Tag Archives: bacteria levels

The River, “Creating Young Winners,” Treasure Coast Junior Rowing Club, SLR/IRL

Treasure Coast Rowing Club, 2015
Treasure Coast Junior Rowing Club, 2015

The other day at a Martin County Commission meeting, I felt like a parent beaming with pride. I had been there about four hours when my mother popped into the meeting, then my sister, and then Evie, Jenny’s daughter who is now 15. This is the only child that I literally saw born into the world…

Following Evie were many of her team mates, young men and women. So cute! And to see them sitting there in the commission chambers, what a sight! When public comment came around my niece, Evie, confidently walked to the podium and ask the commissioners to support full funding of a dock at Leighton Park that would allow the youth and others not to have to walk on the river bottom to launch their skiffs. This area of the St Lucie River is has the highest bacteria levels and is ground zero for the polluted discharges from C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. Cutting feet on dead oysters is not a good idea and even with shoes is dangerous. As we know open wounds in filthy water can have devastating consequences.

I watched in awe.

Tears swelled up in my eyes seeing Evie unafraid to “go before the commission.” As a commissioner for the Town of Sewall’s Point myself and as someone who has spoken before commissions prior to my commissionership, I know the tortured feeling of inadequacy that can often come upon one in such a situation. The commissioners up high on the dais, peering down on you, like you are a mere peasant. It is very intimidating even for the most educated and confident.

Because Evie is a River Kid whose mission is to “speak up, get involved, and raise awareness,” she has  been speaking before commissions, politicians, and high level agency  leaders  since she was 10 years old! Going before the Martin County Commission was “old hat” for her. “What a gift,” I thought. The gift of learning public speaking and being at ease with it….a skill that can be applied to all aspects of life.

Evie Flaugh, speaks on behalf of her team, before the commission. 8-18-15. (JTL)
Evie Flaugh, speaks on behalf of her team, before the commission. 8-18-15. (JTL)
Evie's notes she wrote herself to speak before the commission. (2015)
Evie’s notes she wrote herself to speak before the commission. (2015)
"The team."
“The team sitting in the commission chambers.” (JTL)
Parental support staff, and coast Stefani Faulkner far right. (JTL)
Parental support staff, and coast Stefani Faulkner far right. (JTL)

Coach Stefani Faulkner, spokesperson Dr Eric Pheiffer, and parents accompanied these kids. Take a minute see the good work they are doing! They are winning state competitions. And the river, in spite of its challenges, is helping make winners of them all!

Website TCRC: (http://treasurecoastrowingclub.com/index.php)

“The Treasure Coast Rowing Club (TCRC) was established to stimulate and foster interest in the sport of rowing among amateurs. We promote this interest through education and competitions using every reasonable endeavor for the advancement and up-building of amateur rowing in accordance with the best traditions of sportsmanship. Our goal is to have a safe and fun environment where both adults and youth rowers can enjoy the sport of rowing. We aim to teach the joys of rowing to anyone willing to learn and wanting to get behind an ore, or on the water. We welcome all athletes regardless of their ability or experience. If you are willing to show up and work hard, there is a place for you in our boats”. (TCRC website)

Watch this awesome video featuring the team. It will motivate you, even if you are not motivated! Seriously. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKaD5rmf_wQ#t=12

Link to video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKaD5rmf_wQ#t=12)

TCRC juniors. (website photo)
TCRC juniors. (website photo)
Carrying boat off dock into waters of SLR. (website photo)
Carrying boat off dock into waters of SLR. (website photo)
Sunset....
Sunset….

Understanding High Bacteria Levels in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Clear water off of the Stuart Sandbar, but is it clean?
Clear beautiful water off the Sandbar, Stuart; but is safe to swim? (Photo, Jacqui  Thurlow-Lippisch, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, 2012)

Enterococcus: Bacteria normally found in the feces. Two types, Enterococcus fecalis and Enterococcus fecium, cause human disease, most commonly in the form of urinary tract and wound infections. Other infections, including those of the blood stream (bacteremia), heart valves (endocarditis), and the brain (meningitis) can occur in severely ill patients in hospitals. Enterococci also often colonize open wounds and skin ulcers, and are among the most common antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Medicine-Net

*The Martin County Health Department tests for Enterococcus (E) in area waters: According to their interpretation, 0-35 cfu of E./100 ml  river water =GOOD; 36-104 cfu E/100 ml river water=MODERATE; and 105  cfu E./ml River water is POOR (“cfu” relates to number of viable cells per milliliter.)

