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Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves - Water Quality

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The basic characteristics of CHAP’s water vary naturally in response to the daily, seasonal and long-term forces that make the estuarine habitat conditions among the most dynamic on earth. The waters also vary throughout CHAP dependent on the location relative to each of the three major rivers and the passes that open to the Gulf of Mexico. The estuaries are also sensitive to runoff and upland discharge that moves into the estuary through sheetflow, small tributaries and canal systems. Historically, CHAP consisted of low-lying topography with slow moving flow, allowing rainfall to provide a constant input of fresh water into the estuaries throughout the year. This water was filtered by vegetation and sediments as it slowly moved its way across the landscape and into the estuary, depositing nutrients and other materials in habitats like salt marshes and mangrove swamps before entering into the rivers, tributaries or into the estuary itself. Through time, however, development has led to the disruption of the naturally slow sheetflow, resulting in stronger pulses of more concentrated freshwater often polluted by surrounding land uses. Runoff from agriculture and development has led to an influx of excess nutrients, as well as pesticides, fecal coliforms and other substances. Many people do not realize that materials entering the majority of area storm water drains are carried directly into the estuaries. A large portion of the land abutting CHAP has been acquired for preservation and serves to filter some of the sheetflow from across the landscape, providing some protection from nutrients entering the estuary.

Hydrologic alterations, however, continue to exacerbate water quality conditions. Such alterations have led to altered timing, flow and reduced filtration of water coming off the landscape and entering the estuaries. Additionally, increases in storm water runoff from developments and agriculture areas carries with it pesticides, fertilizers and other substances into area creeks and rivers, as well as the estuary itself. Old and failing septic systems also add nutrients as well as pharmaceuticals and possibly other poisonous chemicals from household products. As a result of these and other sources of pollution, increased nutrient loading has occurred. Fortunately, there are currently several efforts by multiple agencies and organizations addressing these issues.

The DEP classifies all aquatic preserves as Outstanding Florida Waters (OFWs). This is the highest level of protection for water quality that a body of water can receive, and no degradation of water quality, other than that allowed by rule, can be permitted. These waters were found to be worthy of special protection because of their exceptional ecological or recreational significance. In general, DEP cannot issue permits for direct pollution and discharges to OFWs that would lower ambient (existing) water quality, or for indirect discharges that would significantly degrade the OFW. A 2010 report titled "State of the Southwest Florida Aquatic Preserves: Lemon Bay to Estero Bay" found that, over the past 40 years, protected waterbodies exhibited greater water quality than surrounding unprotected waterbodies. For example, protected waters and those adjacent to protected uplands had lower total concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll a, as well as higher dissolved oxygen levels. Overall, for the Charlotte Harbor estuary region, water quality has been improving over the past 40 years. Nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll a levels have been declining at statistically significant rates, while dissolved oxygen percentages have been increasing at significant rates. (Leary, 2010).

It is important that CHAP staff remain aware of any potential for water quality degradation to occur within the aquatic preserves, through monitoring, trend analysis, and participation in local meetings and partnerships. Water quality monitoring is crucial in documentation of status and trends.

CHAP has several strategies to monitor water quality and water quality trends.

Public education is an important component of improving water quality. There are steps that each of us can take to help protect and improve water quality. CHAP staff distributes information to volunteers and the public through various media materials (newsletters, website, social media, kiosks, etc.). In addition, staff  presentations to community groups inform local residents on water quality issues and how they can reduce their impacts to CHAP.

Last Modified:
February 10, 2020 - 3:24pm

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