Tourism

Myrtle Beach area beaches test safe for swimming; social media buzz false

Withers Swash is a popular spot to wade and search for shells in Myrtle Beach on Friday, March 18, 2016. A sign has been at the swash, as other outfalls, for years cautioning swimming at the location. The sign reads, “Caution High bacteria levels are routinely present at this location, especially in days following rainfall events. Swimming is not advised within 200 feet of this swash/stormwater outfall. Wading, fishing and shell collection do not present a risk. For information about this advisory contact your local DHEC office or call (803) 898-4015."
Withers Swash is a popular spot to wade and search for shells in Myrtle Beach on Friday, March 18, 2016. A sign has been at the swash, as other outfalls, for years cautioning swimming at the location. The sign reads, “Caution High bacteria levels are routinely present at this location, especially in days following rainfall events. Swimming is not advised within 200 feet of this swash/stormwater outfall. Wading, fishing and shell collection do not present a risk. For information about this advisory contact your local DHEC office or call (803) 898-4015." jblackmon@thesunnews.com

State health officials did not issue a “no swim advisory” along Grand Strand area beaches this year and say that recent test samples show there are no elevated levels of bacteria in the surf that would warrant such a call.

The water testing that typically starts in May came earlier this season in response to what officials say are erroneous reports that exploded across social media, prompting hundreds of calls and emails from tourists and locals worried that the ocean along Myrtle Beach was not safe for swimming.

Jim Beasley, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), said ocean water samples were collected from 44 locations along Myrtle Beach on March 14 as a proactive measure to test for the E. coli bacteria.

“All samples were below the standard for enterococcus bacteria,” Beasley said.

Several area businesses are scrambling to assure would-be visitors that it’s safe to swim at Myrtle Beach, although it’s only March and the water temperature is less than 50 degrees.

Barb Krumm, marketing director for Ocean Lakes Family Campground, said some folks were asking for money back on deposits. The campground posted information about the water quality on its website and Facebook page aiming to clear up confusion.

“These reports are preying on people’s fears. I felt that we needed to educate people, they just need to understand what this is,” Krumm said. “There is no need to worry, the water is safe, this has to do with the swash.”

 

We have been getting a lot of questions about swim advisories in Myrtle Beach. There is a lot of confusion and some...

Posted by Ocean Lakes Family Campground on Monday, March 14, 2016

The swash is a stream that begins at stormwater drain outfalls and reaches across the sand to the ocean. The drains run underneath some sand dunes on the beach landscape.

Caution signs were posted at these outfalls nearly a decade ago as a long-term advisory measure to advise swimmers that a temporary condition can occur after some heavy rains, which can elevate bacteria levels in the swash.

“A long-term advisory does not mean the beach is closed, it’s still open for recreation and swimming,” Beasley said. “It’s very specific, the signs say 200 feet on either side has the potential for elevated levels of bacteria, especially after a heavy rainfall, due to stormwater runoff.”

Beasley said the elevations in bacteria are not a permanent condition, but the signs are permanent to educate swimmers about the stormwater runoff from the drains.

The stormwater drains are also used to prevent flooding by rerouting the water during heavy storms to the ocean from nearby streets, yards and parking lots. Bacteria from pesticides, litter and even pet waste is often washed away as well and can elevate bacteria levels in the swash, Beasley said.

We’re addressing this with the people who take the time to reach out to us, but we have no idea how many visitors this has turned off.

Brad Dean, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce

Once the stormwater mixes with the ocean at the tide line, the bacteria becomes diluted. State health officials test these outfalls every two weeks from May through October to ensure the water is safe.

If levels indicating the presence of E. coli exceeds 500 units per liter, a short-term advisory would be issued that warns against swimming, Beasley said.

According to a spreadsheet of the test results released by the state Friday, all of the bacteria levels were well below the standard level of 104 across the Grand Strand.

Of the 44 beach water monitoring stations tested, 21 showed less than 10 colony farming units per 100 milliliters, 13 stations registered at 10, seven stations showed 20 units, and three stations were higher: 52 units at Eighth Avenue North, 41 units at Pirateland Swash and 30 units at Myrtle Beach State Park.

“The water quality is excellent, swimming is allowed,” said Mark Kruea, spokesman for the City of Myrtle Beach. “Yet Myrtle Beach’s reputation is under the gun because of misinformation.

“People have canceled vacation plans based on this misinformation. The people who work in the hotels, restaurants and shops are affected by this if people take it seriously. That’s not good, their livelihoods are being threatened.

“The signs do no say ‘no swimming is allowed,’ there is tremendous misinformation going around, for who knows what purpose,” Kruea said.

The Internet reports that area beaches had been closed to swimming by state health officials came on the heels of an incident that occurred in late February that did prompt temporary warnings from the city about one specific site, where a 50,000 gallon spill of untreated sewage washed into nearby Withers Swash.

