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City at Impasse on Water Quality Direction

At a Water Quality Workshop held on May 23, 2022, Marco City Council reviewed a report from Jacobs Engineering, commissioned by city staff, that refuted the findings of another report delivered by Dr. Harper in 2021. Harper pointed to the reuse water (purple pipes) from the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) as the primary nutrient source that pollutes the Marco waterways. The Harper report was also commissioned by city staff.

Dr. Harper’s verbal comments to City Council on 9/20/21 were “(reuse water) that is applied through irrigation in the city contains extremely elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Well, over any other source that you have.”

Dr. Harper further stated, “(WWTP) those systems can be tweaked. But there is a limit to how low they can go. There are processes you can add to the end of the system that removes nitrogen and phosphorus, which would be a good thing. It pretty much eliminates most of the reuse issue, and it makes more sense because you are spending money in one area rather than chasing something spread out over the island.”

In his comments to the Waterways Advisory Committee (WAC) on 10/21/21, Dr. Harper stated, “I would address reuse and fertilizer first. Give it a year. Collect some samples. See where you are, and then reevaluate that concept” As a direct result of Dr. Harper’s report, the WAC developed a set of seven recommendations for the City Council to address the water quality problems.

Item #3 had to do with reuse water and recommended that the city issue a Request-for-Information (RFI) to interested parties for information on the best technologies to reduce phosphorus in our reuse water. Following the RFI, the WAC recommended that the city advertise a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) to wastewater consulting engineering firms to evaluate options to decrease nutrients in our reuse water.

Item #4 had to do with the fertilizer ordinance and recommended that the city consider an expanded blackout period for fertilizer application.

Now that the city has two conflicting reports commissioned by city staff, there is no clear direction forward. Water clarity has dropped dramatically on Marco Island in the last four months. The waterways internal to Marco Island are now green, loaded with algae.

In a workshop presented on May 24, 2022, titled “Harmful Algal Blooms – What you don’t know can hurt you,” Dr. Mike Parsons, Florida Gulf Coast University, coined a phrase for green water: “If it’s green, it’s mean.” This refers to the emerging knowledge of the harmful health effects of green, algae-laden water.

Nanette Rivera

Candidate for Marco Island City Council

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