AUSTIN- Hamilton Pool exceeded federal standards for E. coli in 8% of water quality tests since January 2010, according to a new analysis by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. The study also found that 48% of select popular swimming sites were tested for bacterial contaminants fewer than 10 times since January 2010, less than one-fifth of the number of tests required in other states.
Drawing from 2010-2011 water quality data supplied by the City of Austin, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), The Brazos River Authority, and others, the report -What Else is Swimming In Your Favorite Texas Swimming Hole? - found elevated E. coli counts in water samples from Hamilton Pool, The Slab on the Llano River, Stillhouse Hollow on the Lampasas River, and Bull Creek, which exceeded EPA standards in 40% of tests from 2010 and 2011.
“Families should not have to worry about getting sick when they go swimming in our waterways,” says Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “The state should step up testing efforts and do more to keep our treasured waters clean.”
E. coli is one of the most prolific bacterial pollutants found in Texas’ freshwaters and is used as an indicator organism for other pollutants. Sources of E. coli in swimming holes include runoff from agricultural fields, malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems, landfills, urban sprawl, and domestic animal waste. Found in the feces of humans and animals, E. coli is a dangerous waterborne pathogen that can cause illness, with symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting and fever to hepatitis, dysentery and kidney failure.
In contrast to the successful Texas Beach Watch program run by the General Land Office, the report found that most freshwater swimming areas are not tested frequently and water quality data are not easily accessible to the public.
In addition to more frequent water quality testing, the study also recommends that stronger standards be made to reduce E. coli runoff into Texas’ waterways and that water quality data be used to inform the public about unsafe swimming conditions. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should:
• Ensure that freshwater sites are tested bi-weekly or weekly by competent monitors.
• Maintain and promote an accessible public database with testing data and health advisories.
• Post signage at polluted freshwater swimming areas, and close swimming areas when necessary.
• Reduce the amount of pollution that enters waterways through solutions to runoff, including engineering solutions and storm water controls.
Environment Texas Research and Policy Center highlighted planned efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to work to reduce polluted runoff entering waterways by requiring developers to invest in “green infrastructure,” such as permeable concrete, rooftop gardens and rainwater harvesting. EPA is expected to release a draft rule this month updating storm water management requirements.