Galveston Bay Foundation Water Quality Monitors Find High Concentrations of Galveston Bay Bacteria After Floods.
By Galveston Bay Foundation Staff
Over the past few months, there has been more rain than usual in the Houston-Galveston area – more than 13 inches above average, to be exact.
And as water from heavy rainfalls sweeps through the streets, urban runoff gets carried along and ends up in Galveston Bay.
“During major storm events, water will run down the streets taking anything left on the ground including sources of bacteria like pet waste, fertilizers, and even sewage,” Sarah Gossett, Galveston Bay Foundation Water Quality Volunteer Coordinator said.
She said stormwater management systems are designed to move water into waterways as quickly as possible, meaning most of our stormwater doesn’t pass through natural vegetative barriers that would help absorb water and filter out pollution. Instead, it tends to increase the bacteria entering our waterways and impacts the saltiness of our Bay.
Gossett said major influxes of rain also cause sewer overflows from damaged or clogged sewage pipes.
Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF), a local nonprofit organization that strives to preserve and protect Galveston Bay, oversees a team of 47 volunteer water quality monitors who collect samples from 48 sites around Galveston Bay. The spikes in bacteria concentrations their samples have found after recent storms have been significant. Many sites sampled had higher than normal bacteria concentrations, some three times or more than EPA recreation standards for swimming.
“While some sites see higher concentrations of bacteria more frequently than others, every location is at risk after a major rain,” Gossett said.
GBF’s 2015 Report Card evaluates the state of the Bay and gave recreational safety an “A” grade for the Bay. Galveston Bay is generally safe to swim in, though GBF recommends avoiding swimming along the shoreline after a heavy rainfall.
“Our main concern is for the safety of people, and the Bay of course,” said Dave Bulliner, GBF Volunteer Lab Technician.
Bulliner said it was typical for bacteria concentrations to be highest during the summer. When he finds an abnormally high concentration of bacteria, he contacts Gossett who has a volunteer collect another sample from that location. If bacteria levels remain high, Gossett notifies the proper decision-makers to recommend preventative measures for the future. To learn more about the current bacteria levels around Galveston Bay, visit www.galvbay.org/citizenscience.
Another water quality parameter that has been impacted by the recent heavy rainfalls is the salinity, or saltiness, of Galveston Bay has decreased dramatically.
“Salinity is everything to the Bay,“ said Paula Paciorek, GBF’s Water Resources Coordinator. “If salinity levels are too low or too high, we can immediately observe a decline in oyster populations and an increase in their predators and diseases, which brings the whole Bay off balance.”
How you can reduce runoff in our waterways:
Join GBF’s Water Quality Monitoring Team
Be informed about water quality issues in your area. To learn more about the water quality or to help protect the water quality in Galveston Bay, visit www.galvbay.org/watermonitors.
Pump Don’t Dump
If you have a head on board your boat, make sure that you and your fellow boaters pump out your sewage instead of dumping it into the water. Visit www.pumpdontdump.org to learn more and find the nearest pump-out station.
Report any pollution you see to the Galveston Bay Action Network, an online pollution reporting service provided by the Galveston Bay Foundation. Reports are automatically sent to the proper authority for clean-up. Visit www.galvbay.org/GBAN to report pollution.
Cease the Grease
Be wary of what you put down the drain. Cooking fats, oils and grease can clog pipes and cause sanitary sewer overflows. Instead, recycle or throw out your cooking grease. Visit www.ceasethegrease.net to learn more.
Install a Rain Barrel, plant with native plants, and create your very own rain garden. Rain barrels can be placed at downspouts or downpours from the roof in order to reduce runoff and flooding, help conserve freshwater and reduce pollution from reaching Galveston Bay. Visit www.galvbay.org/rainbarrel for more information.