Kingfisher Follow-Up - 05/23/13
The city and residents who live along the Kingfisher Canal have struck a deal, agreeing to a package of "ten steps to improve and maintain the overall health of the Kingfisher waterway both visually and systemically." While not all of the steps may be attainable, I'll leave that discussion to the experts and confine my comments to the public-policy issues.
In this regard, it's instructive to see a friendly, collaborative effort between the residents and the city, which led to this agreement. This has not always been the case over the past two or three decades, when the city and citizens were at virtual war over important issues. With respect to the inland canals specifically, prior to 1986, the city took a "hands-off" position. Fort Lauderdale, apparently, was the first coastal city in this area to acknowledge a public interest in maintaining its canals.
Irrespective of canal ownership, the city has a compelling interest in keeping all of the inland waterways which connect to the ICW and Hillsboro Canal in near-perfect condition to the extent practical. This includes navigability, because the ability of adjacent and nearby residents to get their boats up and down the canals is an integral part of their quality of life which should always be a central concern to public officials.
A major concern I had when this controversy first came up was that the city's action would be a politically-motivated quick-fix solution, rationalized by outdated information and anecdotal evidence, rather than on current data and sound engineering. The first step of the "ten steps" agreed to is to make a new water-quality analysis of the Kingfisher Canal comparable to the analysis made by the DNRP and reported in 1998. This is generally in line with my suggestion in the previous article that "The commission should order up a new water-quality study and move on from there to determine the most practical and fiscally-responsible course of action."
See also Bett Willet, "Kingfisher Canal Conundrum," Blog by Bett, May 22, 2013, blogbybett.blogspot.com.
I would go further still. The study should include all inland canals and look for long-term solutions, as well as short-term fixes. It is evident that some of the problems are recurring and possibly inherent to the canal systems, and that the city's drainage system is not the sole polluter. Longer-term measures should be considered. While such a study would be costly, it would be well-worth it. Otherwise, we will have the same residents complaining about pollution and navigation issues four or five years from now.
The mayor's suggestion about a special assessment to create a fund for continued maintenance of the inland canals — not part of the "ten steps" — also warrants consideration. This would be consistent with what some other cities have done.
Readers interested in further details about the "ten steps" can view the residents' presentation on the city website, tab: View Meetings, city commission meeting of May 21, 2013, video, at 10:04.
Who Craps in the Kingfisher? - 05/15/13
For decades, people who live along the inland canals — particularly in the Cove section of this city — have complained about dirty water, fecal matter, and accumulation of bottom material which impedes navigation. In 1986, the city launched an ambitious five-year project, which included dredging and longer-term maintenance of the canals, at an estimated cost of $185,000. Jean Robb was mayor at the time.
Inland canals are a feature of South Florida; and while some neighboring towns had already taken over maintenance of the (mostly) privately-owned canals by 1986, for Deerfield Beach, this was a departure from previous practice. City Manager J. Eldon Mariott explained to reporters, "Up to now ... city officials have considered such a problem the responsibility of property owners living next to a clogged canal, unless the city somehow was responsible."
An official of the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) informed us, as a general proposition, "The responsibility for the [inland] canals ... falls either to the City if they are public rights-of-way, or more likely to the homeowners that are located along each waterway. In many instances of private canals along the ICW [Intracoastal Waterway], homeowner groups or organizations will collect special assessments or fees for canal maintenance and improvements." (Email from Mark Crosley, Assistant Executive Director, Florida Inland Navigation District, to Pam Militello, May 9, 2013.)
Despite the city's efforts, complaints by some residents continued and continue to this day, which could possibly lead to a renewed dredging project funded by city taxpayers.
There are two related but also distinct issues involved in the current controversy: (1) the responsibility of the city to maintain navigability of the canals and (2) the responsibility of the city to maintain water quality.
If the canals are privately owned, then the first issue seems to resolve itself more as a political question than a legal one. A lot of potential voters live along those canals, and the city most likely has the authority to dredge the canals at taxpayer expense.
