10.1 Support long-term monitoring, analysis, and reporting of water quality and quantity
Key Message: Long-term monitoring programs allow policymakers, managers, and the public to identify and address pollution in a timely manner, and track progress toward goals. Monitoring of water quality, quantity and biological indicators of bay health should continue. Gaps in data collection and knowledge should be identified and filled, and the addition of new bioindicators, such as macroalgae and fish, should be considered.
Water quality protection in Sarasota County requires an accurate understanding of water quality and quantity status and trends. This understanding relies on long-term monitoring, analysis, and reporting of water quality and quantity (flow), as well as biological indicators of water quality like seagrass or oyster coverage. For example, accurate measures of nutrient concentrations and flow volumes are necessary to calculate nutrient loading. Identification of loading hotspots is an important tool for reducing nutrient pollution. The best long-term monitoring programs allow policymakers, managers, and the public to identify pollutant issues in a timely manner, establish proactive mitigation policies and activities, and track progress in achieving goals.
Stormwater permits required by the federal Clean Water Act, as administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), require Sarasota County and municipalities to conduct water quality monitoring, analyses, and reporting. The Sarasota County Stormwater Environmental Utility is the lead organization for water quality monitoring in the county. Partnerships with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) and Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Program (CHNEP) provide regular feedback on monitoring effectiveness and priorities through their Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans and associated Monitoring Strategies.
The Regional Ambient Monitoring Program (RAMP) establishes standardized sampling and laboratory analysis protocols and coordinates water quality sampling among agencies. RAMP works to ensure that water quality data meet stringent state quality assurance standards before being uploaded to the Watershed Information Network (WIN), a public database managed by FDEP. The Sarasota County Water Atlas and the CHNEP Water Atlas make these data available to the public through user-friendly online interfaces that enable data downloads or online visualization tools to interpret data (see Chapter 9.4).
Water quality is sampled in Sarasota County’s freshwater, brackish, and marine waters (Figure 10.1.1). Sarasota County Government monitors 12 sampling stations across five areas within each of eight estuary segments from Big Sarasota Bay to Lemon Bay (i.e., 8 bay segments x 5 areas/segment x 12 stations/area = 480 stations). One station in each area is sampled per month, resulting in each station being sampled once yearly. Sarasota County Government also collects monthly water quality samples at fixed stations in tidal creeks. A variety of parameters are measured in the field and laboratory (Table 10.1.1).
Figure 10.1.1. Water quality and water flow monitoring stations in Sarasota County. Source: Sarasota County Water Atlas
Table 10.1.1 Parameters monitored by Sarasota County Government in estuaries and tidal creeks. Source: Adapted from SBEP 2021, In prep.
Water quantity data, like stream flow and surface water and groundwater levels, are collected via monitoring by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Rainfall data are collected by automated gages maintained by Sarasota County Government, SWFWMD, and USGS.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute responds to red tide with intensive water sampling. Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
Water quality and quantity data are publicly available for download or analysis and visualization online at the Sarasota County Water Atlas and the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP) Water Atlas (see Chapter 9.4).
Biological indicators of water quality, like seagrass, scallops, and oysters, are also monitored by Sarasota County Government, SWFWMD, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Seagrasses need adequate water clarity to receive sunlight necessary for photosynthesis. Reduced water clarity from nutrient-fueled algal growth can limit seagrass success — thus making them a good biological indicator of excess nutrients. Seagrass restoration and protection targets have been developed for bay segments in Sarasota County (Janicki et al., 2008). Water quality criteria necessary to meet these targets have also been developed (Janicki 2010). Aerial seagrass monitoring is conducted biennially by SWFWMD. FDEP and Sarasota County Government conduct seagrass surveys in the field. Seagrass meadows have been expanding since 1988, exceeding 1950’s levels, but saw dramatic declines of more than 600 acres in 2018 (Figure 10.1.2).
Figure 10.1.2. Seagrass acreage across all of Sarasota’s Bays from 1988 to 2018. Source: Southwest Florida Water Management District
Sarasota County Government, USGS, and SWFWMD should continue to monitor water quality and quantity for surface waters and groundwater. These monitoring programs should be routinely evaluated, and sampling gaps identified and filled (see Chapter 10.2). Sarasota County Government, FDEP, and SWFWMD should continue to monitor seagrass coverage and oysters. Additional bioindicators of water quality should be considered, including macroalgae and fish (see Chapter 10.2). Sarasota County should continue to support the Sarasota County Water Atlas and CHNEP should continue to support the CHNEP Water Atlas to ensure public access to water quality and quantity data and visualization tools.
While Sarasota County Government and its partners collect an enviable quantity of environmental monitoring data, this long-term ongoing investment could be leveraged further with more comprehensive data analysis. Data analysis could yield timely answers to questions such as identifying pollution hot spots, quantifying nutrient loads, and determining and comparing return on investment (cost per pound of nitrogen) for BMPs to reduce nutrient pollution. With local advances in Data Science computing and techniques (e.g., New College of Florida Data Science Master’s Degree Program and University of Florida High Performance Computing in Artificial Intelligence), these large datasets can be readily organized, cleaned, and analyzed to yield powerful insights for decision-making. Partnerships between government water resource managers and academic researchers should be explored and funded to advance data analysis.
Sarasota County Stormwater Environmental Utility
Sarasota County Water Atlas
Sarasota Bay Estuary Program
Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership
The CHNEP Water Atlas
Sarasota County Watershed Models and Maps
New College of Florida Data Science Program
- Number of surface water quality or quantity monitoring stations
- Number of groundwater quality monitoring stations
- Number of nitrogen oxide air quality monitoring stations in Sarasota County
- Continuation of seagrass and oyster monitoring
Experts or Leads
John Ryan, Interim Stormwater Manager, Sarasota County Stormwater Environmental Utility
Tony Janicki and Mike Wessel, Janicki Environmental
Jay Leverone, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program
Jennifer Hecker, Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership
Stephen Suau, PE, Progressive Water Resources
Shawn Landry, Director of the UFS Water Institute, home of the Water Atlas
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Chris Anastasiou, Southwest Florida Water Management District
New College of Florida Data Science faculty and graduate students
Other Monitoring Activities
10.2 Review existing monitoring programs, fill monitoring gaps, identify pollution sources, and update pollutant load models
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