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Study: Harvey Aftermath Affected Gulf of Mexico Water Quality

Samples from the Guadalupe River showed high-levels of E. coli in the months following the storm

UTSA graduate students Tanvir Pasha (left) and Indrani Gupta (right) collect samples of water to study.

It’s been nearly a year since Hurricane Harvey inundated portions of southeastern Texas, and we’re still learning more about its impact on the surrounding environment.

Researchers out of The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) said findings suggest the Gulf of Mexico’s surface water quality was impaired after high levels of fecal contamination were introduced into waterways that drain into it.  

“The research we conducted in the Guadalupe River after Hurricane Harvey substantiates that the large number of sewage overflows and storm-water runoff that occurred during Hurricane Harvey flooding introduced high levels of fecal bacteria into environmental waters,” said UTSA Assistant Professor Vikram Kapoor, in a press release.

Kapoor and his students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering retrieved samples from portions of the Guadalupe River in Victoria, Texas, up to three months after Harvey. The areas of the river which flooded the most showed the highest amount of fecal contaminants, although the levels were not high enough to cause a public health concern, said Kapoor.

“The levels were comparatively higher right after Harvey, for example, in the month of September. And gradually levels decreased, until December,” said Kapoor. “So, there’s a way by which natural waters can take care of the problem if you give them enough time.”

Kapoor believes the environmental impact from Harvey has declined, but he said there could be other problems with the region. For example, the bacteria levels at some sites were higher three months after the storm. Kapoor said that could potentially indicate more chronic contamination sources; such as leaking septic tanks, storm-water runoff, or other factors. But, researchers hope the study results will help serve as a baseline to monitor various impacts from major flooding events.

“We want to develop a quantitative framework using this data,” said Kapoor. “So, we can have estimates of public health concerns right after the event, for rating, sampling, and getting results.”

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