It has been a week since untreated sewage flowed into the gulf in Mexico Beach, prompting the Bay County Health Department to warn swimmers to stay out of the water. Now, a similar advisory has been issued in Gulf County.
Two days ago, Gulf County health officials issued an advisory for St. Joe Beach and blamed it on the sewage leak. On Monday, the department reconsidered. "After talking to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I don't think there is any relationship to the sewer spill," said Marsha Lindeman, health department administrator. "We erred on the side of abundant caution over the weekend and issued a swim advisory… until we could get our water sample testing back."
Lindeman said the lingering effect of Tropical Storm Debby is the likely culprit. "Any heavy rain and we're likely to have one of our five sites test positive," she said.
The county received the results on Monday. Lindeman said water collected from the test site at the end of Coronado Street had unacceptable levels of bacterial contamination. As a result, an advisory was issued for a two mile section of beach from the Gulf/Bay county line to Coronado Street.
County Commissioner Bill Williams, whose district includes the affected area, drove along the beach Monday morning and warned people of the public safety issue. "We're very concerned… we want to make sure that we advise our residents and our tourists," said Williams. "On a holiday weekend when everybody has brought their families, this is fireworks that we certainly did not want."
Jennifer Jenkins, Executive Director of the Tourist Development Council, shared the commissioner's concerns. "We just to be sure that safety is top of mind and we're communicating with our visitors and our residents," she said. "I know people want to get in the water, but we have many miles of coastline and other things to do in Gulf County."
Lindeman stressed that beaches are not closed and new water samples have already been forwarded to the county's lab for analysis. "Those results will be back tomorrow afternoon and we hope to be able to lift that advisory completely at that time," she said.
Meanwhile, water samples from Mexico Beach are also being tested on a daily basis and Bay County health officials say they are beginning to see reduced levels of contamination.