Just a few days before an east Texas man died from flesh eating bacteria following a fishing trip on Lake Conroe, a water study showed high levels of bacteria in watersheds connected to Lake Houston. The bacteria study conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that levels of E. coli bacteria in the San Jacinto river were outside the normal range of 126 MPN/100mL.
"Almost every stream in all of Harris County is labeled as impaired for bacteria," said Jace Houston, general manager of the San Jacinto River Authority. "The state's been measuring bacteria in various streams, rivers, and lakes for many, many years and they've set a standard and if the number goes over that standard they call it impaired. Not everyone agrees that the standard should be as low as it is."
"In general just because a water body is labeled as impaired doesn't mean it's not safe to recreate in," said Houston.
The San Jacinto River is divided into two sections the East and West Fork, which are then divided into several other segments. Every two years the Texas Integrated Report releases a list of all impaired streams and the last report was in 2012.The West Fork has been on the list since 2002 and the East Fork was listed in 2006. The report stated the East Fork, Segment ID 1003, had areas from Caney Creek to Highway 59 to State Highway 150 that were impaired; as well as for the West Fork, Segment ID 1004, from Spring Creek to Stewart Creek.
The East and West Forks are within three times the standard, according to Steven Johnston, HGAC Senior Environmental Planner. TCEQ standards for primary contact recreation are 126 MPN/100mL, MPN represents the most probable number and anything over this would be considered impaired. People shouldn't be alarmed and this issue won't affect their drinking water because the water is treated and doesn't come from the stream, according to Houston.
If you choose to hang out in a local lake or river, be careful while in the water by paying attention to signs: Don't come near any water with dead fish or algae, and avoid getting any water in your mouth. You don't want your day at the river to turn into a night at the hospital.
Causes of these high levels of bacteria include septic problems, high numbers of livestock, or sewer system problems.
"Some examples of the management measure include educating homeowners on septic system care, educating pet owners on the importance of picking up after their pets, more frequent inspections of wastewater treatment plants, and upgrades of city sewer lines, said TCEQ spokeswoman, Andrea Morrow.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council will host a series of public meetings this week with an end goal of forming a steering committee to help raise the standard of the water quality.
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