Environmental group tested Texas beaches and found 90% potentially unsafe for swimming

6 out of top 10 beaches with highest percentage of potentially unsafe swimming days found in Nueces County

A look down a deserted Texas beach from the open door of a Helicopter. https://www.flickr.com/photos/cleopold73/214602538/in/photostream/ (Corey Leopold , Flickr)

Many Texans head to the Gulf Coast to cool down in the dog days of summer but a new report from environmental group, Environment Texas, states that pathogens pose a risk at the majority of Texas beaches.

In 2022, the group tested 61 Texas beaches for fecal bacteria and found that 55 of those beaches had potentially unsafe levels of fecal indicator bacteria on at least one testing day, according to Environment Texas’ latest analysis of bacteria testing.

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The Safe for Swimming report noted that while 90% of Texas beaches were found to be potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one testing day, there were eight beaches with potentially unsafe levels on more than 25% of all days tested.

To assess beach safety, Environment Texas examined whether fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most protective “Beach Action Value.”

The EPA uses “Beach Action Value” to determine a beach’s safety for swimming. The value is determined by the amount of E. coli in the water, combined with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers.

Six out of the top ten beaches with the highest percentage of potentially unsafe swimming days were found in Nueces County, in the Corpus Christi area.

Beaches with the most potentially unsafe swimming days in 2022 were:

Beach NameCounty or equivalentPotentially unsafe test days in 2022Total testing days in 2022Percentage of potentially unsafe test days in 2022
Cole Park*Nueces County275054%
Ropes ParkNueces County194641%
Poenisch ParkNueces County184738%
Corpus Christi Marina*Nueces County164536%
Padre Bali Park*Nueces County144829%
Texas City DikeGalveston County134728%
25th St.*Galveston County124626%
University BeachNueces County114127%
Sylvan Beach Park*Harris County104821%
Clara St.*Galveston County104323%

Beaches noted with an asterisk have more than one associated testing site, which may affect the number of potentially unsafe days.

Polluted runoff and sewage overflows are common sources of contamination that can put swimmers’ health at risk and lead authorities to close beaches or issue health advisories, according to Environment Texas.

“Even as Texans are back to enjoying the fresh sea breeze and splash of waves at the beach, pollution is still plaguing too many of the places where we swim,” said Luke Metzger, Environment Texas. “Now is the time to fix our water infrastructure and stop the flow of pathogens to our beaches.”

An estimated 57 million instances are reported each year of people getting sick from swimming in oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds, Environment Texas officials said. Those illnesses can include nausea, diarrhea, ear infections, and rashes.

Environment Texas reported that the cities of Houston, Corpus Christi and Tyler are under federal consent decrees to upgrade their aging sewer systems after thousands of clean water violations.

In Nov. 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated $55 billion for investment in water infrastructure. Those improvements will help drinking water quality and set aside funds for wastewater infrastructure.

Nicole Powers, a researcher of bacterial contamination at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said “it is important to do what you can to protect yourself against potential fecal contamination in recreational waters; for instance, check TexasBeachWatch.com for recent water quality trends, and avoid getting in the water with open wounds on your skin or near storm drain outfalls.”

In Texas, sanitary sewer overflows increased from 2,500 to 6,000 from 2016 to 2019. at the same time, beach advisory days — days where contamination levels are above the acceptable standards determined by the EPA — increased from 1,130 to 2,860 from 2016 to 2019, Environment Texas officials said.

The State of Texas regularly tests beach waters and monitors fecal bacteria levels along the Texas coast. The Texas General Land Office has an online map where people can check current bacteria levels on Texas beaches. The map has information on the most fecal bacteria levels along the Texas coast.

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