The Suncoast continues to suffer from the lingering red tide bloom along our shores. Fish kills continue to mount and beachgoers are fleeing the airborne toxins that cause tearing eyes and coughing.
START is working on a number of fronts in the Sarasota Bay Watershed to help reduce the excess nutrients in our waterways that feed red tide. With stormwater now identified as the source of 65% of the nitrogen in the Bay, we have launched several new programs to help address this important nutrient source. This includes the introduction of the multi-phased Stormwater Control System at Bay Park that uses an in-ground Denitrification Barrier to filter stormwater from the 53-acre site combined with the expansion of the existing oyster and clam population in the park’s lagoon to further filter the stormwater runoff. When completed in 2022, this system will filter 72 million gallons of stormwater annually before it enters Sarasota Bay.
START has also launched a popular Pond Enhancement Program in association with Sarasota County’s Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Team (NEST) and the Florida House Institute to educate local communities how to properly maintain their stormwater ponds that can send unwanted nutrients downstream to other waterways and eventually the Bay. The program also includes START grants to communities to help cover the cost of aquatic plants needed to complete a successful pond enhancement. So far this year, we have awarded pond grants to eight different communities in Sarasota County and two in Manatee County.
The third START program that focuses on cleaning up the excess nutrients in stormwater is our partnership in the development of the Microforests at the Celery Fields and Nathan Benderson Park that is described in detail by guest columnist, Charles Reith, in the following article.
Beyond our focus on reducing the stormwater sources of excess nutrients in the Bay, we also keep in contact with Federal, State and local policy makers to support pending water quality legislation. This effort began years ago with our support for the successful fertilizer ordinances in our area and now involves our appeal for a viable solution to the polluted releases from Lake Okeechobee into our rivers, the support for the upgrade of the Bee Ridge wastewater plant in Sarasota to Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) standards and the successful completion of the Conservation Easement at Bobby Jones Park that will help create a new wetlands that will improve the water quality in Phillippi Creek.
As a concerned individual living on the Suncoast, you can also help improve water quality by lowering your own nutrient footprint in our waterways. Follow the fertilizer band during the rainy season, use a rain gauge to prevent excess watering that sends fertilizer into our canals and bays and keep grass cuttings and leaf litter out of our storm drains.
To find out other ways you can help improve the state of our waterways, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a screening of the Red Tide & You PowerPoint presentation for your community or organization.