Human waste is polluting Bruce Beach, but testing hasn't confirmed where it's coming from

human waste is polluting bruce beach, but testing hasn't confirmed where it's coming from

Ben Vincent tries his luck fishing for redfish at Bruce Beach in May. ECUA and the city of Pensacola are struggling to pinpoint what is polluting the water.

The Emerald Coast Utility Authority and city of Pensacola continue to struggle to pinpoint what is polluting Bruce Beach.

Since April, ECUA and the city have been working to find the source of fecal bacteria that has been flowing into the waters off the downtown Pensacola beach, where construction has gotten underway on a multi-million dollar park.

Testing conducted by ECUA in mid-September revealed high levels of E. coli, a bacteria associated with human and animal waste, as well as high detergent counts from cleaning materials in storm drains on Coyle Street in the two blocks north of Government Street and on Spring Street north of Romana Street, an email from utility spokeswoman Nathalie Bowers said.

A nagging problem: There’s a sewage problem at Bruce Beach. Here’s how ECUA plans to find the source:

Bowers noted that on Sept. 13 and 14, when the testing was conducted, groundwater at the testing sites was high due to recent rains and water was seen entering the storm drains from both above and below ground. The bacteria found could have flowed into the drains with the groundwater.

Based on the results of the tests, ECUA crews performed closed-circuit TV inspections on Coyle Street and determined that the sewer mains and laterals (piping extending from the main line to the curb or property line) were properly connected to the sanitary sewer system, Bowers said.

ECUA is huddling with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to discuss next steps.

In late July, a report was published following an investigation conducted by the University of West Florida Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation and the Bream Fishermen Association.

That study confirmed earlier findings that at Bruce Beach, bacteria associated with human feces was above acceptable levels for human health more than 50% of the time in 2021. Sequencing of the samples taken for the study connected the bacteria to humans and no other animals.

It determined that the bacteria was getting into the city of Pensacola’s storm water system and flowing down Washerwoman Creek, a mostly covered waterway that enters Pensacola Bay at Bruce Beach.

A priority for ECUA since embarking on its effort to determine the cause of pollution at Bruce Beach has been seeking out damaged pipes that might be playing a role in human waste entering the storm water system.

In her email, Bowers indicated a need to inspect an 84-inch storm water pipe within the city that is “very old.”

“We expect this to will take some time to accomplish because of the storm water drain’s size and it is currently full of storm water, groundwater, and water from the bay,” Bowers said in her Thursday afternoon email.

Determined to get answers: Sewage is polluting the water at Bruce Beach. ECUA, city working together to find source.

Pensacola spokeswoman Kaycee Lagarde confirmed the city would be inspecting the 84-inch storm water pipe as part of its Bruce Beach bacterial investigations.

“Part of the system is subject to tidal influence from the bay, and therefore the portions closest to Bruce Beach will have bay water in the pipes the majority of the time,” Lagarde said in an email. “But storm water is not in the system at all times. Storm water is only present during storm events.”

Due to the age of the system, the presence of groundwater is likely, Lagarde said, and it is expected the city will be able to confirm that during the inspection.

Bruce Beach is the last remaining beach within the city limits of Pensacola and the park being built around it is expected to be a popular focal point when construction is completed in 2023.

Groundbreaking on the $6.9 million first phase of the park was held in late July. Initial plans call for construction of a central plaza with a walkway surrounded by trees leading to the sandy beach shore, a shade structure, two public lawn areas with seat walls, a learning garden with plants and a play area for children.

Also planned is a pedestrian bridge over Washerwoman Creek connecting the park to Community Maritime Park.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Human waste is polluting Bruce Beach, but testing hasn’t confirmed where it’s coming from

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