COLUMBIA, S.C. ― The South Carolina Adopt-a-Stream volunteer program for monitoring water quality is celebrating five years of protecting waterways across the state. The program, which is supported by local volunteers who understand the importance of healthy watersheds, has had many successes over the past five years and looks to have many more in the future.
First launched in South Carolina in 2017, the South Carolina Adopt-a-Stream program (SC AAS) is managed by a partnership between the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the Clemson University Center for Watershed Excellence (CU CWE). To date, SC AAS volunteers have conducted more than 3,000 sampling events at streams around the state. That water sample data provides key information about stream conditions and helps guide volunteers, educators, conservation groups, and local governments on how they can partner together to protect and restore polluted waterways. The data volunteers collect are available to the public without any required log in through the SC AAS database.
“Our state’s SC Adopt-a-Stream volunteers are at the heart of this program and are what make it such a success,” said Sierra Hylton, DHEC’s SC Adopt-a-Stream Program Coordinator. “Through free trainings and workshops, our volunteers learn how to collect samples and understand water quality data. Our volunteer data provides impressive quantitative results that help create partnerships at the local level for protecting and restoring waterways. In turn, our volunteers become conservation advocates within their communities.”
Data collected by SC AAS volunteers have helped identify broken sewer pipes, broken water lines, and sedimentation issues. Detecting these problems early on helps local governments and other entities save time, resources and money to fix the issues at their source before their impacts become widespread or costly.
“Community science is changing the way we manage our natural resources worldwide and how we engage our public in their smart management,” said Katie Callahan, director of Clemson University’s Center for Watershed Excellence. "More eyes and ears outside can share powerful observations that through programs like SC Adopt-a-Stream, activate local authorities when the threat of pollution is observed. Free trainings and a less complicated database of results and photos democratizes environmental health data and encourages more broad participation in the decisions that affect our communities. We at the Center are grateful to be a player in such a powerful program for our state and waterways,”
Some recent SC AAS successes include:
- Anderson County: Volunteer Trey Burns began noticing elevated bacteria levels at his monitoring site in Hembree Creek. After recording numerous high-bacteria sampling events, Trey discovered a broken pipe near the stream. The appropriate local officials were notified and immediately responded to fix the pipe. This was an important discovery as Hembree Creek flows into Lake Hartwell, just above a source water intake.
- Travelers Rest: Volunteer Gerardo Naundorf noticed unusual odors and excessive sediment accumulating at a nearby stream. After notifying DHEC’s regional Environmental Affairs office, the property owner was contacted and was very grateful that the condition of that section of stream was brought to their attention. The property owner took the necessary actions to improve the water quality, including installing silt fencing along ditches. This action has led to a significant reduction in sediment along the North Saluda River.
- Gills Creek (Columbia): Volunteer Trish Jerman with the Gills Creek Watershed Association noticed bacteria levels dropped to zero at one of her long-term monitoring sites and the water smelled of chlorine. SC AAS staff met Trish at her site, and local authorities were soon contacted after which a drinking water line break was found. Local officials quickly repaired the line, and subsequent testing at that site found the bacteria levels were back to normal, and damselfly larva were present – a natural indication of healthy water quality.
SC AAS volunteers have been recognized by Gov. Henry McMaster, mayors, county councils, public water utilities, conservation groups, local businesses, and many others for their efforts to study, advocate for, and protect South Carolina’s irreplaceable waterways.
Both DHEC and the CU CWE encourage anyone with an interest in SC AAS to learn more. There are various ways to volunteer and support this water monitoring program in your community.
Information about how to become a volunteer, where and when training workshops take place, and additional information is available at scadoptastream.org or by contacting Sierra Hylton at firstname.lastname@example.org or Emily Anderson at email@example.com.
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