State officials advise against swimming in coastal waters impacted by Hurricane Ian

State recreational water quality officials are advising the public to avoid swimming in North Carolina coastal waters affected by Hurricane Ian.

Heavy winds and rain have negatively impacted all coastal waters. Waters affected by floodwaters can contain elevated levels of harmful bacteria. The excess rain has caused flooding of streets, yards and housing that have resulted in beach communities having to pump floodwaters into the ocean. These areas, including the wet sand where the floodwater is pumped, should also be avoided, even if no sign is posted.

“Severe weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms bring excessive amounts of rain, storm surge and cause extreme flooding. These conditions increase levels of harmful bacteria in our coastal waters that can cause illness,” said Erin Bryan-Millush, manager of the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program. “The sources of bacteria can vary and include failing septic systems, sewer line breaks, overflowing manholes and wildlife.”

While state officials do not have immediate laboratory confirmation that disease-causing organisms are in the water, storm impacts increase the chance that contamination is present thus increasing the risk of adverse health effects from swimming in these waters.

Residents and visitors should avoid swimming in these waters until bacteriological testing indicates sample results within the state’s and Environmental Protection Agency’s standards. Testing will begin as soon as conditions are safe to do so and areas are accessible. The advisory will be lifted in part or in whole as test results become available.

Since the impacts are widespread, it is not possible to post signs in all areas.

Recreational water quality officials sample 215 sites throughout the coastal region, most of them on a weekly basis, from April to October. Testing continues on a reduced schedule during the rest of the year, when fewer people are in the water.

For more information on the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program or to a view a map of testing sites, visit the program’s website, and follow the program’s Twitter feed.