Murrells Inlet water quality down slightly, group steps in

According to recent studies, the water quality in Murrells Inlet is gradually getting worse. But a group that's focused on revitalization of the area is stepping in before any significant problems emerge.

Murrells Inlet 2020 is in the beginning stages of creating a Watershed Advisory Board. They're going to create a management plan to address the quality issue.

"The inlet is a unique body of water not fed by any major tributary and it's a boom to the people who enjoy it. It's a boom commercially," explains Jim Wilkie with Murrells Inlet 2020. He lives on the inlet and has a vested interest in keeping the water quality intact.

"Everything that goes into that creek comes primarily from the land with the notable exception of the wildlife that lives there quite naturally," adds Wilkie.

In 2008 the group partnered with Coastal Carolina University's Waccamaw Watershed Academy and started a volunteer water quality monitoring program. They test several creeks that flow into the inlet for contaminants.

"We do know that there's things like septic tanks that are problems, dogs could be a problem, other pets could be a problem," Wilkie explains.

Last year, a Department of Health and Environmental Control study corroborated their finding that pollution is up slightly in the area, both upstream and downstream.

"We're surprised that particular part of the inlet has been degrading in quality because it's near Huntington Beach State Park. So it would take some careful detective work to figure out where the additional bacteria are coming from. Or if this is just something related to a lack of rainfall during the reporting period," says Dr. Susan Libes, a Marine Scientist at CCU.

Out of more than 3,000 acres of shellfish habitat nearly 300 acres were shut down between 2009 and 2010.

"The loss of some of the acreage for oysters has sort of highlighted the thing and so we're using that as a little bit of a wedge to get people's attention," says Wilkie.

That begins with a Watershed Advisory Board. Once formed the group will likely follow guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Making sure you treat the problem from the perspective of water flowing down to a central discharge point, like all the water draining off the land into Murrells Inlet, it is the smartest way to go it's the most efficient way to diagnose a problem or prevent a problem," adds Dr. Libes.

While the problem isn't far reaching at this point, finding out why will help keep the waters open to so many who depend on them.