"Most people realize that we have a ways to go in air quality," said Ann Lents, the center's president and chief executive. "I think there's probably less recognition that we have a water quality problem as well."
Fecal bacteria are the most common contaminants for waterways in Harris, Galveston, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties, according to the report. Buffalo and White Oak bayous have bacterial counts that rank among the highest in Texas, according to the study.
The bacteria comes from a variety of sources, such as overflowing treatment plants, leaking sewage pipes, and fertilizer runoff.
Fecal bacteria are generally not harmful themselves, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But they indicate the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria and viruses that also live in human and animal digestive systems, making it risky to swim or fish in the water.
The report only addresses the contamination of recreational waterways. Lents emphasized that the area's drinking water is safe.