Thanks to Lambda Alpha International’s popular global webinar on Coastal Water Quality that aired on February 17th, the advice and successful experiences of some of the Suncoast’s leading experts and stakeholders working on water quality have now reached a world-wide audience. For those of you who may have missed this important event, we are providing the following summary of the four speaker’s remarks.
The Water Quality Zoom meeting was produced here in Sarasota, by Holly Elmore, Elemental Impact Founder and CEO, and ran from 12:00 noon to 1:30 PM allowing some time for a Q and A session. After introductions and some general comments by LAI International Vice President Kathline King, Dave Tomasko, Executive Director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, opened the session with an overview of the prevailing conditions in the Sarasota Bay Watershed. He focused on the major factors that have reduced water quality in the Bay in recent years including the polluted release from Piney Point, a lingering red tide bloom and hurricane Ian. The sum total of these events reduced water clarity in the Bay which increased the amount of harmful macro algae and reduced our already stressed seagrass beds. Dave concluded by saying that while some areas of the Bay have improved in recent years, overall water quality is down.
Dave then introduced Jon Thaxton, Senior Vice President of Community Investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, who began a segment on how various stakeholders along the Suncoast were taking action to help improve the water quality in the Bay. Jon related how his organization formed the Nutrient Initiative staffed with local water quality experts who met monthly for nearly two years to delineate what specific actions could be employed to reduce the excess nutrients in our waterways. The result of these meetings became The Water Quality Playbook, a comprehensive guide for policy makers and government agencies to help reduce our nutrient footprint in the Bay. You’ll find the Water Quality Playbook online at waterqualityplaybook.org.
Jon then introduced Christine Johnson, President of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, who shared some of her important land preservation activities, especially those bordering on wetlands and waterways. Two of her ongoing projects involve the development of a former industrial area into the Quad Parks and the conversion of the Bobby Jones Golf Complex to a full-service public park with a revised golf capability, a playground for kids, walking trails for birding and wild life viewing and a wetlands that will filter the parks stormwater runoff before it runs into the impaired Phillippi Creek.
Christine then introduced START’s Sandy Gilbert who reviewed the activities of the highly successful Healthy Pond Collaborative (HPC), a partnership generously funded by the Barancik Foundation that includes START, the Sarasota County NEST Program, the University of Florida’s IFAS Sarasota Extension, the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida and the Manatee County Department of Natural Resources. Sandy explained how the HPC helps local communities enhance their ailing stormwater ponds to combat unsightly algal growth and costly erosion. In 2022, the HPC funded the installation of over 4.3 miles of newly planted pond shoreline in Sarasota County and another 2.9 miles in Manatee County to filter the excess nutrients in stormwater runoff before it can run downstream to the Bay .
Sandy then reintroduced Dave Tomasko who concluded the water quality presentation with a summary of the current state of the Bay including some areas showing improvement in water quality and seagrass recovery as well as some of the challenges we still need to overcome to get the Bay back to where it was some years ago.
A lively Q and A session followed as webinar visitors asked questions about a range of water quality issues including how to foster seagrass growth, ways to limit red tide blooms and how to keep stormwater ponds healthy. If you would like to view the entire Water Quality Webinar, you can do so by clicking on the following link: https://bit.ly/3YU0hXD