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EnvironmentABC News: Lowcountry task force continues work to rid Ellis Creek of harmful bacteria

One of the Lowcountry’s popular waterways, called by locals either the James Island Creek or Ellis Creek, is getting help to fight its known bacteria problem.

On Friday, the water quality advocacy group, the Charleston Waterkeeper, released its seasonal weekly testing results. Those results say this weekend is a good time to safely swim in the creek.

Thursday night saw the James Island Town Council conditionally promise the James Island Public Service District $320,000 to switch residents living along Oak Point Road from private septic tanks to the public sewer system.

Other efforts to secure funding for similar ventures is underway.

Dave Schaeffer, the District Manager with JIPSD says, “We are begging and borrowing and stealing, cobbling together as much funding as possible so that this is grant-funded and not on the residents.”

Concerns over possibilities that the aging septic tanks along the creek are behind the recent discovery of low levels of human feces has sparked the James Island Town Council and other groups to take action.

The council recently voted on mandatory inspections for septic tanks every three years.

The Town of James Island is part of the James Island Creek Task Force, which formed in 2020. The City of Charleston, Charleston County, the Charleston Water System and the James Island Public Service District are also part of the group.

Planning stages and certain testing has taken place over the past two years. That includes a dye test done by both CWS and JIPSD throughout town and city-owned portions of the creek.

Charleston Waterkeeper’s Andrew Wunderly says results of the test “found that none of the lines that crossed the creek are leaking.”

That marks off the sewer system as a possible bacterial factor.

That leads back to septic tanks being a potential source, “because even a properly functioning septic tank in a coastal environment can be causing pollution,” Wunderly said.

The James Island Creek Task Force has hired a contractor to continually test the waters. Results from the fall of 2021 showed a variety of results including some human, dog and bird feces.

Levels of certain bacteria were highest by Folly Road Bridge and lower by Harbor View Road. Different factors were also taken into consideration.

Despite the good news overall, Wunderly wants folks who use the creek to keep in mind, “the state actually lists James Island Creek, or Ellis Creek as some folks call it, as impaired.”

Heavy rains can turn a good round of results from one week into a danger zone the next.

Both Schaeffer and Wunderly are happy with the ongoing work of the task force. Schaeffer says JIPSD will reach out to other organizations next week, including the Charleston Water System, for funding help.

Schaeffer and State Rep. Spencer Wetmore (D – Charleston) both confirm that the South Carolina House of Representative’s budget proposal contains a request for a $1 million earmark specifically to help clean up the creek.

Wunderly says the timing couldn’t be better.

“There’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to get this issue fixed and make this creek safe for kids, so they can come here and paddle and swim and crab and enjoy the creek for all that it has to offer,” Wunderly said.

Read the article from ABC News 4.

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