On Friday Aug. 16, Director of Waterfront Program Renee Register sent an email to the campus community suspending swim tests at the Waterfront due to water quality concerns.
Levels of enterococci, a bacteria commonly paired with Escherichia coli (E. coli), were considered above the normal range at Maximo Beach, located just south of campus.
“For us, it’s always we want to take care of our students,” Register said. “And we want to make sure everybody has all the information we have; we want transparency here because we’re not going to put you out there if we think it’s unsafe.”
Senior environmental studies major Sarah Conley has been working at the Waterfront since her first year and was there for all of the chaos the bacteria and more created over swim tests.
“[The bacteria] was never, you know, flesh-eating bacteria level kind of thing going on, but it still wasn’t great,” Conley said.
The City of St. Petersburg checks the water quality at various locations across the area, testing for enterococci weekly and E. coli monthly. The Waterfront pays close attention to these statistics to ensure the safety of students.
“What happens is they test every Wednesday,” Register said. “It takes them about 24 hours to get the results is what they tell us and then they post it on their website. So we check Maximo Beach: is it good? Is is bad? And if it’s poor, we choose to not put our students in the water out here in the creek.”
This situation is different from the harmful algal blooms and red tide Eckerd encountered last fall which stopped Waterfront activities. When there are higher levels of enterococci in the water, it could be due to runoff or sewage leaks rather than algae.
After an updated report from the City of St. Petersburg the following week, swim tests resumed on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
“Yesterday [Aug. 21] was the first day we were actually able to do [the swim tests]. So everything’s good now. The levels were fine. And yesterday alone, we had like 50 people do the swim test,” Conley said.
However, bacteria was not the only problem. When swim tests cannot be done at the Waterfront, students can take them at the campus pool. The Waterfront had ordered a trolley service for their open house to take students to the pool since they still wanted to have students registered in their systems. But the pool’s pump broke on the same day.
“I felt so bad,” Conley said. “I was telling everyone at open house well, don’t worry if you don’t do it today, you can do it literally any other day at the pool. And then that’s not what happened.”
As a result, from Aug. 10 to Aug. 21, no student on campus could register for programs at the Waterfront.
“It just threw a wrench in everything,” Register said. “So we’re trying to make up for that now and get the word out to the students to get them energized about getting it done, coming to the waterfront and joining activities.”
However, according to Conley, these events have not deterred too many students from taking their swim tests and using the Waterfront after the water quality was deemed safe.
“We had 37 people go out in the water yesterday, which is pretty cool. We’re definitely getting interest, which is nice,” Conley said.
On Saturday Aug. 24, the pool reopened, and swim tests are administered daily from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. with regular pool hours. Students can now swim leisurely at both the pool and the Waterfront without worries of water quality.