Calusa Waterkeeper volunteer Rangers sample water monthly throughout Lee County, Florida for bacteria that can cause rashes, infections, and stomach woes. These bacteria can come from many sources, including wildlife, livestock, pets, stormwater runoff, leaky septic tanks, and sewer pipes.
You can check out Calusa Waterkeeper’s online interactive map at https://calusawaterkeeper.org/issues/bacteria-monitoring/ to see the most up to date results from their bacteria testing for the boat ramps, streams, and beaches near you! The map also includes data from the Florida Department of Health, which tests water at local beaches twice a month as a part of their Healthy Beaches program.
Calusa Waterkeeper is a 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Fort Myers, and their mission is to protect and restore the Caloosahatchee watershed, and strive for drinkable, swimmable, fishable water for everyone.
So what are the trends?
First some good news. Beaches usually have good water quality, as far as bacteria is concerned. The Calusa Waterkeeper map does not show debris hazards from the hurricane, or red tide blooms- so keep that in mind! Our beaches are being constantly flushed as water from the Gulf moves as the tides change, so unless there is an ongoing sewage spill or other problem, the bacteria count in the water at the beaches is usually low, and problems resolve quickly.
Sadly, our creeks and rivers are a different story. The Caloosahatchee River has poor water quality about 50% of the time (sample locations include Franklin Lock, Davis Boat Ramp, MarinaTown, and Horton Boat Ramp).
In Fort Myers, Billy’s Creek failed 100% of Calusa Waterkeeper bacteria tests in both sample locations along the creek, as did Manuel’s Branch. Both creeks failed spectacularly, with some of the highest bacteria counts Calusa Waterkeeper has ever recorded. A “good” test result is a bacteria count less than 70. The average for Billy’s Creek in 2022 was 2,832. The average for Manuel’s Branch was 3,159. The highest count Calusa Waterkeeper has ever recorded was from Billy’s Creek in 2022, with a count of 9,804.
Moving on to Estero Bay, both the Imperial River and Estero River failed 100% of bacteria tests in 2022. Spring Creek failed only 70%. Luckily, the bacteria counts are not as high here as they are in Fort Myers. The Imperial averages a count of 356, and Estero weighs in a 649. Calusa Waterkeeper added sites in 2023 for two more Estero Bay tributaries- Hendry Creek and Mullock Creek, so stay tuned for those results.
Finally, Calusa Waterkeeper samples water around Matlacha and Pine Island, and water quality is usually good, with one exception. Flamingo Bay tested unsafe 86% of the time in 2022, with a concerning average of 807. The rest of the test locations- Matlacha Community Park, Tropical Point Park, Pineland, and Sirenia Vista, tested good 60-100% of the time, with averages ranging from 29 to 208. Two more locations will be added in 2023, in St. James City and Bokeelia.
These water sample results are each a snapshot in time, but the annual averages can provide an interesting picture overall, and much to consider when keeping your family safe on the water.
Visit www.CalusaWaterkeeper.org to learn more, volunteer, or donate to support the organization, and follow them on FaceBook to see the latest bacteria map and other water quality news.