We were surprised to read the content of two “Guest Commentaries” on the subject of Marco Waterways from the same author in two successive editions (January 28 and February 4). We wish to address some of the Island’s water history in response to those commentaries.
In 2015, the City assumed the role as an operator of a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4), which requires a permit from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and the holder is responsible for implementing the requirements obligated with a permit. See: floridadep.gov/water/stormwater/content/municipal-separate-storm-sewer-systems-ms4. While the City has generally complied with requirements, these are largely limited to minimal educational programs and a few physical efforts.
In the spring of 2017, when one of our group was a member of the Waterways Advisory Committee (WAC), then–Council Chairman Larry Honig attended a WAC meeting and specifically asked the Committee to focus their efforts on water quality, since “it is one of Marco’s most coveted resources” and that, in his opinion, “the WAC possessed the concern and knowledge to advise Council.” In 2019, the WAC officially affirmed in its Mission Statement that water quality was its number one priority.
It is both sad and discouraging that virtually every well thought out recommendation forwarded by the WAC to Council has been subsequently ignored or deferred. In one recent example, comments on a new Draft MS4 Ordinance, to include additional regulations to bring consistency with other Florida Municipal ordinances, such as the City of Naples ordinance, was sent to the Planning Board, where it was dropped. Other recommendations included instituting a program of residential street sweeping by vacuum equipment. This is a nationally-proven method of removing harmful pollutants off the pavement that otherwise get flushed into the stormwater drains and into the canals.
No matter if you believe the Marco waters are technically “impaired” or not, by whatever interchangeable standards, all one has to do is simply talk to those who have lived adjacent to a Marco canal continuously for the last ten years, and ask about any changes they have observed, in terms water color, clarity and the relative abundance and diversity of fish life. The evidence is overwhelming that these waters have deteriorated.
Hiring Environmental Research and Design (ERD) to conduct a two-year experiment, has only borrowed time and is not in itself the solution to Marco’s water problems. We look forward to the impending public release of the ERD report, and subsequent City action plan regarding the recommendations it might provide. To date, all this report has provided is a plausible excuse to take no actions whatsoever on water issues.
There is much to discuss regarding the data presented over the last two weeks. Certainly, we are all hopeful that improvements in key indicators continue to improve, but publication space limitations limit comprehensive discussion in this commentary. Suffice it to say that the overall Marco water quality has deteriorated significantly over the last few years, and that little affirmative progress has been made to–date in addressing the issues.