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Calusa Waterkeeper concerned about impact of large storm plume seen in Naples Bay

Posted at 10:44 PM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 22:44:37-04

NAPLES, Fla. — Tropical Storm Elsa may be well clear of Southwest Florida by now, but a few after effects are still being felt.

A large plume of storm runoff could be seen from Naples Bay through Gordon Pass on Wednesday. That plume has since dissipated into the Gulf but there remains an underlying issue for water experts. We’re seeing more nutrients in Southwest Florida waters so the question is, could this cause more problems?

“It just adds more nutrients that grows the harmful algal blooms and creates other problems with our public waters," says John Cassani, the Calusa Waterkeeper.

On Wednesday, this was the site of Naples Bay- clear gulf water interspersed with storm runoff. The dark water discharging from Naples Bay through Gordon Pass as a result of rainfall from Tropical Storm Elsa.

“When the landscape is a lot of parking lots, rooftops, roads- what we call impervious surface- that rain runs off rather than infiltrates into the ground," said Cassani. "And so we get this sort of massive plume of runoff and what you saw in that picture was some pretty ugly looking water moving out into the Gulf.”

And it’s becoming more frequent of a problem. Cassani says last November, when Hurricane Eta hit, a lot of storm water runoff caused issues for Lake Okechobee. What’s unusual to experts is the amount of rainfall taking place.

“We’re seeing too many of these extreme rainfall events occurring too often," Cassani said. "We think that’s largely driven by an atmosphere that has low moisture and it is warmer and it creates these bigger storm events and longer lasting storm events and more frequent storm events.”

“Our storm drainage system is designed for a 5-year, one hour storm event which is about 2.8 inches of rainfall in a single hour," says Gregg Strakaluse, Director of Streets and Storm Water Department for the City of Naples. "If you look at Elsa over the duration of 24 hours and five inches, we could handle that rainfall really well.”

Strakaluse says events such as the one seen in Naples Bay happen quite frequently.

“During the raining season, when we see the intense rainfalls and the fresh water drain from the upland properties through the canal systems out into Naples Bay and eventually discharge into that salty Gulf water, you see those fresh water plumes this time of year,” he said.

The phenomenon- though hard to look at- is helping experts better understand storm events. Meanwhile, city officials assure that the water being discharged into the bay is free of any potential pollutants.

“Our focus, really, is not just to drain the water off the properties and into the receiving water bodies but also to clean it up before it’s discharged," Strakaluse said. "That’s really what we want to focus in on is the highest level of water quality before it’s released out into the bay and into the Gulf. That way we’re making sure that we’re minimizing any potential risk for red tide and toxic algae.”

Strakaluse also says the city is well prepared for a hurricane. He says the department is constantly going through practice sessions from a Category 1 up to a Category 5.