ESTERO, Fla. — Holley Rauen, a retired nurse and now volunteer at the Happehatchee Center in Estero warns a man about the contaminated water as he passes by on his kayak. She said she’s been on edge ever since a kids’ summer camp ended at the center a few weeks ago.
“On the last day of camp two little girls came up to me and said, Ms. Holley, Nurse Holley, we have diarrhea,” she said.
She said she told the camp leaders to cancel kayaking and canoeing lessons for the kids once she learned the water had a high contamination of fecal indicator bacteria. She said even though it’s hard to prove, she thinks those two little girls got in the water before her warning.
So, she started posted signs around the river. It’s after she learned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) monthly test of the river showed bacteria levels over 800. The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) considers beach water unsafe for people when it hits 71. Estero River has ten times that limit!
“We feel the health department should take responsibility and post warning signs that this river water is impaired,” she said. “It is not safe.”
And even though you can’t see any bacteria when you touch contaminated water like this, experts say wash your hands and even shower before eating or doing anything else, so you don’t get sick.
John Cassani with Calusa Waterkeeper said he reached out to the FDOH to ask them to post signs at local rivers so volunteers like Rauen don’t have to. He said if these rivers were beaches, they’d get the attention they deserve.
“If we saw bacterial levels as high as we’re seeing in these outstanding Florida water, these tributaries, these creeks and these rivers…the Florida Gulf beaches would never be open to the public,” he said.
An FDOH representative told Cassani in an email they post signs for beaches and, “if the site does not meet the definition of a beach, it would not be eligible to be formally added to the healthy beaches program.”
Cassani said Estero River isn’t the only river with high level of fecal indicator bacteria.
“That location isn’t even one of the highest ones. The Imperial River has one station where the historical average for 18 years was over 1,000,” he said.
The Department also told him they’re willing to talk about monitoring the contaminated rivers with the help of volunteers.
The village of Estero will talk about this at their council meeting Wednesday. They say they’ll specifically talk about how to monitor this bacteria and find out where it came from.