?Broadly speaking it?s not a dynamic situation? said Jon Devine, senior water attorney with NRDC, ?The number of closings and advisories we see is still the 3rd highest we?ve seen.?
According to the report, the worst offender in Hillsborough County was the north and south portions of Ben T. Davis beach, located off of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Of the samples taken at the beaches, 21% and 16% of them respectively contained bacterial levels above state standards for safe water . Combined the two beaches were issued 75 advisories. The only other beach in Hillsborough that had advisories was Bahia beach with 6 notices. Overall, Hillsborough had the the 6th highest bacterial standard exceedence rate in the state
Devine said that the leading cause of pollution in beach waters was stormwater runoff. In Florida it was responsible for 73 percent of beach water contamination. When it rains, water can sweep trash, human and animal wastes, oils and chemicals into the sewer system and into nearby waterways that empty out near beaches. During particularly heavy rainfall, sewage treatments can become overwhelmed and an overflow of sewage and rainwater can also end up being swept to the coast. According to the EPA, over 10 trillion gallons of untreated storm water ends up in surface water.
This can prove to be a health hazard for beach-goers. Swimming in polluted beaches can cause stomach flu, skin rashes, hepatitis, neurological and respiratory illness. Immune deficient and the elderly are the most at risk for illness, as well as children, who tend to submerge their head and swallow water.
Some beaches are still feeling the fallout from the 2010 BP oil spill. Two beaches in Escambia County, located on the westernmost tip of the panhandle, were under notice for at least half of 2011 due to remnant pollution from the oil spill.
Devine said that now is a critical time for water quality standards because the EPA is updating its Recreational Water Quality Criteria for the first time since 1986. Devine said that the criteria, currently being drafted and set to be finalized in the fall, needs to strengthen its standards for water quality from its 1986 standards, which has an acceptable gastrointestinal illness risk of %3.6, or 1 in 28 swimmers.
?It will allow an unacceptably high risk of illness,? said Devine.
Devine told CL after the conference that people can help minimize storm water runoff by utilizing ?green in fracture? that will catch rainwater as it falls and let it seep into the ground naturally. This can include using green roofs and rain gardens, in which a layer of vegetation will catch the rainwater and allow it either evaporated or absorbed by the soil, as opposed to it running off of concrete and into the sewer.