Marco Island grapples with additional ways to address water quality issues

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Members of two advisory panels, worried about the quality of water in city waterways, are proposing a second look at a fertilizer ordinance that stalled out four years ago.

With its hands tied by budget constraints for this fiscal year, the Marco Island City Council continues to grapple with how it can begin addressing high nutrient levels in the city’s canals.

City Council as a whole has already agreed the city needs to increase water quality testing, which may turn out to be even more costly depending on if it decides to opt for isotope testing to determine the source of its problems.

Testing, however, is only one component to addressing the issues and Monday evening, the council took additional steps during a water quality workshop towards identifying other ways it can offer solutions.

Along with asking increased testing to be part of next year’s budget, City Council has asked City Manager David Harden to look into additional outreach items, such as training code enforcement on the city’s fertilizer ordinance, and a swale rehabilitation program as a start.

“One of the things I’ve felt practically since I got here was you need to look at a swale rehab program,” Harden said. “Let’s try and get our arms around what is needed over some period of time to accomplish that and start tackling that systematically.”

More:University of Florida scientists identify project that could help Marco waterways

More:Marco Island City Council committed to increasing water quality testing

A report on the city’s waterways a few months ago confirmed that nitrogen levels were above the Department of Environmental Protection’s standards for a second consecutive year. For a water body to be considered impaired, it must be above those standards for two out of three years.

Although the council wants to get to the bottom of what is causing nutrient levels to be high, Monday’s discussions included what could be some of the culprits.

Fertilizer, for example, has been a hot topic in the region and prompted a meeting between cities and the county over whether there should be a one-size-fits-all ordinance.

Ultimately, Collier County and the municipalities within it decided to go their own ways on developing their own ordinances.

While City Councilor Sam Young said changes were needed to Marco Island’s ordinance, Councilor Charlette Roman said she had suggested Harden ensure that code enforcement is trained properly on what’s in the current ordinance, which is not being enforced.

“There’s some confusion out there on what code enforcement is supposed to do,” Roman said.

Another potential culprit for higher nutrient levels is reuse water, which is used on golf courses, medians and condos, and contains elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, Young said.

Despite phosphate being banned from the island, Young said reuse water contributed over 36,000 lbs., according to calculations from city data. In terms of nitrogen, reuse water accounts for 88,000 lbs. 

Councilor Victor Rios suggested that for the areas where reuse water was applied, they should be asked not to apply fertilizer.

Along with calling for the city to evaluate its application of reuse water, Young suggested the city scrap its use of Suntree filters, which he called ineffective due to the city’s inability to install and maintain them properly.

Young’s suggested that the city use the money budgeted to go towards offsetting the high costs of water testing.

In one of the lower costs programs the city could look at, Councilor Jared Grifoni proposed exploring an Adopt-a-canal style program similar to what nearby cities and counties have utilized to aid in cleanup.

The programs are not cost-intensive and likely would have a fair share of interested citizen and corporate sponsorship options, Grifoni said.

“It’s a step forward in the right direction and there are a lot of people that are concerned about this,” Grifoni said.

Looking to jump-start the process of addressing water quality issues, Waterways Advisory Committee Chairperson Rick Woodworth said his group has agreed to allocate the $10,000 in its budget towards increased testing.

“We’re offering our budget so we can start right away,” Woodworth said.

For next year’s budget, Woodworth said the committee has already submitted a request for $50,000 for which it would like to see increased testing as well as having more educational outreach done. 

Woodworth noted that the city should be aware that communities to the north, such as Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay, have had success in growing seagrass and reducing elevated nutrient levels. 

“The success stories are out there,” Woodworth said. “We need to get that information. We can show you these programs work, and we can do things to make the waters better.”

More:Increased testing the first step to solving Marco Island water quality issues

More:Water quality, island density and need for city manager top citizens' issues at Marco forum