Columbia Star

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Testing the Water: Part Three



Ms. Val teaches a group of students at Congaree II.

Ms. Val teaches a group of students at Congaree II.

On the morning of February 6, Dr. Valerie Hoyt-Parrish (Ms. Val) stood against the breeze racing across the Saluda River. The Cutler School students were taking a snack break and reviewing their morning field trip. The chilling wind was affecting every human, tree, plant, and even the river itself. However, the unflappable Ms. Val stood calmly, asked questions, reiterated their mission, and continued teaching.

Each grade’s students reported on the creatures they observed during their hike around the Saluda Riverwalk and how it differed from the tiny, unnamed stream that courses through the property next to their school. Last summer their stream was identified as polluted.

Other than conducting adult supervised testing, coordinated by Gills Creek Watershed Association with executive director Bailey Slice Parker overseeing the process, the students have had little contact with their favorite classroom since the news came that it was unsuitable for small bodies to wade around in. So they took a field trip to reset.

At the end of break period, Ms. Val shared the results of the E. coli specificity testing done recently by Jonah Ventures, a lab that specializes in Microbial Source Tracking. According to those results, the primary source of E. coli in the creek comes from human waste. The second culprit is waste from chickens, and the third source found in the water, in smaller amounts, was waste from dogs.

Later that week, the students met in the classroom to discuss an action plan for restoring their beloved stream to a safe level, not only for them to study but also for everyone who lives near the creek and especially those who reside along the shores of Forest Lake, which is the body of water the Cutler School creek flows into.

Ms. Val reports the Culter School staff and student body are working on the master plan to reverse the level of toxicity in the creek. The school is creating brochures to hand deliver to community residents explaining the issues and what area residents can so to help.

Ms. Val’s assistant, Robin Lourie, is looking into the specifics of getting students on the speaking schedule of the April Forest Acres City Council meeting on April 9, and there are plans to contact some of the area lake associations so the students can also inform them of the issue and possible solutions. Speaking of speaking, Ms. Val has a USC contact assisting students in creating a podcast on the issue. Several Cutler students have recorded their stories for the podcast. Teachers are currently editing those stories. As soon as that is complete, the resulting podcast will be posted.

One of the other Cutler teachers has an ETV contact, and a possible commercial by the students may be included in upcoming television broadcasts. On March 19 Bailey and Ms. Val conducted the monthly water check. The school invited parents and families to see the process and lend a hand cleaning up the campus.

In addition to these ideas, Cutler Elementary is planning a community event at the school, hopefully in Mid- April or early May, to showcase the problem and what the students are doing to try and fix it.

This process began in late spring of 2023 when Cutler students noticed a decreasing amount of life in their creek. As reported before, Slice Parker and GCWA got involved early on, when a May test by Jay Cates from Water Systems Inc. determined the stream was polluted. (www.thecolumbiastar.com/articles/cutler-elementary-fights-pollution/)

A subsequent test was done, again by GCWA, and reported here in late January. This test, like all those supervised by Slice Parker, was conducted under the S.C. Adopt-A-Stream program. This test confirmed E. coli, which led to the Jonah Ventures testing, resulting in the unsettling results shared by Ms. Val February 6.

Since then, Gills Creek Watershed Association (GCWA), led by Slice Parker, conducted a now regular monthly test on February 20. This test reconfirmed E. coli and also revealed the presence of bacteria that grew from water samples.

GCWA has led the way in trying to coordinate help from both DHEC and the East Richland County Public Service District, but things don’t look too promising from either of these groups.

East Richland County Public Service District performed a smoke test and a camera inspection on its lines in the immediate area but did not discover any leaks. Officials assume it’s old, leaky septic tanks in the area causing the evidence of human waste in the water.

DHEC did some testing last summer when the pollution was first established and referred the problem to upper management. Slice Parker contacted them February 20 but hasn’t heard back.

Meanwhile, a creek that suddenly became polluted with human waste last spring is now off limits to schoolchildren who want to study it, and the stream continues to flow into Forest Lake and other bodies of water.

These students and their teachers aren’t done yet. They’re hoping others are mad about this and willing to help out— more to come.

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