Bluffton, S.C., is a coastal village situated along the May River in the state’s low country. In recent years, the town’s population has exploded, from 1,275 in 2000 to an estimated 18,897 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This growth has contributed to rising fecal coliform levels in the May River, which led the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to restrict shellfish harvesting in certain portions of the river. Town officials needed to find a way to address the situation.
“Bluffton is a coastal river town, and the May River is the centerpiece of our community,” said Kim Jones, manager of watershed management for the town of Bluffton. “It provides oysters, shrimp, fish, crabs, jobs and recreation for our residents. The health of the river is among the highest priorities for town staff and leaders.”
The town was able to secure Clean Water Act 319 funds to retrofit a storm water pond into an existing drainage system in the May River headwaters. Following the discovery of algal blooms in the storm water pond, the town secured a separate 319 grant that allowed it to purchase 15 floating island units from Floating Wetland Solutions. Designed to absorb nutrients that might otherwise lead to algal blooms and the downstream replication of fecal coliform and other harmful pathogens, these islands were populated with more than 800 indigenous plants from Baker Environmental Nursery.
Bluffton’s Watershed Management Div. coordinated the purchase of the islands and plants with their vendors to make sure the plants were properly established and would thrive when the islands were deployed.
“The town of Bluffton is most proud of the collaboration involved in this project among our partners and vendors,” said Sam Connor, P.E., storm water engineer for the town of Bluffton. “Together, with several minds and hands working together, we found a solution [that] worked after we observed multiple harmful algal blooms in this pond. In addition, having the project funded through a Clean Water Act 319 grant was like finding the last piece of this puzzle. It is exciting and rare when many moving parts align themselves and produce such a successful outcome.”
The storm water pond floating island project was completed in May 2017. The Bluffton Watershed Management Div. also has purchased additional floating islands and are distributing them to neighborhoods along the watershed that want to help address the May River’s water quality issues.