Florida bill wants signs posted by creeks, waters contaminated by fecal bacteria

A new bill is calling for warning signs about what’s lurking underneath the surface of Florida’s waterways.

If the Safe Waterways Act becomes law, signs would warn people of fecal bacteria present in any body of water. Those behind the bill believe it can turn the tide for public health as thousands of miles and rivers are impaired.

“This isn’t just a Southwest Florida issue, it’s a statewide issue,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani, who keeps tabs on Southwest Florida’s waterways. “There’s 9,000 miles of streams and rivers in Florida, verified impaired for fecal bacteria contamination, nearly a million acres of estuaries that are also verified impaired.”

Many of Florida’s coastal beaches are protected under a warning system, but rivers and creeks are not.

“We need to provide that risk notification to all these folks recreating in these waters. That needs to happen until we restore. Once the water bodies are restored, then it’s not an issue anymore,” Cassani said. “Thousands of miles of rivers and streams, estuaries have levels of bacteria ten, often ten times what existed at the beaches and they get no risk notification whatsoever, and most of these waters are designated for recreation. So there is a possibility of swimming, skiing, diving, lots of water activities that are subject to risk from this bacteria problem.”

That’s why Cassani teamed up with two state leaders to warn people of the potential risk of kayaking, paddling or even swimming in impaired bodies of water.

“Certainly, I would want to know if this is clean water that I’m in because if some, by some chance, some strange rash, or sores or even interior, inside my body appeared, I would like to know the source of it,” said State Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville.

Having signs posted up would prevent people from that risk, Hinson said. The signs would remains posted until that particular body of water meets state water quality standards.

Hinson said the next step is to find more co-sponsors in support of the bill in order to get it into committee and then the floor when the legislature meets again next year.

State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, agrees.

“I think people are not aware of it, and I think once we make people aware of this issue, they’re going to be horrified just like I was when I found out that people are recreating in areas that are fecally contaminated,” Berman said.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
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