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SCCF gives update regarding panel-funded water study

By Staff | Sep 17, 2009

Mark Thompson and Erick Lindblad of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation presented a special update to the Captiva Community Panel at their monthly meeting, during which, Thompson chronicled the SCCF’s efforts and year two plans for the Tourist Development Council-funded water quality study.

Over the summer, the panel was unsure as to whether the Tourist Development Council would indeed grant money for SCCF to continue their work into a second year, but panel administrator Ken Gooderham revealed that it appears that the TDC will in fact fund year two.

“I want to thank the panel, and especially Ken for persevering through the year two funding issues we’ve had over the past several months. I want to thank you for all your hard work,” Lindblad said.

Because SCCF has all but received the go-ahead to prepare for year two, Thompson made a brief presentation about what was done in year one, the results so far and what they are planning for the second year of the project.

“As you recall, the goals of this project were to provide a baseline, water quality assessment for Captiva and to identify pollutants of concern and to identify possible areas of concern. And if the study did extend into a second year, which it now sounds like it might, we would actually track those pollutants of concern to specific sources,” Thompson said.

Year one focused on collecting and combining all existing water quality data for the study area – northern Sanibel and Captiva – into a Geodatabase.

The data was then analyzed to determine where data gaps exist, which pollutants were of the most concern and where potential pollution problems are likely to occur.

Using the information SCCF drew from their analysis, they developed a monitoring plan to collect water quality data from 22 “storm event” sites during six major storm events – three in the dry season and three during rainy season, nine “sentinel” sites selected on the basis of identified potential pollution sources during various tide cycles and bacteriological samples at four beach sites in an effort monitor bacteria, nutrients, salinity, dissolved oxygen, water clarity and algae.

Thompson noted that the timing of each sampling event is critical to the success of the project because historically, larger pollutant concentrations occur during the rainy months when the number of island visitors is low.

“We anticipated that about 3,000 analyses would be performed during the first year and right now we’re up to about 2,500 analyses performed, or about 80% of what we had anticipated. We still have one storm event to monitor and one set of beach samples to collect,” he said, continuing his presentation.

Thompson said that so far, out of 130 tests for Enterococci bacteria (an indicator of human waste contamination in the water), only five results have fallen within the Department of Health’s criteria for poor quality.

In addition, there were 19 exceedences out of 130 analyses that showed an over-abundance of Chlorophyll-a (an indicator of possible nutrient pollution) as per the Department of Environmental Protection’s poor water quality standards.

“It seems there are a few areas that have periodic bacteria problems and those problems may be related to rainfall events. We also evaluated bacteria in the sand. In many areas of the country they’re finding elevated levels of bacteria in the sand not just in the nearshore water. What we’ve found so far is that levels of bacteria in the sand on the beach have not been very high and we kind of thought they would be,” Thompson said, noting that there were elevated levels of ammonia nitrogen (NH3), total nitrogen (TN), sediments and Enterococci bacteria during rainfall events.

“Another thing that we’ve found is that in the mornings, a lot of our sites, especially in the bayous, are anoxic conditions. But a lot of that might be natural and as long as it’s not over a large area, fish and other things can move away from that area and move back when oxygen increases,” he continued.

“There may be a dramatic change due to the opening of Blind Pass. It hasn’t been too long, but we’ve done three sampling events since then and a lot of the data is still in the lab.

“I’ve really noticed a change in water clarity. We have other projects going on specifically geared towards changes that are related to Blind Pass opening. Hopefully we’ll be able to see if possible changes do occur,” Thompson said, noting that SCCF is also paying attention to any correlations stemming from the closing of the Bayous wastewater treatment plant.

“We still need to get all the data back from the lab so that we can enter it in the database and analyze it,” Thompson said.

So what’s the plan for year two?

According to Thompson, a year two monitoring plan will be established while SCCF attempts to identify potential problem areas from year one data, develop source tracking protocol and continue monitoring certain problem areas. Close attention will be paid to both local and regional sources.

If you would like to know more about the the TDC Captiva water quality assessment project, call the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, 472-2329.