Navarre Beach waters safe despite Facebook scare

The Navarre Beach Lifeguard Program apologized Sept. 4 for posting a faulty water quality advisory telling swimmers the beach was unsafe and closing the water to visitors.  

Following the initial Facebook post, Beach Safety Director Austin Turnbull announced that the post was a false alarm and that the waters were safe, but the initial post had already been shared multiple times.

The original post read: “ATTENTION!! There is a bacteria in the water (sound side and gulf side) due to a pipe bursting to the east of our beach. Unfortunately the longshore current from yesterday has brought it to us. We highly advise to STAY OUT OF THE WATER.”

The post then included a link to the website which listed Navarre Beach as “Failed to meet water quality standards.”

This site is managed by Canadian-based company Swim Drink Fish. According to their “About” page, the website uses government agency reports to source their data. In the case of Navarre Beach, the site lists the Florida Healthy Beaches Program, an arm of the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), as the source.

FDOH reported no water quality advisories for Santa Rosa County beaches.

A check of that data found that no hazard had been reported for Navarre Beach as of the most recent tests available. The Navarre Park testing site did receive a previous “Poor” rating Aug. 26 but had returned to “Good” condition two days later.

All testing sites received 99% “Good” ratings dating back to mid-2017 according to the website.

Turnbull said the original post violated the lifeguard programs established protocols for verification. He removed the original post and posted the following:

“We apologize!!! Our source was wrong! This is our mistake. We have contacted the FDOH and Navarre Beach and the Sound side is clear of any bacteria and is ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO SWIM!!! – Beach Safety Chief A. Turnbull”

He told Navarre Press the issue will not happen again.

“It was a mistake. It was my fault, and I apologize for it. And it won’t happen again,” Turnbull said. “We saw the site and when we saw it, we jumped the gun and did not check our second source per protocol. It will not happen again.”

The Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners Facebook account also posted corrections in comments on posts. According to county Public Information Officer Brandi Bates, when Swim Drink Fish was contacted about the posting they reported that all Florida beaches are placed on “special status” advisories when a hurricane is approaching. Hurricane Dorian was approaching the east coast of Florida at the time.

As for the burst pipe, Holley Navarre Water System confirmed that there were no pipe breaks in the area.

Reference map shows location of pipe leak in Okaloosa. No hazard to swimmers has been reported.

Okaloosa County Public Information Officer Christopher Saul told Navarre Press that their system did have a pipe burst over the Labor Day weekend near Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. Roughly 145,000 gallons of raw waste water entered the surrounding wetlands and overflowed from holding ponds in the area prior to the pipe being fixed Sept. 1 he said.

Saul said the leak would not likely have impacted Navarre Beach water quality 30 miles away.

“That would be a long way for something to stay that concentrated to travel,” he said.

Taking a closer look at the water quality data for the five water quality testing sites in Santa Rosa County, FDOH reports roughly 250 different testing results over three years. Of those only three tests received a “Poor” result. All of those results were back to “Good” status when tested again two days later.

Turnbull said the beach is safe, and the post was a mistake. Swim Drink Fish has since changed all Navarre beach statuses to “passed.”

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