Howard Hall remembers seeing kids wading through Hogtown Creek, sifting for shark teeth.
But this was before the city of Gainesville posted signs around the park reading: “This is not a public bathing area,” and “Hogtown Creek is classified as impaired due to elevated levels of fecal bacteria.”
Hall, a Gainesville resident, said he only noticed the signs earlier this month while walking his dog.
The signs were posted in local parks between early and mid-June, said Linda Demetropoulos, nature manager for the City of Gainesville parks department.
The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department has found unsafe levels of bacteria in Hogtown Creek waters on multiple occasions, according to a press release by the city of Gainesville.
Swimming areas are typically shut down if bacteria levels exceed 200 CFU (colony-forming unit) per 100 milliliters of water. The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department conducts tests on swimming areas about six times per year.
Hogtown Creek was last tested on June 30. Those findings showed 5600 CFU per 100 milliliters of water, according to Robin Hallbourg, a professional geologist working with the Alachua County environmental protection department.
Results can produce a lot of variables, Hallbourg said. Due to bacteria’s persistent nature and rain storms, which wash sediment from construction sites into the creek, numbers can fluctuate. Conditions were rainy on June 30, yielding higher-than-average results.
But a test conducted on June 10 exceeded safe levels, too: 640 to 2300 CFU per 100 milliliters of water.
People can become sick or infected if they swallow the creek water or have open wounds, according to the press release. Rashes and respiratory discomfort are also a possible side effect.
“I’ve been in the military for 12 years, and I’ve been exposed to a lot more than a little something that might be in the creek,” said Bryan Schaefer, a 32-year-old Army veteran who spent Friday morning combing the Alfred A. Ring Park creek for shark teeth.
“I’m not gonna stay out of every creek I see just because I don’t know what’s in it.”
Demetropoulos said children and the elderly are most susceptible to sickness or infection.
The bacteria found in humans and animals’ digestive systems comes from pet waste, sewage lines and septic tanks.
Various initiatives are in place to address water pollution, said Sally Adkins, coordinator of the Gainesville Clean Water Partnership.
“We try to focus on the program that will give us the biggest bang for our buck — something that addresses both sediment (from construction) and (bacteria),” she said.
The Clean Water Partnership has mapped all of Gainesville’s storm drains and their routes to help identify and eradicate the cause of “hot spots” — areas containing high levels of pollution.
The partnership also uses various outreach programs to educate locals on how to properly dispose of their pets’ waste.
Dispensers of pet waste disposal bags are available on hiking trails.
Demetropoulos said total decontamination of water requires major infrastructural overhauls, like connecting all Gainesville residences to a sewer line.
A sizable portion still use septic tanks, according to Adkins.
Water pollution, however, is regenerative, Adkins said. Everyday human activity, like lawnmowing and disposal of cooking grease down kitchen sinks, in close proximity to creeks makes decontamination all the more difficult, she added.
“We can sit there and point fingers at everyone, but the fact is, we have to take responsibility for our personal pollution and do what we can to preserve our local water resources,” Adkins said. “Everybody is a player.”