Ground and surface water in the Lowcountry are fundamentally the most important natural resources in the Region and must meet state and federal water quality standards in order to ensure availability in quality as well as quantity for future generations. Water as a resource is essential in sustaining human, plant, and animal life, as well as being necessary for agricultural, recreational, industrial, energy production, and domestic purposes. The Lowcountry is fortunate to have fresh water systems and salt water systems as well as areas of mixing water systems, which are referred to as estuaries. Estuaries are necessary as they help to filter inland pollutants before they can reach the ocean; they also contain a vast amount of wild and plant life that can only be found in these environments. These settings provide vital economic benefits – according to NOAA, in Beaufort County alone; total ocean-related wages were $176 million in 2009 (16.2% of all jobs). For Coastal Jasper County ocean-related jobs were 6.6 percent of all jobs and one percent for Colleton County. The value of diverse natural resources reaches beyond county lines to benefit the entire Region. The Lowcountry depends upon its water systems for both the health of its inhabitants and also for the continued vitality of its economy.

The Lowcountry relies heavily on tourism for economic success, especially in southern Beaufort County. Its location, coastal setting, and climate provide attractions that draw in millions of tourists every year. This coastal climate also attracts retirees from all over the country and internationally, due to its weather and environment. These retirees bring outside money that is spent on local services that provide support for the Lowcountry’s economy. Also, the coastal landscape of the Lowcountry has attracted the movie industry, the mix of coastal and fresh water systems providing excellent locations for cinematic settings.

The “Clean Water Act” of 1972 was passed by the United States Congress in an attempt to restore and maintain an exemplary clean water standard throughout the nation. This legislation established goals at a national level to improve the integrity of US water systems by aiming to further develop a comprehensive approach to water quality preservation throughout the nation. The two goals originally established by the “Clean Water Act” were: 1) eliminate the discharge of pollutants into navigable water by 1985, and 2) attain water quality which provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife, and provides for recreation in and on the water by 1983. Although these goals were not accomplished in the 1980s, with the current level of scientific knowledge and techniques available Lowcountry water systems can, and effectively will, meet and exceed these goals by the use of this and other Water Quality Management Plans.

Map: Lowcountry Impaired waters (303d List)

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is responsible for the Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP) for non-designated areas. Six Councils of Governments have been designated as Water Quality Planning Agencies for specific Regions in South Carolina. The Lowcountry Council of Governments (LCOG) has been delegated this role, which includes the responsibility of completing and updating the Water Quality Management 6 Lowcountry Regional Water Quality Management Plan – September 2012 Plan (WQMP) and performing the administrative functions for wastewater certifications (208 Certifications) in the Lowcountry. The statewide WQMP is broad in scope and may give direction to the planning agencies in their creation of a more local or Regional plan. There are important aspects of the statewide plan that can be linked to the Lowcountry’s WQMP as they directly relate to this Region of South Carolina.

The WQPA is the highest tier of local government directly involved in the water quality management plan. It is responsible for updating and maintaining the area-wide WQMP. It also must review preliminary engineering reports, construction permit applications, plans and specifications to certify whether such activities are in conformance with the area’s WQMP. The planning agency must also evaluate conflicts between proposed projects and the WQMP and facilitate modifications to either the project or the WQMP as necessary to preserve the goals and objectives of the plan. Preparing annual reports of 208 activities and submitting them to the DHEC is another responsibility of the WQPA, this is to be completed and delivered to DHEC in the month of July. Finally, it is required that the planning agency coordinate and facilitate public participation through public hearings and/or meetings. The Lowcountry Council of Governments is the WQPA for the four-county Region of Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper.