Calusa Waterkeeper tests for source of Billy’s Creek contamination

Fecal bacteria contamination in Billy’s Creek has been a concern for years, and a local group, Calusa Waterkeeper, is working to fix the problem. They hope new testing will help determine where the bacteria is coming from.

Billy’s Creek winds from Fort Myers to the Caloosahatchee, but fecal bacteria has been plaguing this waterway for at least two decades.

A City of Fort Myers Central Wastewater Treatment Facility sits along the river off Michigan Avenue, behind the Fort Myers Cemetery.

Ed Shinouskis, a ranger with the Calusa Waterkeeper said, “When my wife Chris and I moved down here four years ago, we thought we were moving to paradise … Lo and behold, we realized that there’s quite a few environmental issues.”

Shinouskis grew up in Flint, Michigan and says he’s familiar with water quality issues.

He and his wife help Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani sample fecal bacteria in Billy’s Creek.

“We thought this would be a great way to give back to the community.” Shinouskis said, “So if it’s all sewage or treated wastewater or agricultural waste, or pollution, nutrient pollution, we can determine the origin, specific origin of that source.”

And the sampling has deeper meaning going beneath the surface.

Nonnel Galaviz-Johnson, Billy’s Creek outreach coordinator explains that “The communities around Billy’s Creek are predominantly black and Hispanic, and so this is a social justice issue as well. And they know what’s best for their communities, so we’re trying to work with them and help restore the creek.”

The second phase of this study is slated for September where the Calusa Waterkeeper will compare the seasonal impacts on Billy’s Creek and the Caloosahatchee.

According to the City of Fort Myers, they spend in excess of $100,000 on testing, maintenance and upkeep of the creek and the related Billy Creek Filter Marsh and Ford Street Preserve systems.

City spokeswoman Stephanie Schaffer said in a statement: “The filter marsh and preserve both intercept seasonal runoff and remove potential pollutants prior to discharge to the Caloosahatchee. The City spent $1M on the partial dredging of Billy Creek last year, with another $1M for project completion allocated by the legislature, pending approval by the governor.

“The City can only rely on testing samples taken by South Florida Water Management District, Lee County and FDEP to evaluate water quality.”

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Derrick Shaw
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