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Reclaimed water: Is it hurting or helping Marco Island?

The City of Marco Island says there is no evidence that reclaimed water is depleting oxygen in the waterways. A local industrial engineer disagrees.
Posted at 9:45 PM, May 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-09 21:45:37-04

MARCO ISLAND, Fla — Oxygen levels in Marco Island's waterways are in decline and its raising environmental concerns, says a member of the Collier Citizens Council.

In an exclusive interview with Fox 4, the industrial engineer is questioning the city's use of reclaimed water and its impact on the ecosystem.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are treated in Marco Island's water treatment plants. While potable water goes into homes, processed reclaimed water from sewage is used for irrigation on golf courses, public medians, and condo landscapes.

"It removes no phosphorus, so 100% of the phosphorus from our urine, from the sewage, is distributed across the island for irrigation," says Eugene Wordehoff.

Eugene Wordehoff Collier Citizens Council Industrial Engineer
Eugene Wordehoff is a member of the Collier Citizens Council and an industrial engineer by trade. He questions whether reclaimed water is being prepared properly for use in Marco Island's sensitive environment.

Wordehoff says he has extensive evidence that this water ends up in canals and local bodies of water and is contributing directly to depleted oxygen levels. "It is collapsing the local ecosystem," he said.

"The fish have no oxygen to breathe, they leave. There's no bird life because the birds have no food source," Wordehoff added.

However, the Marco Island Water and Sewer Department disagrees with Wordehoff's findings.

Jeffrey Poteet is the department's general manager and has worked for the city for over 30 years. "We have no evidence to show that reclaimed water is the driving force on reduced oxygen levels," Poteet said.

Jeffrey Poteet City of Marco Island Reclaimed Water
Jeffrey Poteet is the General Manager of the Marco Island Water and Sewer Department.

While Poteet acknowledged that phosphorus is not removed from irrigation water, he explained that reclaimed water is used in a limited area and that plants absorb most of the nutrients.

"Cleaning up the reclaimed water will have almost zero impact on any of the waters around Marco Island," Poteet added.

City of Marco Island Reclaimed Water
A sign at the City of Marco Island's reclaimed water facility.

The water department says it is in full compliance with local and state laws.

Meanwhile Wordehoff is advocating for more studies on the impact of reclaimed water and updates to the water treatment systems.