Lisa Conley, Naples Daily NewsPublished 5:28 p.m. ET June 3, 2019 | Updated 10:52 p.m. ET June 3, 2019
Some Naples City Council members questioned during a Monday budget workshop whether they're putting enough focus on projects aimed at improving water quality.
Gregg Strakaluse, the city's streets and stormwater director, requested approximately $9.5 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year of which nearly $8 million would go toward beach restoration and stormwater outfall removal and improvement.
Stormwater outfalls are large pipes that dot the beaches of Naples and stretch from the sand into the water, dumping debris and high levels of bacteria into the Gulf of Mexico.
Naples city staff have identified 10 stormwater beach outfalls in Naples that are contributing to poor water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. The Naples City Council discussed replacing the outfalls at its workshop on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Photo: City of Naples)
In 2011 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection notified the city that the DEP would not issue any more beach renourishment permits until city officials agreed to remove the outfalls.
Council approved a plan to remove the six southernmost outfalls, extend one of the remaining outfalls farther into the Gulf and use a pump station to run the system.
Strakaluse said the project will cost almost $11 million dollars, $8 million of which he requested from the city's capital improvement project fund. The other $3 million will come from the city's share of Collier County's 1% sales tax increase approved by voters last year.
"This is a very important project in terms of storm resiliency," Strakaluse said. "Creating a pump station that pushes water out against tide reduces flooding and beach erosion, and improves water quality, sea turtle habitat and beach access."
A map showing the location of 10 problematic stormwater beach outfalls in Naples. The Naples City Council discussed replacing the outfalls at its workshop on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Photo: City of Naples)
He also requested $100,000 to build artificial oyster reefs in Naples Bay. Naples Bay has lost 80% of its oyster reefs since the 1950s, and 70% of the bay's mangrove shorelines have been replaced with canals, seawalls and bulkheads.
“The goal is to restore some of the reefs we’ve lost due to urban development,” said Stephanie Molloy, the city’s natural resources manager. “These oyster reefs will help improve water quality because they’re filter feeders, and they’ll also help provide a habitat for fish and other creatures.”
Each reef site will contain reef balls, man-made structures designed to mimic natural reefs; mesh bags of oyster shells; and a limestone and shell mixture.
The artificial reef project is already underway with help from a $514,244 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the DEP. The $100,000 request would complete the city's match of the NOAA and DEP money, Strakaluse said.
Construction on the artificial reef project in Naples on April 5, 2019. Due to the loss of natural reefs in the Naples Bay, the city is conducting an artificial reef project. (Photo: Morgan Hornsby/Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA)
Other projects Strakaluse requested funding for include:
Citywide stormwater improvements
Citywide lake maintenance and improvements
Water quality monitoring equipment
Naples Bay habitat protection feasibility study
Eighth Street stormwater improvements
Some council members questioned whether the city is taking the right steps to improve water quality.
"Rather than monitoring the bay, we should be monitoring the sources that lead to the bay and try to pinpoint what is responsible for the poor quality of the bay," said Councilwoman Ellen Seigel.
Strakaluse said his department has tried to do some source tracking, but he said it's both difficult and expensive, at least when it comes to biological pollutants.
"We're not very successful when it comes to tracking bacteria because there are so many different types of bacteria that it could be from dogs, humans, ducks and unless we're doing the DNA analysis, which is much more expensive ... it becomes a bit trickier," he said.
Photos: Naples council approves $1M for water quality improvements in Na...
Councilman Reg Buxton also expressed concerns about the water quality of lakes within the city, specifically Swan Lake, which is currently experiencing issues with green algae.
But like several lakes throughout Naples, Swan Lake, near the intersection of Park Shore Drive and Crayton Road, is privately owned, Molloy said. She said that limits the city's ability to conduct water quality testing on it.
"We haven't measured for HAB (harmful algal bloom) or other toxins in Swan Lake (because) it's a private lake," she said. "City staff and county staff observed the bloom in Swan Lake and that it was discharging into Moorings Bay, which is a public waterway, and because it's a public waterway, we were able to request ... analysis of the water in Moorings Bay.
"But we have been working with the company managing Swan Lake to figure out how we can address that and maybe do some additional private sampling," she continued.
Councilman Ray Christman echoed Buxton's concerns about the lakes.
"I think that (lake restoration) is an area which needs a lot of work from a planning standpoint," he said. "When you look at the 28 lakes that we have ... we're looking at decades and decades of time before we would get our hands around this issue, which I don't think is acceptable."
Strakaluse said his department is studying "some pretty exciting ways" to pay for lake restoration projects and he hopes to present them to council in the near future.
Councilwoman Michelle McLeod said council should also consider accelerating some of the plans and possibly add more water quality improvement projects to the docket.
"Should we be adding more? Because I've heard from this dais that we're not doing enough to improve our water quality issues," she said. "Well, here's our opportunity.“