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High concentrations of red tide have been present off and on along the coast of Collier County since April. Red tide has impacted water and air quality, wildlife and human health, as well as tourism and fishing.

It is caused by a marine alga (Karenia brevis) that is omnipresent at low levels. It multiplies when the water is warm and there is an abundance of nutrients.

How can we as citizens reduce the severity of these outbreaks? For Collier to get this “beast” under control, we need to do a better job of limiting the nutrients flowing into our canals, creeks, bays and the Gulf. Here is how that can be done:

1. We should enact stricter fertilizer ordinances (Collier is using the state ordinance, which is more lenient than those enacted in 84 other jurisdictions in Florida). No fertilizer should be applied between June 1 and Oct. 1. (Note: If you use recycled stormwater for your watering, it already contains large concentrations of fertilizer and you probably don’t have to fertilize at all — let your landscapers know, too.)

2. We should demand that the county and cities increase enforcement of the existing and any newly enacted fertilizer ordinances.

3. We need to actively increase the rate of converting from septic tanks to sewers. Septic tanks actively leach out to surface waters and canals. There are more than 1,400 septic tanks in the area north of Naples High School and south of Pine Ridge Road between Goodlette-Frank Road and U.S. 41. About 400 are currently under conversion, but the progress has been very slow. Demand that it be speeded up.

4. Golden Gate has thousands of septic tanks that drain into the canals. The areas along Collier Boulevard (County Road 951) such as along White Boulevard, which is located near the Golden Gate Canal, definitely should be converted — they are on 75-foot lots that would make conversion very cost-effective. Every time the tide goes up and down (twice a day) it flushes these septic fields into our groundwater, which ends up in our canals and ultimately the Gulf. Currently, there is no plan to convert Golden Gate, but you should demand that one be initiated, especially in those areas with smaller lots.

5. Stormwater needs to be better managed, including cleaning out retention ponds that are no longer perking, and adding dry detention areas where stormwater is currently being sent straight to canals, bays or the Gulf (even if this means purchasing land to dedicate to this purpose).

The answer isn’t longer pipes into the Gulf — it is retention and cleaning of stormwater before it is released.

6. Stormwater swales in front of homes need to be recarved. These areas hold water for recharge of the aquifer and keep yards from flooding during heavy rains. You should not fill them in or put your yard waste into them. You should demand that the county/city actively keep them clear and operational.

If we undertake these nutrient-limiting activities, we can greatly reduce the severity of future red tide blooms.

Call your county commissioners and city council representatives and encourage them to act to control septic fields and stormwater runoff. It can be done and they know how to do it — they only lack the push from their constituents to indicate how critical these actions are to our area’s health and well-being.

Hushon worked for more than 45 years as an environmental consultant in human and eco-toxicology on various hazardous waste sites.

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