Lowcountry planners and water quality experts that the sustainability of the quality of our waters is the best “report card” of the success of our land management and development regulation efforts. None of the local, overlapping jurisdictions made the honor role, despite some of the more forward-looking stormwater management regimes in the region.

It seems that Dr. Fred Holland, former NOAA scientist and frequent consultant to those of us charged with creating these water standards, described an accurate correlation between impervious surfaces in a watershed, and the health of the receiving waters. Our degree of impervious surfaces (roads, driveways, roofs, and parking lots) has increased commensurate with the degradation of those waters.

Another of Dr. Montie’s findings was that our increase in coliform colonies was also linked to poorly performing or absent septic tanks. This is also a feature of Lowcountry hydrology. Nearly every drainage ditch, retention pond, tiny Carolina Bays, or even frequently flooded low areas, are connected. All these features, combined with the septic tank failures, are what we are seeing in this study.

If there is any good news contained in the study, it is the description of what likely contributed to the undesirable trends we are seeing. Lack of sewerage capacity and dollars to promote hookups to that capacity are two key aspects of what we now see.

As these things sometimes work out, Rep. Bill Herbkersman and I, each year, make a big push to budget Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Block Grants for the expressed purpose of supporting sewer hookups in both Beaufort and Jasper Counties. We recently delivered a sizable DHEC grant to Bluffton for the Buck Island/Simmonsville area. Last year, we presented a grant to Jasper County for the Ridgeland area.

Rep. Herbkersman is also on record as seeking to require each future development of a certain size to keep all stormwater on their own property, as he was able to do with his development of the Promenade.

Next up: Your delegation is in extensive talks with the school district, the school board, and all those who work for them. We need to know more of what they know.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov