Officials Check Beach Bacteria for Public Health

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The Texas Beach Watch program by the Texas General Land Office oversees 172 locations across 61 of the state’s recreational beaches.

From March to October, which is the main beach season, the Texas GLO tests water samples weekly.

They test for a specific bacteria indicating fecal contamination, which might result in local authorities advising the public against swimming in affected areas.

“Our health department collects samples daily, and you’ll notice their increased activity on the beach, especially during Spring Break and summer,” said Scott Cross, Director of Nueces County Coastal Parks.

Cross mentioned that the Beach Watch program by the Texas GLO has been operational even before his 15-year tenure. The Environmental Protection Agency funds this program, which is then channeled through the GLO to local areas. If there’s a bacterial concern, Cross’s team places warning signs on Mustang and Padre Island for beach visitors.

“High bacteria levels at one spot don’t mean the entire beach is affected. It’s specific to that area,” Cross clarified.

The Texas Beach Watch website features a map pinpointing sampling locations along the Texas coast. These samples undergo lab analysis and the findings are relayed to individuals like Cross. The map uses a color-coded system for fecal bacteria levels: green for low, yellow for medium, and red for high. Cross highlighted certain events that might influence these levels.

“Major rainstorms or significant sargassum occurrences often result in spikes in bacteria levels on Gulf-facing beaches,” Cross noted.

Water testing also happens in regions of the Coastal Bend, including places like Little Bay in Rockport and Cole Park in Corpus Christi. Cross mentioned that a red-flagged area can revert to green within a day. Every beach exhibits unique factors affecting its conditions.

“Beach conditions are in constant flux due to moving water and shifting tides,” Cross explained. “A situation might change in mere hours. It’s an ever-evolving landscape out there.”

While beaches under a water quality advisory remain accessible unless shut down by local officials, the Texas GLO recommends avoiding water interactions until the advisory is lifted. Such advisories persist for a minimum of 24 hours and may be prolonged based on bacteria concentrations.

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