Mayor shames contractor for warning public about ‘high levels of bacteria’ in Fort Lauderdale waterways

City now reviewing contract with Miami Waterkeeper

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – At the beginning of the year, given all the sewage spills in Fort Lauderdale last year, the city contacted Miami Waterkeeper, a nonprofit organization, to report on the city’s recreational water quality.

During Thursday’s commission meeting, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean J. Trantalis said recreational water safety was an “election issue” and the regularity of the water testing for bacteria was a “controversial item.”

Trantalis said he was dissatisfied with Miami Waterkeeper’s decision to publish the test results on Twitter. He added the results of the testing on bacterial levels are the city’s proprietary information.

“While they may have tweeted where we have high levels of bacteria and they noted in particular, the Himmarshee Canal, the Tarpon River, the Coontie Hatchee Park and the Sweeting Park. They never announced where the good water was,” Trantalis said. “It was only the bad.”

The environmental group’s researchers, who advocate for clean and safe water for all, found that 40% of the sites tested on Jan. 12 and Jan. 19 in Fort Lauderdale failed on safety. The agreement in the contract was that the results would be published on the Miami Waterkeeper’s app. Trantalis was unhappy that the organization decided to make the results of the taxpayer-funded work public on social media.

“I think that’s shameful on their part ... the purpose of hiring them was to work with us to try to improve our waterways,” Trantalis said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the most common recreational water illnesses are diarrhea, skin rashes, ear pain, cough or congestion, and eye pain. Miami Waterkeeper tests for the Enterococcus, which is a fecal indicator bacteria associated with wastewater.

On Jan. 14, Miami Waterkeeper warned the public there were high levels of bacteria at Lake Sylvia, Himmarshee Canal, Tarpon River, and Sweeting Park. On Jan. 21, Lake Sylvia was no longer on the list, but the organization warned there were still high levels of bacteria at the Himmarshee Canal, the Tarpon River, and the Sweeting Park — in addition to Coontie Hatchee Park.

“I think that’s a disservice to our community,” Trantalis said. “The purpose for which we hire them was to also announce to the community that we have a large area of safe recreational waterways that visitors and locals can certainly enjoy, but instead, they took the angle: ‘I am going to announce to the world that Fort Lauderdale has contaminated water.’”

Trantalis asked Chris Lagerbloom, the city manager, and Alain E. Boileau, the city attorney, to revisit the city’s contract with Miami Waterkeeper to see if there were grounds for termination.

The tweets

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

Louis Aguirre returned home to Miami and Local 10 in September 2017.