- June 14, 2022
Although 63 private wells in the Myakka City area tested positive for contamination following Hurricane Ian, Manatee County officials said they were optimistic with proper care those wells will be back in use after a couple of weeks.
Besides those 63 private wells, another 109 showed some signs of contamination and are being retested to see whether the water quality is good enough to be used for drinking water. The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County tested 318 private wells overall.
County Administrator Scott Hopes said residents with the contaminated wells were following the county's warnings and were using bottled water for household functions. Hopes said the county was using an aggressive response to the contaminated water to prevent a possible waterborne outbreak of disease.
Dr. Edwin Hernandez, clinical director at the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County, said early detection of any contamination is a key component to stopping an outbreak of disease.
“I believe we are doing everything from every possible angle,” Hernandez said. “We aren’t trying to just educate, but test, and make sure we can follow up accordingly.”
If bacteria in the water is contracted, those using the water could get gastrointestinal issues, fever, and other symptoms. A few children in the Myakka City area have been observed with those symptoms, but Hernandez said he didn't have any supporting data to say the illnesses were from contaminated well water.
Hopes said it could be as long as 10 days after disinfection before wells could be retested. He said the county would continue supplying bottled water to those in need for an estimated four weeks.
Those who want their well water tested can pick up sample vials at the Myakka City Community Center on Wauchula Road, and then drop them off when filled.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the county is working extremely closely with residents in the Myakka City area to make sure they have a safe supply of water.
"We have a lot of children and babies in Myakka," she said. "If one child is sick, that would be one child too many. The county is taking this very seriously."
Hopes said Oct. 1, during his second helicopter flight over the area, that he began to consider the impacts of the storm on private wells, due to the amount of submerged land.
He then reached out to the Manatee County Emergency Management's staff to set up water testing.
On Oct. 4, the county issued a press release asking Myakka City area residents to have their water tested. On Oct. 13, the county announced that, indeed, many wells were contaminated.
Of the 319 samples received, 172 had at least some level of coliform bacteria present.
Hopes said it was “pretty significant” that 54% of the samples contained either coliform bacteria or fecal coliform bacteria. He said although any bacteria in a well is an issue, the presence of fecal coliform, and its species E. coli, is the most significant indicator of contamination that would cause disease in humans.
The issue, Hopes said, is most serious for the very young or very elderly, who might be frail or have other medical problems that would cause them to be susceptible to disease.
Myakka City residents said they were pleased with Manatee County's actions to offer testing and water.
Sara Risi said Manatee County made it convenient to pick up water and she also said the testing vial came with easy instructions.
“It’s been very helpful,” she said.
Risi said after the storm, she became ill after drinking her well water. However, she said she did not know whether it was due to the well water, or to eating too many fast food and junk food items at a time when she could not obtain any other foods.
Despite the contaminated water, she said she was fortunate to have a roof on her home.
“It’s sad to see all the damage,” she said. “The whole thing brings people down.”
Myakka City resident Pam McCrone was appreciative of Manatee County's effort. The issue of contamination, she said, was first brought to her attention through Manatee County texts that were sent a couple of days after the storm.
“I felt very confident in all the information,” she said.
She is now testing her well for the second time and noted that so far, she had not experienced any illness, despite having used her well water before tests showed her well was contaminated.
She had purchased drinking water before the storm and noted she doesn't have problem finding drinking water in stores now.
Myakka City resident Philip Picker said he would have continued using his well water if he hadn't received messages from the county. His well water is in the process of being tested.
He said he was fine waiting for test results to come back because Manatee County was making water available.
“It’s awesome that they’re here and have provided this as a resource,” he said.
Hopes said the fact many private wells in the Myakka City area need power to function might have been a blessing in disguise.
Those residents who didn't have power couldn't drink water that might have been contaminated.
“I think a saving grace is that they didn't have power right away,” Hopes said. “They weren't using their well water.”
Hopes said some of the contaminated water might have been caused by the fact residents have their wells and septic tanks in close proximity. He said fecal waste from the septic tanks could have mixed into the floodwaters, and found its way into the wells.
He said septic tanks contain perforated lines that allow the sewage to soak into the soil. He said once eight to 10 feet of floodwater are added on top of the soil, saturating it, the wastewater has the ability to mix with the floodwater.
However, he also said having so many animals and their droppings close to water supplies added to the problem.
“It's not just humans, it's animals too,” he said. “If you just think about the rural nature of most of the land out here, it's everything from deer, to raccoons, to possums and, goats and cattle,” he said.
Currently, Manatee County is advising residents to either drink bottled water, or perform a rolling boil for at least a a minute of any water that will be used for drinking or cooking.
Hopes said residents should wait for two negative tests for bacteria before they continue regular use of the water.
He said those with private wells should monitor children to make sure they do not drink the water.
As time passes, Hopes said residents should remember the ice in their freezer might have been made of contaminated water. And he also noted that pets should be monitored as well.