State recreational water quality officials are advising the public to avoid swimming in North Carolina coastal waters from Wright Memorial Bridge in Kitty Hawk south to the South Carolina State Line affected by Tropical Storm Idalia.
Heavy winds and rain have negatively impacted coastal waters. Waters affected by stormwater runoff can contain elevated levels of harmful bacteria that drain into coastal water bodies. The excess rain has caused flooding of streets, yards and housing that have resulted in some municipalities having to pump floodwaters into the ocean. Avoid swimming near ocean outfalls, including the wet sand where the floodwater is pumped, even if no sign is posted.
“Severe weather events like tropical storms and hurricanes bring excessive amounts of rain, storm surge and cause extreme flooding. These conditions increase levels of harmful bacteria in our coastal waters that can cause illness,” said Erin Bryan-Millush, manager of the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program. “The sources of bacteria can vary and include failing septic systems, sewer line breaks and overflowing manholes.”
While state officials do not have immediate laboratory confirmation that disease-causing organisms are in the water, storm impacts increase the chance that contamination is present thus increasing the risk of adverse health effects from swimming in these waters.
Residents and visitors should avoid swimming in these waters until bacteriological testing indicates sample results within the state’s and Environmental Protection Agency’s standards. Testing will begin as soon as conditions are safe and areas are accessible. The advisory will be lifted in part or in whole as test results become available.
Since the impacts are widespread, it is not possible to post signs in all areas.
Recreational water quality officials sample 215 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 fewer people are in the water.