New Beach Survey Reveals Areas at Risk of Potential Pollutants Along Texas Coast

June 19, 2014

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Research from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is helping make a day at the beach even safer.

A new program is collecting more data than ever before about beach conditions, everything from how wide the beach is to what is nearby that could be putting pollutants like trash and fecal bacteria into the water.

“It’s more than just testing the water,” said Richard Hay, Assistant Director of the Center for Water Supply Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  “These surveys create a tool that can also help predict water quality based on analysis of existing data and surveying conditions around the beach.”­­­

This is all an effort to test for and stop the sources of a fecal indicator bacteria known as enterococcus that can come from a variety of sources, including leaking sewer pipes, animal waste, or trash. Contact with contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.

Hay explains that these more detailed sanitary surveys identify potential sources of pollution that may affect human health and water quality. This new survey program may soon become part of the Texas General Land Office Beach Watch Program that regularly tests for bacteria using a network of signs and a web site (http://texasbeachwatch.com/) to inform beachgoers about conditions.

The General Land Office is now considering how to implement the new surveys all along the Texas coast.

“Our work developed a tool and procedures for performing the marine beach sanitary survey for Texas beaches for the state to consider implementation,” Hay said.

Hay said sanitary surveys have been used since the 1920s, but this is the first time they are applied to beaches.

Hay and his team of University researchers initiated the survey last year at Aransas, Kleberg, Nueces and San Patricio county beaches. Preliminary results show the method is effective at gauging a beach’s sanitary conditions, Hay said.

“This type of surveying provides more information to coastal managers to assess the beaches and make decisions regarding water quality and plans for improvements that minimize human health risks and protect the people’s safe enjoyment of the beaches,” Hay said.

In visits to each beach, Hay’s crews completed detailed surveys about the beach and its surroundings, marking down:

  • changes in beach and dune systems;
  • habitat changes, including shellfish growing areas, that may indicate presence or lack of certain species that could impact an area’s bacteria levels;
  • jetties and seawalls that alter flow of water; and
  • location of trash cans, restrooms, pet waste stations, restaurants and other potential pollution sources including sewage or storm water outlets, or nearby landfills.

Hay said at least two years of surveying is needed before additional conclusions or actions can be taken.

However, the preliminary results revealed a reassessment regarding frequency of testing may be needed for a few area beaches that are no longer as easy to get to because of nearby road improvements.