Let’s Do Our Jobs on Region’s Environment

Guest Correspondence

BY MARK PRITCHETT SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 17, 2021

You would think we’d get it by now. Are our collective memories that short?

Just three years ago, a toxic red tide bloom along our regional shorelines devastated our tourism economy, degraded our quality of life, and killed our sealife. Also in 2018, a different but noxious blue green slime spoiled the fresh waters on both coasts and created another “Floriduh” headline.

But here we are again. Making international negative news when the Piney Point industrial site in Manatee County literally spilled over into a crisis. The effluent plume from this phosphate processing waste dump will linger in Tampa Bay for months, possibly fueling another red tide outbreak and destroying local sea life.

And it only gets worse. A model wetlands-redevelopment project planned for Sarasota that would restore wetlands and improve water quality going into Phillippi Creek and Sarasota Bay was denied funding by our own local representative on the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

When are we going to learn? Our local waters are our Blue Economy. But some of our recent actions and policies treat them like our blue dumping ponds.

Protecting and restoring environmental water quality is one of the most important things we can do to maintain and improve our region’s coveted quality of life. The recreation, tourism, fishing, and real estate for which we’re known all depend on healthy waterways. Tax revenues from these activities fund the infrastructure, roads, schools, parks, beaches, and social services that we expect and rely on. Clean water is not only an environmental issue for our region. It is an economic issue. It is a health issue. It is an equity issue. It should not be a partisan issue.

So, where was the leadership in preventing the predicted and preventable disaster at Piney Point? Where was the leadership in supporting the proactive wetlands redevelopment at Bobby Jones Golf Course? The tax dollars that will be spent to fix the first missed opportunity will dwarf the money that should be invested in the second. Our priorities are upside down.

At Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we are doing our job. We recently released a science-based “water quality playbook” detailing 43 activities our community can do to reduce nutrient pollution entering our natural waterways, remove excess nutrients already there, and build the capacity and resilience to sustain these improvements.

Our playbook is free and available to all. Admittedly, it is deep with details and focused on systemic strategies—wastewater treatment plant upgrades, stormwater management improvements, better water-quality monitoring, large-scale land conservation. But every one of us can learn from it and take an active role and personal responsibility for advancing its solutions.

Here are a few ways how:

  • Advocate for and then support local governments implementing the playbook’s activities.
  • Learn and practice proper fertilizer application, including your commercial landscaping contractor.
  • Plant native plants that require less irrigation and fertilizer.
  • Promote no-mow vegetative buffers around your neighborhood’s stormwater ponds.

Now, as leaders and as citizens, we need to get on the same team. And then we need to do our jobs.

Our community has a decades-long commitment to improving water quality, including pioneering efforts in fertilizer management, storm water management, seagrass restoration, and watershed land conservation. We have achieved and benefitted from collaborative successes to safeguard Sarasota County’s natural resources and water quality. But with decades of growth and development has come excess human-based nitrogen pollution that could push our ecosystem past a tipping point of impairment.

Together, we can correct mistakes of the past and implement solutions that continue to set us apart for the right reasons.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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