Plans change for Eden Pines canal systemBy Steve Estes
As part of the canal restoration demonstration project currently underway, engineers had planned to pump dirty canal water out of the Eden Pines Colony canal system onto a wetlands area adjacent and allow supposedly cleaner water from the basin outside the system to fill in.
All in an effort to clean up the degraded water in the residential canal system.
That plan didn’t sit well with local National Key Deer Refuge officials who weren’t terribly keen on mechanical pumps dragging admittedly crappy water out of a canal and dumping it into wetlands areas that served their indigenous fauna and flora population.
Final answer: No pumping out of the canal.
But the Eden Pines project, one of seven Monroe County is targeting, has quite a bit of support from the neighborhood, and is on the list of the most degraded canals in Monroe County, so county officials set about trying to find another way to address the issue.
The Board of County Commissioners is using about half a million in state and federal grants and $5 million in its own infrastructure funds to conduct pilot projects on various canals throughout the Keys in an effort to restore water quality as part of an overall project to also restore nearshore water quality in conjunction with the ongoing wastewater collection system development.
Officials still believe that pumping water in the Eden Pines system is still the best solution.
“Rather than pumping water out of the canal, we’re now looking at a system that pumps the water through the canal, providing more of an aeration effect than a water replacement treatment,” said County Commissioner George Neugent.
Neugent said officials are waiting for the engineers to gin up some estimates on what the new system will cost, both up front in county funds to establish and on the back end for residents to pitch in on maintaining the effort. The county’s demonstration project is only two years in duration.
After the two years, county officials are looking to have residents along the canal system take over operation and maintenance costs.
“But if the ongoing operation and maintenance costs are too high, this technology is not something we want to saddle the residents with,” said Neugent. “We have a new plan in concept, but the cost will be the deciding factor.”
Before the county starts on the various projects, it is seeking to get buy-in from a majority of residents living along the canals to fund ongoing costs.
“It makes no sense to put all this money and effort into devising systems to clear up canals just to have the program stop in two years because the residents don’t, or can’t keep up on the program,” said Neugent.
Pumping is just one of the technologies being used in the demonstration projects. Weed gates will be installed in some canals. Organic removal will be tried in others. In some of the deeper canals, crews will backfill to a more amenable level.
The depth of residential canals has been cited as one of the primary culprits of degraded water quality because the canals are deeper than the receiver waters and tidal flushing isn’t adequate to keep the water moving.
The build up of organics at the bottom of many canals is also a problem in water quality, says Neugent.
But county officials may have to discuss some legislative fixes in the future.
“Our comprehensive plan doesn’t allow us to maintenance dredge canals below 12 feet. In the case of Eden Pines, in order to get the muck off the bottom and enhance the flushing action, we would have to start at about 12 feet,” he said.
“What we have to do is look at our comp plan, which we are re-writing now, and try and devise language that allows us to perform maintenance dredging to enhance water quality at a greater depth, but with a narrow enough focus that we don’t have private applications to dredge channels where they don’t exist today,” he added.
County officials say that canal restoration work should begin this summer. The test canals will be monitored for two years to determine effectiveness of the technology selected and if they are found adequate, the BOCC will be faced with a decision on how to fund the remaining projects and how to pay for ongoing operation and maintenance costs.
There are 512 canal systems in the Keys, with about 138 of those in need of some type of restorative action. Estimates to accomplish that have run from $28 million to more than $100 million depending on the types of mitigation strategies needed to restore the system.
Neugent hopes that a large chunk of that money comes from the county’s coming share of damage monies to be paid by BP Oil as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
“We’ll have to find other outside sources through grants and such for the rest of it,” he said.
Commissioners have also discussed the possibility of establishing a special taxing district to be paid by canal-front properties, or all properties, dedicated to improving residential canal water quality. But that is just one proposed method.