Grant funds used to protect waterways

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Our Coastal waterways are the lifeblood of the Bluffton community. In particular, the May River is home to oysters that are an important part of Bluffton's history, culture and economy.

Rising fecal coliform bacteria levels in the river's headwaters resulted in closing portions of the river to shellfish harvesting in 2009. Town Council adopted the May River Watershed Action Plan in 2011 to restore shellfish harvesting and protect the river into the future using policy changes, programs and water quality improvement projects.

Using Environmental Protection Agency 319 grant money, the Watershed Management Division constructed a stormwater pond to improve water quality in the May River headwaters. The pond removes fecal coliform bacteria and excess nutrients from stormwater entering the headwaters of the May River and helps control the volume and rate of stormwater entering the river.

Additional EPA 319 grant funds were used to purchase modular, floating wetlands to install in the pond to provide additional nutrient and pollutant removal. Floating wetlands are container gardens that float on the surface of ponds and lakes.

Native South Carolina wetland plants grow through a matrix with their roots suspended in the water, similar to hydroponics. These wetland plants absorb excess nutrients that could lead to aquatic weed growth, harmful algae blooms, and possible fish kills.

Floating wetlands have many benefits, including:

  • Provide habitat, food and shelter for fish, frogs, songbirds and invertebrates (butterflies, dragon flies, etc.), which can help reduce mosquito population
  • Provide shading, which reduces water temperatures and submerged weed growth
  • Carbon sequestering and removal of heavy metals
  • Reduction of wave energy, which can reduce shoreline erosion

The Town of Bluffton staff installed 15 modular floating wetlands in May and submitted project photos to the Southeast Stormwater Association (SESWA) photo contest.

Our project photo was selected as one of three winning submissions within the eight-state southeast region. The Town's photo, along with the City of Atlanta's green roof and a Tampa-based company's solar powered stormwater harvesting system, is featured on the SESWA website home page with project descriptions, found here: www.seswa.org/about-photo-contest.

Grant funds also purchased additional floating wetlands that can be provided to qualifying neighborhoods within the May River watershed.

To learn more, contact the Watershed Management Division at 843-706-4593.

Lisa Sulka is the mayor of the Town of Bluffton.

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