Pollution in Central Florida reaches Everglades through system of streams, lakes

'What you pour down the drain' ends up in the system to the Everglades

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Most people think of the South Florida when they talk about the Florida Everglades, but the stream leading into the Everglades begins in Central Florida. 

Shingle Creek, near Conroy Road, is one of the starting bases that streams through neighboring lakes and eventually makes its way to the Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

Sam Haught, with Wild Florida, not only works along Shingle Creek, but enjoys its serenity. 

"What appears to be just a dirt ditch up here in Orlando turns into the Everglades," Haught said. "You get past these developed areas and it feels like a different planet. It really feels like you're in the heart of the Everglades down south and you would never know it's heavily bordered by tourists and heavy residential areas."

To drivers, Shingle Creek may look like a small watering hole, but its depth goes far beyond.

The rainwater that fills the creek filters downstream and meets up with West Lake Tohopekaliga, and then goes through a channel to Lake Cypress.

Eventually those waters filter into the Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

When asked if he's ever afraid of contamination, Haught said it's always in the back of his mind. 

"There's a real chance of that," Haught said. "What you pour down the drain and what pours off of our roads and all of that stuff is going into this system."

For that very reason, Wendy Pascucci doesn't use chemicals in her yard. Her backyard sits along Shingle Creek in Osceola County.

Hurricane Irma wasn't the kindest to her. Her back yard flooded and her home was filled with 4 inches of water.

Post-Irma, she and her neighbors were greeted with an unpleasant odor. Some residents voiced their concerns about a possible sewage contamination from septic tanks to the Osceola County Health Department.

"We had a smell afterwards. It wasn't immediate. I would say within the next couple of days. We had the smell of the fish and we picked up a lot of fish from small to medium size," Pascucci said.

Whether that stemmed from possible sewage contamination or not, Pascucci said she's still not sure. 

Those concerns prompted testing by Osceola County's environmental health team.

Bret Smith, with the Osceola County Health Department, said three tests were performed after Hurricane Irma. 

"We did one on the 13th of September and it was relatively high. I shouldn't say relative ... very high," Smith said.

Smith said anything over 200 parts per million of fecal coliform is a high level of contamination. The first two testing, he confirmed, were well above 200.

"If it were a beach we would close the beach," Smith said. 

It wasn't until the third test that the levels came down because of rain water.     
When heavy storms come in, testing is generally done to make sure the waterways are clean. 

"When we go out and test in areas like this we test for fecal coliform which is a result of sewage, but not just sewage. It's also pesticides, insecticides, cattle, livestock runoff, so a lot of things could cause that," Smith said.

Smith said Shingle Creek is not an option for drinking water. He said most of Florida gets its drinking water from aquifers.

If parts of the creek have high levels of bacteria, he said it could pose a danger if ingested or exposed to an open wound.

He said residents should try to avoid using pesticides, insecticides and anything that could harm fresh water.

Smith also recommends checking a property's septic tank. If a homeowner thinks their tank has been damaged due to a storm they can take water samples to the Osceola County Health Department for a free evaluation.