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How clear is Galveston water?

Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island and Pelican Island in the U.S. state of Texas. It sits on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles southeast of Houston. With its beautiful beaches and relaxed seaside charm, Galveston is a popular tourist destination especially in the summer months.

Water Quality in Galveston

The water quality in Galveston is generally good, although there are some concerns from time to time. The city gets its drinking water from groundwater wells and treats it at drinking water treatment plants before distribution. According to the Galveston County Health District, the drinking water meets all state and federal standards and is safe for consumption.

The quality of ocean water along Galveston beaches is monitored weekly by the Galveston Park Board of Trustees. Water samples are tested for enterococcus bacteria levels which can indicate pollution from stormwater runoff or human and animal waste. The water is considered safe for swimming when bacteria levels are below 104 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 ml. The water may be temporarily unsafe for swimming if bacteria levels exceed this limit after heavy rainfall due to stormwater runoff.

Water Testing Results

Here are the latest water testing results for Galveston beaches:

Beach Sample Date Bacteria Level (CFU/100ml) Water Quality Rating
Stewart Beach September 5, 2023 78 Good
Seawall Beach September 5, 2023 52 Good
East Beach September 5, 2023 62 Good
West Beach September 5, 2023 84 Good

As the table shows, bacteria levels at all four major Galveston beaches as of September 5th were well within the safe levels for swimming and water contact recreation. The water quality across Galveston beaches is currently rated as good.

Long-term Trends in Galveston Water Quality

Looking at water quality data from previous years, some general long-term trends emerge:

  • Bacteria levels tend to spike after heavy rainfall due to stormwater runoff. But levels return to normal within 1-2 days.
  • Higher bacteria readings are more common in the summer months than winter due to heavier beach usage.
  • There has been an overall improvement in coastal water quality over the past decade due to better stormwater management and infrastructure improvements to reduce sewer overflows.

Here is a table showing historical bacteria levels at Stewart Beach since 2018:

Year Median Bacteria Level (CFU/100ml)
2018 82
2019 79
2020 68
2021 63
2022 58

The downward trend in median bacteria levels at Stewart Beach is representative of improving water quality across Galveston beaches in recent years.

Factors Affecting Galveston Water Quality

There are several factors that can affect the water quality along Galveston beaches:

Rainfall and Stormwater Runoff

Rainfall causes stormwater runoff that carries bacteria and pollutants from streets, parking lots, and storm drains onto the beaches. Higher rainfall leads to higher bacteria levels in the nearshore waters.

Wastewater Infrastructure

Sewage overflows due to aging or damaged sewer lines can contaminate coastal waters with bacteria. Ongoing improvements to Galveston’s wastewater system has helped reduce sewage pollution incidents.

Boating Waste

Boaters discharging sewage from boat holding tanks too close to shore can be a source of bacteria loading. There are pump-out stations along the Houston Ship Channel for proper disposal of boating sewage waste.

Beach Usage

Higher numbers of swimmers and beach visitors, especially during summer months, adds more bacteria to nearshore waters through direct human contact. Proper bathing hygiene helps minimize bacteria introduction.

Water Currents and Tides

Water currents and tides affect how quickly contaminants are diluted or flushed from swimming areas. Stagnant water conditions can allow bacteria levels to persist.

Actions to Improve Galveston Water Quality

The following ongoing actions help maintain and improve the water quality along Galveston beaches:

  • Regular water quality monitoring and public notification of results
  • Stormwater system improvements to reduce urban runoff
  • Maintaining and upgrading wastewater infrastructure
  • Providing facilities for proper disposal of boating waste
  • Public education on beach hygiene and pollution prevention
  • Rapid testing and beach closure protocols when bacteria levels spike
  • Research into innovative treatment solutions like permeable reactive barriers to filter stormwater.

Swimming Safety Tips for Galveston Beaches

Here are some tips for safe swimming and beach use in Galveston:

  • Check the latest water quality test results and news reports before heading to the beach.
  • Avoid swimming after heavy rainfall or if the water appears dirty or has an odd color.
  • Don’t swim in areas with signs of stormwater outflows or sewage discharges.
  • Shower off after leaving the beach to rinse off any bacteria.
  • Don’t swim with open cuts or sores which can become infected.
  • Don’t drink seawater or swim with your head submerged.
  • Watch out for rip currents and obey lifeguard instructions.
  • Keep pets out of the swimming areas to limit bacteria introduction.


Overall, the water quality along Galveston beaches is generally very good and safe for recreational activities based on long-term monitoring data. Levels of bacteria and other contaminants are within accepted limits the majority of the time. However, temporary spikes in bacteria can occur after periods of heavy rainfall or wastewater system malfunctions. By continuing improvements to stormwater and sewage infrastructure, managing beach usage, and public education on pollution prevention, Galveston’s beaches can remain clean and healthy environments to enjoy for both residents and visitors.