MURDOCK — New Charlotte County Water Quality manager Brandon Moody spends his weekends photographing the county’s canals, particularly where water backs up and weeds grow.
This is all for a monthly water testing regimen the county is expected to undertake.
Commissioners listened to Moody’s presentation Tuesday of the build up to water quality testing in the county’s miles of drainage canals.
Some were built in the early 20th century. Many others were built in the 1960s through the 1970s — after which they were banned. The county may also start testing the drainage ponds found in residential and commercial developments.
After some delays, a contractor will begin testing several dredged canals, Moody said, to see whether dredging improved the water quality.
Moody will also be meeting with the county’s dozens of neighborhood taxation unit advisory boards to ask where they would like to see testing done.
As for how to pay for all the monitoring, Moody said that has not been decided.
Windfall funding from Congress’ recent American Rescue Plan may not apply, he said, because that is for one-time projects. Water quality monitoring will be ongoing. The county might be able to use the federal funding for planning, however, he said.
Commissioner Chris Constance stopped Moody to ask why he wasn’t focusing on water quality testing in Charlotte Harbor and the feeder rivers, Peace and Myakka.
The state has labelled the harbor as “impaired” in quality.
Constance has been seeking more up-to-date water quality data on the harbor as well as equipment that will provide continuous monitoring instead of periodic sampling.
“I’d like to get more drill downs on the Peace River, the Myakka and Charlotte Harbor,” Constance said, noting that some sampling data is 10-30 years old.
Various state and federal agencies are already testing the harbor and rivers, Moody said, along with the regional water authority.
He acknowledged, however, their work could stop if their funding stops.
Other commissioners voiced support for Moody’s direction.
“I like your plan,” Commissioner Ken Doherty said.
“I think it’s important that we do test the canals that are fed from places outside of Charlotte County,” Commissioner Stephen Deutsch said.
Deutsch has been talking a lot about a canal that is not in Charlotte County — Cocoplum. Cocoplum is a canal in North Port and — in one section — runs parallel to the east-west border between the counties.
Deutsch and members of the Manchester Waterway Civic Association have been asking for water quality sampling at points where the Cocoplum empties into Charlotte County’s waterways, in particular, the Como Waterway, where there is no dam.
The goal of water testing, Moody said, is to identify when and where the county’s canals are showing high concentrations of pollutants, including excess nitrogen and phosphorus.
Sampling also identifies the signals that water quality is going downhill, such as too much chlorophyll from weeds or algae or too little oxygen due to algae overgrowth.
Nitrogen and phosphorus can come from septic systems, agriculture and landscape fertilizers from backyards and golf courses or air pollution.
Cocoplum runs through North Port neighborhoods with long-standing septic systems, similar to much of Charlotte County. Both communities were developed in the same way by General Development Corporation in the 1970s and 1980s, with tiny lots and almost no sewers.
Where Charlotte County started the slow and costly process of replacing septic systems more than eight years ago, North Port is just starting — and facing the same resident opposition.
Charlotte County commissioners have been asking for evidence that pollution that ends up in the harbor has started in another county, possibly as far as Orlando, where heavy development impacts the headwaters of the Peace River. Scientists have told them this is not an easy task.
But Lee County is starting to pressure Charlotte County, Moody said, where the two counties connect north of Lee County’s Caloosahatchie River. That river ran green for much of 2018 with algae that affected the real estate market, not to mention people’s health.
Lee County is finding while some of the blame goes to Lake Okeechobee, the septic systems along the rest of the river are also a major contributor, Constance said.
“I want to see Sarasota County do what Lee County’s doing,” Deutsch said, which is address what flows out of its borders.
Commissioners Ken Doherty and Joe Tiseo asked Moody to look into whether Charlotte County can use the state Department of Environmental Protection to demand changes the quality of water coming out of a neighboring county.