Southwest Florida under a ‘code brown’ following rash of fecal bacteria reported in local waterways

septic tanks
In the past few weeks, fecal bacteria outbreaks have shut down several Fort Myers-area beaches.

In the past few weeks, several sites in the Fort Myers area have experienced beach closures and health warnings due to an outbreak of fecal bacteria, a sign of human nutrient pollution from sources such as leaky septic tanks.

Over the Easter holiday weekend, a dead manatee washed ashore near the beach at the Cape Coral Yacht Club, which was closed previously due high levels bacteria, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Additionally, the Fort Myers News-Press, the first to report the bacterial outbreaks, reported the Estero River “showed 1,850 colony-forming units, or CPU/100 milliliters of Enterrococci, a bacteria found in the gut of warm-blooded animals and humans.”

The Florida Department of Health’s standard for beaches is 70 CPU/100 milliliters.

The News-Press also reported elevated levels of fecal bacteria in Powell Creek in North Fort Myers, Billy’s Creek in Fort Myers and the Orange River at Manatee Park, according to readings from the Calusa Waterkeeper.

After warnings closed the beach near the Cape Coral Yacht Club, new tests show reduced fecal bacteria levels, allowing for the beach to re-open.

Local leaders such as Cecil Pendergrass, a Lee County Commissioner, say the area is overdue for action on implementing pollution controls that would help prevent future outbreaks of fecal bacteria.

“Our concern is where this pollution is coming from.” Pendergrass told Florida Politics. “Is it coming from parts of the county or the city that aren’t connected to sewer? Is there still bacteria in the water after treatment?”

Pendergrass said tackling the problem requires identifying whether the bulk of the bacteria is entering waterways through septic leeching, aged infrastructure or other means.

The Lee County Commission has been working closely with the state Department of Environmental Protection to figure that out and commissioners will get a briefing on the findings during a workshop scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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