In November 2012, some members of the public were worried that the Martin County Health Department (MCHD) did not have enough support. Due to the pushing of a few members at a Rivers Coalition meeting, Senator Joe Negron, during the legislative budgeting process, added specific funding for MCHD to sample three new sites weekly. In turn, with input from the Rivers Coalition and the help of Bob Washam of the MCHD, the three test locations were chosen and the public began regularly checking bacteria levels in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on the MCHD website. 

Before the senator intervened, the sites being tested in the river were the Roosevelt Bridge; the Jensen and Stuart Causeways, and the north fork of the St Lucie River in St Lucie County. 

The new test sites included Bessey Creek, close to the mouth of the C-23 canal, in Palm City;  Leighton Park, at the base of the Palm City Bridge;  and Sandsprit Park, near the Manatee Pocket in Stuart, close to the inlet. The Department of Environmental Protection also conducted/s periodic testing.

In early June of the 2013, the bacteria numbers really spiked. This occurred after heavy rains caused storm water to run through local canals C-23, C-24, and C-44 into the river, as well as polluted fresh water discharges from Lake Okeechobee through C-44, that had begun on May 8, 2013 by the Army Corp of Engineers.

The areas waters were looking dark and ugly, and most of the river was off limits to the public due to high Enterococcus levels.  By mid June, there were a number of reports from people that had visited the Sandbar, located just inside the mouth of the St Lucie Inlet, that they and their children were feeling ill with stomach aches and diarrhea after contact with the water.

photo of algae

(Photo of water in St Lucie River two miles from Sandbar w/ high bacteria and toxic blue green algae, photo by Jenny Flaugh, July 2013.)

Because of the popularity of the Sandbar area and the complaints to the health department, Bob Washam, MCHD,  together with Mark Perry, of Florida Oceanograpic, decided to drop the Bessey Creek site and change testing to the Stuart Sandbar. When the tests came back, the Sandbar reading was a high 192 cfu/100 ml river water/or POOR. So signs were posted at the Sandbar, at the hight of the summer season; it was off limits to the public. Shocking.

Just for comparison, I am going to share the highest readings at the other sites in June and July of 2013.  The highest readings were as follows: Roosevelt, 1620 cfu; Sandsprit, 640 cfu; Leighton, 3020 cfu; and Bessey Creek, 1560 cfu. As mentioned about 105 cfu per 100 ml of river water is considered POOR.

For a comparison to “today,” the latest readings on April  21, 2014 were:  Roosevelt, 58 cfu; Sandsprit, 7cfu ; Leighton Park, 94 cfu and the Sandbar, 30 cfu . So even without super heavy rains or releases from Lake Okeechobee, readings can be  moderate to borderline poor. (The Leighton site had been in the poor range just a few just weeks ago but is coming down…)

It is important to know that bacteria levels are absolutely exacerbated by the releases from Lake Okeechobee that bring in polluted fresh water from outside of our basin as far away as from Orlando,  but Lake Okeechobee is not the only cause. Local canals’ runoff, poorly cared for septic tanks, farm and domestic animals, along with other sources in both Marin and St Lucie Counties, even Okeechobee, anywhere water runs into our rivers from a basin, play an important role in the bacteria water puzzle.

To understand the sources of fecal pollution, Martin County is presently conducting a water quality monitering study in partnership with Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch. The study is tracking  DNA results leading “back,” through attachment to isotopes, to either human, cow, horse, dog  and/or bird feces.

At this point, studies are inconclusive, and helpful data is not expected until rainy season begins June 1st through November 30th.

We can’t dream that things here in Stuart used to be “perfect.” When I was a kid growing up in Martin County in the 60s and 70s there were some businesses that legally dumped their raw sewage into the St Lucie River and boaters were allowed to dump waste straight into the river. There were fewer people here then, yes, but it is still disgusting by today’s standards.  I grew up swimming and water skiing in these waters. I never got sick and back then no one was monitoring the bacteria in the river

In conclusion, we don’t need to panic, we just need to be careful, and to be thankful for the progress we have made; most important, we must continue to improve the situation and “fix it.”

______________________________

Thank you to Bob Washam, formerly of the MCHD, for his years of dedication and for his help with composing specifics of this article.

To check bacteria levels, visit the Martin County Health Department’s website (http://www.floridahealth.gov/CHD/Martin/MCHD_Internet_Site.htmland look for “river and beach water sampling results.”