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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

South Carolina


Bush River-Camping Creek Watershed -
A Priority Watershed in South Carolina

The Bush River-Camping Creek watershed in Newberry County, South Carolina, drains directly to Lake Murray, a 51,000-acre impoundment used to generate power. The lake is also a municipal water supply serving approximately 330,000 people and a major recreational resource in the midlands of South Carolina. More than 175 miles of streams (perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral) run through the project area, and more than 800 ponds are located along these streams. The ponds range in size from 0.5 to 25 acres in size and are used for livestock watering, irrigation, and recreation.

Agricultural land uses

Though land uses vary, the potential for nonpoint source pollution is primarily agricultural. The watershed's nearly 130,000 acres support the following uses: about 29,500 acres of cropland, 60,700 acres of forest, 22,900 acres of pasture, and 16,600 acres of development (urban, industrial, and commercial). Over 200 farmsteads are maintained in the watershed with an average size of 165 acres. The farm industry is quite diversified, though the most prevalent enterprises are confined animal operations, small grain production, and row crop farming.

Over 60 confined animal operations have been inventoried in the watershed, and more than 50 percent of these enterprises are dairy and beef operations. The others are poultry and swine units. The estimated animal population in the watershed is 15,000 beef cattle, 7,000 dairy cattle, 2,800 swine, and over 1,000,000 poultry. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates that the watershed produces about 75,000 tons of animal waste annually.

Thus, agricultural activities in the project area are a major influence on the streams and ponds in the watershed. They also contribute to nutrient-related water quality problems in the headwaters of Lake Murray. In fact, bacteria, nutrients, and sediment from soil erosion are the primary contaminants affecting these resources. The NRCS has calculated that soil erosion, occurring on over 13,000 acres of cropland in the watershed, ranges from 9.6 to 41.5 tons per acre per year. At times excessive amounts of nutrients, especially nitrates, are found in the water, primarily as a result of land applying too much manure sometimes with or in addition to commercial fertilizers. Based on these conditions, the Bush River-Camping Creek watershed was identified in the South Carolina Nonpoint Source Management Plan as a high priority watershed.

A coordinated multiple agency effort to control these nonpoint sources began in 1990 and continues into fiscal year 1997, with funding provided by Section 319(h) grants and USDA funds along with matching state and local dollars. Additional partners include Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina Forestry Commission, the Newberry County Soil and Water Conservation District, and landowners in the watershed.

Phase one of the project demonstrated agricultural best management practices (BMPs), provided technical assistance to agricultural landowners implementing nonpoint source pollution controls, financial assistance to qualifying landowners for BMP installations, and a water quality monitoring program. Section 319(h) funds were used to demonstrate a BMP called interseeding, a tillage technique that combines conservation tillage, controlled traffic, narrow rows, and full-season growth. The Land Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources coordinated the demonstra- tion under contract to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Simultaneously, an agricultural technician from the Department of Health and Environmental Control helped inventory and inspect all confined animal facilities in the watershed. Technical assistance was then provided to owners who were not in compliance with regulations. Potential violations include illegal discharge pipes, overflow discharges, high vegetation around lagoons, runoff from animal housing, improper dead animal disposal, and no permits. The Department of Health and Environmental Control used Section 319(h) funds for this aspect of the project; it also provided, and continues to provide, in-stream monitoring for the project.

NRCS conservationists worked with landowners to develop and implement conservation plans and the Cooperative Extension Service provided a full-time water quality specialist to work with landowners to implement BMPs. The Consolidated Farm Service Agency provided funding for cost-share assistance.

Ongoing efforts

Phase two of the project concentrates on confined animal operations in the watershed. Components include demonstration of innovative BMPs, such as lagoon pump-out/irrigation practices and dead bird composting. Farmers can rent the lagoon pump-out equipment for a very nominal fee.

Farmers in the project area have access to a mobile nutrient testing service, which helps them calculate the right amount of manure to apply to their fields and pastures, and additional computerized information to help them make prudent decisions about pesticide selection and management. Educational activities include newsletters, workshops, field days, and one-on-one technical assistance to farmers.

Since implementation of the project in 1990, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural activities has lessened, thus improving water quality in the watershed. At the beginning of the project, 48 confined animal operations in the watershed were not in compliance with regulations. As of 1993, 26 of these operations were in compliance and the 22 others were working with the state and their natural resource conservation district to gain compliance. The farm community's interest in the project is widespread. For example, in April 1995, approximately 80 people attended a demonstration of the agricultural waste lagoon pump- out equipment, and by the end of 1996, at least 112 long-term contracts between landowners and USDA had been signed, and the following best management practices had been installed:

  • conservation tillage on 18,000 acres;
  • proper land application systems on 3,600 acres,
  • tree plantings on 2,000 acres,
  • conversion of cropland to forest land on 1,000 acres, and
  • eight new agricultural waste lagoons.

