Water Quality

The beauty and vitality of the waters that surround Pine Island have drawn many residents to call this Island home. However, in recent years our waterways — like those in much of Florida’s Southwest Coast — have been plagued by toxic algae blooms, also known as harmful algae blooms (HABs). Today, Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound are also designated as impaired waterways for excess nutrients and/or fecal coliform.

Ultimately these water quality issues are impacting our health, impacting our economy and eroding our way of life.

It is not within the power of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association to address many of the reasons that our waters are impaired and plagued by toxic algae — these will require political solutions at the county, state and federal levels, and we urge all concerned citizens to make their voices heard by contacting those who represent us (view a list here).

However, there are areas where we feel we can make a difference, and we are working to address them.

Our Water Quality Issues

Excess Nutrients

While nitrogen and phosphorus are needed for healthy rivers, lakes and estuaries, too many nutrients from man-made sources and activities can make them sick, leading to the development of toxic algae blooms and destroying the very habitats that plants, animals and even humans depend on.

What we are doing

In 2020, we created the GPICA Septic Conversion Task Force. Our mission was to help support improved quality for the public waters surrounding Pine Island by exploring the feasibility of converting Island residences from septic to a central sewer system.

  • Click here for information on septic/sewer on Pine Island

The Committee:

  • Gathered information about the current Pine Island Water Reclamation Facility (which treats the waste of 2,236 customers, most of them from Matlacha and Pine Island Center) and exploring the possibilities of expanding this facility to serve all of Pine Island.
  • Gathered information about recurring water quality issues at specific areas that could be addressed by converting septic tanks to a central sewer system.

Following our fact-finding, we wrote a summary report that we shared with the community and county officials to help focus attention on the issue.

  • View the summary report here
  • View the letter we sent to Lee County Utilities Director Pam Keyes here

In the meantime, the Lee County Commission authorized Lee County Utilities staff to undertake a county-wide septic to sewer conversion study. We had hoped that Pine Island would be one of the key communities identified for septic to sewer conversion; alas, that was not the case.

Instead, the county focused only on areas within the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). The BMAP is a legally enforceable plan with goals, and it requires local governments to reduce pollution outputs. Lee County currently has three BMAPs: Caloosahatchee Estuary BMAP, Hendry Creek and the Imperial River BMAP.

Because Pine Island is not part of any of these BMAPs, we did not rank high on the list for septic to sewer conversion.

Today (2023), our next step is find other ways to support water quality improvements. One will be to explore the steps necessary to have a BMAP developed for an area that includes Pine Island-adjacent waterways.

What Can You Do?

  • Reduce the amount of fertilizer you use on our lawns or gardens.
  • Do not use fertilizer during the rainy season, as it merely washes into our waterways.
  • Ensure that your septic tank is working properly.

Red Tides

In Florida, red tides are mainly caused by a phytoplankton called Karenia brevis. It is naturally occurring and always in our waterways in background concentrations. However, when it occurs in higher than normal concentrations — called a bloom — its potent neurotoxins can kill marine life. Blooms can cause massive fish kills and also lead to the deaths of dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, seabirds and other marine life. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission red tide FAQ)

The toxin can also can cause problems for humans. Most healthy people will experience respiratory irritation when they breathe airborne toxins. The irritation goes away when they leave an area being impacted by red tide. However, red tides can be especially harmful to people living with chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD, who are advised by health officials to avoid red tide areas altogether. (Red Tide Respiratory Forecast — find out if the beach you want to visit is safe.)

Cyanobacteria or Blue-Green Algae

Cyanobacteria grow in freshwater and brackish habitats in Florida. While not all species of blue-green algae produce toxins, those that do can be dangerous to humans if ingested, causing nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, acute liver failure.

The largest blue-green algae blooms affecting Southwest Florida occur in Lake Okeechobee. Releases of toxic waters from the Lake, necessitated by its role as a water control device that prevents flooding in surrounding communities, have also led to blooms in the the Caloosahatchee River. Blooms have also been ‘washed into’ the Gulf of Mexico as water releases from the Lake occur. (Read more in-depth about this issue on the Calusa Waterkeeper website.)

What we are doing

  • We regularly host speakers during our general meetings that provide information and updates about red tide and blue-green blooms.
  • We brought representatives from Sarasota’s Roskamp Institute to the Island to help recruit participants for a $400,000 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded study designed to determine whether exposure to the toxins in Florida red tides can increase the incidence of neurological symptoms in susceptible individuals.

What can you do?

  • Contact your elected officials (view the list here) at the local, state and federal levels and tell them that you want them to take corrective action to address the excess nutrient issues causing toxic algae blooms.
  • Subscribe to action alerts from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, which closely follows water quality issues and facilitates email campaigns that can help you contact your elected representatives.

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