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Are the Congaree, Saluda rivers clean enough for swimmers? This website will tell you

Chase Backus, left, Edwin Brown and William Moran get out of the Saluda River at Saluda Shoals Park in June 2016. Swimming advisories were issued a year ago after a spill into the river. A new website will give swimmers and others quicker information about the Saluda’s water quality.
Chase Backus, left, Edwin Brown and William Moran get out of the Saluda River at Saluda Shoals Park in June 2016. Swimming advisories were issued a year ago after a spill into the river. A new website will give swimmers and others quicker information about the Saluda’s water quality. online@thestate.com

Folks wanting to wade, swim, fish or paddle in the Saluda and Congaree rivers now have a new resource at their fingertips to make sure the water is safe.

A website launched by a coalition led by the Congaree riverkeeper will give weekly or biweekly updates on bacteria levels at key points along the two rivers from Saluda Shoals Park in Irmo to the Rosewood Drive landing near Williams-Brice Stadium.

The weekly tests stem from the Carolina Water Service spill last year that resulted in swimming advisories on the Saluda that lasted two weeks, said Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler. The “enhanced testing” is intended to be over and above what’s done by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“We’ve got tens of thousands of people that use the rivers,” he said. “We want them to have the best information available.”

The website, which went live Thursday, is howsmyscriver.org. It shows eight testing stations. They are green when bacteria levels are safe but turn orange when they reach levels that raise concern.

The water at the locations is tested each Wednesday, and the site is updated on Thursday. If the water shows high levels of bacteria, it will be tested again and the website will be updated Friday.

“People will have the best information going into the weekend,” Stangler said.

The sampling tests levels of E. coli in the water. The bacteria could come from sewage discharges or stormwater runoff.

“It indicates what’s in the water,” Stangler said. “It won’t make you sick but it shows the conditions are more likely to make you sick.”

Similar testing is done at South Carolina beaches to ensure swimmers’ safety.

The website explains the testing procedures and water safety information. It also has information about the Lower Saluda River Coalition, which includes government agencies, municipalities, wastewater providers, parks, river advocacy organizations, river-related businesses and other river users.

The testing and website are expected to cost up to $10,000 a season.

The effort is a test project. The website is expandable to other rivers in the Midlands, and Stangler hopes it can serve as a model for other areas.

“We would love to see this expanded across the state,” Stangler said.

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