ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. (WCBD) – State officials from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control are ensuring the water is safe as warmer weather draws more people to Lowcountry beaches. DHEC will begin it’s annual testing for bacteria at beaches across the state starting next week.

Officials say it’s important to know what’s in the water before you hit the waves to make sure you’re staying healthy and safe.

“It’s important to know before you go because a lot of times we can experience some really high bacteria levels,” says Andrew Wunderley with Charleston WaterKeeper.

Those bacteria can come from a wide variety of causes like heavy rain, runoff from storm drains and in some cases fecal matter. DHEC says it looks for one type that’s can be a sign of contaminated water.

“While there’s a bunch of different types of bacteria in our waterways at different concentrations, DHEC is specifically looking at one; Enterococcus,” says Storm Term 2 Meteorologist David Dixon.

Enterococcus along with other types of bacteria can be harmful if exposed to it. Wunderley says older adults, children and immunocompromised can be effected the most if exposed.

“You can get things like ear, nose and throat infections, gastroenteritis, and it can really be problematic,” says Wunderley.

DHEC tests ocean water off South Carolina beaches on a regular basis all along the coast during the months of May through October, especially after storms. Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson expects we’ll see several of these events each year.

“If we happen to see very heavy rain or coastal flooding events, you’ll want to pay attention to our water concentrations of that bacteria for around 24 to 48 hours,” says Dickson.

When higher or harmful levels of bacteria are identified, DHEC issues no swimming advisories for the impacted area – especially near storm drains. Wunderley says Charleston Waterkeeper is monitoring waterways and harbors in and around Charleston.

“We do our sampling work every Wednesday morning May through the end of October,” says Wunderley. “We test 20 different sites that are hotspots for recreational activity.”

So before packing the car and slipping into your favorite bathing suit, Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dixon says you should check the latest results.

“Take a look at how those bacteria levels are elevated or hopefully low if you’re heading out to the beach,” says Dickson.

DHEC’s weekly and monthly testing data can be found here.