We need to protect our local waterways

Posted on June 10, 2016 by Linda Young

“Outstanding Florida Water” – OFW! What does that mean to you?
Spanning our southern shoreline, from the tip of Gulf Breeze to the Okaloosa County line, Santa Rosa Sound lies within a mile or two of the majority of Santa Rosa County residents. We are drawn to its beauty, recreational value and economic opportunities. But are we equally there for this estuary of “outstanding” status? Do we as a community afford it the reverence that it deserves and needs if it is to remain viable and productive? Personally, I don’t see that happening and when you review the available scientific evidence, the signs are disturbing.
In 2015, a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg looked at seagrasses in SRS, Pensacola Bay and Big Lagoon. Grassbeds are one of the best indicators of the health of our estuaries. For SRS, the prognosis is not great. We continue to lose them and those that are here are stressed. Boating/prop scarring obviously would take a toll, but development pressures, wetlands losses and stormwater pollution, storm surges/sediment deposits and nutrient loading/eutrophication also are major contributors to a continuous decline in our seagrasses.
Another way to measure it is to simply talk to someone who has lived in the area for 50 years or more. The decline in water clarity, grassbeds, sea-life diversity (such as sea-horses, scallops, horse shoe crabs, etc. which are now gone) is stunning.
How do we stop this negative trend? State law says that new projects must not lower existing ambient water quality in an OFW. That sounds good, right? But where’s the STOP sign? Who is in charge of saying no to reckless development, new septic tanks, sewage discharges, wetlands destruction, etc.? Our state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — better known as “Don’t Expect Protection” is asleep at the wheel. That leaves local governments to be mindful of the impacts that their land and water use decisions have on our local waters. Are we as taxpayers and good citizens demanding that?
Our local elected officials want growth, but that is hurting these bodies of water. We must hold our elected officials accountable for their decisions and remind them constantly of the consequences of their actions. New marinas, high-rises, giant apartment complexes and subdivisions come with a price-tag beyond the obvious roads, schools and infrastructure demands. They take a toll on our local waters.
Each of us must remind our elected officials regularly that each and every project should be reviewed for its impact on our waters:
l Do we have proper sewage treatment and disposal capacity to handle the new connections?
l Will it create polluted (stormwater) runoff to a surface water?
l Does it destroy wetlands (which we need for flood control and pollution treatment)?
l Will it destroy critical habitat for threatened or endangered species?
l AND in the case of SRS — is the project clearly in the public’s interest?
Please contact your elected officials today and let them know that you expect them to protect our local waters!