An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Estuary partners choose their battles coast to coast

A boatload of estuary experts from around the country gathered on an early October day to tour the prettiest part of San Francisco Bay. They paid rather less attention to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate than to each other. In town for the National Estuary Program’s annual Tech Transfer Conference, they had come to compare notes and strategies from the 28 varied bays, bights, bayous, and river mouths that benefit from one of the nation’s most durable, and efficient, environmental laws.

In 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, Congress proclaimed selected tidewater regions to be “estuaries of national significance” and offered money to help local coalitions take on environmental problems there. Through all the political gyrations since, a thin stream of funding, via the Environmental Protection Agency, has continued to flow to place-based programs with tiny core staffs and numerous collaborating partners. These doughty groups have helped work wonders in habitat restoration and pollution cleanup, learning many a lesson along the way. The yearly conference, hosted this time by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, ensures that that knowledge gets shared.

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Sarasota Bay, a fifty-mile-long lagoon on the southwest coast of Florida, is fairly new to the ranks of estuaries, having naturally lacked the freshwater input to qualify as one. In modern times, though, the bay acquired tributaries of a sort due to stream reengineering, urban storm runoff, and wastewater outfalls. With more water from the land came nitrogen and other nutrients, tending to overfertilize the bay. Among other accomplishments, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Partnership has succeeded in reducing nitrogen inflow by two thirds.

But these days all local efforts seem overwhelmed by the devastating regional red tide, an overgrowth of the toxic alga Karenia brevis. While the affliction follows natural cycles, director David Mark Alderson suspects that continued cleanup could lessen future pain. “We’ve done a lot of really good work on reducing nutrient pollution along this coast, but it may not be enough.” A new initiative along the bay seeks to naturalize normal streams and shorelines, creating additional nutrient uptake and improving habitat for fish.