Stinky beaches: Fecal bacteria found at Louisiana swimming spots

The bacteria levels ebb and flow with the tide, so check your favorite beaches before you head out. (Courtesy: WVUE)
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Deep in the height of beach season, a new study has been released showing unsafe levels of fecal bacteria found in some favorite local swimming spots.

We have a love-hate relationship with water on the Gulf Coast. A recent study from the Environment America Research and Policy Center adds another check to the hate column.

Brady Skaggs is the water quality program director for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

“It’s a long, complicated asterisk filled conversation about safety and what safety means,” Skaggs said.

Fontainebleau State Park is one of the locations the study flagged for showing high fecal bacteria on some testing days showing high fecal bacteria. Cypremort Point State Park in St. Mary Parish was also listed, as was North Beach in Calcasieu Parish. At least 20 beaches along the Mississippi coast were also flagged.

“We utilize two different numbers or two different sets of numbers, so we use fecal coliform and enterococcus that indicate sewerage pollution," Skaggs said.

But, Skaggs said it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

“When we are looking at those indicators, we are merely counting microbes in a volume of water. There can be a variety of reasons why those microbes are present," he said.

Stormwater is a big culprit, as the runoff picks up bacteria from septic tanks, waste treatment plants, and animals in their natural environment.

“If there is a manhole that you see that is backflowing into the street that would be an example of a sanitary sewer overflow that could contribute runoff into the lake or other bodies of water,” Skaggs said.

A broken sewer line caused a major rise in bacteria at Bayou Castine near Mandeville in 2017.

Five Harrison and Jackson county Mississippi beaches made the list in this study for 2018.

“Usually, these measures result in gastrointestinal distress and other illnesses sometimes that often goes unreported," Skaggs said.

Even without the details, some locals, like Chip Cosse aren’t keen to go in the water.

“No. Absolutely not. Last time I was in Lake Pontchartrain was probably a decade or more ago and I was water skiing and I didn’t like it then," Cosse said.

Skaggs said most of the time, the lake is perfectly safe for recreation but there are things to look out for.

“Typically three days after a rainstorm is what we advise. The sun provides a lot of natural light and with that ultraviolet, there is a level of disinfection for some of those microbes," he said.

State agencies and The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation do weekly testing.

“Stay informed. That’s the best thing to do. We post our results on SaveOurLake.org and then we also are utilizing an app called the Swim Guide," Skaggs said.

The bacteria levels ebb and flow with the tide, so check your favorite beaches before you head out.

To view a complete list of flagged beaches, visit Environment America’s website here: environmentamerica.org/safe-swimming and chose your state’s map.