Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Red tide: Venice vice mayor to seek citywide ban of fertilizer
By Earle Kimel
Action is designed to cut off nutrients that can fuel toxic algae.
VENICE — Vice Mayor Bob Daniels is asking the City Council to consider a ban on the use of fertilizer within the city limits, similar to one put in place by Sewall’s Point, in Martin County, on the east coast of Florida.
“I’m proposing a year-round ban, until we’re able to monitor what we’re putting into the three miles of the Gulf offshore — that being the outfalls and the septic systems,” Daniels said Tuesday morning at the Venice Municipal Fishing Pier.
Daniels wants the ban to include glyphosate herbicides, commonly known as Roundup.
His proposed ban would be placed on the council’s Sept. 11 agenda for discussion and could be in place “until we can guarantee we’re not putting out any nutrients.”
Sarasota County already regulates the use of fertilizer during the rainy season. Daniels’ idea would go further. He sees it as cutting off nourishment for Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide.
“My hypothesis, for the city, is we can control the food supply for three miles from the city,” Daniels said. “We’re going to cut it off.
“I don’t like seeing people walking around with respirators and gas masks and big dolphins being killed and birds and stuff like
Karina brevis occurs offshore naturally. Scientists are still studying the impact that phosphates, nitrogen and other nutrients used in fertilizer that flow into the Gulf have on the duration and intensity of red tide blooms closer to shore.
While not directly related, Daniels’ motion is an extension of the efforts pushed locally by Rob Merlino, a Venice Gardens resident who organized a small protest for clean water Aug. 28 outside Venice City Hall.
He followed that up Aug. 30 by sending city officials video and photos he took that morning of stormwater outfall flow into the Gulf, claiming that “white gunk” was visible in the flow.
“I was out on the pier when I saw them digging it out; you could see there was a plume of something,” Merlino said. “I went out there, and it smelled and it was icky and it looked white.
“It wasn’t white coming out; it turned white in the water,” he added.
The city has spent several years developing enhanced treatments for stormwater that drains directly to the Gulf of Mexico through 10 stormwater outfalls.
That particular outfall, just north of the pier, drains water from a wetland treatment pond, said Assistant City Engineer James Clinch, who gave an extensive presentation on the 10 stormwater outlets at special meeting the Venice City Council held Aug. 20.
Most of the other outfalls either link through a filtration box or dry treatment ponds.
“It’s an acre-and-a-half natural wetland that’s behind the beach,” Clinch said. “It’s got mangroves in it, and good healthy plants, and with it comes a lot of organic materials … they are organic and could be stinky.
“It doesn’t mean it’s polluted, but that’s what wetlands are; it’s a natural swamp.”
During the dry season, virtually all of the stormwater that flows into that wetland is absorbed there, Clinch said. In the rainy season, when it fills to the point where it may flood the surrounding properties, it can be opened once a month, to bring the level down.
“It’s not going to look like pool water. It’s going to have turbidity and tannins and organics in it,” Clinch said.
As recently as 2012, city engineers attributed the flow of untreated wastewater from one of the 10 outfalls as a source of pollution that prompted swim advisories at Venice Beach. Back then, a specific outfall was not identified.
The city has been in an ongoing process of improving the filtration method. For example, in 2014 it spent $750,000 cleaning out silt and exotic plants from Flamingo Ditch, just south of Flamingo Drive, and Deertown Gulley, between Sunset and Gulf drives.
Clinch said the city is working on a plan to increase the water monitoring at stormwater outfalls to help prioritize future projects.
Sarasota County monitors water quality in creeks and bays, while the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County monitors beach quality. Venice is working to find a consultant to regularly monitor the outfalls for nitrogen, phosphorous, bacteria and dissolved oxygen levels.
“What we’re going to do is make sure it matches up with what the county is doing,” Clinch said.
Meanwhile, Venice Mayor John Holic wrote the governor asking that the state, among other things, increase its funding of red tide research, including budgeting money so Mote Marine Laboratory can fund its Harmful Algal Bloom Research Center, which would study both red tide and the freshwater blue-green algae that has been attributed to discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Some environmentalists believe that algae, once it dies in the Gulf, helps fuel the inshore red tide bloom.
Holic also forwarded that letter to Punta Gorda Mayor Rachel Keesling, in hopes of coordinating a multi-county effort. Keesling, via email, expressed an interest in coordinating governmental efforts.
Merlino hopes a grassroots movement could lead to regulations similar to those put in place by Virginia and Maryland to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“The thing is, it’s symbolic; it’s the first step in a long march,” Merlino said of Venice’s proposed ban. “Will it have an effect? There’s enough people out there that are going to obey the law, because they’re law-abiding citizens.”