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Marco Island City Council voted unanimously Monday to accept a proposal by a water quality research firm to identify the source of nutrients affecting local canals.

City Manager Mike McNees will start negotiating with Environmental Research and Design (ERD) the details of the contract that will be presented to City Council next month for its final approval, according to Lina Upham, purchasing and risk manager.

The vote comes after a committee constituted by McNees and others selected ERD from Orlando as the top candidate

"I think choosing Dr. Harper's firm was absolutely the step in the right direction," said city councilor Sam Young during a Waterways Advisory Committee meeting on Nov. 21.

Young said the city needs "fresh eyes," referring to Turrell, Hall & Associates, another candidate that submitted a proposal. The city has previously hired them for this kind of work.

"Turrell was OK but they are too close," Young said. "We need fresh eyes and Dr. Harper has the expertise." 

At the meeting, Waterways passed unanimously a motion to recommend the selection of ERD to City Council, the Eagle reported

ERD will be tasked with reviewing historical water quality data, designing a monitoring program to determine the source of nutrients within the city's waterways and prepare a final report with recommendations to improve water quality, according to the city's request for proposal.

Jason Tomassetti, the city's stormwater engineer, wrote in an email to the Eagle that the company selected will analyze data from Collier County's 14 water monitoring stations located throughout the island.

"We have a contract with Collier County for monthly testing which is good through September 2020," Tomassetti wrote. "ERD, Inc. will be using that data along with taking their own tests at different locations."

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The Orlando-based company may start its own monitoring by March or April of next year, according to Tomassetti.

"Staff will be negotiating cost with ERD, Inc. once the scope (of work) has been finalized, Tomassetti wrote. "I anticipate the entire project to last for approximately 15-18 months."

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.

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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 stormwater 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 Young 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 Waterways, during the committee meeting.

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