Texas beaches must be made safer for all
Texans and tourists understand that they might get a sunburn or be stung by a jellyfish at Gulf Coast beaches. What they don’t expect is getting sick from exposure to nasty bacteria like e. coli or enterococcus. But it’s happening more than it should, and it’s preventable.
These bugs are not coming from the Gulf of Mexico, and they’re not natural. They’re hitting coastal waters from inland, usually runoff after major rains or sewer overflows. Which means that the cities and counties along our beaches must do a better job of making sure their excess water gets treated at sewage plants instead of washed onto the shoreline.
This shouldn’t be a hard sell. Millions of Texans live along the coast for the easy access to beaches and off-shore fishing. Millions of tourists visit Texas beaches each year for the same reason. Their contribution to the Texas economy is huge. State and local governments should be doing all they can to keep the beach experience as healthy and safe as possible. A bad outbreak could run off tourists and locals. It takes a long time for the bad publicity from something like that to fade. A better option is to prevent it from happening instead of dealing with the aftermath.
The threat is real. A recent survey by Environment Texas found that several beaches in Galveston County tested positive for these bacteria. The report analyzed state water-quality testing data at 120 beaches and 1,450 freshwater areas in 2017 for indications of fecal bacteria. They found that about half of the sites were unsafe on at least one testing day. Those bacteria can cause ear and eye infections, skin rashes or gastrointestinal diseases, either from swallowing the water accidentally or exposing it to open cuts or wounds.
This problem is not unknown at local beaches like Sea Rim State Park or McFaddin Beach. In fact, if something like e. coli is found on one stretch of beach, the chances of it being nearby as well are fairly high.
Sarah Gossett, water quality manager at Galveston Bay Foundation, confirmed that point when she said, “Bacteria concentrations are highly variable; just because it’s safe to swim at one spot doesn’t mean it’s safe elsewhere, and just because levels are low today doesn’t mean they’ll be low tomorrow.”
Sewage treatment may be an unpleasant topic, but it’s a basic civic responsibility that must be done right the first time. That means making sure that local governments have the facilities and employees to treat normal volumes of water and even storm surges.
Some Texans even consider environmental protections to be an East Coast issue that shouldn’t affect their state. That kind of thinking is short-sighted.
We can have homes and businesses along the shore and still have safe beaches. The formula is clear; our will must not be in doubt either.