Thursday, July 17, 2014
Results of a two-year study of the Murrells Inlet watershed show problem areas and the most significant causes of pollution in those areas, said Renee Williamson, executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020.
Williamson, who took over as director for the non-profit group dedicated to preserving and enhancing the Inlet just this month, presented the 2014 Murrells Inlet Watershed-based Plan to Georgetown County Council at its July 8 meeting.
Sue Sledz, outgoing director of the organization, gave a similar presentation to Horry County Council on the same day. The plan is community-based management plan to address fecal coliform impairments in local shellfish harvesting areas.
Williamson stated that the plan consists of the structural and non-structural best management practices that will help improve water quality and sustain productive shellfish habitats in Murrells Inlet.
The study was completed by a variety of partners including the Georgetown County Stormwater Department, the Horry County Stormwater Department, Waccamaw Council of Governments, DHEC, CCU Waccamaw Watershed Academy, Earthworks and MI2020.
County Council passed a resolution in 2012 in support of the watershed plan. The project partners are currently applying for funding with the DHEC 319 Grant program to help implement floating and constructed wetlands as well as bacteria
During her presentation, Williamson stated, “the Murrells Inlet community of Georgetown County and its salt marsh estuary offer natural resources that attract residents and visitors to numerous outdoor recreational activities.
The local commercial fishing industry helps support restaurant businesses vital to the local economy. Protecting and sustaining these natural resources is of paramount importance to the Murrells Inlet Community.”
Williamson said a volunteer monitoring program started in 2008 to determine pollution levels in Inlet waters ”showed troublesome data in four of eight sites” and there have been “many unexplained shellfish bed closures.”
She said the causes are found to be primarily wildlife and water fowl water, but pet waste is a close second and the third cause is siltation and shallow water, which leads to lower salinity and provides a breeding ground for bacteria carried in by storm water runoff.
Williamson sited an economic impact study which showed the value of the salt marsh in Murrells Inlet at $720 million.
That amount is driven by Real Estate values, navigability of the waterways and water quality.
“The best way to maintain economic value is to maintain water quality,” Williamson said.
“Our goal is to promote a nature-based Murrells Inlet economy and nature awareness.”
According to the report, the Murrells Inlet watershed extends from the Huntington Beach State Park and
North Litchfield portions of Georgetown County to the Garden City Beach and the southern tip of Surfside Beach in Horry County along the Hwy. 17 corridor.
The watershed area is approximately 9,313 acres or 14.55 square miles in its entirety. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) estimates that 3,108 acres within the watershed are suitable habitat for the production of shellfish.
Through an analysis of drainage characteristics, 51 distinct subwatersheds drain into Murrells Inlet ranging in size from five acres to 633 acres.
Goals of plan
Below are the main overarching goals, according to the report, that guided the watershed planning process and serve as the ultimate measure of success for the Murrells Inlet community:
• Identify sources of fecal coliform bacteria impacting the water quality in and around the Murrells Inlet oyster beds.
• Over a 20-year period, aim to improve water quality by reducing the level of fecal coliform entering Murrells Inlet and achieve a target of 80 percent of all SC DHEC designated shellfish acres, excluding those administratively designated as Prohibited, as an Approved or Conditionally Approved classification.
• Continue to highlight the history of the fisheries industry in Murrells Inlet and promote the cultural, economic, and outdoor recreational benefits associated with sustaining viable shellfish harvesting opportunities in the community.
• Increase public awareness regarding the environmental sensitivities of the local shellfish harvesting areas and promote ways by which individuals and the community as a whole can protect local water quality.
For more information, visit www.wrcog.org/enviromental-planning, or contact the MI2020 office at 843-357-2007.