On Thursday, April 8, Marco Island City Councilman Rich Blonna, in conjunction with city staff, members of the Waterways Committee and former Councilor Howard Reed, held an educational seminar for island residents regarding much-discussed issues surrounding water quality. Also present in the audience were a few additional members of City Council, representatives of two of the advisory committees, and members of the public.
The event also was broadcast over the city’s website and available for viewing by accessing the Marco Island TV Video Library at www.cityofmarcoisland.com.
Political soundbites have a tendency to overshadow the ongoing issues of how to deal with increasing algae blooms, poor water quality testing results, fish kills, increases in water turbidity (reduced clarity) and red tide issues. All of these have been hotly debated here on Marco Island and throughout Florida. The issues have become a hot button in political elections, most recently during the city council elections in 2018 and later in 2020.
Councilman Blonna framed his seminar as an educational event to explain and attempt to correct many of the misunderstandings surrounding the debate over water quality. One misunderstanding revolves around the definition of what “impaired” means in water quality discussions.
Blonna explained that “impaired” does not mean the water is not safe to swim in. It also does not mean the fish or other marine life within the waterways surrounding Marco Island are not safe to eat. They are, in fact, perfectly safe. “We need to remove the hyperbole that sometimes surrounds issues such as this and deal with the facts,” said Blonna after the meeting.
There is a feeling that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was “bullied” into declaring Marco waters as “impaired,” although some Marco testing sites did exceed state criteria in 2017 and 2018 at least once in those two consecutive years. Other areas in Collier County had similar numbers reported but were never identified as “impaired.” No one, however, completely dismissed the numbers, wanting a thorough review of how we handle water quality.
Presenters at the seminar explained the many sources of high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and chlorophyl which can be found within waterways surrounding Marco Island. They included, but were not limited to, stormwater runoff, fertilizer, grass clippings, reuse water, animal waste and storm debris.
Marco Island residents spent millions of dollars to eliminate potential leaching of human waste into waterways when it completed the Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP). However, other areas within Collier County have not moved forward in that regard, providing potential for leaching human waste pollution into waters just north of the island.
Members of the Waterways Committee spoke of the “Report on Best Practices” they generated to outline steps residential and commercial property owners could undertake to help mitigate problems. One of those issues involves modifying the present City Stormwater Ordinance to include new construction and major renovations of single-family homes in residential areas.
They also recommended wider use of pervious walkways and driveways, the use of more Florida friendly gardens and lawns, not allowing rain gutters to discharge directly onto lawns, and requiring greater pervious areas to hold water on a property, allowing it to naturally permeate into the ground. They also suggested the city inventory and eliminate illegal outfalls into canals around the island.
They went on to propose a five-year capital plan to address ongoing needs, such as swale improvements around the island and a street-vac program that could be contracted out, or achieved by acquisition of our own equipment, instead of the simple brush machine that fails to remove contaminants from the roadways around the island.
In 2015, the city implemented a Stormwater Management Program to deal with storm water maintenance, drainage facilities, illegal discharges into our existing waterways and new additions to that system. In 2018, the city further solidified that program when it passed a Stormwater Control Ordinance detailing how to deal with all the related issues and how to protect the environment on and around the island.
The next big step in the city’s planning and review of water quality will have to wait until a report regarding “source tracing” of potential pollutants in and around Marco is published. That will be when Environmental Research and Design (ERD) comes forward with its initial information from the $131,065.16 study it was contracted to do by the city in January of 2020. The company was contracted to bring back a thorough evaluation of the waters on and around Marco Island to determine sources of pollutants entering our waterways.
Former Councilor Howard Reed provided what he felt was compelling evidence during his presentation at the seminar that the island may in fact be impacted by off-shore and off-island sources causing some of the various anomalies in our readings and causing spikes in those numbers.
Those in attendance felt it was an interesting session and many agreed that turning a blind eye to it would be a risk too great to take with our future.