Hurricane Irma update: High levels of bacteria found in Caloosahatchee River
Drive around Cape Coral, and you’ll see branches and plant debris in the roads, neighborhoods without power, leaning street signs, toppled fences and some minor flooding. But no major structural damage. Pamela McCabe and Charles Runnells, news-press.com
Standing water along U.S. 41 from Colonial to the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers was reported after Hurricane Irma passed through the area Sunday.
First look at damage wrought by Hurricane Irma in Fort Myers on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. The storm made landfall in Southwest Florida Sunday morning and traveled up the Gulf Coast. Kinfay Moroti/The News-Press
Hurricane Irma has flooded part of Burnt Store Road in Cape Coral. The flooding is north of Northwest 26th Terrace. The extent isn't clear, and Cape emergency officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Charles Runnells/news-press.com
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma at Gateway, east of Fort Myers, where what was left of the eyewall hit on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Pamela McCabe/The News-Press
Hurricane Irma's winds hit Fort Myers Beach on Sunday afternoon. Joe Orlandini/Special to The News-Press
Wind caused damage to the batter's eyes at three of Jet Blue's practice fields as well as to signs and trees but the exterior of the facility looks intact. Craig Handel/news-press.com
Hurricane Irma visits Fort Myers Beach and downtown Fort Myers Andrew West/news-press.com
Like most in this Lehigh Acres neighborhood, Guima Martial and his family found shelter on higher ground from Hurricane Irma. For two days he's tried to check on his home. Now he's going back. Patricia Borns/The News-Press
Alvin Avenue in Lehigh Acres, Florida, is one of more than a dozen streets that are severely flooded as a result of Hurricane Irma. Hundreds of residents are stranded by the high water and most don't have power. Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
Hurricane Irma: Some getting desperate for gas, long wait times near I-75s Andrew West/news-press.com
Cleanup for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge after Hurricane Irma was much easier for after the Island of Sanibel as a whole was spared. Andrea Melendez/news-press.com
A brown pelican rescued off of Fort Myers Beach was brought to CROW on Sanibel days after Hurricane Irma. Andrea Melendez and Melissa Montoya/news-press.com
Hurricane Irma's winds blew over a tree on Verona Street in Dunbar. Melanie Payne/news-press.com
Next Level Church distributes waters in Fort Myers Video by Michael Braun
The Lee County school system is combing through the damage Hurricane Irma wrecked on local campuses. Schools are closed through Friday. Pamela McCabe, firstname.lastname@example.org
A number of trees came down at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates as a result of Hurricane Irma. Amy Bennett Williams/news-press
Customers wait in line for a Publix grocery store at SR 82 and Lee Blvd in Lehigh Acres to open on Tuesday Sept. 12. It was scheduled to open at 8 a.m. Casey Logan/The News-Press
Hundreds of families in the Suncoast Estates trailer park in North Fort Myers, Florida, face the challenge of rebuilding an already struggling community. Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
Residents in Iona-McGregor are tired of the flood waters. Hurricane Irma struck two weeks after a 3-day rain period flooded the area's roads. Andrea Melendez/news-press.com
Island Park Road flooding Video by Michael Braun
Fort Myers Miracle Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ben Hemmen sends best wishes to Hurricane Irma victims. Craig Handel/news-press.com
Utilities trucks from across the country were lined up for miles on Interstate 75 southbound Sept. 12, 2017. The trucks used the weigh station as a staging area before they deployed to every corner of the state to help millions get back on the grid. Meghan Mangrum/The News-Press
Sanibel residents were relieved to find their homes did not face too much damage after Hurricane Irma's arrival. Andrea Melendez/news-press.com
- Cape Coral: 'We definitely missed a bullet'
- Fort Myers streets find themselves underwater after Hurricane Irma
- First look at damage from Hurricane Irma in Fort Myers
- Flooding in north Cape Coral
- Hurricane Irma: The aftermath at Gateway
- Video of Hurricane Irma at Fort Myers Beach from a resident
- Jet Blue sustains damage to practice fields
- Hurricane Irma visits Fort Myers Beach and downtown Fort Myers
- Guima Martial Goes Home
- Hurricane Irma: A view from above of flood-ravaged Lehigh Acres
- Hurricane Irma: Some getting desperate for gas, long wait times near I-75s
- Hurricane Irma: J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge an easy cleanup
- Hurricane Irma: Rescued Brown Pelican brought to CROW
- Update Hurricane Irma: A tree falls in Dunbar
- Church distributes supplies
- After Irma: schools review damage before cleanup efforts can start
- Irma damage at Edison-Ford Estates
- Hurricane Irma: People wait in line for Publix to open
- Hurricane Irma breaks struggling community
- Hurricane Irma leaves Iona-McGregor residents tired
- Island Park Road flooding
- Miracle exec assessing damage at Hammond Stadium
- Watch: Utilities trucks lined up for miles along Interstate 75
- Hurricane Irma leaves Sanibel residents relieved
Water samples from several locations in the Caloosahatchee River show elevated levels of bacteria have washed into the river in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Although local beaches tested clean recently, waters near the Centennial Park boat ramp and Billy's Creek were tested by Calusa Waterkeeper, a water quality watchdog group based in Fort Myers, that showed high levels of coliform and e coli.
The samples were processed at Florida Gulf Coast University's Buckingham laboratory.
"(Downtown) Fort Myers is off the charts for total coliform and e coli," said John Cassani, who took the samples. "It’s just a terrible mess right now: public health problems and ecological problems."
Coliform and e coli come from the intestines of birds, animals and humans, and the tests are conducted to see if and how much of each is flowing into local waterways.
For more coverage of Hurricane Irma and the storm's aftermath visit: news-press.com/hurricane.
The Environmental Protection Agency says e coli can occur naturally in soils and even at sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.
Cassani and others are concerned that the coliform and e coli could be signs of raw sewage backups in Fort Myers last week, or possibly a leak in the city's sewer system.
Some of that untreated sewage that backed up after Irma made its way into the river.
But some water quality scientists say the bacteria is likely coming from animal and pet waste that has sat on the landscape for some time.
Rains from Hurricane Irma washed that waste off the landscape and into the ditches, canals and, eventually, the river. the theory goes.
Rick Bartleson, a water quality scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel, said he talked to Cassani about the tests.
"Whenever there’s a rainfall event the (coliform and e coli) numbers go up," Bartleson said. "It’s an indicator of sewage pollution but is also interfered with by wildlife feces, from birds and mammals."
The sewage backup in Fort Myers happened because some of the city's 200 lift stations — pumps used to move sewage to wastewater treatment plants — were without power.
"It doesn’t mean there is (an active) sewage leak," Bartleson said.
Fort Myers spokeswoman Kirsten O'Donnell said there are 10 lift stations without power, but that eight of those are being operated by generators.
"I think anytime you have a significant rain event like that you’re going to have more things in the water," O'Donnell said.
Bartleson said he thinks the elevated bacteria levels are due to stormwater runoff carrying that bacteria in large volumes to the Caloosahatchee.
"We found high enterococcus (another indicator of untreated sewage) running off all kind of places that weren’t near sewer plants," Bartleson said. "It's from birds and animals. And it’s just not that good of an indicator of human sewage. You could have a couple hundred cows in an area and they’re not wearing diapers."
Still, Cassani said he would avoid waters in the river, especially in the downtown area.
"Don’t go near the water," Cassani said of the Caloosahtchee River. "Don’t get it on you. I’d say for the next several weeks at least, don’t go near the water if you’re interested in your health."
Connect with this reporter: Chad Gillis (@ChadGillisNP) on Twitter.