Why Conduct Localized Water Quality

Testing? A Response

 

January 12, 2017

 

By Louise Kowitch

 

 

 

Mr. Bill Veach, chair of the Fort Myers Beach Marine Resources Task

Force, adjourned that committee’s meeting last night by recommending

that those in attendance research a thorough response to the essential

question put forward by John Cassani and Jack Greene of the Calusa

Waterkeepers and Rae Blake, our town’s Environmental and Stormwater

Technician:

 

 

 

WHY should Fort Myers Beach conduct localized water testing?

 

 

 

 

“The Caloosahatchee River is showing no signs of progress in its

Health”ť, according to Dr. Eric Millebrandt, Director of the Marine

Laboratory of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, (Saturday,

January 7, 2017, Everglades Coalition Conference, Sanibel Harbour

Marriott). Even if Lake Okeechobee discharges were reduced, there is

still legacy phosphorous and other contaminants in our waterways. Dr.

Millebrandt made an appeal to local communities to be proactive in

restoring the health and safety of their waterways and ecosystems.

Localized water quality testing is a powerful tool toward that goal.

Scores of scientists at that conference reiterated the value of localized

water quality testing - marine, canal, estuarine, standing water and

stormwater. WHY?

 

 

 

First and foremost, Knowledge is power. Currently, the testing

sites on our island are few and far apart and conducted by outside

agencies on an infrequent basis. When we defer knowledge of the health

and safety of our beaches to county and state agencies, it is as if we

are abdicating control of our destiny. Relying on county and state

agencies to test water quality is like diagnosing a cancer patient using

only bloodwork when a biopsy and an MRI are necessary to pinpoint the

disease’s presence, magnitude and aggressivity. Localized

testing would afford us a more accurate picture of our waterways than our

current reliance on a patchwork of infrequent tests from outside sources.

For example, we could add canal locations in the north, middle and south

of the island, and beachside at Red Coconut RV Park, Newton Beach and

Carlos Point to supplement testing done solely in Estero Bay and beaches

at Bowditch Point, Lynn Hall and Big Carlos Pass. We could conduct

composite tests of nutrients, bacteria and heavy metals more frequently

than do Lee County and the Florida DEP. “What we test is

intimately tied in to “why” we test. By adding these sites,

increasing the frequency with which testing takes place, and adopting

composite measures, we will improve our diagnostics like a doctor

trying to examine the complex systems of a patient’s body.

 

 

 

Which leads to the second, and perhaps most immediate argument :

human health. We can’t continue to disregard concerns about our

degraded waters when locals don’t swim at our beaches and visitors

report on Trip Advisor that they won’t return to Fort Myers Beach any

time soon for fear of their health. Armed with scientific data,

we can make honest, timely decisions about beach closures and avert

potential medical catastrophe from water-borne pathogens. Furthermore,

not all symptoms of illness, are evident in the short term. Long term,

longitudinal data is also important to our community. According to

Dr. Larry E. Brandt of the University of Miami, it takes a long time

for scientists to prove a causal relationship between a local ecosystem

and a statistically significant node of neurodegenerative diseases like

Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s in a human population.  The

links between water borne toxins and these diseases have been proven, but

only with the most precise localized data. As one hotelkeeper said,

“if we’re required to test our swimming pools daily,

the least the town can do is to test our beaches weekly”.

 

 

 

Finally, there is a clear and compelling political argument for

localized testing. The ecosystem of Estero Island is bound up with those

of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caloosahatchee RIver and its watershed, and

Lake Okeechobee.  With our environmental fate determined by other

regions and jurisdictions, it is imperative that we advocate for our

water’s health as if we were attorneys filing a lawsuit. We must have

the most persuasive, irrefutable evidence we can muster. By collecting

our own data, analyzing it for long term patterns of change or

continuity, and measuring water quality against the highest water quality

standards, we can prove to county, state and even federal governments the

urgency with which they must fully fund and accelerate projects designed

to reverse the degradation of our waterways. Fort Myers Beach, working in

conjunction with our neighboring communities, can become a model for a

regional approach in using science-based solutions to our water woes.

Rather than accepting that our barrier island is completely at the mercy

of “others” when it comes to the fate of our beaches , we can take

responsibility for our waterways and join in a unified effort across

South Florida to achieve clean water.