With Marco Island’s water quality impaired, a few University of Florida scientists have laid out a few potential options for the city to understand the sources of its issues and work towards improvements.

A few members of the Marco Island City Council participated in a webinar moderated by Don Rainey last  week where they learned about six ways the university could help monitor and implement best practices that would affect water quality.

The research program proposed by University of Florida scientists includes:

  • Street sweeping analysis
  • Canal monitoring
  • Source tracking
  • Gator Byte, a low-cost, real-time monitoring platform
  • Advanced ecological and biogeochemical monitoring
  • Citizen education

A water quality report released this year revealed Marco Island’s waters were higher than the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s standards for total nitrogen for a second consecutive year.

More: Marco Island City Council committed to increasing water quality testing

For a water body to be considered impaired, it would have to be above the state standards for two out of three years.

While Marco Island will be looking at increasing its level of testing from quarterly to monthly, Councilor Sam Young has been at the forefront of the problem, including spreading awareness about the proposals from the university.

For the street sweeping proposal, Dr. Mary Lusk said the purpose was to identify source sources that get caught in catch basins and analyze them for nitrogen and phosphorus content.

Lusk said the proposal would look at 6-9 treatment sites that would vary in land use and canopy coverage.

Dr. A.J. Reisinger, who strongly recommended the city increase its level of testing, said the canal monitoring proposal would seek to sample surface water from at least 100 sites randomly spread across the island.

Reisinger said the intended outcome was to identify long-term trends, identify hotpots and best practices that would reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading.

In monitoring the canals, scientists would also collect sediment samples to determine what’s existing. No recommendation would be made on dredging until testing is completed because it could actually release nutrients in the sediment that have yet to be exposed to the water.

The source tracking component of the research proposal was described as a straight forward analysis to identify the sources of nutrients.

This would include the study of reuse water, which has substantially higher nutrient levels, at the point of use on a quarterly basis for one year and a study of reclaimed water irrigation overspray.

To complete the analysis, six sites among three different land uses would need to be identified as well as nine months of monitoring for stormwater runoff.

Dr. Eban Bean explained Gator Byte, which is a cost-friendly, real-time monitoring platform.

Bean said each system runs $1,500 but monitors continuously at 15-minute intervals at three locations.

Additionally, scientists would look at three water quality buoys, each priced at $2,000, that could monitor pH levels, conductivity, temperature at other readings.

Lastly, the advanced ecological and biogeochemical monitoring would evaluate nutrient limitation and seek to answer questions such as how canals are improving water quality.

The biggest impediment to moving forward with the research project will be cost.

Although the Marco Island City Council agreed that it needed to increase testing, it won’t actually be adding it until the next budget cycle.

For each component of the research project, the costs were:

  • Onsite project administration – $72,000
  • Street sweeping – To be determined
  • Canal monitoring -$6,500
  • Source tracking – $70,000
  • Gator Byte – $13,200
  • Advanced ecological and geochemical monitoring- $15,000
  • Education – $25,000

Young said it was time the city put its money where its mouth is and invest in improving water quality as it was an important component of the city’s economy.

“(With) more testing (and) more science, we’ll be better off in the long run,” Young said.

More: Increased testing the first step to solving Marco Island water quality issues

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