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Bacteria & Public Health
The Houston-Galveston region is home to thousands of miles of rivers, lakes, bays, and bayous. These areas create beautiful landscapes, support diverse habitat for wildlife, and provide opportunities for recreation.

However, many of our waterways have bacteria levels that have exceed the standards set for contact recreation. This means that swimming, wading, or other activities that bring people into direct contact with the water could pose health risks.

Benefits of Removing Bacteria
Having waterways where we can safely swim, fish, and canoe gives us a better quality of life. Clean waterways are also good for tourism and fishing. Clean waterways are valuable to our community.

Managing Bacteria

You can do a lot to prevent bacteria from entering our waterways!
  • If you see a leaking sewer line or sewer overflow, report it to your community's water works department. Direct other questions regarding water quality to 1-866-77WATER.
  • If you have pets, put their waste in a bad and throw it in the trash.
  • If you have a septic system, keep it maintained to avoid leaks and costly repairs.
  • If you keep horses, cows, or other livestock on your property, contact your county extension agent. Learn how to best manage animal waste and keep livestock out of water.
  • Request a copy of H-GAC's Can I Swim Here?, a fun, educational video for kids (available on CD).
  • Visit the Earth 911 website to find other environmental tips.

Reducing Bacteria
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) have conducted studies to determine the extent of the bacteria problem and indentify its causes. The Bacteria Implementation Group (BIG), with representatives from government, business, and citizen interests, is developing a regional plan to reduce the amount of bacteria entering local waterways.

Additional Information

Defining Bacteria
Bacteria are found almost everywhere in our environment and are part of complex cycles that make up the balance of nature. Some types of bacteria commonly present in our waterways can cause illness and disease in humans. Fecal coliform and E. coli, though rarely disease-causing, are two forms of bacteria found in waste from humans and animals.

These bacteria are easy to measure and are good indicators of the presence of other, more harmful bacteria in water bodies. Bacteria can come from humans, dogs, cats, cows, horses, birds, and other wildlife. Fecal coliform and E. coli can enter the waterways in many ways, such as:
  • Broken sewer lines
  • Improperly maintained septic systems
  • Sewage treatment overflows
  • Storm water runoff from yards, parks, parking lots, streets, farms and ranches