23 San Antonio waterways unsafe for swimming due to fecal bacteria, report says

Many Texas rivers, lakes, beaches too polluted for swimming

By Mary Claire Patton - Digital Content Curator

SAN ANTONIO - Twenty-three freshwater sites around San Antonio were found to have high levels of bacteria, including fecal contamination, according to a report released by Environment Texas Research.

The report, "Swim at Your Own Risk," listed more than 700 freshwater sites across Texas that tested high for bacterial contamination.

“We should be able to expect that all of our waterways, including those that run through our cities and communities, are clean and free from dangerous pollution,” Luke Metzler, executive director at Environment Texas Research and Policy Center said. “But the fact is that many of the state’s rivers, lakes, and beaches are sometimes too polluted to go swimming, tubing or wading safely."

The San Pedro Creek Culture Park was forced to close temporarily in June to undergo a redesign aimed at stopping people from swimming in the creek which has unsafe levels of bacteria.

Gastrointestinal illness, respiratory disease, ear and eye infections and skin rashes are potential side effects of swimming in water contaminated with fecal bacteria.

“GEAA is working with the city of San Antonio and neighborhoods throughout the city to improve water quality through better riparian management and the use of green infrastructure,” said Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance. “We have submitted recommendations for stormwater management in San Antonio to make sure that all water flowing through our city meets the highest standards.”

Environment Texas is calling on San Antonio’s City Council to strengthen water quality standards to require use of green infrastructure like rain gardens and green roofs which capture and filter stormwater, thus helping protect waterways from contamination.

View list of tested sites here.

More from the report:

More than half of all Texas beaches that were tested for bacterial contamination were unsafe for swimming on at least one day during 2017.

The three beaches with the most unsafe water days during testing were Ropes Park, Cole Park and Emerald Beach in Corpus Christi.

In a single 2011 incident, 56 people got sick and one person was hospitalized after coming into contact with E. coli and other fecal bacteria in a Texas lake.

San Antonio: Along the San Antonio River, 21 sites were unsafe for swimming for at least one day in 2017, and 10 sites were unsafe for at least three days. In downtown San Antonio, where the river is used for boating and fishing and is the centerpiece of the popular River Walk, four neighboring test sites – the river crossings at Houston Street, Presa Street, and Lexington Avenue, and the southeastern corner of the river loop – had levels of bacteria that would have made them unsafe for swimming every time that they were tested.

Austin: Of 76 test sites within the city limits, 46 exceeded safe bacteria levels at least once in 2017. Waterways that frequently had unsafe bacteria levels included Waller, Walnut, West Bouldin, East Bouldin, and Blunn creeks.

Houston: In the city’s bayous, which sustain parks and provide fishing spots for area residents, all 44 sample sites had at least one day of water that was unsafe for contact recreation in 2017. Of those, 20 sites were unsafe at least 75 percent of the days that they were tested, and 12 sites were unsafe every single time they were tested. In Lake Houston, which is popular for boating and fishing, six out of nine testing sites exceeded safe levels of bacteria for contact recreation at least once in 2017. Three sites exceeded safe bacteria levels more than a third of the dates they were tested.

Dallas-Fort Worth: No lakes in the DFW area showed unsafe levels of bacteria in tests. At 35 test sites in Benbrook Lake, Eagle Mountain Reservoir, Grapevine Lake, Lake Arlington, Lake Lavon, Lake Ray Hubbard and Lake Worth, no tests in 2017 found unsafe levels of bacteria. Many other waterways in the area frequently had high bacteria levels, including Village Creek, the main tributary of Lake Arlington.

Click here to read the full report from Environment Texas Research.

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