Advisory to stay out of North Fork of St. Lucie River lifted by health department

The St. Lucie County Health Department on Friday lifted its advisory to avoid contact with water in the North Fork of the St. Lucie River after a series of samples in the acceptable range for enteric bacteria.

The advisory had been in effect since August.

Lifting the advisory in St. Lucie County now makes the entire St. Lucie River open to the public.

On Dec. 19, the Florida Department of Health in Martin County lifted its advisory to avoid contact with water near Leighton Park in Palm City and the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart because of high levels of enteric bacteria. The two sites were the first to receive warnings — Roosevelt Bridge in October 2012 and Leighton Park in November 2012 — and were the last locations in Martin County to have the warnings lifted.

Enteric bacteria inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals and their presence in recreational waters is an indicator of fecal pollution. The presence of these bacteria may come from stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage.

"We decided to lift the advisory after we received (water) sample results from Monday showing consistent levels in the acceptable range," said David Koerner, St. Lucie County environmental health supervisor. "We've had improving results for the last month or so except for some ‘poor' levels Dec. 2 after a heavy rainfall. The tests on Dec. 23 and 30 were in the ‘good' range, though, and so was Monday's."

St. Lucie County tests water in the North Fork at River Park Marina on Prima Vista Boulevard, Veterans Park on Veterans Memorial Park Way and Tarpon Bay off Morningside Boulevard, all in Port St. Lucie, and off Harbour Ridge north of Palm City.

Koerner said high bacteria levels in the river are tied to "surface water runoff from heavy rains" in areas with animal waste and fertilizers.

"From historical data, we know that this time of year, with drier weather and cooler weather, consistently has test results in the acceptable range," Koerner said. "We don't know what the future holds or how the weather may impact us. We'll continue testing, and if the results slip, we could have to reimpose the advisory."

The county also tests water on ocean beaches, at the South Beach Causeway on the Fort Pierce Inlet and Jaycee Park on the Indian River Lagoon. Those sites have remained open because of consistent favorable test results.

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