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July 28, 2020

Real-Time Water Quality Monitoring at Your Fingertips

Each year from May 1 through Oct. 1, Department of Health and Environmental Control, area municipalities, nonprofits and universities routinely collect water samples along the coastline, testing bacteria levels, particularly enterococcus bacteria. According to DHEC, enterococci are not generally considered harmful to humans, but their presence is an indicator that other disease-causing organisms may be present. When elevated levels of enterococcus bacteria are found, a temporary swim advisory is often issued for the affected portion of the beach.  

Most short-term swim advisories are issued after heavy rain and typically last fewer than 24 hours. DHEC posts these temporary advisories as well as long-term swim advisories publicly on their website. In years past, when elevated levels of enterococcus bacteria were identified, DHEC would also issue a press release with these swim advisories for the affected areas. Sometimes media outlets would issue the news immediately, but oftentimes, the reports would be released too late, after the advisory had expired. This lag in reporting unintentionally led to confusion for beachgoers and left a lingering concern about our overall water quality.

Area leaders recognized the challenges this delayed reporting created and sought new opportunities to reach the people who need access to the information the most – beachgoers. But no one organization could solve a problem of this magnitude alone. Jimmy Gray, MBACC’s director of government affairs, worked with his contacts in local government agencies and DHEC to develop a public-private partnership to address this ongoing challenge.

In 2019, members of the public-private partnership identified the concerns with the current reporting system and launched a pilot program to test a website designed to provide real-time beach information in an easy to digest format. The pilot proved successful for all involved organizations and in 2020, CheckMyBeach.com was officially launched, replacing the decades-old process of issuing daily press releases.

To ensure members of the community knew about the change, DHEC held road shows across the Grand Strand in early 2020 and posted their presentation online for those who were unable to attend a live event. To ensure beachgoers have easy access to the program and information in real-time, local municipalities installed new signage at many beach accesses. Beachgoers can use their mobile devices to scan the QR code on the sign for instant access to CheckMyBeach.com. From there they can click the beach monitoring link where they will be taken directly to DHEC’s water quality site where they can find a list of frequently asked questions about water quality, and search by beach and/or address to obtain the most current information.

The benefits of CheckMyBeach.com stretch beyond real-time water quality information, however. The site also provides information on identifying dangerous rip currents, a topic not well-known by people who don’t live on the coast. The site also provides an explanation of beach warning flags and general beach safety tips. Live beach cameras, weather and tide information have also been added to CheckMyBeach.com recently as the site continues to expand into a one-stop location for the most important beach information for individuals accessing the coastline along the Grand Strand.

Public response to the new site has been positive. Website analytics show people are scanning the QR code from the beach accesses which tells us we are meeting our goal of providing real-time information to those who need it the most – the people at the beach.

CheckMyBeach.com provides an example of how a true public-private partnership can benefit an entire community. Visit CheckMyBeach.com to view a list of our partners and to learn more about this important program.

 

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