Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Close Look at Marco’s Canal Water Testing Program


Water is our golden goose in Marco Island. It is key to island growth; it is key to tourism; it is key to Marco Island’s way of life.

The City of Marco Island (COMI) is required by state and/or federal regulations to conduct periodic testing of water quality for the canals and beaches in and around Marco Island. The purpose of the water test program is to ensure safe water quality for the general public. Safe water quality encourages the general public to enjoy water sports, fishing, boating and swimming. All contribute to Marco’s robust economy and high quality of life.

In 2001, the COMI started an internal canal water test program and compilation of data through 2013. This program was conducted monthly from January 2001 through December 2013 using samples from 14 canal sites (Kendall Drive, Perrine Court, Collier Bridge, Jane Hitler Park, Barfield Bridge, Windmill Court, HC Center, Hummingbird Court, Hollyhock Court, West Winterberry, East Winterberry, DUPI, FCEB and McIlvaine Court). These test sites were chosen to provide data from a broad representative cross section of Marco Island.

In December 2014, the COMI outsourced all canal water testing to the Collier County Pollution Control Laboratory. The water sample collection and testing schedule was changed from once per month to once per quarter (a reduction from 12 tests per year to four tests per year). The minimum requirement by State and/or Federal regulations is to test once per quarter.

The water sample testing includes multiple test parameters. For this article, nitrogen, fecal coliform and enterococcus will be discussed.

Nitrogen is a major component of most common fertilizers. Nitrogen is a plant nutrient and over abundant amounts of nitrogen/phosphorous in the canals can cause undesirable algae blooms.

Fecal coliform and enterococcus are bacteria that live in the digestive tracts of mammals, including humans. Increased levels of fecal coliform and enterococcus indicate the introduction of mammalian feces (excrement) into the canals. In 2016, the COMI eliminated the test parameter for fecal coliform.

Data is your friend: Data from two consecutive quarters (May 10, 2016 and August 10, 2016) collected by the Collier County Pollution Control Laboratory indicated that the average total nitrogen exceeded the maximum threshold in twelve of the fourteen locations tested. The enterococci maximum threshold was exceeded in four of the 14 locations tested.

It is important to note that this is insufficient data to establish any conclusive trends. Multiple year data collection is necessary to properly create trends.

Recommendation: The COMI should resume collecting monthly data to establish year-to-year trends. The COMI should use the data to assess water quality and take action if needed. It is important for the COMI to provide the community with a Water Quality Report Card on a monthly basis, with test results and its interpretation.

According to Marco Island City Councilor Charlette Roman, “Healthy waterways are key to the island’s continued economic prosperity. So, it’s critical that the city monitor the waterways. Water testing, and the subsequent analysis of data over time, helps us do that.”

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