These seven Mississippi beaches test often for high levels of fecal bacteria; see data

More than half the time their water was tested, seven beaches along the Mississippi Gulf Coast showed potentially unsafe levels of fecal coliform bacteria, according to a new report from the Environment America Research and Policy Center. Here is the data:

Coastal Mississippi, a tourism promotion agency, would not comment on the report.

The national study used a federal database of water sampling data from almost 330 beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico. About one in 10 beaches surveyed showed concerning levels of fecal bacteria on at least a quarter of the days they were tested.

Fecal bacteria can cause stomach problems, lung illnesses, ear and eye infections and skin rash.

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Common causes for spikes in waterborne bacteria include runoff from streets and other paved surfaces, sewerage overflows, failed septic systems, pet waste and manure and fertilizer from farms. Some call this bacteria-laden stuff “nutrients,” but it’s basically poop.

Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville a hotspot for contamination

The threats are getting worse as climate change increases the number of hard and heavy rains that flush bacteria into drainage systems and waterways.

Environment America’s study recommends a series of steps to curb fecal pollution:

  • Policymakers should protect wetlands and other natural areas that absorb runoff, and curb the spread of impervious surfaces such as streets and parking lots. Coastal areas lost about 640,000 acres of wetlands and 10 million acres of forest to development since the mid-1990s, according to the study.
  • Wide-ranging sewerage improvements are also needed. Many cities design their systems to overflow into drainage systems and waterways during heavy rains. But with the number of intense rain events on the rise, overflows are happening more frequently. By Environment America’s estimates, overflows are now happening almost 80,000 times per year into U.S. waters.
  • Agricultural practices across the United States should be revamped. Large “factory” farms often produce more manure than can be safely stored, the study said. Heavy rains often wash through these poop piles, eventually dumping bacteria and other pathogens into waterways frequented by beach goers.

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