The second issue is rather more complex, especially if the city plays a major role in polluting the canals.
A study by the Broward County Department of Natural Resource Protection (DNRP), issued in Jan. 1998, concluded that the city's storm-water drainage into the Kingfisher Canal may be a source of pollution. The study found elevated levels of nitrates in the canal which could be attributable to the city's outflow pipe at the western end of the canal. Nitrates are a nutrient which can accelerate the growth of algae. This process is called eutrophication, a natural process common in closed-end canals, but a process which can be further accelerated by human activity.
The Kingfisher Canal begins near Federal Highway (close to the Target store). The straight line distance between the western end of the canal and the point where it connects to the Intracoastal is 3,642 feet, or roughly seven-tenths of a mile. The canal is wide enough for small boat navigation.
The Kingfisher Canal (lower part of image) viewed from approximately one-mile altitude. The Tern, also referenced in the DNRP report, is the L-shaped canal in the upper part of the image.
A frequently heard complaint is the appearance of fecal matter in the canal. Sounds disgusting and invokes images of turds floating down the canal, inviting the facetious question in the title of this article. However, the DNRP report offered three more realistic explanations. One is possible cross-contamination of storm-water drainage with raw sewage, a possibility which warranted further investigation. The DNRP identified a couple of possible sources of cross-contamination which were ostensibly corrected.
Another possible explanation is animal waste washed into the canal by rainfall. The report noted this is a common problem in all inland canals in Broward County. There appears to be no practical solution, unless we can potty train the birds and squirrels that inhabit our city.
The "more likely" explanation is that the "fecal matter" which people claim to see in the Kingfisher is not fecal matter. The report concluded: "Reports of fecal matter are more likely due to the presence of algae mats on the canal bottom that are occasionally disrupted by atmospheric conditions. These mats may serve a media for the regeneration of bacteria, cause dissolved oxygen levels to be depressed and foul cooling water intakes of vessels navigating the canal." (DNRP Report p. 11.) The language is slightly butchered, but the bottom line of the report is that no one — not human, anyway — is crapping in the Kingfisher.
Even assuming for purposes of discussion that the city is a factor in water quality in the Kingfisher and other inland canals, it cannot be assumed it is the sole polluter.
According to a University of Florida website, "Septic seepage, lawn fertilizers, pesticides and effluent, and oil and gasoline from boats negatively impact canal water quality. Paved parking lots and streets prevent land areas from absorbing polluted runoff, so pollution-laden rainwaters drain directly into canal systems. Inadequate flushing prevents the canal system from diluting and dispersing pollutants to the receiving waterbody. Contaminants may accumulate on the water surface or build up in the sediment."
Further, it concludes, "Many of the environmental and water quality problems posed by canals are the result of outdated concepts and methods. In the past, canal systems were designed to emphasize advantages for development rather than the ecosystem. Lacking sufficient understanding of Florida's physical, chemical, and ecological environment, canals were quickly constructed as deep, box-like channels with steep sides, not taking into account water circulation, wind patterns, wildlife uses, and the ramifications of excessive or insufficient depth."
Thus, as I read this, water quality may be a recurring problem in inland canal systems, with multiple causes, which complicates the issue of responsibility and who should pay to maintain the canals in this respect.
One thing I think is perfectly clear — even if the ultimate solution is not. The city should not make a decision based on 15-year-old data, that is, the outdated DNRP report. The commission should order up a new water-quality study and move on from there to determine the most practical and fiscally-responsible course of action.
Todd Nelson, "Deerfield To Help Clear Canals," Sun-Sentinel, Sept. 10, 1986,
An Investigation of Water Quality Complaints in the Kingfisher Canal, Deerfield Beach, FL, Broward County Department of Natural Resources, Jan. 1998.
"Plant Management in Florida Waters," University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Center for Aquatic & Invasive Plants, Feb. 1, 2013, ufl.edu. This site acknowledges the many benefits of the inland canals (flood control, navigation, recreation, etc.), but sorts out the environmental issues as well. It's worth the read.