The Myakka River (Pic by Darren and Brad)
The Myakka River (Pic by Darren and Brad)

Conservancy of Southwest Florida: 97 percent of bays and estuaries ‘impaired’

By | 02.03.11 | 11:57 am

In its recently released “2011 Estuaries Report Card,” the Conservancy of Southwest Florida identifies some of the state’s most impaired waterbodies — waterbodies that would likely be aided by a set of numeric nutrient standards currently being disputed in the state.

According to its report, over 97 percent of the state’s bays and estuaries and over 42 percent of its streams are in poor shape and identified as being “impaired and not safe for swimming and/or fishing.”

Though the number of impaired waterways in Florida is striking, it has done little to squelch the dozens of lawsuits and attacks aimed at the EPA for its attempts to implement a set of numeric nutrient standards that would place harsher restrictions on utilities and agricultural agencies in the state.

Industry executives have long come out against the standards, arguing that they would cost Florida jobs and money. But environmental agencies, including the conservancy, argue that the standards are not only necessary, but mandatory for the health of Florida’s largest asset — its water.

Beach tourism creates over 275,000 jobs and contributes over $24 billion to the state’s economy, the loss of which was deeply felt on Florida’s Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Florida’s recreational saltwater fishery contributes over 50,000 jobs and over $5 billion to the state alone, and is negatively impacted by algal blooms and fish kills, both of which are symptoms of nutrient pollution.

In 2006, a largely underreported study (.pdf) completed by the University of Florida revealed that the economic consequences of harmful algal blooms were staggering, and that red tide blooms lasting for only three months could cost Florida around $20 million as a result of a 33 percent decrease in revenues at restaurants and lodging businesses.

The 2011 Report Card shows increases in areas ”not meeting state water quality standards” and revealed “more waterbodies containing multiple impairments than in 2005.”

Of the watersheds studied, the two receiving the lowest scores were the Caloosahatchee River and Naples Bay, which both received a “D-” in both water quality and wildlife habitat. In 2006, the conservancy successfully nominated the Caloosahatchee as one of the 10 Most Endangered Rivers in the United States, largely due to its nutrient-soaked waters.

Only one watershed, Ten Thousand Islands, received an “A+” in wildlife habitat. The watershed, though, only scored a “D” in water quality.

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