Celebrate Earth Day with our waterways

Posted on April 20, 2017 by

After a fairly skimpy winter this year, Spring is definitely here. The pear trees are in full bloom, the pollinators are abundant and busy, and the birds are in chase as they work on their new families. No wonder we celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 22. Our planet is at its freshest, most hopeful point.
Here in south Santa Rosa County, we have a lot of amazing natural resources to celebrate and appreciate. Just to name a few that come to my mind:
– An abundance of parks and public access to our beaches and water ways. I know of no other place in Florida that makes its beaches so accessible to the public — for free! We have abundant, convenient parking too, which is what gives access meaning.
– Williams Creek and marsh are badly degraded, but the marsh is still playing an important role in providing habitat and a nursery for juvenile fishes and other aquatic life.
The creek could be greatly improved and restored if our community would get behind it. It is imperative that the proposed sewage discharge to the creek be abandoned.
It is also critical that the concept of digging ditches and installing drain pipes from Holley-By-The-Sea to Williams Creek be seen for what it is — a nail in the coffin of this beautiful resource that we should be in awe of for its contribution to our fisheries and quality of life here in Navarre.
– Between Navarre and Midway, we still have a lone tupelo swamp. Yes it’s been greatly reduced in size and abused over the decades, but it is a treasure and its still standing for now;
– Just west of Navarre on U.S. Highway 98, we have a small cypress swamp. Amazing and something to protect.
– Santa Rosa Sound — what a treasure! Our entire county is wealthy beyond measure to have this amazing estuary at its fingertips.
We should make this a top priority to truly restore and protect the Sound and not just give it lip service like some of our elected officials tend to do.
– East River, Yellow River and Blackwater River and their bays are all relatively clean, productive and diverse.
They are definitely the best waters in the Pensacola Bay System and if you don’t get to visit them often then maybe this week or very soon you should take some time to explore these magical water resources that belong to all of us.
Check out Fundy Bayou and Grassy Point where you can go camping, fishing or just bird watching and relaxing.
How many communities can boast of all this and more? We are blessed beyond most people’s wildest dreams. As with anything of value though, we must pay attention to how we and others treat them.
There’s a lot that we could be doing as a county to better protect our beautiful estuaries, marshes, rivers and bays. Here’s a few suggestions in case you were wondering:
– We need to get our septic tanks removed and converted to central sewer in areas that are near (within one mile) of a waterway.
With 45,000 septic tanks, this could take a while and will cost money, require planning and a county-wide commitment. We could do what the island of Sanibel did when they realized that their septic systems were harming the waters on and around their island home.
First their very forward-thinking mayor, Mick Denham got a group of civic minded people together to start a public education campaign. There were lots of public meetings and it was finally decided to take the issue to the ballot box.
The question was, should we tax ourselves to upgrade the sewer system, install a reuse system and get rid of septics? The vote was overwhelmingly yes. With leadership, it can be done, even in Santa Rosa County.
– The sewage plant on Navarre Beach needs to remove its discharge from Santa Rosa Sound, once and for all. Yes, this will cost money but there are untapped resources that can be developed, such as impact fees on new development and a toll to drive over the bridge, just to get a discussion started.
To go along with that, the Commissioners could pass an ordinance to require new subdivisions to install reuse systems for outside watering. That’s something that many Florida counties did years ago.
– Another County ordinance could prohibit new septic tanks anywhere within a mile of a water way. With our sandy soils, the nutrient-laden septic water moves 20 feet an hour to the closest waterbody.
– A fertilizer ordinance that guides us as to when and how much fertilizer to use on our lawns would go a long way toward reducing nutrients that cause algal blooms in the water. Algal blooms = no dissolved oxygen = dead fish = no tourists and no fun for us locals either. Not to mention the adverse health effects for the aquatic life and us humans.
– And here’s a good idea that needs some research — how about property tax relief for new solar installations? That would be a great incentive for people to invest in solar energy which has clean air and clean water benefits.
– Finally, our county allows big industrial polluters to use our ground and surface waters for their dumping grounds — for free! That paper mill in Brewton, owned by some of the wealthiest men in this country, dumps 25 or 30 million gallons per day of toxic and life-killing waste into the Escambia River which runs right by our county. Why should they be allowed to externalize their cost of doing business and we are the ones who suffer the loss of clean water and all that it could provide?
– The other outrage that most people don’t know about is the deep-well injection system across the Escambia river from us at the Ascend Chemical plant (formerly Solutia and Monsanto). They are allowed to inject up to 4 million gallons per day of toxic and health-harming chemicals into the upper Floridan Aquifer. Sadly, the groundwater flows southeast from their injection wells and according to their own modeling, it is now flowing into Santa Rosa County groundwater. Again, why should they be allowed to socialize their pollution and privatize the profits? If our county doesn’t stand up to these polluters, then they will be allowed to keep polluting our valuable waters as they have done for decades.
Earth Day is a time to celebrate all that we have but it is also a time to look forward to see what more can we do. We occupy a very resource-rich and beautiful piece of this planet. It is our responsibility to take care of what was here when we arrived and make sure that we leave this spot at least as good as it was when we got here.