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Aiken State Park plays host to some pond play Saturday during the Blackwater Summer Festival, focusing on the health and enjoyment of the Edisto River.

Edisto River conservationists are supporting recently announced efforts by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and Clemson, who said this month, they are partnering to form the South Carolina Adopt-a-Stream (or SCAAS) program.

S.C. DHEC and Clemson's Center for Watershed Excellence said in a news release the program will closely mirror the Georgia Adopt-a-Stream program, on in which several volunteer organizations in South Carolina have already been utilizing to monitor and record water quality in the streams and rivers around the state.

"... Really, the announcement from DHEC and Clemson, which I was glad to see, really called for the expansion of the an existing program that has folks throughout the state participating one way or another," said Tim Rogers, president of Friends of the Edisto River.

Rogers said with the numerous chapters or entities involved with the Georgia Adopt-a-Stream program in several states throughout the Southeast, "they've sort of created a niche for themselves in the process."

"Big time concerns" still exist for the Edisto River, Rogers said, particularly in portions in Aiken County where surface water withdrawal has prompted worries about groundwater. 

"It's sort of merging and becoming more newsworthy lately because of the groundwater supply issue which is related to the surface water supply issue," he said. "It's two parts of the same story."

The simple answer when it comes to how they are related is that groundwater is the major supplier and resupplier of surface water, he said.

Using the Edisto for example, Rogers says when there's a big withdrawal for agricultural use – or whatever the case may be – the water has to be replenished or replaced somewhere and in the natural way.

To do that is through groundwater aquifers, "so if you get our of balance withdrawing more surface water than you ought to from an environmental standpoint it forces mother nature to relay to a greater extent groundwater as a resupplier of the surface water," Rogers said.

During a recent conference in Aiken with S.C. Department of Natural Resources officials this month, DNR showed, among other things, a chart depicting a reduction of the depths of multiple aquifers in the general vicinity, Rogers said.

He added the Adopt-a-Stream program is a way the public can participate in monitoring and helping to protect resources like the Edisto. 

Rogers said Friends of the Edisto organization tries to do its part to improve and conserve the environmental quality in Aiken County.

"We try to do our part promoting the second one and initiating the first one," he said. "There are a lot of people who are eager and enthusiastic about doing the same thing."

DHEC and Clemson said in the release they will promote and expand existing South Carolina volunteer stream monitoring efforts by providing volunteer monitors with a website for information, a database to maintain water quality monitoring data, training classes and materials, and other useful resources.

Numerous volunteer organizations from across the state have already agreed to participate in the "citizen river monitoring program," the statement said.

"These volunteer river stewards will spend a few hours each month documenting stream conditions and alerting local authorities of exceedance of water quality standards or evidence of illegal and illicit discharges, the statement continued.

"South Carolina is home to some of the most beautiful streams, rivers, and watersheds in the world, and we are committed to doing our part to protect these beloved natural resources," DHEC Director Catherine E. Heigel said in the release. "Our citizens deserve the opportunity to fish, swim and play in clean rivers and streams and this program helps make that a reality." 

The news release says SCAAS volunteers will be certified in collecting the following types of stream data:

• Visual - documenting the conditions of a river, stream bed, stream banks, and floodplain.

• Chemical - basic stream conditions are tracked over time, clarity, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and more.

• Bacteria - volunteers monitor for the indication of the presence of fecal pollution and how this may be affected by storm events and, over time, watershed changes. This important monitoring is also used for reporting of potential wastewater pollution or other bacteria-laden pollution to surface waters.

• Macroinvertebrate - the canaries in the coal mine of water quality, macroinvertebrates and their community species richness and population are indicators of healthy or polluted waterways. This special monitoring tracks changes over time to a stream and stream bed's conditions and ecosystem health or stress.

Christina Cleveland is the county government reporter at the Aiken Standard.

Christina Cleveland is a reporter with the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since October 2015. A native of Seneca, South Carolina, she holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.