City Council awards contract to evaluate source of nutrients in Marco waters

Harvey H. Harper, project director and founder of Environmental Research & Design, speaks to Marco Island City Council during a meeting on Jan. 6. 2020.

The Marco Island City Council has awarded a contract to evaluate and assess the source of nutrients affecting local waterways.

For these services, the city agreed to pay an amount not to exceed $131,065.16, according to city documents.

The contract only covers phase one of the project, said Lina Upham, purchasing and risk manager.

"This process will take approximately one calendar year spanning between fiscal year 20 and fiscal year 21," Upham said. "This award contract is for phase one because this is an operating expense."

"We had to split it between fiscal 20 and 21 because we legally cannot obligate the funds for 21."  

The project will include monitoring of open waters, not just canals, said Harvey H. Harper, project director and founder of Environmental Research & Design (ERD). 

"They (city staff) wanted to continue to use the data collected by the county and our monitoring will supplement that," Harper said. "So, if they are monitoring mostly in the canals then we will be monitoring elsewhere in the open water."

From December:Marco Island City Council accepts proposal to identify source of nutrients affecting canals

Harper said his company has not selected the final monitoring spots or when will they start collecting samples. 

The water testing will last six months and it may start in April, ending in September, Harper said. 

ERD will also analyze historical water quality data, according to the contract.

A final report, which is part of the second phase, will be completed by summer of 2021, according to exhibit C of the contract.  

In December, City Council voted unanimously to accept ERD's proposal, the Eagle reported.

This allowed Mike McNees, city manager, to start negotiating the details of the contract with ERD.

Excessive nutrient supply can stimulate the growth of nuisance plants, creating, on occasion, algal blooms, according to a 2019 study on nitrogen levels in Marco waters.

Algal blooms can reduce water clarity and impact corals and sea grasses that provide food and shelter for fishes, crabs and shrimp.

"Once algal blooms die-off, their decomposition can reduce levels of dissolved oxygen, which is essential to most forms of aquatic life," according to the report.

The report concluded nitrogen levels have increased within Marco waterways over the past four years and over the past five years within the waters surrounding the island. 

"The waterways via tidal exchange may already be problematic before it enters the canals," according to the report. "Finding ways to reduce the upland sources of nitrogen, coupled with increasing the time it takes storm water to enter the canal system would help reduce the nitrogen loading coming from the Island land uses."

The city was put on notice by Florida Department of Environmental Protection that its waterways are impaired and in need of a corrective plan after Sam Young, city councilor, asked the agency to officially acknowledge its water quality issues, the Eagle reported in August.

"After years and years of talking, we are finally gonna get some real data that we can base opinions on," said David Crain, vice-chair of the Waterways Advisory Committee, during a committee meeting last year.

More:Waterways approves RFP to identify source of nutrients affecting Marco Island canals

And:Marco Island waterways added to state impairment list after elected official contacts DEP