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Volunteers monitor water quality in Punta Gorda canals for bacteria

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection declared canals in Punta Gorda to be impaired.
Posted at 11:25 AM, Jul 02, 2024

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — After canals in Punta Gorda were declared impaired with bacteria in Oct. 2023, citizen scientists in the area have banded together to conduct water studies on affected areas.

The program Citizens Partnership for Clean Canals (CPCC) was formed from the collaboration of nonprofits Heal Our Harbor and Team Punta Gorda after the impairment designation.

“That raised a lot of concern in the community and Team wanted to take action and do something,” said Karen McCague, Project Manager for Team Punta Gorda. “Team is very active in our community and always looking to make our community a better place to live, work and play and water quality is a huge part of that.”

Heal Our Harbor had already been testing water quality in Charlotte County and helps train volunteers from Team Punta Gorda to collect water samples properly.

CPCC takes water samples, and collects data from the canals including pH levels, temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen content.

CPCC PROBE
CPCC volunteers use a specialized probe to collect water data including pH, dissolved oxygen content and salinity.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the bacteria that the canals are impaired with could indicate that fecal matter is present in the water. Dr. Richard Whitman, water ecology expert and CEO of Heal Our Harbor told Fox 4 that data collected by CPCC can help locate the source of the bacteria.

“These are fecal indicator bacteria that are associated usually with warm blooded animals,” said Dr. Richard Whitman, water ecology expert and CEO of Heal Our Harbor. “That includes birds and mammals and we’re mammals, so we contribute. We contribute from runoff, septic tanks, sewage and dumping and we need to figure out which one it is so we can fix it.”

Dr. Whitman said finding a remedy for the impairment is crucial because of the importance of improving water quality, and the possible danger of exposure to the bacteria.

“If it's [the bacteria] from humans, particularly from humans, those pathogens have the effect of being spread from human to human,” said Dr. Whitman. “People live on these canals, this is their backyard. This is the basis of Charlotte Harbor, our foundation, our pride, our quality of life and our economy, everything is tied to this water.”

CPCC SAMPLE
CPCC collects a water sample to be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

The data collected by CPCC will help determine the accuracy of FDEP’s impairment declaration, said Dr. Whitman.

“That was only one sample that was being used to characterize the whole watershed up here and once we figure out whether that was appropriately determined, then we can take steps to remediation,” said Dr. Whitman. “Right now we don’t have that information. Without that information we can’t just throw money at fixing something we don’t know where it's broken.”

Additionally, the results of CPCC’s findings are shared with officials from Charlotte County and Punta Gorda, which CPCC hopes will help shape policy decisions regarding water quality in the future.

CPCC DATA SHEET
CPCC records their findings on a data sheet.

The group began collecting samples monthly at four locations in Punta Gorda in April with the help of a grant from the Rotary Club of Punta Gorda. It was also awarded a $26,000 grant from Charlotte County that will be available in October to continue testing.