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Water safe again for swimmers at Cape Coral Yacht Club beach; Health officials closed last week

By Staff | Oct 1, 2008

Following Tuesday’s rains at the Cape Coral Yacht Club, the beach sat damp, empty and silent. Footprints left a ghostly image on the sand and two New Yorkers, a fisherman and his daughter, walked the rain-soaked pier alone to drop a line in the Caloosahatchee.

But as the evening came, residents began to trickle back to the Cape hotspot, walking the pier, casting bait and enjoying the waterfront atmosphere.

A Florida Department of Health sign near the playground read “no water quality advisory at this time” for the first time since Wednesday, when the agency posted signs warning swimmers they might become ill if they took a dip.

The culprit, according to the Department of Health, was heightened levels of enterococcus bacteria caused by animal feces in the river. Rain elevated the levels, health officials said.

Though the foul weather seemed to keep swimmers on dry land, officials declared the water safe to swim in as the result of a weekly test for the bacteria Tuesday.

A Cape bicyclist rode up and down the parking lot. Rain or no rain, he preferred to pedal rather than doggie paddle at the yacht club.

“If I go anywhere, I’d go in the pool,” said Al Sparrow from the seat of his mountain bike.

Sparrow was not surprised by the lack of swimmers.

“It’s been like this since last week,” Sparrow said, referring to the beach closure by health officials. “If they say it’s clear … people will come back.”

“It’s not the first time they’ve done this,” Sparrow added.

Michael Barnaby, a spokesperson for the Lee County Health Department, concurred.

“It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time,” Barnaby said. “It’s a fact of life. The more rain you have, the more there’s going to be. It was concentrated in the river … because of the rain. It just gets flushed out with time.”

Barnaby said the river becomes contaminated with the bacteria from the city’s canal systems and land, though there is no connection between bacteria levels and water flushed from Lake Okeechobee.

According to the South Florida Water Management District Web site, the Caloosahatchee is an outlet from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We are pleased to hear that the beach has reopened,” said city spokesperson Connie Barron. “We expected that it would clear up in a reasonable amount of time. We just needed to let nature take its course.”

The yacht club beach waters have not been closed as a result of unsafe levels of the bacteria since 2005, according to the Florida Department of Health Web site.