Lisa Conley, Naples Daily NewsPublished 7:00 a.m. ET May 1, 2019 | Updated 8:14 a.m. ET May 1, 2019
Two different areas of the northern stretch of the Gordon River have tested positive for high levels of bacteria, according to Collier County Waterkeeper, but the city of Naples disputes the nonprofit group's testing methods.
Measurements taken in March showed 12,000 units of bacteria in a part of the river near Anthony Park and 450 units near the dock off Commons Drive.
That's "alarming," said Collier County Waterkeeper executive director Harrison Langley.
Boats make their way along the Gordon River, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Naples. (Photo: Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)
“At one of the sites the water looks clean but tested at 450 (units), and that was after it went through the mangroves, which is a natural filter, so that's pretty alarming,” he said.
However, the nonprofit uses a testing method called "total plate count," which simply measures the amount of bacteria in the water; it doesn't indicate what type of bacteria is present or whether it's harmful.
That's why the city uses a different testing methodology that specifically focuses on a fecal indicator bacteria called Enterococci, said Stephanie Molloy, the city's natural resources manager.
"We do not do total plate count because that wouldn't give useful information relevant to public health in recreational waters and is only typically used when performing environmental microbial research or testing treated drinking water," she said.
A kayaker paddles past Baker Park along the Gordon River, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Naples. (Photo: Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)
Molloy said the city tests the Gordon River for Enterococci every month, and according to the city's data, the levels are within the Florida Department of Health's standard for beaches, which is 70 units.
Bacteria levels have been elevated in several waterways recently, including the Estero River. The presence of Enterococci bacteria can be an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife, and human sewage, according to the DOH.
Exposure to Enterococci can induce gastrointestinal illnesses and cause infections.
The Gordon River runs behind the Brookdale Naples, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Naples. (Photo: Jon Austria/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)
Langley said that although the city's tests show acceptable levels of Enterococci, he's still concerned about the total amount of bacteria in the water.
"I’d be scared for any paddleboarders who go back there," Langley said. "If they have open cuts or sores they're at risk for getting a bacterial infection."
Langley said stormwater runoff and improperly disposed trash from businesses and neighborhoods near the bacteria hot spots could be contributing factors.
A representative of Brookdale Naples, a nearby assisted living community, said they put all of their trash in their outside bin, and a code enforcement officer recently visited the property and did not note any violations.
"Our maintenance team assured me that the sliding door to the dumpster is to remain closed except when in use while each bag of trash is disposed," a spokeswoman said.
However, city records reveal that Brookdale Naples was cited for discharging foreign waste, primarily rags and plastic gloves, into the city sewer system last July.
According to Bob Middleton, the city's utility director, residents or employees of Brookdale Naples have been flushing trash down the toilets for years, clogging the city's sewer system.
The code enforcement board found that Brookdale Naples was in violation at its Aug. 30 meeting, but the board members did not impose a fine based on the recommendation of city staff who said the business had taken steps to address the issue.
Since then, there have not been any further violations, according to Roger Jacobsen, code enforcement manager.