Fecal contamination level is high in Billy Creek

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:

The latest tests from Calusa Waterkeeper shows that contamination levels caused by fecal bacteria in Billy Creek remain high.

Neil Wilkinson is a retired FGCU instructor who has lived along Billy Creek in Fort Myers for 16 years.

“For as long as I’ve lived there, the water quality has not been good,” Wilkinson said.

But after recent test results, he’d like to see it cleaned up.

“The water flows down into the marine environment of which I would say that ecosystem touches all bases of our economy,” Wilkinson said.

He explained Billy Creek flows into the Caloosahatchee River, which he said was one of the most imperiled rivers in the U.S. at one point, and how the area is home to an array of wildlife.

So far, he says, alerting people hasn’t been a very high priority. “There has not been a big effort to let people who live there know that. It’s really only recently it’s come out, not recently, the last couple years, that there’s a serious problem.”

Wilkinson said he had taken FGCU students on the creek for clean-ups in the past. “We weren’t notified that the creek had these fecal human bacteria counts that are just off the charts.”

For the Calusa Waterkeeper, that’s the organization’s job: to keep monitoring Billy Creek and figuring out how to keep it clean. But also, getting the word out.

In June, WINK News joined Calusa Waterkeeper during their testing when they were attempting to trace the source of the fecal bacteria in Billy Creek.

“We’ve seen this level of contamination for 20 years in Billy’s Creek,” said John Cassani, the Calusa Waterkeeper.

New numbers from this weekend confirm that the levels are still high and that it is likely a sewage issue.

“We look at what’s going on on the landscape and there’s very few septic tanks in the Billy’s Creek basin, so we’re more suspect of leaky sewage lines leaking into the groundwater,” Cassani explained.

Ed Shinouskis and his wife are Calusa Waterkeeper volunteer rangers.

“When we retired, we came to Florida and like most people that retire and come to Florida, you know, we thought it was going to be paradise down here and everything was going to be great,” Shinouskis said.

They said all was well until living through crises like red tide and blue-green algae. They figured they may as well try to help make it better.

“We figure, well, if we’re going to be here, we should be a part of trying to make it a little bit better.”

They are also part of the team that samples water at Billy Creek to help get to the bottom of the fecal contamination problem.

“We did a couple of tracer studies, one with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that found some human influence in the samples,” Cassani said.

However, the City of Fort Myers said DNA testing showed the source of the bacteria was birds.

Shinouskis says that no matter what the cause, it’s obvious that there’s a problem. “Whether it’s septic or leaky sewers or whatever, there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Because of COVID-19, Wilkinson says, the area doesn’t need even more issues to worry about.

“We’re getting hit with all kinds of problems with the economy in terms of COVID; the last thing we need are problems we could get ahead of and fix,” said Wilkinson.

Calusa Waterkeeper’s monthly sampling of Billy Creek is part of a larger project to compare samples from the dry season to wet season samples. The final wet season sample will be in September.

The City of Fort Myers is also supposedly working to make the creek safer. “The city made the case that it would address the bacteria contamination. Unfortunately, it hasn’t at all, that we could determine,” said Cassani.

The city also told WINK News that their south and central advanced wastewater treatment facilities have undergone multi-million dollar equipment refurbishing.

Calusa Waterkeeper maintain that sewage lines leaking into groundwater are part of the contamination problem at Billy Creek.

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