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Bacteria panic starts right on schedule - The Galveston County Daily News : Between The Lines

November 27, 2014

Bacteria panic starts right on schedule

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 1:59 pm | Updated: 2:02 pm, Thu Mar 6, 2014.

Here we are again, right before a big beach event weekend and the news comes out that bacteria levels are elevated on some Galveston beaches.

The bacteria warning is pretty standard. Some island beaches that were tested on Wednesday had higher than normal levels of bacteria. As normal, the Galveston County Health District says the elevated levels were not unusual and probably due to rain that hit the island earlier this week.

Whenever the health district detects high levels of bacteria, they begin conducting daily tests on the beaches until the levels return to normal. The results from Thursday’s testing will be released Friday.

I think some people might be confused over the timing of the testing, maybe believing that the release from the county was made because spring break starts this weekend.

The truth is bacteria levels fluctuate fairly regularly on the island’s beaches. According to the emails I get from the General Land Office’s Texas Beach Watch site, there were also elevated bacteria levels on various beaches on Nov. 26-27, Jan. 28, Feb. 5, and Feb. 18.

The bacteria levels didn’t make headlines then, though I admit there were probably fewer people thinking of going in the water between November and February. But another publication’s headline today touting a bacteria advisory “ahead of spring break weekend” reminds me something that happened just before Labor Day.

That time, the Houston Chronicle backed down from a report that 17 beaches were under a bacteria advisory ahead of the holiday weekend and raised the specter of a flesh-eating bacteria being in the water.

I know tourism officials don’t like to see these headlines before big money weekends. Even with all the secondary activities that are on the island, the beach and the Gulf waters are the biggest draw.

I’m beginning to wonder whether those officials should begin taking a more proactive approach to inform the public what it means when bacteria alerts are issued. It was a tactic the Park Board of Trustees used when complaints began to mount about sargassum seaweed on the beach. A little information seems like it would go a long way from keeping these types of stories from going viral.