Water Quality

The Watershed Management Division strives to protect surrounding water bodies and enhance the natural resources by improving water quality through the promotion and implementation of effective stormwater management practices, collaboration with regional jurisdictions, as well as education and outreach.


Nestled between Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, the Town of Bluffton in Beaufort County is rich with history, culture and natural beauty. Beaufort County is composed of hundreds of barrier and Sea Islands separated by abundant waterways. In fact, approximately 46% of Beaufort's coverage is salt marshes and tidal rivers.

The May River is Bluffton’s tidal river. With high salinity waters, deep channels, high tidal amplitude, and large expanses of salt marsh, the May River creates the perfect environment for spectacular scenic vistas and rich habitat for egrets, herons, pelicans, dolphins and other wildlife species.

Central to the economy and family life, the May River is the heart of Bluffton. It is important to our community for so many reasons: as a place to swim, lounge on the sandbar, catch fish and harvest oysters. In all of these ways the health of our waterways is tied to the health of our community - it's a responsibility we all share.

In recent years, local leaders and residents have become increasingly concerned about the health of our river and protecting it rising levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform bacteria are sometimes found with disease-causing germs found in human and animal waste.

Fecal coliform bacteria can enter our rivers from many sources - wastewater overflow, wildlife, failing septic systems, and even pet waste. We are all part of the problem, but we can all be part of the solution. It's not too late to make a real difference in the health of the May River. We encourage you to explore the Town’s efforts to maintain the health of the May River and to become engaged in our efforts.

The Town of Bluffton’s Watershed Management Division actively works to protect and improve the health of the May River by:

  1. Implementing the May River Watershed Action Plan – Restorative and Preventative Projects

  2. Monitoring and Testing Water Quality and Partnering with the USCB Water Quality Laboratory for Analysis

  3. Implementing and Enforcing the Town's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Program

  4. Providing Master Plan and Development Plan Compliance Reviews

  5. Performing Construction Site Inspections: Best Management Practices

  6. Stormwater Ordinance: BMP maintenance inspection and Post Construction Testing Program

  7. Beaufort County Stormwater Utility Board Representation

  8. Septic System Assistance Program

To find out ways you can become involved and help us protect the May River for generations to come visit Neighbors For Clean Water.

SC DHEC Information

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) monitors the State’s waters and currently has 25 shellfish management areas that contain over 450 monitoring stations. The purpose of this monitoring network is to provide data that accurately reflects the sanitary conditions of coastal shellfish and shellfish growing waters in South Carolina and to ensure that the health of shellfish consumers are protected.

Routine bacteriological monitoring and subsequent laboratory analyses of water quality from the May River at strategically located sample sites are conducted monthly by SCDHEC. The May River is located in Shellfish Growing Area 19, which includes habitat in Beaufort and Jasper Counties. A map of SCDHEC monitoring stations located in the May River can be found by clicking here.

The shellfish-harvesting season in South Carolina typically extends from October 1 through May 30, although actual dates may vary. SCDHEC has the authority to prohibit shellfish harvesting when necessary to ensure that shellfish harvested in South Carolina waters are safe for human consumption.

Shellfish-harvesting waters are classified each year based on monitoring data from previous years (typically the last three years). These classifications include Approved, Conditionally Approved, Restricted, or Conditionally Restricted and are put into place for each growing area annually. The most recent SCDHEC Shellfish Growing Area 19 Annual Report can be found by clicking here.

Working with SCDHEC’s local Environmental Quality Control (EQC) Office, The Town of Bluffton obtains the May River shellfish data monthly. Data is compiled internally and presented at the Town’s quarterly Watershed Action Plan Advisory Committee (WAPAC) meetings.

The May River has been identified as a priority watershed by the EPA and SCDHEC and The Town of Bluffton has been awarded two Section 319-Grants by SCDHEC to improve water quality. The first Section 319 Grant for Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Projects was awarded and implemented to reduce fecal coliform levels in the May River. The grant funds were utilized to install Best Management Practices including physical structures, educational programs, and crafting ordinance changes.

The second Section 319 Grant, currently underway, is implementing a Pine Ridge Neighborhood Stormwater Lagoon Best Management Practice (BMP) retrofit. This is the first large scale demonstration project in Bluffton showing the benefits of modifying an existing BMP to improve both water quantity and quality outputs from an established development. The Pine Ridge BMP retrofit will demonstrate to developers, property owner associations, as well as Town, County and State staff that retrofitting lagoons for water reuse and improved water quality is an effective way to reduce stormwater runoff volume and pollutants to the May River. This type of project will be critical in developed watersheds that were built out under older, less stringent water quantity and quality standards.

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