What’s In The Water?

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Initial Results Reported

The Mound House recently announced the initial results for its “What’s In the Water” project, a Fort Myers Beach-wide water quality testing program. “What’s In The Water” is a component of a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and Planet Stewardship Education Program (PSEP) to examine non-point source nutrient pollution, primarily for nitrogen and phosphorus, that originates from Fort Myers Beach.

In his written statement, Dr. Michael Parsons from the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Water School, Director of the Vester Marine & Environmental Sciences Research Station, and a member of Governor Ron DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force, said, “For the ‘What’s In The Water’ event from October, the big things are #1: the Color Dissolved Organic Matter (CDOM) was lower, with the negative values indicating a lack of inputs from Lake Okeechobee – there was less CDOM in the water than in our tap water at FGCU which we used as our ‘zero’ value in our calibration! #2: Chlorophyll was slightly elevated and #3: Phosphate was much higher.

“In a nutshell, I’d say that these indicate a lack of Lake Okeechobee influence, as low salinity and low CDOM as discharges were generally low, and noticeable localized phosphate inputs, though I won’t say significant yet – we need to continue the data collection. Phosphate sources would include fertilizer and waste water, septic and discharges from waste water treatment plants. The lack of similar nitrogen increases suggest it might not be waste water, or algae took up the nitrogen and we see residual phosphate. They could not use bioassay tests to help figure this out. Interesting results!”

Citizen Science

“It is with great thanks to Dr. Parsons, who arranged for FGCU to donate the associated fees in processing the water samples both at the Mound House and at the FGCU Laboratory,” stated Penny Jarrett, the Mound House Educational Coordinator who established “What’s In The Water” through a NOAA-PSEP grant. “In addition, my thanks go to Nicole Weigold, Cierra Homic, and Matthew Ruppert, the FGCU students who volunteered their time to conduct basic water quality samplings for CDOM, turbidity, chlorophyll, and salinity at the Mound House. The second water sample from the 46 collected sites were processed by Haruka Urakawa, the FGCU Laboratory Coordinator. I can tell you from observing Haruka in the laboratory processing the samples that they were done with great diligence and accuracy using very sophisticated equipment. How very fortunate we all are to have FGCU as part of our community!

“My sincere appreciation also goes out to all of the volunteers who collected the water samples. The number of samples being collected would not be possible without having many volunteers. Thank you for doing the work of citizen science! Further FMB island-wide water quality testing is needed, and I hope you will continue to support this study and be an advocate for both land and water environmental stewardship.”

Project Review

The “What’s In The Water” Project pays particular attention to nutrients that contributed to the Red Tide and Harmful Algae Blooms that led to the Summer 2018 water quality crisis. Volunteers collected two water quality samples at 42 separate Fort Myers Beach locations during dry season on May 18, then took their samples to the Mound House, where Dr. Parsons and his students provided testing and expertise. They immediately tested one sample for CDOM, turbidity, chlorophyll, and salinity and recorded the data. They froze the other to send to their FGCU laboratory for orthophosphate, nitrate/nitrite, and ammonium analysis at a later time. Volunteers and FGCU repeated this with samples taken from 46 island locations on October 5, to build upon the initial May 18 baseline tests.

As the project continues, FGCU will analyze the results to identify the highest nutrient level “hot spots” and make recommendations to lower non-point source nutrient pollution, such as reducing or eliminating fertilizer or planting native groundcover and plants. These “hot spots” will require additional testing to determine if there are any nutrient level reduction. As Dr. Parsons stated on May 18, “Right now, when conditions worsen, all we can advise people is if you see algae, don’t go in the water, and it is just currently that simple, but we need better long-range answers and solutions.”

“Depending on where we find these ‘hot spots,’ we will consult business owners, condominium associations, private property owners and the Town of Fort Myers Beach to develop an appropriate plan of action,” explained Penny. “If recommendations include planting groundcover, we will again ask our volunteers to assist. Once we accumulate data, the Mound House will share it with the public through water quality education programs.” For additional information or to volunteer for a future water sample collection date, contact Penny at penny@fmbgov.com.