Blue Equals Green: How water quality impacts your business’ bottom line

May 21, 2024

On May 1, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida along with Captains for Clean Water and Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation were invited to speak on a panel about our recent Water Quality Economic Study.

Background on the study: To address growing concerns around the health and vitality of our waterways, Captains for Clean Water, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation enlisted Greene Economics to conduct a thorough analysis of the economic repercussions of degraded water quality. This pivotal study aims to translate the ecological impact into tangible economic figures, offering a clearer perspective on the stakes involved. The study also shines light on how good water quality has a positive economic impact and that projects and policies that improve water quality will pay off through a more robust economy.

The event was hosted by the Greater Naples Chamber and sponsored by the Collier Community Foundation and held at the Hyatt House Naples – 5th Avenue. The morning begin with a breakfast, opening remarks, and a discussion with three panelists. The panelists were Captain Daniel Andrews, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Captains for Clean Water, James Evans, CEO, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and Rob Moher, President & CEO, Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Captain Daniel Andrews (Co-Founder and Executive Director at Captains for Clean Water), James Evans (CEO at SCCF) and Rob Moher (CEO and President at Conservancy of Southwest Florida) speaking on the panel at the Naples Chamber event.

Throughout the discussion, attendees were given the opportunity to ask the three panelists local water quality questions. We were unable to answer all of the questions/comments due to a lack of time. Michele Arquette-Palermo, Conservancy’s Water Policy Manager, who contributed to the study has taken the time to answer the rest of the questions.

Q: How do I get the greatest impact from the study? 

A: The economic devastation associated with poor water quality is staggering. However, the numbers in this study can be impactful only if they are shared in the community and reach the ears of elected officials and decision makers. You can help us make an impact. Share the study and encourage people to get involved.

Toxic blue-green algae bloom at Pahokee Marina – Photo Credit: Noah Miller, Captains For Clean Water

Q: How much of the pollution issues come from Lake Okeechobee?

A: Lake Okeechobee is not a major source in Collier County. It is what we do on land that impacts the quality of water. When it rains, water runs across the surface (stormwater). As it drains across roads, parking lots, rooftops and other hard surfaces it picks up things along the way (dog waste, excess fertilizer, oil and gas etc.) and creates what we refer to as stormwater pollution. 

This can occur due to unlawful discharges, illegal dumping and improper trash disposal or trash management, or contact with industrial materials and human or pet waste. Sanitary wastewater can also contaminate stormwater systems through infiltration of contaminated groundwater caused by damaged wastewater collection pipes and failing septic systems.

Q: What do we do about the pollution that doesn’t come from the lake?

A: Each one of us owns a piece of the solution. Some ways you can help minimize water pollution:

  • Maintain your vehicle
  • Use fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides wisely and sparingly
  • Maintain septic systems or switch to municipal systems when possible
  • Clean up after our pets
  • Support infrastructure upgrades
  • Conserve natural systems where its critical and mimic their functions in development areas (green infrastructure, engineering with nature)

Q: Do we have an Oyster Project?

A: The City of Naples is working on an oyster reef restoration project in Naples Bay.  Learn more about the project here.

Photo Credit and Information from the City of Naples: “A new oyster reef restoration project involving restoring 5 acres of oyster reef habitat in Naples Bay. Over the past few decades, oyster reefs in Naples Bay have experienced an 80% decline due to urbanization and channelization. This oyster reef restoration project aims to place oyster habitat substrate (concrete, limestone rock, and shell) at three sites in Naples Bay to provide habitat for oyster colonization. Our most recent efforts have eliminated the use of plastic material in the restoration process.” 

Q: While we were talking about coastal (Lee, Collier, etc.) water quality, how can coastal communities address water quality upstream?

A: Water and water quality issues flow downhill. Taking action to improve water quality and prevent pollution is the responsibility of everyone, both coastal and inland communities alike. As part of the Conservancy’s 2017 Estuaries Report Card, we published a list of action steps for both decision makers and the public that we believe must be implemented if we are to make meaningful progress in improving water quality. These action steps are still relevant today and can be found under the Estuaries Report Card tab on our water quality page.

