wins state award for helping educate people about water quality

Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Several Grand Strand governments and community partners were recognized at Tuesday morning’s Myrtle Beach City Council members for their efforts to educate people about water quality along local beaches.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control presented its Community Star Award recognizing the website to the cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach; the town of Surfside Beach; the Horry County Council; the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce; the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce; Coastal Carolina University; and Myrtle Beach State Park.

“DHEC established the Community Star Award to recognize successful, collaborative partnerships that better protect and improve the quality of life in communities,” Jennifer Hughes of DHEC’s Bureau of Water, said during her presentation. “There is no better example of a collaborative partnership that went above and beyond in their efforts to educate and inform the residents and visitors of the water quality at the Grand Strand Beaches.”

The Swim Advisory Notification Task Force began working on the project in the summer of 2018, Hughes said. The goal of providing the most current information available about water quality at the beaches led to the creation of the website where people can get information about water quality, check for swimming advisories, rip current notices, tide information, surf reports and other beach-safety information.

“DHEC’s mission is to protect the public health and the environment and to improve the quality of life of our citizens,” Hughes said. “We are very passionate about that mission and we can never reach the audience we have been able to reach without the efforts of this partnership … Because of you, we are protecting and serving our community better than we ever have before.”

Mayor Brenda Bethune also touted the benefits of the partnership.

“I will tell you this initiative has greatly cleared up a lot of the misconceptions about issues pertaining to our beaches and our water quality,” she said.

Karen Riordan, MBACC president and CEO, said the program’s biggest fight is against misinformation about local beaches and their water quality.

“People thought that our beaches were dirty, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Riordan said.

Jimmy Gray, MBACC director of government affairs, said the chamber was getting phone calls from prospective visitors worried about poor water quality, ultimately prompting the “Check My Beach’s” formation.

We’re getting tons of phone calls with outdated information,” Gray said. “We needed to do something about this.”

The group launched the website in 2019 to quick success. The site has amassed tens of thousands of clicks with 77% coming from mobile devices, according to DHEC.

Gray said the program’s success is a result of key investments.

“We wouldn’t see those numbers in terms of traffic, though, if it weren’t for the community buy in of DHEC, of the City of Myrtle Beach, of city council,” Gray said. “Thank you so much for buying into this program and working with us on deploying it.”

The program initially started with just 20 posted signs at Myrtle Beach beaches. Riordan said more cities and towns in the area wanted to be part of the program once they heard of the initial success.

“So many other municipalities joined in: Surfside, North Myrtle Beach, and the county once they saw the pilot,” Riordan said.

The collaboration between the 14 partnering groups is what caught DHEC’s attention. Bryan Rabon, DHEC aquatic science program manager, said the teamwork was a deciding factor in “Check My Beach” winning the award.

“This program really stood out because of how many people worked together across so many different boundaries to make sure that it was a solid, consistent message for everyone and able to reach the people that are at the beach,” Rabon said.

Rabon said nearly of half of the site’s visitors last summer clicked through to DHEC’s water quality website, expanding DHEC’s reach.

“We as DHEC are not able to really reach the people on the beach effectively, and that’s what the municipalities have allowed us to do,” Rabon said. “They’ve gone above and beyond and gotten our message to the people that are going to the beach.”

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