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Canalwatch looking for additional volunteers

By Staff | May 20, 2016

A group of volunteers is quietly assisting with the monitoring of Cape Coral’s miles of canals.

Formed in 1995, the Cape Coral Canalwatch Volunteer Program is a component of the city’s canal management effort. Once a month, participants collect a water sample from a nearby canal – they are usually waterfront property owners – which goes to the city’s Environmental Resources Division.

The program is based off ones like the University of Florida’s Lakewatch program, which is a statewide effort, and Lee County’s Pond Watch Program, which started about the same time as Canalwatch did.

“Our canal system is really a stormwater conveyance,” Harry Phillips, with the Environmental Resources Division, said. “Whatever happens on the landscape eventually leads to a canal.”

Currently, the participants are scattered throughout the city, with a smaller amount in the northeast.

“We have roughly 40 volunteers that are consistently bringing us samples,” he said.

Some seasonal residents also take part when they are in town.

“We provide them with everything they need,” Phillips said. “All the materials.

Along with the sample, volunteers provide staff with basic observations, like how the canal looked, if there were any wildlife and what the weather conditions were like prior to them taking the sample.

“Rainfall and stormwater are the biggest influences,” he said.

The samples are tested for nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.

Staffers try to maintain open communication with the volunteers.

“There’s a lot of assistance that we give them,” he said.

The results of the samples are published in a quarterly newsletter called the “Canal Current.” It covers issues related to the canal system, has a calendar of upcoming environment-related events and more.

The goal is to educate homeowners about water quality issues, open up communication between citizens and water managers and increase residents’ sense of ownership of common resources.

“They’re our ambassadors in the community,” Phillips said of the volunteers.

For example, they can use their sample collecting to open up a dialogue with their neighbors about the status of their canal and explain that what makes one’s grass green can also make their canal green.

“It’s kind of a grassroots effort to bring awareness,” he said.

The idea is to get residents to view their property as part of the ecosystem.

“So what I do on it is really going to affect that common resource – the canal,” Phillips said.

Those interested in joining the program undergo a one-hour training session.

“We teach them how to grab samples, what they need to know and why we do it,” he said.

Staff has learned things from the supplemental data provided by the samples.

“We are noticing a downward trend in the amount of certain inorganic nutrients,” Phillips said.

The data has also helped to validate the city’s fertilizer ordinance put in place in 2010.

“We’re seeing some positive effects of that in the water body,” he said.

Each year, volunteers are treated to an appreciation luncheon.

“We try to bring in some different agencies from outside of the area,” Phillips said.

They also get to meet the laboratory staff who process their samples.

Each November, a group meeting is also held.

For more information on the Cape Coral Canalwatch Volunteer Program or to become a volunteer, contact Harry Phillips at (239) 574-0785 or via email at hphillip@capecoral.net .