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How much nitrogen pollution is on our waterways?

Blue-Green Algae
Posted at 6:17 PM, Dec 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-21 18:17:10-05

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — While people love living along the canals in Cape Coral, recently the question was raised, “how much nutrient pollution is actually getting into these canals?”

“It's scary the scope of the problem,” said Matt DePaulis, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation environmental policy director.

The answer is thousands of pounds of nitrogen, according to documents that came out during the Chiquita Lock removal hearings in December.

Those documents, submitted by the City of Cape Coral to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, showed that major outflows of stormwater runoff into the canals and ultimately the Caloosahatchee River were carrying over a quarter million pounds of nitrogen in 2014 with that number rising to nearly one million pounds of nitrogen in 2019.

This is not just a Cape Coral issue, DePaulis says.

“We have impaired by bodies of water with BMAPs and yet our nutrient pollution continues to rise,” he explained.

A BMAP stands for basin management action plan, which is basically the framework for water quality restoration or a goal for the amount of acceptable pollution.

In Cape Coral, the BMAP was set for nearly 39,000 pounds in 2015 — a number far exceeded currently.

“When you have huge influxes in nutrients, like we are seeing in a lot of bodies of water around here, they can cause massive harmful algal blooms,” said DePaulis.

Those massive blooms are something we have seen in a lot of recent years. While Cape Coral and other municipalities have taken steps to reduce nitrogen pollution with wet season fertilizer bans, DePaulis says it's not enough.

“That could be changes to storm water management, septic to sewer conversion, changes agricultural practices, reducing fertilizer use,” said DePaulis.

While some of these changes have been in the works, the problem is something that likely will linger, especially with a growing population.

“Once the nutrients are in the system, it’s astronomically more difficult to remove them than it is to prevent them from entering to begin with,” said DePaulis.

Fox 4 asked the City of Cape Coral to comment on this. They said they take water quality and water pollution seriously, but couldn’t comment further given the ongoing Chiquita Lock hearings.