BRADENTON – The south side of Palma Sola Bay continues to test positive for moderate levels of enterococcus bacteria from fecal matter, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The moderate level has persisted since Aug. 26. Poor water quality was discovered on Aug. 12 and 13, briefly improving on Aug. 19.
That afternoon, an estimated 180,000 of reclaimed water spilled at 59th Street West and 21st Avenue West near Blake Medical Center when a contractor struck a water line, causing reclaimed water to rush down the street into a storm drain that leads to the bay, according to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) report.
A health advisory at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria has been lifted since water samples tested good on Sept. 3, the most recent water test available. Poor readings on Aug. 26 and 28 prompted the advisory.
The Florida Healthy Beaches Program uses a three-point scale – poor, moderate and good – in evaluating water safety. Tests detect the presence of enterococci – bacteria that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which can be an indication of fecal pollution.
The bacteria may originate from sewer pipe breaks, stormwater runoff, wildlife, pets or horses.
The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council asked DEP and the Pinellas County Commission in June to ban recreational horseback riding in Tampa Bay along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge causeway to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus from horse waste. Some of the same horses that are rented at the Skyway also carry tourists up and down beaches on the Palma Sola Bay Causeway and swim in Palma Sola Bay. The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Keep Manatee Beautiful also have expressed concerns about horse waste in the bay.
If fecal pollution is ingested while swimming or penetrates the skin through cuts, it can cause infections, rashes and disease, according to the health department.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that states adopt the bacterial testing as a saltwater quality indicator. According to EPA studies, enterococci have a greater correlation with swimming-associated gastrointestinal illness in both marine and fresh waters than other bacterial indicator organisms and are less likely to die off in saltwater.