Excessive rains, flooding from Hurricane Florence may cause high bacteria levels in coastal waters

Morehead City, NC

State recreational water quality officials are advising the public to avoid swimming in all coastal waters of North Carolina following Hurricane Florence.

“Excessive rains and flooding can cause high levels of bacteria in the water that can make people sick,” said J.D. Potts, manager of the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program. “Floodwaters and stormwater runoff can contain pollutants such as waste from septic systems, sewer line breaks, wildlife, petroleum products and other chemicals.”

Excessive flooding may also lead to the pumping of floodwaters, sanitary sewer malfunctions, overflowing manholes and lift stations failures which could discharge into coastal waters. 

While state officials will not have immediate laboratory confirmation that disease-causing organisms are in the water, there is an increased chance that contamination will be present following the storm, and those swimming have an increased chance of adverse health effects.

Residents and visitors should avoid swimming in all coastal waters until testing indicates bacteria levels meet the state’s and Environmental Protection Agency’s standards. Testing will begin as soon as conditions are safe to do so and areas are accessible. The advisory will be lifted in part or in whole as test results become available.

Because waters affected by the storm likely will be widespread, signs will not be posted.

Recreational water quality officials sample 209 sites throughout the coastal region, most of them on a weekly basis from April to October. Testing continues on a reduced schedule during the rest of the year, when waters are colder.

For more information about coastal recreational water quality, visit the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program’s website at: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-water-quality or on Twitter.com @ncrecprgm.