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Date of Issue: June 30, 2005

Sandscript

Survey of Sarasota Bay provides revealing statistics

And the survey says ...

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program conducted a survey of Manatee and Sarasota county residents in 2004 to assess their thoughts about the bay system, stormwater runoff, xeriscaping, potable water and other related eco-issues.

The results were surprising. Comparing last year's tally with a very similar survey conducted in 1995 was also a surprise.

According to Dr. Jay Rayburn and Beacon Research Inc., "There does exist a strong base of support for the overall health of the bay. More than four out of five individuals agreed that stormwater runoff was either very or somewhat important to the health of the bay, but only one out of four see any connection between yard maintenance and the health of the bay.

"The key to motivating these individuals might be tying the health of the bay to activities and programs of the Sarasota Bay Program," the survey conclusions add. "If these individuals could be shown the link between treatment of stormwater runoff and, for example, planting grasses or mangroves, these behaviors are more likely to be carried out by individuals living along the bay and its tributaries."

Stormwater runoff is that first pulse of water that flows across the streets, yards and parking lots and into the Gulf of Mexico and bay waters after the first burst of rainfall during an afternoon thunderstorm. Within that torrent of water is all the muck that has accumulated on the pavement or grass - oil and gas from cars, litter and trash that didn't make it into a bin, excess fertilizer or bug killer that hasn't had a chance to soak into the ground yet.

All of that stuff ends up in the bay, with sometimes disastrous impacts to marine life. The fact that four out of five people in the two-county area know about stormwater issues is good; the fact that only one out of four know that what is dumped on their yard ends up in the bay or Gulf and can cause problems is bad.

Remember, we all live downstream.

There were some other sad notes of the survey.

"Only one-fifth of all respondents indicated they would not be willing to pay to improve wastewater treatment, and one-fourth said they would not be willing to pay to restore wetlands," according to the survey. "In each instance, 44- to 48-percent had no opinion. These individuals could, perhaps, be educated about the advantage of improved wastewater treatment and the importance of wetlands and thus might become supporters of the program."

Wastewater treatment plants have come a long, long way in the past 10 years in the region. Manatee County's Southwest Treatment Plant, just off 75th Street and 53rd Avenue, is where the Island's toilet-flushing ends up. It is highly treated to almost-drinking-water quality, then the "recycled water" is sprayed on the flower fields and golf course in that part of the county, where it is absorbed into the ground.

A special tail-water recovery system - a fancy name for a set of wetland filters along the bayshore - is in place to further naturally treat whatever may run off the fields. It's a pretty great system that has worked well for a decade. Just ask any fisherman who's caught a limit catch near Tidy Island about the bountiful harvest of marine life near that once-barren area of Sarasota Bay.

However, other parts of the bay system aren't as far advanced as Manatee County.

Residents along most of Little Sarasota Bay have septic tank systems for dealing with their wastewater. Many, many of those tanks are old and don't meet current environmental standards, the result being that there is a lot of bad stuff ending up in the bays and tributaries leading to them.

One of the other old adages in water-speak is that "the solution to pollution is dilution." It's an awful fact of life that if you can flush out the bad stuff in the water with lots of cleaner water, the bad stuff can kinda be ignored.

For Little Sarasota Bay, that big flush used to be Midnight Pass, but since the pass has been closed for more than 20 years, flushing just ain't happening.

And the cost to go to a central sewer system for that portion of Sarasota County is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so the unwillingness to pay for better wastewater treatment has a bad result for all.

There was a good thing out of the survey, though: An awareness of the vital linkage between development and potable water supplies.

"Just over half of all respondents said they thought the freshwater supply in their community was not adequate to provide for future needs, and another one-fourth said they did not know," the survey said. "This indicates that there is a large group of individuals who are concerned about the supply of freshwater, or who could be educated about the issue and therefore should support clean water issues."

An old, very brilliant growth management official in Tallahassee told me years ago that drinking water was the single greatest limiting factor to growth in Florida. The simple fact that you've got to ensure that there is enough water for people to drink for years and years to come - the people that are here right now - before you can even consider adding more houses and more thirsty folks apparently seems to elude our elected officials.

Crawfish factoid

The word went out throughout the state about crayfish last week. A special study is being conducted to determine if the species known as the Panama City crayfish is in danger of extinction - a likely possibility, since its known range is only about 40 square miles in Bay County.

The question was whether or not we had any mudbugs lurking in our freshwater streams or drainage ditches in Southwest Florida.

Paul Moler with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Gainesville has returned from Africa and sent the following message.

"Florida has a very diverse and interesting crayfish fauna, with at least 12 cave species and 40 surface species.  However, most of that diversity is found in North Florida.  Aside from one cave species in Dade County, only two species occur south of Tampa Bay. That's it for South Florida. Crayfish are abundant in freshwater throughout South Florida, but only those two species are involved."

Sandscript factoid

According to the Associated Press, a Japanese fast-food chain of restaurants is featuring a new delicacy - whaleburgers.

Lucky Pierrot serves deep-fried minke whale burgers with lettuce and mayonnaise for $3.50. A restaurant spokesperson said the meat is obtained form scientific research facilities, which kill the whales for study, and then apparently have more whale flesh than they need. The spinmeister/mistress added that eating whale meat is part of the Japanese culture.

Japan kills about 600 whales a year for scientific study, while commercial whaling was banned in all countries except Norway in 1986.

Ironically, word of the Lucky Pierrot cuisine came out just as the International Whaling Commission came out with a recommendation to have Japan cut back on its scientific whale kills.

Oh, and if you're wondering, whaleburgers apparently taste like a cross of beef and tuna.

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