Waccamaw volunteers protect river quality

Hydrologist Benjamin Thepaut of the U.S. Geological Survey demonstrates how an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ACDP) works.

Volunteers who give of their time to collect the data that provides a biweekly snapshot of the Waccamaw River met Tuesday to learn about current water quality monitoring and reporting efforts in the region.

About 25 volunteers participated in the annual Waccamaw Water Quality Data Conference, hosted by the Waccamaw Riverkeeper Program and Coastal Carolina University’s Watershed Academy.

According to Waccamaw Riverkeeper Emma Gerald Boyer, the volunteers are “our eyes at the various spots on the river.”

The volunteers heard from several speakers including Benjamin Thepaut of the U.S. Geological Survey, Andrea Sasser of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and Dr. Susan Libes of the Waccamaw Watershed Academy.

A hydrologist, Thepaut shared information about how the USGS is using streamgaging to do everything from estimating the amount of water flowing in rivers to tracking fish.

“Streamgages come in various forms,” he said.

Thepaut said the USGS used to collect data with mechanical meters, but now does it with an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ACDP), a hydroacoustic current meter similar to a sonar, attempting to measure water current velocities over a depth range using the Doppler effect of sound waves, which reflect off particles in the water.

Also, Thepaut said the USGS began continuous nitrate monitoring on the Waccamaw River near Longs in June, but isn’t yet ready to announce its findings.

“We can’t publish the data until we know it’s the correct data,” he said. “It should be published by April.”

The nitrate monitoring was originally planned for Crabtree Swamp near Conway, but was postponed there because of bridge construction.

According to Boyer, monitoring on the Waccamaw hasn’t yielded any surprises in the wake of flooding associated with Hurricane Matthew.

“It’s what we saw last year after the flooding,” she said. “It’s the norms you expect in flooding. There is nothing out of the ordinary. Last year, we saw bacteria symptoms a month after the flooding. We know it’s happening and we do investigate the sources. We think a lot of it is probably related to septic systems.”

Boyer believes it will take weeks for water levels to recede to normal.

“Hopefully, we’ll get out of the major flood stages sooner than that,” she said. “I think it really is a reminder about what can and does happen in this area. It demonstrates how important river monitoring is. Our river is a clean river. We’re very lucky. I always tell people it’s something we should work to protect.”

Watershed planner Dave Fuss of Horry County Stormwater Management said bacteria levels weren’t as high as anticipated following last year’s flooding, and it will be interesting to see what happens this time.

“I’m going to be interested to see what the numbers show us,” he said. “Last year, we saw some pretty interesting things, particularly in the spring. Certainly, we’re out of any drought conditions by now. The ground is saturated after Hurricane Hermine and Matt. I think people are beginning to realize how big the drainage area of the Waccamaw is. It’s humongous. It’s going to be awhile before the water goes down.”

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