The NRCS estimates that 94,000 tons of soil have been saved in the watershed through the use of BMPs, and that annually 75,000 tons of animal waste are being properly used according to South Carolina guidelines (i.e., application rates, slopes, and time of year). The Department of Health and Environmental Control maintains an ambient water quality monitoring station in the headwaters of Lake Murray that receives the flow from the Bush River Camping Creek watershed. Sampling data at the station gathered between May and October 1992 indicated statistically significant reductions in nutrients (total phosphorus and nitrate-nitrite) occurred after the project's implementation.

These decreases could be attributed to reductions in the amounts of nutrients reaching the waterbody from nonpoint sources. Similar data gathered at that location between 1992 and 1996 indicates continued statistically significant reductions in nitrate-nitrite. While reductions in total phosphorus were not noted during the latter five year period, neither were statistically significant increases, even though it is likely that activities contributing to nutrient inputs increased into the watershed during that period.

CONTACT: Doug Fabel
Bureau of Water
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
(803) 734-4837

South Carolina Hones in on Nonpoint Source Pollution -
Minigrants Program Encourages Local Participation

South Carolina uses Section 319(h) funding to implement management strategies for nonpoint source water pollution and reduction. Until 1995, the state used only the annual allocation of funds and large-scale multiyear projects to implement these strategies. State agencies, universities, and similar organizations carried out these projects, because participation in the Section 319(h) grant program required sizable resources. More recently, however, the state has realized that a much broader array of groups have a stake in controlling nonpoint source pollution and that involving these smaller, often locally oriented groups would help balance and diversify the statewide Section 319(h) program, effectively bringing nonpoint source pollution control closer to home.

Nonpoint source minigrants

Therefore, South Carolina's Section 319(h) grant recipient, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, began to develop an administrative framework for a new, innovative program commonly called Nonpoint Source Minigrants. Under this initiative, a portion of the state's annual Section 319(h) allocation is reserved for small grants that enable local governments, community organizations, schools, conservation districts, and similar groups to implement smaller, more narrowly focused nonpoint source prevention or reduction projects. A staff member serves as the Minigrant Manager whose job it is to screen proposals, award grants, provide technical support, administer grant agreements, and manage the projects.

The minigrants program supports and strengthens the state's nonpoint source management program by creating new partnerships with local governments, community nonprofit organizations, and other private-sector groups.

To maximize the number of minigrants that can be awarded each year, a $10,000 cap has been placed on the federal share of a project, and the grantee must match the federal share with 40 percent nonfederal funds. The minigrants program supports and strengthens the state's NPS Management Program by creating new partnerships with local governments, community nonprofit organizations, and other private-sector groups. As the program facilitates their pursuit of effective nonpoint source solutions through relatively small education and implementation projects, the effectiveness of the overall nonpoint source water pollution program is thus enhanced.

Minigrant funding supports projects that are focused in scope, site, or program specific, and relatively small in scale. Only projects that intend water quality improvement through nonpoint source prevention or reduction are considered for funding. Among the activities that are eligible for a minigrant are implementation of small watershed strategies, unique or innovative BMP demonstrations, financial support to local volunteer stewardship programs, the formation of watershed organizations, various citizen involvement programs, wellhead protection activities, riparian buffer preservation/restoration, and community awareness campaigns. The minigrant program is in keeping with EPA's emphasis on community-based environmental protection programs and also supports the Department of Health and Environmental Control's "Local Solutions to Local Problems" vision statement.

Now entering its second grants cycle, the minigrants program can point to many successes. In this short time, a variety of new organizations throughout the state have received grants to facilitate their involvement in locally oriented nonpoint source projects. The minigrant program has also received considerable publicity; it was featured in the January 1997 newsletter of the Water Environment Federation.

Exemplary accomplishments

The minigrants program has increased the number and diversity of organizations involved in the statewide nonpoint source pollution control effort. Nine new organizations have now become involved in nonpoint source control projects, and some of these groups are taking on the problem of nonpoint source pollution for the first time. One project, for example, involved helping a lakeside homeowners' organization post signs at marinas and boat landings warning boaters of the regulations prohibiting the discharge of sanitary waste into a reservoir.

Another minigrant recipient, the Congaree Land Trust, has undertaken a streamside forest land acquisition project. Negotiations with land owners are currently in progress on easements along two major creeks of the Congaree watershed. Besides the potential for nonpoint source prevention inherent in preserving riparian buffer zones, this project is establishing a precedent in South Carolina whereby land trusts can acquire land for the specific purpose of water pollution control. A similar land acquisition project administered by a regional council of governments has already acquired two parcels of land along the Catawba River, is negotiating for 20 additional acres, and has several other tracts under consideration.