Q: Why is it so difficult to find water quality data?

A: Water quality data is collected by different agencies and reported out at different times. It is very hard to get a pulse on water quality on a daily basis. Please visit our website for a detailed look into this issue.

Q: What are you doing or rather, what is the plan to oppose Senator Rubio and Scott’s move to strike down the latest “wetland permitting” decision of the courts?

A: In 2021, the Conservancy and other environmental organizations legally challenged Florida’s assumption of federal Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permitting. On February 16, 2024, a federal court struck down this unlawful scheme that threatened Florida’s wetlands and the species that inhabit them. Florida has appealed this decision and the Conservancy’s focus remains on supporting EarthJustice, our legal counsel on this matter, as this case moves through the courts.  Learn more at here.

Q: How can we stop harmful algae blooms?

A: We cannot stop harmful blooms, but we can help mitigate the intensity. One way is to support Everglades Restoration. The more water that goes south results in less water that goes into the estuaries. For more on this issue, please visit our website.

Q: Is there something our commissioners or the state need to do?

A: We need to prevent additional loss of wetlands, support hydrologic restoration, protect critical environmental lands for water and wildlife and implement consistent water quality monitoring. 

Q: What is the #1 local issue for Collier County in restoring clean water?

A: According to the Collier County Pollution Control yearly report released in April of 2023, there were some improvements in water quality in certain areas of the county. 

Bacteria levels improved in most areas except for Corkscrew Swamp, Immokalee Basin, and Rock Creek. More detailed research revealed several sources in Rock Creek (homeless camps, broken pipes, rv parks and illegal hookups). However, despite enforcement and correction, bacteria levels continue to exceed standards. There were also areas where water quality worsened, including Lake Trafford and Cocohatchee River.  

The county recommends “further testing to identify the sources, of the bacteria and nutrients including integrity testing of wastewater infrastructure, and continued efforts to remediate known sources of nutrients impacting waterbodies.”

In April 0f 2024, FDEP reinitiated the process of developing a TMDL (total maximum daily load) for bacteria in this area. This means that we are consistently not meeting bacteria water quality standards. There is a whole host of potential sources according to the state and the FDEP report does not identify many of them. DNA source tracking was conducted by the FDEP in Cow Slough and identified FIB sources included cattle and birds. Rock Creek, Gordon River Extension, and Cocohatchee River need continued source tracking. 

List of potential sources in the report include: 

  • Septic systems 
  • Pet waste
  • Solid waste storage and disposal (poorly managed dumpsters)
  • Agricultural animals  
  • Biosolids (sewage sludge used in farming and ranch operations and manure)
  • Boats
  • Wildlife

The Collier County report states, “Reduction of nutrient pollution should remain a priority County-wide. Reducing nutrients at the source is more cost effective and efficient than restoring ecosystems after they have been impacted by nutrients. Source reduction strategies should be considered and include the following: require low impact development for new and redevelopment; agricultural operations (including golf courses) should be following assigned best management practices (BMPs) for their operations and verified that the BMPs being implemented are effective; permitted discharges not meeting water quality standards should be remediated; and converting existing wastewater plants to advanced wastewater treatment (AWT) technologies.”

Redtide 2022 aerial view of dead fish

Q: What are the five bullets we need to do? 

A: Support and advocate for infrastructure upgrades especially those that include green infrastructure, such as stormwater pipes in the City of Naples and Waste Water treatment plant upgrades. 

Develop sustainable practices and recognize that what we do on land impacts water quality. Develop sustainable practices that reduce your impact. Taking steps can ensure that your company and/or household is doing its part to keep waterways clean and healthy. Communicate your efforts to employees and your customers, encourage them to join you. 

Practice Good Housekeeping:

  • Proper waste management (dumpster, grease, traps etc.) 
  • Manage fleet cars 
  • Store hazardous products and wastes in sturdy, leak-proof containers with tight-fitting lids
  • Routinely look for drips and leaks; immediately repair faulty connectors, hoses, valves, etc.
  • Use fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides wisely and sparingly
  • Maintain septic systems or switch to municipal systems when possible
  • Clean up after our pets