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Who’s keeping an eye on the health of our waters?

Tomorrow, March 22, is World Water Day. One would think something as life-sustaining as water would deserve more than just one day — but I guess if you factor in World Wetlands Day (2/2), World Oceans Day (6/8), and the host of other water-related days, maybe it’s not so bad.

The United Nations has recognized World Water Day since 1993 as a way of making each individual conscious about the importance of water. Each year comes with a theme. This year it’s “No one left behind,” in recognition of the many people who do not have access to clean water.

Water in our neck of the woods is not perfect, but we are fortunate to have safe drinking water and generally good water quality for fishing and boating activities.

Water quality refers to the condition of water relative to legal standards, social expectations or ecological health. In order to track water quality conditions in the Charlotte Harbor and identify specific areas of concern, long-term water-quality monitoring is a must.

A number of organizations conduct water quality monitoring water quality in Charlotte Harbor and its adjacent tributaries. What follows is a look at some of the organizations who conduct water quality monitoring and the reasons why.

FDEP, Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves Volunteers

Conducts monthly sunrise sampling at more than 40 fixed locations from Lemon Bay to Estero Bay. Initiated in 1996, trained volunteers sample mostly nearshore shallow waters. Sunrise sampling serves to identify dissolved oxygen levels (necessary for plant and animal survival) at their lowest levels.

FDEP Assessment & Restoration Operation Center

Conducts monthly sampling on Shell Creek, Prairie Creek and Horse Creek at a total of six stations in support of the Shell Creek and Prairie Creek Watersheds Management Plan. They also perform water sampling in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Monroe and Sarasota counties on a 3- to 5-year rotating basis in support of the states Impaired Waters Rule to help determine the overall health of the water bodies of Florida.

Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority

Monitors water quality in the Peace River at fixed stations and moving isohaline (salinity) stations. Initiated in the 1970s, this sampling is designed to ensure water withdrawals do not adversely affect downstream harbor health.

City of Punta Gorda

Monitors water quality in Shell Creek to ensure water withdrawals do not adversely affect downstream water quality.

Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWRI

Samples water quality with all of their fisheries sampling. This helps them determine how different fish species and size classes respond to water quality changes, such as those observed seasonally in regards to salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen.

Coastal Charlotte Harbor Monitoring Network

Monitors water quality at randomly selected locations monthly, by dividing the estuary into five distinct regions and then randomly selecting five points within each region (i.e. five in the Lemon Bay region, five in the Gasparilla Sound region, etc.). Initiated in 2001, the random design allows more of the Harbor to be sampled, which over time produces more statistically valuable information. This project is conducted in collaboration with FWRI, Charlotte County, Lee County and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.

Florida Department of Health

Monitors bacteria levels at public bathing beaches. Data is available online at http://bit.ly/2CnWDx1. The presence of enteric bacteria can be an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife, or human sewage. When present in high concentrations in recreational waters, bacteria can be ingested while swimming or enter the skin through a cut or sore and cause disease, infections or rashes. Beaches that exceed safe bacteria counts are issued an advisory which may result in closure until water quality conditions improve.

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS)

Monitors water quality conditions in waters conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting. Shellfish can only be harvested from waters classified approved, or conditionally approved. Areas classified conditionally approved are periodically closed to harvesting based on pollution events, such as red tide, rainfall or increased river flow. DACS Shellfish Environmental Assessment Section (SEAS) is responsible for classifying and monitoring shellfish harvesting areas. The status of shellfish harvesting areas can be seen online at http://bit.ly/2FhS21c.

City of North Port

Monitors water quality in the Myakkahatchee Creek in both the fresh water and tidal portions that discharges into the Myakka River.

Information collected by each of these programs is used by state and federal agencies to determine whether the water quality is meeting its designated use (drinking water, shellfish harvesting, or recreational). If a water body or water body segment does not meet its designated use then it receives a TMDL (total maximum daily load). A TMDL is essentially a plan which outlines actions that will be taken to get water quality back to meeting its intended use.

In addition to supporting the TMDL process, water quality data collected by the various agencies and organizations mentioned also supports specific research and resource management objectives. For instance, water quality data collected by FWRI is used to help determine physical conditions that effect habitat utilization of particular fish species.

Some of the water quality information mentioned above is available in really cool map format on the Charlotte Harbor Watershed Atlas. Just go to http://bit.ly/2TcOTmZ and select “Mapping” from the top menu. You can also get water quality graphs or raw data from this same website.

Betty Staugler is the Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program. She is active in many areas relating to boating, fishing, and watershed/coastal living. The Florida Sea Grant College Program supports research and education activities that help Florida’s shoreline communities, industries and citizens wisely use the state’s coastal and marine resources. Contact her at staugler@ufl.edu or 941-764-4346.

Betty Staugler is the Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program. She is active in many areas relating to boating, fishing, and watershed/coastal living. The Florida Sea Grant College Program supports research and education activities that help Florida’s shoreline communities, industries and citizens wisely use the state’s coastal and marine resources. Contact her at staugler@ufl.edu or 941-764-4346.

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