WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE QUALITY OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA WATER

IT ISN’T PRETTY

On Wednesday April 20th The ECCL and The Calusa Waterkeeper explained the growing concerns about water quality due to nutrients and other contaminants in Southwest Florida. The meeting was attended by an enthusiastic audience and the summary of the first part of the meeting, the PowerPoint presentation and the 45 minutes of the 60 minute presentation unaffected by the power surge is now available on the website www.esterotoday.com

Water is essential to life, and in Florida, it is also an economic engine that fuels $94 billion in annual tourism spending and $12 billion in local and state sales, hotel, and excise taxes, according to Rockport Analytics LLC. When our waterways suffer, our economy suffers, too.

The ECCL and Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani covered the facts about our substandard water quality, what causes it, and the ways you and your community can improve it. Although the difficulties in completely overcoming this problem are daunting, taking action, community by community, can encourage more and more to become involved to start to make a positive difference. Learn how you can make a start.

Summary of Missing Beginning of Presentation

This document is a summary of the start of the meeting. Due to a power surge, the recording stopped and wiped out the first 15 minutes of the presentation. You can look at the remaining 45 minutes using the video above.

Allan Bowditch, ECCLs Chief Communications Officer,made a few introductory comments.

He mentioned that Environmental issues and Water Qualitywere the number one concern among residents in greater Estero, identified in the ECCLs attitudinal survey conducted in November 2019.

The ECCL, a civic and advocacy organization, has focused on enhancing the quality of life for residents in the area for over 20 years. The Environment is one of five critical councils within the organization.

Jim Gilmartin, ECCLs President, formed a collaborative arrangement with the Calusa Waterkeeper organization and others like the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation to amplify communications on water quality to residents, businesses, and local and county officials.

In addition, because of their fact-based approach and the considerable data that the Calusa Waterkeeper has collected over many years, they are clearly a credible source for facts on our water quality.

Allan introduced John Cassani, the Calusa Waterkeeper, amember of the Water Keeper Alliance. 

Johns career began as an ecologist in Lee County in 1978. Many civic groups have recognized him for his commitment to environmental issues and water quality. He has served on many advisory boards involved with land and water conservation.

Slide 1:    Restoring Estero Bay and Its Tributaries A Community Commitment.

Slide 2: John mentioned that nutrient pollution is a driver of harmful algal blooms and outcomes for human health. Sadly, there exists lax regulatory enforcement and ineffective restoration. However, there is a proposed plan of action to begin restoring water quality for Estero Bay and its tributaries.

Slide 3: Water quality impairment is widespread and tarnishessouthwest Florida’s reputation for world-class beaches. The effect is likely to impact tourism and the revenue that is generated. In addition, there is the possibility of this scenario affecting property values unless we implement remedial action now.

Slide 4: This photographic depiction illustrates the sources of pollution from runoff that enters the Gulf and, by default, Estero Bay.

Slide 5: The next few slides indicate how landscape changes reduce water quality.

Slide 6/7: John showed the significant increase in the number of properties with structures in 1960 and the considerable growth situation in 2020. The visual difference is astonishing!

Slide 8: The difference is also illustrated in this slide using satellite images of the land in 1944 and 1998.

Slide 9: The NewsPress, together with other local media, has frequently reported on the population growth in both Lee and Collier County. We will continue to see a significant increase over the next 10 to 20 years based on future projections.

Slide 10: The Outcomes of Growth and landscape Change and Wetland Loss.

Slide 11: Despite the complexity of the slide, the key points are 1) the alarming increase in nitrogen in the Bay, 2) the average temperature increase of 50 F 3) the level of dissolved oxygen has decreased.

Slide 12: This results in the many observations that residents have noticed: More severe and frequent algal blooms that create health risks; Ecosystem changes that favor algae vs. seagrass; Changes to the fishery; Economic impacts on tourism and property values.

Slide 13: The source of nutrient pollution can result fromagricultural runoff manure from cattle, septic tanks, treated sewage used for watering lawns, sewage sludge spread on fields, residential & urban runoff, and local wastewater & stormwater runoff.

Slide 14: Based on trend data since 2018, the level of nutrients has shown the highest increase over the three years to 2020.

Slide 15: illustrates that Lee county has seen the most significant increase of any county in nutrients over the period 2018 to 2020 – up 36%, which is very alarming.

Please refer to the PowerPoint presentation button at the left for information on the remaining slide presentation. Go to the video above for the rest of John Cassani’s presentation and the Q&A,which covered many important points and which explains residents’ actions to help move the needle!      

water pollution

Water is essential to life, and in Florida, it is also an economic engine that fuels $94 billion in annual tourism spending and $12 billion in local and state sales, hotel, and excise taxes, according to Rockport Analytics LLC. When our waterways suffer, our economy suffers, too.

Historically, Florida’s water followed the barely perceptible downward slope of the peninsula, from north to south. A raindrop that falls into the Kissimmee River Valley finds itself in Lake Okeechobee. Along the water’s southerly route, plants and soil would soak up excess nutrients and minerals, a vital cleansing process that restored water quality.

What’s the problem?

Poor water quality in lakes can have many unpleasant consequences. The fish populations are affected, and algal blooms can yield unpleasant odors and appearances that reduce their aesthetic appeal.

Toxic algae blooms have led to states of emergency that have closed beaches and restricted fishing over a large section of our west coast.

Most community stormwater systems in the Estero Bay watershed were permitted a decade ago and built with outdated treatment designs. These systems’ effluent (drainage or discharge) often exceeds state water quality standards. It is unknown what the state may require for future restoration actions to reduce the impacts from residential stormwater treatment systems to address impaired water quality in Estero waterways.

pollution solution

There are several alternatives for nutrient removal from residential stormwater systems, including:

  • Alum treatment (coagulation of nutrients in offline lagoons or within the storage reservoir)
  • Sand filtration
  • Constructed treatment wetlands or hybrid wetland treatment
  • Aeration (air diffuser systems)
  • Bioreactor (wood chip) technology
  • Other smaller-scale measures are also available

Be a Part of the Solution

Calusa Waterkeeper (CWK) and the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) have had ongoing discussions about managing nutrient runoff that has caused the impairment of Estero Bay and its tributaries. Many communities in Estero Bay’s watershed are adding excessive nutrients leading to the pollution that promotes harmful algal blooms, declines in seagrass coverage, and impacts property values.

Our discussions led to creating a goal for reducing nutrient runoff by establishing Demonstration Projects to reduce pollution for potentially broader applications in residential communities feeding the Estero Bay Watershed.

Demonstration Project standards include:

  • No detraction from a community’s natural aesthetics
  • Minimal annual operations and maintenance
  • Nutrient load reductions that result from the project are measurable for defining success and meeting eventual regulatory compliance
  • The potential for external funding
  • Overall cost-effectiveness

The Assessment Process

  1. Engage in a dialogue to learn more about the benefits of reducing nitrogen and phosphate stormwater runoff into our lakes and Estero Bay.
  2. After an introductory meeting with interested community leaders, the next step would be conducting a no-cost site visit to determine potential alternatives–considering site compatibility and other factors–for a Demonstration Project.

  3. CWK will arrange the site visit and assist with a cost/benefit analysis for alternatives that emerge as possibilities from the site visit.
  4. CWK will also assist the interested community with finding potential external funding for the project.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with ECCL President Jim Gilmartin, ecclpres@gmail.com, or Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani, jcass927@gmail.com