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FGCU research team confirms presence of fecal bacteria in Estero River

What’s going on in our water?

A Florida Gulf Coast University group has set out to figure that out – and they’re getting results.

The Village of Estero commissioned a group from The Water School at FGCU to monitor the health of the Estero River. Their results confirm the river has water quality problems and the next question is, “What’s at the root of those problems?”

It’s research more than a year in the making.

“The Estero River is impaired, but we’re doing everything we can to be very responsible to our mission here of water quality and environmental stewardship,” said Steven Sarkozy, manager of the Village of Estero.

FGCU Water School Professor Dr. Don Duke, Ph.D., and his students sampled water from the Estero River from August 2019 to September 2020. The idea was to look for “fecal indicator bacteria,” or bacteria found in human and animal waste.

“First of all, of course, we verified the impairments that I just mentioned, the data that have been collected in the past, were plenty to verify that there are water quality problems of that kind in these water bodies,” Duke said.

While the kind of bacteria isn’t exclusive to humans, the group has strong evidence suggesting it could be.

“As the water moves through our densely urbanized areas, there are more and more bacteria there. That wouldn’t be happening if that came from birds. Birds don’t live in our condos, where there are more humans,” Duke said.

We still don’t know where exactly the bacteria come from, whether it’s from leaky septic or sewer, animal droppings or something else.

“It’s not like we’re looking for a tap somewhere, we find it, we walk upstream and find a big gushing pipe, nothing like that.”

The big question: Is it safe to go in?

“It’s not safe for human contact recreation. I wouldn’t suggest you swim in the Estero River. If you do, will you get sick? Hard to say, it’s a probabilistic thing. But the regulations say that you should not. Can you boat on the Estero River? Probably,” Duke said.

The Village of Estero is looking at different projects to improve water quality in the Estero River. The council started a big septic-to-sewer project, part of which will include identifying pollution sources in the river.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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