Bluffton completes project to improve health of May River

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 1, 2013 

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This photo shows water before, left, and after, right, it goes through the town of Bluffton's recently completed stormwater lagoon and then flows into the May River. This project is part of the town's May River Watershed Action Plan to improve the health of the river.

SUBMITTED BY: TOWN OF BLUFFTON — Submitted by: Town of Bluffton

As the number of residents and tourists coming to the area has grown, so, too, has the number of people using the May River, among them boaters, swimmers, anglers, kayakers and paddle boarders.

But there is one visitor who won't coming as frequently -- fecal coliform bacteria.

In July, the town of Bluffton completed a new stormwater lagoon in the New Riverside area to help restore the river's health, the first large-scale construction project since the May River Watershed Action Plan was adopted in 2011.

"This project shows the community that the town is serious about improving the health of the May River," said Jeremy Ritchie, a Bluffton stormwater engineer.

"There have been many studies of the river in the past, focusing on both its declining health and how to reverse that trend," he said in an email. "While studies are necessary to determine possible solutions, they don't accomplish anything unless action is taken."

The lagoon -- largely funded by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant -- is at the bottom of a largely undeveloped drainage area that flows into the May. The project cost about $363,300; 301,015 was covered by the grant and the rest by the Town, Infrastructure Project Manager John Hutchinson said.

Earlier water samples from the area showed high concentrations of fecal coliform, which indicate the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. The town saw the opportunity to reduce the amount that reached the river, Ritchie said.

It did so by constructing the lagoon to collect stormwater runoff from upland ditches and temporarily store it. While in the lagoon, natural processes -- such as UV rays from the sun and sediment settlement -- treat the water before its released into the river, Ritchie said.

Construction began April 18 and was mostly completed July 11, Ritchie said.

While still very early, the results look promising, Councilman Michael Raymond said.

It will take six to 12 months to determine the project's pollutant removal rate, Hutchinson said. However, weekly water quality samplings have shown reductions in fecal coliform concentrations as high as 75 percent.

"I'm very excited about this," Raymond said. "It's not everyday when you take a little leap of faith, because there's no guarantee that this would work, but here we are when it's completed and the results so far look favorable."

Bluffton has received a second grant, in the amount of $290,000, for a project to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff reaching the May, Ritchie said. Work on that project is expected to begin next summer. After treatment, the runoff would be used for irrigation

"This is the exciting part that we're entering," Raymond said of efforts to rescue the river, "the action part of that plan to make a difference."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content: Bluffton adopts May River action plan, November 9, 2011 http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/11/09/1857706/bluffton-adopts-may-river-action.html

Residents call for action on May River clean up plan, October 12, 2011 www.lowcountrynewspapers.net/archive/2011/10/12/story/residents-call-action-may-river-clean-plan

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