Water quality a ‘concern’ in Destin

Matt Algarin

A spate of poor test results for the Destin area, has city leaders pondering how they can improve local water quality.

“It’s most definitely a concern of ours,” Mayor Sam Seevers told The Log.

In Destin, the Okaloosa County Health Department tests four locations (James Lee Park, Clement Taylor Park, East Pass and Henderson Beach State Park) on a weekly basis for bacteria. Over the past few weeks, the results in Destin and in other testing locations around Okaloosa County, haven’t been up to par.

Water samples are tested for enteric bacteria (enterococci) that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which may cause human disease, infections, or rashes, according to the Florida Department of Health website. 

The presence of enteric bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife, and human sewage, the health department’s Cassie Garber told The Log.

She said the amounts of contaminates are typically higher after a significant amount of rainfall, but could also be higher after an influx of visitors in the week prior.

If a poor rating is given to a specific testing area, a health advisory is posted. The advisory signs warn swimmers that there are potential health risks present, but swimming isn’t off limits.

Garber said that people who choose to swim in areas where advisories are posted could experience various symptoms from gastrointestinal illness to rashes and skin infections.

“In a healthy person, there’s not too much to worry about,” she said. “The biggest risks are for the elderly, young children or anyone with a weakened immune system.”

Seevers said the city talked about water quality during its recent visioning session.

“We talked about additional pump-out stations, which would help with the water quality,” she said. “That’s one thing the city could do to help.”

Pump-out stations are used to pump waste out of recreational boat holding tanks. The city currently has one pump-out station located in the Destin harbor. Seevers says the station, which was installed in the 80s, “has done so much” to improve the quality of the water in the harbor.

Cleaning stormwater, picking up pet waste and the proper disposal of other pollutants are just a few of the ways that water quality could be improved locally, Garber said.

Looking at the results from last week, Seevers told The Log that the city would continue to monitor the testing results in the Destin area. She said ever-changing water quality results were problematic all over the state of Florida, not just in our backyard.

“This is a regional issue that everyone needs to work on,” she said.