Coastal projects

Along the South Carolina coast, two minigrant projects stand out. An organization that originally formed as a result of a prior Section 319(h) project has been able to continue its involvement in protecting water quality in the highly prized East Cooper watershed through activities funded through minigrants. The Clean Water Council's volunteer monitoring project supports hands-on involvement by action-oriented citizens. Its efforts have led to an opening of dialogue between area citizens and four local governments regarding actions needed to protect valuable local water resources.

On Hilton Head Island, the town government has taken the initiative to undertake a comprehensive nonpoint source project. The goal is to eventually restore the shellfishing status of the central creek of the island now situated within a mostly developed watershed. This project has involved town personnel, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, university researchers, and consultants. Together, they are working to characterize nonpoint sources in the watershed, formulate a strategy for its control, and educate the Hilton Head population on the need for water quality protection in the Broad Creek watershed. The town's commitment to this project represents a major change in how water pollution control is viewed. Instead of looking to state water pollution control agencies to find a way to make water quality improvements, Hilton Head has made a commitment to find its own solution.

In a short time, the minigrants program has established new and different working relationships between the state's water pollution control authority and a number of different governmental and citizen-based organizations. The nontraditional nature of these relationships represents a new and innovative way of doing business. It is hoped that through this new emphasis on fostering local water quality stewardship, the state's nonpoint source control program will realize greater water quality benefits.

CONTACT: Doug Fabel
Bureau of Water
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
803 734-4837

Champions of the Environment -
South Carolina Program Rewards Student Environmentalists

Champions of the Environment, a public-private partnership with Union Camp, DuPont, WIS-TV, Riverbanks Zoo, and the University of South Carolina, merges environmental education with experience of nature and science. The program is designed to cultivate an aware, critical-thinking generation challenged to develop breakthroughs in environ- mental protection and technology and stimulate stewardship in South Carolina citizens. The Champions program encourages creativity outside the classroom. It advocates an interdisciplinary approach to learning science by connecting science, mathematics, and technology with the arts, humanities, and vocational subjects. Champions of the Environment develops students' ability to use the scientific method for solving problems and testing new ideas; it also provides recognition for academicians and others involved in scientific endeavors.

The centerpiece of the program is its focus on the student environmentalist he or she is given a starring role in a 30-second television spot that is broadcast 25 times by WIS-TV to 40 of South Carolina's 46 counties. The program began as an educational outreach component of South Carolina's nonpoint source water pollution program, funded through the Section 319(h) program.

Learning through competitions and creativity

A partnership with industry has significantly expanded a program that began five years earlier as the South Carolina Environmental Awareness Student Awards Competition for middle school students. This first component of the Champions program incorporates six categories of competition and culminates each Spring at Riverbanks Zoo. This competition is for middle school students and includes environmental awareness posters, essays, speeches, bowling, projects, and photography. The second component of the Champions of the Environment program recognizes outstanding environmental students with a television spot showcasing the student wearing the Champions medallion. This competi- tion is open to students in all grade levels who actively seek solutions to environmental problems. The students work individually, as a team, or collectively on class projects.

These "Be a Champion" spots and a series of environmental tips geared toward pollution eradication recorded 15 million impressions during the past year. The student "champions" address such topics as nonpoint source pollution, creating a wildlife habitat, learning how to compost, following label directions, landscaping to prevent pollution, recycling used oil for pollution prevention, participating in environmental competitions, and avoiding pollution while boating.

Current activities

Now in its fifth year, the Champions program reaches South Carolina's 640,197 students in grades 1 through 12 and has recognized student projects that range from converting an area used for felonious activity into an outdoor laboratory to creating an environmental awareness musical involving 350 students (an entire school district). Other topics and projects honored have included

  • compiling data on a city's trees,
  • studying the behavioral responses of juvenile Atlantic sturgeon to various light and magnetic fields,
  • planting and caring for native trees,
  • measuring amounts of lead in drinking water from various sources,
  • comparing contaminants in stormwater runoff to bacteria counts in different surface waters, and
  • researching such issues as decomposition rates, the effects of acid rain, and fecal contamination in well water.

During the past four years the partnership has presented over $16,000 in scholarship awards for students and an additional $3,000 for teachers. Each year the program increases in participants: from 200 in 1993 to 470 in 1994; 1,100 in 1995; and 1,500 in 1996. The program has received national commendations from the White House Conference on Environmental Technology, EPA, and South Carolina Governor David Beasley for its innovative approach to environmental education. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control selected the Champions program as one of the top 10 most successful programs in the agency (which has 6,000 employees and many programs). "It's a textbook example of what can be done when we pool resources to help our young people and our planet thrive," said Governor Beasley during the 1996 scholarship awards reception.

CONTACTS: Doug Fabel
Bureau of Water
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
(803) 734-4837

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