May River Watershed Action Plan

Background

The Town of Bluffton is a coastal community with strong historical ties to its local waterbody, the May River. The May River is significant to the community today for a number of reasons, including:

  • its historic and cultural uses;
  • its aesthetics and views which add to the quality of life for its citizens;
  • its numerous natural resource populations that are directly harvested and utilized by local and regional residents;
  • its economic impacts, both direct and indirect, to the community; and
  • its Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW) designation from the SC Department of Health & Environmental Control – Environmental Quality Control’s (SCDHEC-EQC) Bureau of Water for a high level of water quality.

In the past 20 years, the Town has grown dramatically in both size and population. Due to the rapid development within the May River Watershed, rising fecal coliform levels in the River’s headwaters have resulted in closing portions of the River to shellfish harvesting. Rising fecal coliform levels are a clear indicator of deterioration of the health of a watershed. The Town of Bluffton, along with Beaufort County and local citizens work to take action using the May River Watershed Action Plan to improve conditions in the May River prior to further deterioration.

Purpose

The May River Watershed Action Plan (Action Plan) was developed to:

  • Provide a strategy for assessing problems and implementing solutions to restore shellfish harvesting in the May River.
  • Provide a strategy for assessing and implementing preventative measures to protect the May River from future degradation.
  • Identify opportunities for land purchase, conservation easement purchase, and public, private, and public/private opportunities for retrofit projects.
  • Establish priorities, identify funding opportunities, coordinate specific partners and policies (i.e. ordinance changes), and establish timelines such that the Town can use this information as a business plan to be implemented with other Town annual Capital Improvement and Budgeting programs.
  • Serve as a template for other area watershed action plans.

A copy of the Town’s 2011 May River Watershed Action Plan can be found here.

Since its adoption and in support of the Town’s Strategic Focus Area of the “May River and Surrounding Rivers and Watersheds,” the Town’s priority has been to implement Action Plan policies, programs, and projects. As the Action Plan is considered a “living document” periodic assessment of its recommendations is required to reflect the current state of knowledge about stormwater treatment practices and policies to reduce fecal coliform (FC) bacteria levels. Since its 2011 adoption, watershed conditions, state of knowledge, and scientific evidence have advanced. Based upon these changes the time came for a May River Watershed Action Plan Update (Action Plan Update) to reflect these current conditions.

In 2019, The Town hired McCormick Taylor and Moffatt & Nichol (the Project Team) to develop watershed-water quality models for the four (4) May River Headwaters subwatersheds (Stoney Creek, Rose Dhu Creek, Duck Pond, and Palmetto Bluff) where the shellfish impairments are located. The purpose of the modeling effort is to better understand FC fate and transport in the Headwaters subwatersheds to develop strategies ultimately intended to open all shellfish stations to harvesting.  In order to capture the variety of storm events and environmental conditions, the Project Team developed a continuous simulation of both water quantity and quality.  

Using the WQ Model results and current state of knowledge, the 2011 Action Plan CIP projects were evaluated in terms of their potential to reduce fecal bacteria. Cost estimates to implement a total of eleven (11) projects with the highest potential to remove fecal bacteria were developed to inform the Town’s SWU Fee and long-range CIP budget. These projects will arise from the 2011 Action Plan project evaluations and new projects resulting from the WQ Model. Additionally, the potential fecal bacteria reduction benefits of septic to sewer conversion in the four Headwaters subwatersheds was modeled.

A copy of the Town’s 2020 May River Watershed Action Plan Update and Model Report can be found here.