Health advisories issued for local waterways are a concern for many in the community. These advisories are issued when the bacterial organism known as Enterococcus is present at high levels. This organism is found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals and can is associated with fecal contamination in marine, estuarine, and freshwater systems. The source of Enterococcus can be stormwater run-off, pets and wildlife, as well as human sewage. If present at high levels in local waterways and enter your body either by swallowing water or entering through a cut or sore, they can cause disease and rashes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as set 70 colonies / 100ml of sample as the bar for high concentrations1.
Monitoring occurs on local beaches where swimming is common. In the Pensacola Bay area there are 13 such beaches monitored. Those are found near Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach, and in our local bayous. Samples are collected and analyzed by the Department of Health once a week. As you can tell from the data table below, not all beaches are monitored every week. One would ask why? and the quick answer is time and money. Because of this, one body of water may have a higher number of advisories not because they are larger problem, but because they are sampled more frequently. Another way of looking at this is the frequency of advisories issued per number of samples taken – what percent of those samples required an advisory. When you look at this, you see that our local bayous have a larger problem than the barrier island beaches.
Following this over the last 10 years, it has been observed that the area bayous often require an advisory issued 30% of the samples taken, or more. Where the coastal island locations are typically below 10%. In the Escambia County Extension program, Bringing Back the Bayous the objective is to have health advisories issued no more than 30% of samples taken. Below you will see the current numbers for the spring of 2021.
The next question would be what can we do to help reduce this problem?
Being that the primary sources of Enterococcus are stormwater run-off, pets and wildlife, and human sewage we can…
- Help reduce stormwater run-off from our private and business properties. There are numerous landscape and building options that can help with this. Contact your county extension office to learn more about these.
- Pick up after your pets.
- If you have a septic tank, develop a maintenance schedule or consider converting to sewer. If you are on either septic or sewer, do not pour items down the drain that can cause clogs in the system creating sewage overflows. Contact your county extension office to learn more about how to do any of these.
CURRENT DATA THROUGH SPRING 2021
2021 HEALTH ADVISORY DATA
Enterococcus bacteria count rubric for health advisories (Florida Department of Health)
GOOD 0-35 colonies/100ml of sample
MODERATE 36-70 colonies/100ml
POOR 71> colonies/100ml
Health Advisory Frequency
Data provided by the Florida Department of Health’s Healthy Beaches Program
|Body of Water||# of samples collected||# of POOR reports||# of advisories issued||% frequency of advisories|
|Big Lagoon SP||13||1||0||.00|
|Perdido Key SP||ND||ND||ND||–|
1 Florida Healthy Beaches Program. Florida Department of Health. http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/beach-water-quality/index.html.