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Story Tools

Date of Issue: September 16, 2009


From what planet are some people complaining?

As politicos usually start their State of the Union/state/county/city speeches, “The State of Our Bay is … well, pretty good.”

We’ve got clear water and a resurgence of seagrass beds.

We’ve got scallops living in those seagrass beds.

We’ve got some new innovative recreation spots to allow us to go play and look at those seagrass meadows and scallops — look, but don’t touch!

And, of course, we’ve got the fantastic vistas that are the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, Anna Maria Sound and Sarasota Bay.

Water

Something called the Gulf Restoration Network has come out with a statement ranking Florida’s water quality a “D+.” The group states, “Florida does not set standards that protect people and wildlife in all of its water bodies, allowing exceptions for the entire Everglades Agricultural Area. In addition, it does not designate any valuable waterbodies as Outstanding Natural Resource Waters, the maximum protection provided by the Clean Water Act.”

Huh. You might ask “what the heck?” and rightly so.

All of our local waters have received an Outstanding Florida Waters designation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. And nobody seems to know just what or how an Outstanding Natural Resource ranking differs from some federal list, but most believe it’s less than Florida levels.

Gulf Restoration Network also gave Florida an “F” on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution standards, stating, “There are no statewide numeric nitrogen and phosphorous water quality standards that limit pollution and Florida has fallen behind in its responsibility to develop such standards. The state does limit nitrogen and phosphorous discharged from some wastewater treatment facilities, however, these limits need to be more stringent in certain cases.”

Ditto. “Huh!”

Nitrogen is the biggest problem we face in our water world. We’re all dumping too much fertilizer on our lawns in an attempt to go green with our grass and it’s the wrong way. Excess fertilizer, which is mostly nitrogen-based, gets flushed into the bays and Gulf.

But we’re mostly learning from our mistakes. Yep, nitrogen loads are high, but aggressive public information programs have caused most of us to realize that a little bit of fertilizer in the dirt is sufficient to keep our yards healthy and, at least, it’s a good step toward being green.

And the wacky network group gave Florida a “C” on public participation, stating that the DEP “does not use citizen water monitoring data due to overly burdensome state requirements. These requirements exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data requirements and limit the public from participating in an import aspect of water protection.”

“Huh” again.

Manatee and Sarasota counties have implemented weekly water quality monitoring at local popular beach locations. If the tests turn out to have excess contaminants, the beach is posted with warnings and media notified. The Islander runs the reports religiously, as well as notices when the closure is lifted.

There are more than 100 Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers out on the beach patrolling throughout the summer. You think they’re not paying attention to what’s on the beach every morning and reporting what’s happening? Lifeguards? All of the Solutions To Avoid Red Tide members? Sarasota Bay Estuary Program members? Sea Grant? Even Sandscript? No “public participation?” Get real.

Cutting to the chase on the whole water quality issue is some basic data. Sarasota Bay had a 28 percent increase in seagrass bed acreage from 2006 to 2008. Tampa Bay had a 5 percent increase.

Manatee County has spent zillions of dollars to stop any treated sewage from flowing into the bay. So have Sarasota County and all the cities in our region.

What more can be done?

Scallops

Oh, of course, there is the lowly scallop — our canary in the mineshaft — and an excellent harbinger of good or poor water quality.

Long gone for 25 years, scallops are back in the bays. The Second Annual Great Scallop Hunt by Sarasota Bay Watch spotted 131. Tampa Bay Watch found 900 in waters to our north.

More scallops means better water quality, and we’ve got scallops again. But, again, a reminder is apparently needed that harvesting is prohibited in our waters.

Recreation

Rumor has it that the new kayak/canoe launch plans featuring soft shorelines at Herb Dolan North Park in Bradenton Beach have drawn attention of much of the state.

Conceptually it’s simply its methods: marsh grass other than some hardened shore, removal of hard shore to accommodate the “soft” and more natural shore that existed for, what, 5,000 years?

Well, it existed before the city started dumping its public works debris there.

Yeah, you get another “duh?”

Plans involving the Bradenton Beach pilot project could and probably will be stolen, er, repeated throughout the state and nation.

Vistas

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program folks conducted a survey years ago about how people use and view the bays.

Thoughts were that most would use the waters for swimming or boating or fishing. Wrong.

People used and appreciated the bay as a vista, something beautiful to look at as they drove across a bridge or parked at a park.

The vista scenario was also a big point in the demise of the mega-bridge to the Island years ago, when folks said they kinda liked looking at the water and sailboats passing through the draw. Hey, it’s Island time.

Sandscript factoid

Below is verbatim from the Gulf of Mexico Program.

“The Sarasota Bay Interlocal Partners and Citizens will receive a first place Gulf Guardian Award for 2009 in the Partnership Category. The 2009 Gulf Guardians hold a special significance this year as they will be awarded on the 10th Anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico Program’s Gulf Guardian Awards Program.

“Seagrass recovery was a major element of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Sarasota Bay, Florida. In 1995, the Sarasota Bay community set a pollutant loading reduction goal of 48-percent for total nitrogen. The results have been significant. Approximately 4,040 acres of new seagrass habitat has been created with an additional 5,158 acres converted from patchy seagrasses to continuous beds in Sarasota Bay.

“Recent data indicates that the seagrass levels are presently 29 percent above the 1950 level, and the Bay has had a 50 percent reduction in pollution, mainly as a result of wastewater treatment plant improvements, consolidation of WWTPs and septic tank replacement.

“Scallops returned to Sarasota Bay in 2008. More than 50 percent of the wastewater from wastewater treatment plants is currently reclaimed for alternative use. Stormwater projects have also been implemented regionally to reduce pollution.

“Citizens Action Plans have been developed and implemented annually by the citizens committee supporting pollution reduction.

“Fertilizer ordinances have been passed prohibiting nitrogen and phosphorus application during the summer rainy season.”

All this, and we get a failing grade?

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