UPDATE: The state Health Department on Thursday lifted its health advisory for swimmers at Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park at Hudson Beach, saying further testing indicated a drop in fecal bacteria.
The state had issued its warning Aug. 17, and the high level of so-called enteric bacteria, normally founded in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals, can cause disease, infections and rashes. The high count was indicative of fecal pollution from storm water runoff, pet or wildlife waste, or human sewage.
Additional testing is planned for Monday.
HUDSON — The "sewer sleuths'' are still working the case.
A decades-long struggle with contaminated water at Hudson Beach is not over, despite a statement by county officials in April that they believed they had resolved the pollution source.
"It is definitely frustrating,'' county Commissioner Jack Mariano said. His district includes the beach park on Clark Street in Hudson.
Last week, the Pasco branch of the state Health Department issued an advisory for Robert J. Strickland Park, commonly known as Hudson Beach, saying high bacteria levels in the water posed a potential health threat to swimmers.
The Health Department said the high level of so-called enteric bacteria, normally found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals, can cause disease, infections and rashes. The high count is indicative of fecal pollution from stormwater runoff, pets or wildlife waste, or human sewage.
Contamination and the accompanying beach closures are common at Hudson. A 2009 study of the pollution noted that the beach had been the subject of 153 state health advisories over the previous seven years. Just last summer, the warnings closed the beach for 10 weeks.
Over the years, officials suspected everything from septic tanks to birds to boaters as the source of the bacteria. The 2009 study by Florida Design Consultants pointed to a half-dozen likely culprits, including waste from a multitude of dogs and cats living nearby. A suggested fix, however, came with a cost as high as $12 million for extended sewer service and the accompanying connections for homes served by septic tanks.
A latter phase of the study in January 2015 said bacteria markers "strongly suggested that human sewage is having an impact on recreational water quality at Hudson Beach'' with probable sources identified as a sanitary sewer force main immediately adjacent to the roadside ditch on Old Dixie Highway and gravity sewage mains, including one on the north side of Clark Street.
"We have also observed strong odors of sewage in proximity to the public restrooms … near the end of a culvert that empties into a storm water treatment area on the north side of the public beach parking area,'' the report said.
In April, county officials shared that data with commissioners. The studies used complex testing, known as source tracking, to determine what type of fecal matter was in the water and then followed with GPS devices to study water flows. They said they ruled out septic tank leaks and instead focused on a wastewater line running parallel to the beach and the parking lot owned by Ni Florida, a private utility serving 2,621 customers in Hudson.
Ni Florida used cameras to examine its pipe, discovered a leak and fixed it in January, Pasco public works director Mike Garrett told commissioners in an April workshop. "Sewer sleuths,'' commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said then about the effort.
The company, however, disputed the account last week, saying its video inspections showed no problems in pipes in the vicinity of Hudson Beach.
"My evaluation is that there was no clear indication at all that we were causing the contamination. None whatsoever,'' said company spokesperson Andrena Powell-Baker.
"We're really comfortable it was a Ni Florida issue,'' Garrett responded.
The county provided notes from a May 20 meeting of county staffers and representatives from Ni Florida and its operations contractor, Utility Group of Florida. The notes state that Corey Wittenzellner of Utility Group of Florida "confirmed that Hudson Beach lift station retrofit was completed months ago. Also, all of the gravity sewer mains in the vicinity of the Hudson Beach problem areas were video inspected. … Only a few minor I/I (infiltration/inflow) issues were found. These I/I problems have been repaired.''
"They had problems and they repaired them,'' Garrett said. "But it's more than just them.''
Indeed. The January 2015 study also recommended that the county replace the sand and fabric filters in the 26-year-old stormwater drainage ponds nearby, one of which collects runoff from a 1.33-acre drainage area that includes the parking lot and restroom facilities serving the beach's boat launch.
"We have not tackled that yet, but we're going to take care of it,'' Garrett said.
The bacteria measured last week prompted the latest state health advisory, the first since Oct. 30, 2015. It will remain in effect at least until the next round of tests, scheduled for Monday.