Local residents know to avoid those large drainage pipes protruding from beach dunes along the Grand Strand that gurgle with water after a heavy rain storm.
Tourists often mistake it for an ocean stream and let their children play in it like a kiddie pool, but it’s actually polluted stormwater runoff that’s being directly dumped into the ocean.
It’s a problem that was created when Ocean Boulevard was originally constructed by the state Transportation Department, but North Myrtle Beach has found the solution by constructing new and improved outfalls, and it’s a costly one, says Pat Dowling, city spokesman.
To construct 12 outfalls through the year 2052 and strip nearly 50 drainage pipes from the beach, the price tag is expected to reach nearly $150 million.
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The city has completed five outfalls since 2002, removing more than 20 drainage pipes from the beach, yet 29 pipes still remain.
“It takes a good while, five years or so, to raise enough money to pay for a single outfall,” Dowling said.
The 18th Avenue North Ocean Outfall set to begin construction after the summer tourist season this year will cost $12 million and take two years to complete.
It’s a simple process. The pipes will be removed, and the stormwater collected underground where it will be treated then released 1,200 feet into the ocean — far away from swimmers where it can quickly dissipate, Dowling said.
“It avoids the beach area entirely and helps control local flood issues,” Dowling said.
That one outfall will handle stormwater from 14th Avenue North to 23rd Avenue North, which includes one beach area were a swimming advisory was issued last summer by the S.C. Department of Health and Environment (DHEC).
That water quality warning issued May 5 lasted for several days near the 16th Avenue North discharge pipe, according to information provided by DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity.
Beachgoers were told to swim at least 200 feet away from the discharge, keep their head above the waves to avoid ingesting any water, and swimmers with open cuts or wounds were warned to avoid the water completely.
At least three other swim advisories were issued by DHEC last summer lasting one day each for other small strips of North Myrtle Beach.
The outfalls are primarily funded through stormwater fees paid by water and sewer customers.
The city has applied for, and been rejected for federal assistance.
However, the state has come through with some funding for each outfall, about $700,000 for the 18th Avenue project.
“It’s an expensive fix, but if you look at that versus a $6 billion tourism industry along the Grand Strand, it’s definitely worth it,” Dowling said.