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What’s in the water? Local officials want beach advisory maps to be more user friendly

Swimming in Grand Strand swashes and ocean outfalls unsafe

Swimming in swashes and ocean outfalls along the Grand Strand is unsafe as water may contain high levels of bacteria after heavy rains.
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Swimming in swashes and ocean outfalls along the Grand Strand is unsafe as water may contain high levels of bacteria after heavy rains.

After facing scrutiny from the public over bacteria levels in ocean water this past summer, local officials are working to make water quality maps more user friendly.

Currently, the maps — provided by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control — show the coastline between Horry and Georgetown counties.

The problem, officials said, is that when the maps are zoomed out, it looks as if the entire coast is under a swim advisory. Swim advisories are issued if the ETCOC — enterococcus bacteria — measurement is greater than an accepted standard.

The bacteria typically comes from fecal matter. The advisories are usually issued for a 200-foot section of the beach.

“After a hard rain, it will look as though the entire coastline is impacted by a higher bacteria reading than is the case, and it’s not until you go into that map and expand it out that you can see it’s only a relatively small area around usually where the pipes are,” Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen said during Wednesday’s Coastal Alliance meeting.

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Pedersen suggested working with DHEC to make the maps to scale, or finding ways to physically post which areas of the beach are under a swim advisory.

“Right now there’s nothing you have to do on the beach itself,” he said. “So it’s on the website, but if someone wonders on the beach, they don’t really know.”

North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley agreed with Pedersen, saying it also was an issue for the North Strand.

According to North Myrtle Beach City Manager Mike Mahaney, city officials have already met with DHEC to work on a solution to the problem. He suggested that individual city governments get in contact with DHEC to see if changes can be made.

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If they can’t, then the local governments should band together and try again, he said.

Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Childs and town administrator Dennis Pieper expressed similar concerns during the meeting.

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Mahaney said North Myrtle Beach officials are meeting with DHEC in January to discuss the issues.

“I have had family members … they will comment about ‘well, I see your beaches are closed down because of bacteria what’s going on?’ And you have to say, ‘no that’s one little area, one little street.’ People don’t understand,” Hatley said.

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