No easy fix for North Shore water woes
Fewer and fewer people are being seen at North Shore Park in North Fort Myers, and not because of the impending rainstorms that hit the area last week.
Once again, the waters at the troubled riverside destination have been deemed too polluted for human contact. The Florida Department of Health in Lee County has once again put up warning signs for high levels of bacteria in the water.
It is the fourth time this year the park has been placed under an advisory which matches the number of warnings issued for 2015.
No wading or swimming at North Shore Park, located just at the foot of the bridge at 13001 N. Cleveland Ave. is recommended.
But while it would be easy to blame the runoffs from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River, which some still do, it isn’t as simple as that, according to the Health Dept.
Angela Swartzman, Health Dept. officer, said there really isn’t a simple solution. There’s no way to know the exact cause of the high bacteria levels, otherwise they may have solved the issue by now.
In other words, it could simply be nature.
“It’s very complex. The bacteria is naturally occurring, it’s all around us all the time. It can come from a variety of sources,” Swartzman said. “It can come from exotic birds, stormwater runoff, any contaminant from pets on the beach to major sewage failure.”
Swartzman said information from the past several years shows there are peaks and valleys, with the peaks occurring toward the end of the summer when Southwest Florida gets the most rain.
But again, it isn’t necessarily the water that’s causing it, but rather, a combination of factors.
“It could be the birds or more people utilizing the beaches or because of all the rain washing things into the water,” Swartzman said. “There’s no way to pinpoint the exact cause.”
Jason Maughan, an attorney and clean water activist who ran against Lizbeth Benacquisto on the issue, doesn’t buy it. He said it’s a combination of the polluted Lake O discharges and the fact that much of North Fort Myers has relied on septic systems, many of which are decades old.
“The outdated septic systems in the area need to be addressed. We need to clean our own house,” Maughan said. “Sewers can’t be everywhere, but we have septic fields that are 40 to 60 years old that’s all sewage now.”
Swartzman said in spite of all the rain over the winter, the trending for the bacteria was the same. There was no correlation from the Lake O releases and the increase in bacteria levels. Otherwise, you would see high bacteria levels all year.
The department said tests completed Aug. 25 indicate that the water quality at the park does not meet the safety criteria for enterococcus bacteria recommended by the Florida Department of Health.
Test results taken on Tuesday revealed nothing new as rains associated with a tropical storm pounded down on the area.
Advisories at the park have become routine. A similar advisory was put on the area on June 9 for high bacteria levels. It was removed five days later.
Before that, on March 31, another one was called. That advisory was lifted on April 5. On Jan. 14 the first advisory was issued. That lasted until Feb. 2.
According to the Health Dept., the water must have less than 71 enterococci bacteria per 100 milliliters of water before the signs can come down. Anything under 35 is considered good, Swartzman said.
“We have the science to know to keep people safe, but the specificity of where that bacteria is coming from is not there,” Swartzman said.
The department said enterococcus bacteria normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals.
The bacteria can make you very ill and cause infections, diarrhea, stomach and abdominal problems and even meningitis, which can be fatal.