Three Escambia County water bodies landed near the top of a list of Florida beaches that had the highest percentage of days with potentially unsafe bacteria levels.
The Florida Department of Health’s Healthy Beaches Program takes regular samples from public beaches, bays and bayous to measure the levels of fecal indicator bacteria. In high concentrations, such bacteria can cause infections, rashes and other health issues, and waterways with high bacteria levels are temporarily flagged as potentially unsafe for swimming.
The advocacy group Environment Florida compiled 2019 sampling data in a new “Safe for Swimming” report. It found 187 of 261 Florida beaches tested last year were potentially unsafe for swimming at least one day during the year. The organization also listed the waterways with the greatest number of days where bacteria levels exceeded safety recommendations.
Bayou Chico landed at No. 5 on the list with 16 exceedances over 25 sampling days. Bayou Texar was No. 6 with 16 exceedances over 51 sampling days. Sanders Beach was No. 11 with 11 exceedances over 57 sampling days.
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Jenna Stevens, state director for Environment Florida, said, “while the data in the report may seem scary, the thing to know is that this is a very preventable issue.”
The report notes that much water pollution is caused by runoff from roads and developments, from sanitary sewer overflows and from agricultural waste and fertilizer.
Stevens said that communities could reduce pollution by investing in updated sewage infrastructure, installing rain barrels, reducing impervious surfaces and restoring wetlands that provide natural stormwater.
She said Congress recently passed a budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that includes funding for emergency water infrastructure to keep waterways clean and safe. If approved by the Senate, the funds could help communities start to addressing the root causes of pollution.
“When it’s safe enough to go to the beach, it should also be safe enough to swim in the water,” Stevens said.
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There were 12 Escambia County water bodies included in Environment Florida’s report.
Bayou Grande had seven exceedances in 2019, according to the data. Testing areas at Fort Pickens, Park West, Casino Beach, Big Lagoon State Park and Opal Beach had three or fewer. Johnson Beach, Park East and Perdido Key State Park had none.
In Santa Rosa County, Navarre Park had two exceedances, a testing site near Juana’s Pagodas had one and Navarre Beach Pier, Navarre Beach West and Shoreline Park had none.
The full report is available at environmentflorida.org.
Kevin Robinson can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8527.