Experts warn Shem Creek bacteria level is high

Mount Pleasant, S.C. (WCBD) – Shem Creek is not suitable for swimming without taking proper precautions, Charleston Waterkeeper reports, mainly due to unsafe levels of fecal bacteria.  

Charleston Waterkeeper, a nonprofit group, works to monitor bacteria levels at 15 various sites around the Charleston harbor, three of which are located on Shem Creek.

Recently, flood waters caused runoff and discharges, including some animal and human waste, that resulted in unsafe levels of fecal bacteria that showed up during weekly testing.

“We test for enterococcus bacteria every Wednesday, May through October,” said Andrew Wunderley, of Charleston Waterkeeper.

A popular spot, the creek is packed with restaurants and docks, and it is heavily used by kayakers and paddleboarders. It’s also a fishing destination, with thousands of tourists expected in the summer months.

“Results typically fluctuate week to week. And the main driver of water quality is rainfall. The more its been raining, the worse water quality is,” said Wunderley.

“We’re testing for a fecal indicator and when it’s present, you assume that the viruses and disease causing pathogens that are present in fecal matter may also be present.”

Wunderley recommends to clean-up and shower following any water contact at Shem Creek, and said you should avoid getting any of the water in your eyes or mouth, which is a main pathway for bacteria. The water quality in the harbor is projected to improve, but the nonprofit conservation group maintains monitoring recreational activity on the water is a priority.

Still, the risk of getting sick depends on the sites where you swim and Charleston Waterkeeper said the water quality is often worse after it rains and on outgoing tides.

The local businesses that rent kayaks and paddleboards at Shem Creek said patrons aren’t necessarily alarmed, but instead they are more aware. They ensure visitors shower properly after exiting the water.

Charleston Waterkeeper works with outfitters like Nature Adventure and Coastal Expeditions to educate residents and visitors to Shem Creek and show them why it’s so important to protect it for water-based recreational activity.

The Charleston Waterkeeper has been monitoring the creek for fecal bacteria for a few years.

For a closer look at Shem Creek water conditions, the nonprofit posts its testing data at charlestonwaterkeeper.org.

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