With water quality testing ending for the season in
"We actually have no idea why the quality has been changing," said Crystal Steele, environmental manager for
Steele said the heavy rainfall in July and August could be a factor.
However, no concrete evidence has been able to point to an exact culprit.
The FDOH in
"Since it gets colder up here compared to
When sampled, water samples are graded by the amount of enteroccocci — or bacteria — per 100 ml of marine water. Anywhere from 0-35 is considered good, 36-104 is moderate and poor is 105 and greater.
In the final tests of the year, Grayton,
Blaine Dargavell, a
"When sewer lines get inundated by rain water, the sanitary systems become overcharged," he said. "Livestock, cats and dogs and wild animals — all of their waste gets washed out. Those would be the likely places bacteria will come from. It has to come from somewhere."
Weekly testing is a start, said Dargavell, but may not help the county lead to any conclusions.
"Once the water is analyzed, it goes someplace else," he explained. "One week Grayton is bad and
Sarah Schindele of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance said she is not surprised by the inconsistent water quality reports.
"Those tests are a picture of just a little bit of water and that little bit is always moving," she said. " When we have a lot of rain, it's draining the land and flushing it all into the water. The bacteria might be detecting waste from a nearby park. Not that the tests aren't helpful. If you consistently see that one area is always 'poor', then that might be a problem."
Since the mid-1990s the CBA has conducted its own water quality tests monthly. The tests are completely separate from the health department's and do not include bacteria checks — which the non-profit does not have the funds for, said Schindele. CBA volunteers head to more than 140 stations in the watershed including
"What it allows us to do is establish a baseline," said Schindele, grant coordinator for CBA. "This type of data didn't exist before CBA, so we didn't know what was normal. We now know when things change and can determine areas that are suitable for restoration efforts such as oyster reefs."
Schindele explains that the test results from
Main issues in
"The sedimentation can carry pollutants, which could cause an imbalance to the system," Schindele explained. "And while the erosion of marsh areas is a natural process, it is one of the challenges we face."
Alan Ficarra, president of SWCC, supports the CBA monthly water sampling program by loaning his boat to the cause. Water quality, Ficarra said, is a concern with most of the SWCC board members.
"We support CBA by monitoring county rules, policy and development guidelines," he said. "We then make recommendations to the county and encourage them to adopt rules for developments that will support good water quality and responsible development."
"Some things we recommend are limiting fertilizer use, using natural vegetation in your landscaping, which also supports wildlife and needs less fertilizer," Schindele. "If you live on the water, leave a buffer of natural vegetation. Don't clear everything. Those plants do a good job of filtering water."
MORE INFO: If you should have any questions, please contact the FDOH in
WANT TO HELP? Volunteers are always needed at Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance. Volunteers are trained to collect and monitor water quality. Learn more by visiting www.basinalliance.org. Volunteers can also protect a local waterway by placing bagged oyster shells in the water at an oyster reef restoration site at