Beach bacteria warnings up from last year

BILOXI – (AP) Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality has posted more warnings of high bacteria levels along Mississippi beaches so far this year than in all of 2011.

But there have been fewer sewer-related problems in the past few years than there used to be, because most cities replaced infrastructure such as sewers and pumping stations after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Churck Loftis, head of the Harrison County Sand Beach Authority Chuck Loftis told The Sun-Herald.

Sewers are far from the only source of bacteria, he said. “What you have to realize is we have a lot of local rivers that empty into our Gulf and drainage pipes from land on Highway 90,” Loftis said. “There are numerous locations where you can get high bacteria levels from rivers, drainage and high wind.”

MDEQ has issued 22 bacteria warnings at Gulf Coast beaches since January. During all of last year, it issued 21.

Three of those warnings led to closing three beach sections – two because sewer lines broke in Biloxi, and one in Bay St. Louis, where the area is being dredged to prepare for adding fresh sand. Both Biloxi beaches are back open. Dredging can release bacteria trapped in the floor of the Mississippi Sound, which is why the water is considered unsafe.

“When we close a beach, we recommend people find another part of the beach to enjoy,” MDEQ spokesman Robbie Wilbur said. Most of the advisories were just for the water – the sand was safe to enjoy.

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