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St. Lucie River Water Sampling

Environmental Health

The Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County collects biweekly samples from the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. Similar to the Healthy Beaches Program the water samples are analyzed for enteric bacteria. Advisory signs will be posted, if higher than normal levels of enteric bacteria are present.

River Sampling Last updated 2/22/24

Beach and River Testing Overview:

St. Lucie's ocean and river water testing is based upon Florida's statewide beach testing program which tests for enterococci. Enterococci, are indicator bacteria indicating fecal contamination and the possible presence of disease-causing organisms. All natural bodies of water contain microscopic organisms including fecal bacteria and parasites that cause gastro-intestinal illness in people.

The fecal organisms come from a variety of sources including human or animal waste from activity in or near the water, rain water washing waste or debris into the water, or discharges of incompletely treated wastewaters from nearby wastewater treatment plants.

The human disease risk is dose dependent. The bacteria and parasites are typically diluted in the water to concentrations that pose a low risk of disease. The type and duration of exposure to the water also matters. Activities that result in larger amounts of water being ingested through the mouth or nose, such as putting your head under water, pose a greater risk of infections.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends a swimming advisory when bacterial counts are high enough to potentially make 36 of 1,000 exposed people ill. This level is called a beach action value (BAV) and is currently set at 70 colony forming units of Enterococci per 100 milliliters (cfu/100mL). If bacterial test results are higher than the BAV, it is likely more swimmers would become ill; and less illness will occur if tests show bacteria is lower than the standard.

Swimming Illnesses:

There is always a potential risk of contracting a swimming-related illness when the water is contaminated. However, the outcome depends on each person's overall health status.

There is no guarantee that you will get sick when an advisory is issued and no guarantee that you will not get sick when there is no advisory. When bacteria levels exceed the established criteria, or conditions at the beach increase bacterial levels, risks of illness due to microorganism exposure increases.

Most swimming-related illnesses are minor for people in good health. They typically require little or no treatment and have no long-term health effects. The most common health implications or illness associated with swimming in contaminated water, dependent on type and duration of exposure, include: gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, headache, stomachache, fever and diarrhea); ear, nose, and throat infections; rashes; and wound infections through an open cut or wound.

A few simple precautions can help you and your family protect your health and safety:

  • Don't swallow the water.
  • Shower after swimming.
  • Wash hands before eating.
  • Avoid water contacting an open cut, wound or skin infection.
  • Pay attention and follow advisory signs.

Here are some suggestions to help keep our waters clean:

  • Don't swim if you are ill.
  • Don't feed the birds.
  • Dispose of trash in appropriate containers.
  • Change baby diapers before allowing them to swim.
  • Don't dump household chemicals or wastes in street drains.
  • Avoid using excess fertilizers or pesticides on your yard.
  • Report possible sources of contamination to local authorities.

Swimming Advisories:

Beaches and river access are not technically "closed" during an advisory. A warning sign is posted advising the public that the water may be unsafe for swimming. An advisory still allows the public to recreate at the beach and river.

During a swimming advisory, warning signs are posted when the water has bacterial levels at or exceeding the EPA criteria for beach advisories. If you choose to swim during a swimming advisory, it may be prudent to avoid ducking your head or swallowing the water.

Not all illnesses are from swimming or recreating at the water. Food poisoning from improperly refrigerated picnic lunches may also have some of the same symptoms as swimming-related illnesses, including stomachache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people can swim and enjoy the water without any problems or concerns. But, contaminants can find their way into all waterways, so there is always a slight level of risk for infections, especially for those who have chronic illnesses. If you do decide to enter the water, take extra precautions: do not ingest the water, wash hands before eating, and shower when done swimming. Be aware of other safety hazards associated with swimming, and, as always, swim at your own risk.