Venice Beach still closed to swimmers; test results expected

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Posted: Friday, June 27, 2014 10:32 am

**UPDATE** -- The no swim advisory was lifted on Saturday.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- Visitors to Venice Beach are being urged not to swim in the water after test results showed elevated levels of enterococci bacteria on Thursday.

A "No Swim" advisory was issued Thursday by Sarasota County health officials and will remain in place until follow-up water testing results meet the Environmental Protection Agency recreational water safety standards. 

All day Friday, beachgoers were arriving and being greeted by the yellow warning sign. Most of them promptly turned around and left.

Visitors like Michele Wing and her family were surprised to find the yellow ‘No Swimming’ signs and red warning flags. "I was surprised. I am glad we are not coming here to swim."

Water quality tests by the Sarasota County Health Department this week revealed higher than acceptable levels of bacteria in the water.

"It's been about two and a half years since Venice Beach has had a ‘no swim’ advisory," says city engineer James Clinch. Back then it happened for more than 30 days.

Clinch says since then they've put a lot of protocols in place. "We have a response team that goes to the beach immediately and assesses any sort of bacteria sources."

The bacteria can be found in animal and human waste. Clinch says so far they haven't found anything coming from their stormwater system.

Before Thursday’s rain, he says the pipes have been dry. "The evidence at this point is pointing towards natural sources -- birds, wildlife, naturally occuring bacteria found in the sand."

Clinch says the city has already spent more than $600,000 for projects to treat runoff water in open retention areas down the beach. Another $500,000 is set for a huge swale project near the public area.

However, homeowners there have not been excited about it, holding the project up. "We want to make sure what we put in is esthetically pleasing, as well as accomplishing the goals of treating the bacteria. We have been working with the residents to come up with a solution that meets both of our needs."

The Health Department says if the water is swallowed or it gets in an open wound, it could make you sick.

Michele says they'll be staying out. "I just wouldn't go in the water."

Construction on the new swale project is expected to start sometime around October.

While tests at Venice Beach exceed acceptable levels, tests have revealed bacteria levels within acceptable limits at nearby beaches, including Nokomis Beach, North Jetty Beach, the Venice Pier, and Caspersen Beach.

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