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6 Investigates: High bacteria levels along the bayfront

Posted: 5:28 PM, Mar 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-30 13:13:22-04

About 40 times a year, fishing and windsurfing at Cole Park are risky because of high levels of bacteria in the water.

That bacteria mostly comes from human or animal waste.

"Some of that water ends up in the bay, and you don’t want to be in the water with that," said Philippe Tissot, an avid windsurfer who also is a scientist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Fecal bacteria at Cole Park is an old problem, but it’s now getting a fresh look from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Tissot and local stakeholders helped write a plan that is currently under review by the commission.

The goal is to improve water quality, and a big part of that plan is figuring out the source of the problem.

"That’s a big question,” Tissot said. “We don’t know the answer yet, and that’s going to guide where the remediation should take place."

Here’s what is known:

Texas Beach Watch, a state-funded program, keeps track of the bacteria levels in the bay. When the bacteria levels are high, signs are posted along the bayfront, so people know not to go in the water.

Historical data shows those bacteria levels usually spike after heavy rain. A significant contributor to the problem is stormwater.

Every time it rains, the rainwater mixes whatever is in its path – animal feces, trash or sewage. Many of the storms drain in Corpus Christi connects to a series of outfalls along the Corpus Christi Bay.

But what isn’t known is what exactly is mixing with that water to cause a spike in bacteria. For now, the city’s stormwater department is focused on a simple message.

“We encourage residents to pick up any poop left behind by their pets and in their yard,” said Crystal Ybanez, water quality manager.

That encouragement is in the form of public service announcements and green pet waste bins along the bayfront and many city parks.