Canal restoration time has comeBy Steve Estes
Monroe County will soon be ready to embark on the next phase of a long-awaited canal restoration project that has been as long in coming as it is sorely needed.
Residential canal water quality has been the subject of local, state and federal concern for more than two decades.
The reasons for that are many.
When many of the residential canals were cut 40 or 50 years ago, the dredge from those canals was used to fill and create more land in many cases.
But the state and feds put a stop to that.
When those same canals were dredged, many of them were cut to a depth several feet below the depth of the receiving waters. That caused flushing issues as the tides didn’t adequately carry away the water in the canal and replace it with water from the receiving body.
When the feds put a stop to the dredging, many of the canals were left closed to open water with no flushing at all.
What most of those canals had in common was that residential units began to build up on their shores, with on-site wastewater systems, some of which were substandard after a decade or so, some of which were cesspits, and many of which were drained into pipes that ran waterside.
Because these islands were built up on porous rock, the wastewater eventually leached into the canals, causing a near-shore water quality problem.
County officials have tried a couple of times to get canal restoration projects off the ground, but the biggest stumbling block has always been the probable cost.
And although officials are still unsure how much this is going to cost, although most estimate it to be in the triple million digits, recent pressures from the state and feds have more or less forced the restoration project to get started.
Thus far, we have completed preliminary studies on how much residential canal exists in the Keys. And that number is extensive.
We have also completed a random sampling of residential canals to determine how widespread the problem may be here.
Now, we will be undertaking studies to determine the breadth of the problem with water quality in residential canals.
And with that result, begin to formulate plans to mitigate water quality issues in residential canals.
How to attack those issues hasn’t yet been determined, and how to pay for that mitigation is still a long way from decided.
But at least we are started.
Some of the ways we may mitigate dirty canals is to install culverts to enhance water flow and open dead-end canals to join with adjoining canals that will theoretically enhance the tidal flushing action.
There are also suggestions to install weed gates and possibly aerators, the one to keep flotsam out of the canals where it eats oxygen, and the other to add oxygen to the canals where the extra oxygen will help clear the water.
Some of the mitigation may be as simple as dredging the canal to remove the junk that builds up on the bottom over time and robs the canal of oxygen, while some canals will have to be backfilled to decrease the depth and enhance tidal flow.
It won’t be cheap, but the rewards will be immense.
The first reward will be better near-shore water quality, a boon to the environment that is the primary reason many of us live here and a primary reason why many of our visitors come to spend time with us.
The second reward will be increased property values as potential buyers can look out over a blue canal in the back yard instead of a brackish, green or brown ugly looking surface.
The third reward we can think of is an immediate boost to the recreational opportunities of the local folks who live along the canals.
For far too long those who live along residential canals have avoided jumping into the canals behind their homes because the water is, quite frankly, scary.
Paying for the project will be a burden to someone, but we have seen that state and federal grant money is available, and we have hopes that BP oil spill money will be coming our way for just such types of projects, and we have 15 extra years of infrastructure sales tax money at a time when the economy is recovering.
We can do this.
Because we must.