It’s not a new problem. And we likely don’t need reports from experts to tell us what we should already know.
But, just in case you haven’t been listening, leaky septic tanks and fertilizer are ruining our once-pristine waters.
And, while Charlotte County commissioners deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished the last few years, there is much more to do. It’s time to put the metal to the pedal and stop the pollution.
A report last week said Charlotte Harbor is environmentally impaired. That means it’s sick. One of our biggest assets as a community — a place where we love to sail boats, swim on the Fourth of July and take photos of sunsets — is not a good place for fish, manatees and, pretty soon, maybe for humans.
Charlotte County Water Quality Manager Brendan Moody – whose hiring is one of the chief advancements in the battle to keep our waters clean the county has taken – gave the report to commissioners and the public. His resulting recommendation is the state needs to create a basin management action plan.
The bottom line is there is too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, he said according to a Daily Sun article by Betsy Calvert. That nitrogen and phosphorus come from sewage and fertilizer. The fertilizer mostly runs off our lawns and landscaping and most of the sewage comes from septic tanks.
The county, of course, has launched an ambitious movement to replace septic tanks, especially in residential areas close to waterways. The program is going well, despite objections from homeowners about the costs. But, because of costs, the pace of the program is slower than most would like and there are several areas where conversion is not underway or even planned where sewers are badly needed.
Prior to Moody’s report, another story appeared in the Daily Sun highlighting Florida’s loss of seagrass and the deadly impact it was having on the manatee population.
Manatees make the seagrass the basis of their diet. If there’s not enough seagrass, manatees starve. According to the Associated Press article, 959 manatees have died this year in Florida as of Oct. 1. That is the most ever found dead in one year and we have a couple of months left — months that typically find the manatee migration heavier as temperatures up north plummet.
So what is killing the seagrass? We imagine you can guess. Poor water quality due to fertilizer runoff – especially from farming north of Lake Okeechobee – and wastewater discharges. That can cause algae blooms that blot out sunlight seagrass needs to grow.
What can we do to restore the health of our harbor and waterways?
Moody says the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is leaning on the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership, based in Punta Gorda, to come up with a plan. Part of that plan would involve restoring the natural flow of freshwater from the Babcock wildlife management area in east Charlotte County across Interstate 75 into Charlotte Harbor.
Moody expects DEP to hold hearings in the spring and ramp up water samplings from waters in our area to help move toward restoration.
These moves should help, but we need continued funding from DEP for sewer conversions and we need more regulations on fertilizing.
There must be a sense of urgency about the problem because our waterways are the lifeblood of our little paradise.
Image Credits: Sun Coast Media Group