City officials alerted the public about the spill, and later testing released by the city showed the E. coli levels in the surf were well below the threshold for danger. Numbers remained elevated in the shallows of the stormwater drain outflow but were well under the 500 threshold.

If the threshold had been breached, swimmers would have been warned about the risk of infection from accidental ingestion while in the water, officials said.

“These false and misleading reports are bothersome to businesses, worrisome to local residents and unfair to hospitality workers and entirely misleading to thousands of visitors,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve been receiving and are still handling over the past several days an alarming number of calls, emails and other communication from people concerned about Myrtle Beach’s water quality, and wondering if they should come to visit. This has the potential for being devastating for our community.”

These reports are preying on people’s fears. I felt that we needed to educate people, they just need to understand what this is.

Barb Krumm, marketing director, Ocean Lakes Family Campground

Dean said the timing of this could not have been worse. Potential visitors are making plans for summer vacations and advertising campaigns for beach getaways are underway.

“We’re addressing this with the people who take the time to reach out to us, but we have no idea how many visitors this has turned off,” Dean said. “It’s sad and it’s disappointing, but we have to deal with it.”

Krumm said she knew there was a serious public relations problem when one concerned caller likened the media reports to the water contamination crisis in Michigan.

“He said ‘are you a scientist? Do you know this water is going to be OK? That’s what they told people in Flint,’” Krumm said.

Krumm said her frontline workers were flooded with so many calls, they took a proactive approach and posted a special section on their website to explain stormwater drainage.

“We needed to hit the issue head on and it was insane the amount of traffic it engaged on Facebook,” Krumm said.

“We’re not just saying we’re safe, but explaining the issue and educating visitors about the issues,” Krumm said. “They’ve been swimming with those signs in place since 2008.”

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

Results for March 14 Bech Sampling event

Note: Swimming standard for Entertococcus bacteria is 104

Beach water monitoring station

Beach name

Station desciption

Bacteria level

WAC-1

City of North Myrtle Beach

59th Ave N

10

WAC-2

City of North Myrtle Beach

45th Ave N

<10

WAC-3

City of North Myrtle Beach

30th Ave N

10

WAC-4

City of North Myrtle Beach

16th Ave N

<10

WAC-5

City of North Myrtle Beach

3rd Ave N

10

WAC-5A

City of North Myrtle Beach

7th Ave S

<10

WAC-6

City of North Myrtle Beach

9th Ave S

<10

WAC-7

City of North Myrtle Beach

17th Ave S

10

WAC-8

City of North Myrtle Beach

33rd Ave S

10

WAC-9

City of North Myrtle Beach

47th Ave S

<10

WAC-9A

Town of Briarcliffe Acres

White Point Swash

10

WAC-10

Town of Briarcliffe Acres

Briarcliff cabana

10

WAC-11

Arcadia Beach

2 miles north of Hilton Grand

20

WAC-12

Arcadia Beach

Lands End Resort

<10

WAC-13

Arcadia Beach

Wyndham Hotel

<10

WAC-14

Arcadia Beach

Sands Ocean Club

20

WAC-15

Arcadia Beach

Singleton Swash

20

WAC-15A

City of Myrtle Beach

Bear Branch Swash

20

WAC-16

City of Myrtle Beach

77th Ave N

10

WAC-16A

City of Myrtle Beach

Cane Patch Swash

20

WAC-17

City of Myrtle Beach

64th Ave N

20

WAC-017A

City of Myrtle Beach

Deep Head Swash

<10

WAC-018

City of Myrtle Beach

50th Ave N

<10

WAC-019

City of Myrtle Beach

34th Ave N

<10

WAC-020

City of Myrtle Beach

24th Ave N

10

WAC-021

City of Myrtle Beach

8th Ave N

52

WAC-022A

City of Myrtle Beach

Withers Swash

<10

WAC-023

City of Myrtle Beach

15th Avenue South, Street End

<10

WAC-024

City of Myrtle Beach

23rd Ave S

10

WAC-025A

City of Myrtle Beach

Midway Swash

<10

WAC-026

Springmaid Beach

Nash Dr

<10

WAC-027

Myrtle Beach State Park

Myrtle Beach State Park

30

WAC-028

Pirateland Campground

Pirateland Swash

41

WAC-029

Ocean Lakes Campground

North end Ocean Lakes Campground

<10

WAC-029A

Ocean Lakes Campground

South end Ocean Lakes Campground

<10

WAC-030

Town of Surfside Beach

16th Ave N

10

WAC-031

Town of Surfside Beach

11th Ave N

<10

WAC-031A

Town of Surfside Beach

Swash at 5th Ave N

<10

WAC-032

Town of Surfside Beach

3rd Ave N

<10

WAC-033

Town of Surfside Beach

3rd Ave S

10

WAC-034

Town of Surfside Beach

8th Ave S

10

WAC-035

Town of Surfside Beach

13th Ave S

20

WAC-036

Garden City Beach - Horry County

Hawes Ave

<10

WAC-037

Garden City Beach - Horry County

Azalea Ave

<10

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