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What’s Swimming With You?

Houston’s waterways have an infection of sorts. Many of the region’s bayous — creeks and rivers have unsafe levels of bacteria. As Laurie Johnson reports — a consortium of local governments proposes a list of activities to help reduce bacteria levels in public waterways.



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If you’ve ever waded in a creek or taken a swim in a lake, you’re probably aware of the many creepy crawlies in the water with you. But what about the ones you can’t see?

The Houston region is chock full of bayous, creeks and lakes which are, in turn, chock full of bacteria.

Todd Running is the Water Resources Program Manager at the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

He says the EPA has a standard for how much bacteria is safe in recreational waterways. That standard is 126 colonies per 100 mililiters of water.

“Basically we’re looking at how much bacteria could the water body take in and assimilate and still meet the standard — that’s the question. Our water bodies vary from some that are just over the standard — maybe they’re at a 140 or 150 colonies — to other areas that are maybe ten times what the standard is.”

Scientists use e.coli levels to gauge water safety. The bacteria can come from wastewater and sewage facilities, pet waste, run-off from landscaping and failing septic systems.

“The community of Westfield Estates — about 79 percent of the septic systems in that area are failing.”

Westfield Estates in northeast Harris County is in the process of being tied into a sanitary sewer system. Running says that’s just part of the solution. The H-GAC has put together a plan in which all sectors would contribute to cleaner water.

“It’s going to take 20 or 25 years to put a lot of these things in place and it takes a long time to see changes like that.”

The Implementation Plan, or I-Plan, proposes ways to reduce bacteria in 12 regional waterways. The H-GAC will hold a series of public meetings about the plan. The first is Thursday night at the Spring Creek Greenway Nature Center in Montgomery County.

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Executive Director of Content Operations

As Executive Director of Content Operations, Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads the strategic vision and initiatives for News, Digital, Radio Operations and Talk Shows on all of Houston Public Media’s platforms. She brings 20 years of experience in journalism and content development to the role. Her focus is on reaching new audiences,...

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