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Managing Nutrients to Save Charlotte County’s Estuaries and Economy

A Report for: The Peace Myakka Waterkeeper

By: Dr. William (Coty) Keller, Mr. Andre Mele and Ms. Judy Ott

September 13, 2022



Executive Summary

The Charlotte Harbor estuary is the receiving water body for both the Peace River and Myakka River, hence the Peace Myakka Waterkeeper’s mission of concern and action for upstream and downstream influences on water quality in our jurisdiction.

Charlotte County’s estuaries are in decline and at a tipping point – past which restoration would be very costly and difficult, if not impossible.


Loss of our estuaries would be an economic and lifestyle tragedy, including devastating loss of real estate values, tourism dollars, and fish, birds and wildlife. A local fishing guide puts it this way: What’s the point of living here if the reason we’re living here disappears?


The cause of our estuaries’ decline is water quality deterioration – triggered by human activities that upset the natural nutrient cycle in our waterways. The primary causes of our nutrient cycle imbalances are too many nutrient-laden stormwater and wastewater discharges into our canals, creeks, rivers and estuaries.


The solution to the long-term health of our estuaries, and their wealth of benefits to our economy, is to manage our stormwater and wastewater systems to meet state water quality goals – at a minimum – which are already established for each of our waterways by Florida law. These water quality goals (called numeric nutrient criteria or standards) were created with the help of regional and local scientists, resource managers and stakeholders and have broad based support and credibility. To date, these state standards have not been used effectively by our county to guide protection and restoration of our estuaries – and our economy. The state criteria for nutrients in our estuaries are shown in Table 1, below.


Table 1: Florida Water Quality and Nutrient Criteria for Our Estuaries

Analyzed as annual geometric means, not to be exceeded more 1 time in 3 years.

Parameter

Tidal Myakka River (with Tippecanoe Bay)

Tidal Peace River

Charlotte Harbor Proper

Lower Lemon Bay

Total Phosphorus (TP)

0.31 mg/L

0.50 mg/L

0.19 mg/L

0.17 mg/L

Total Nitrogen (TN)

1.02 mg/L

1.08 mg/L

0.67 mg/L

0.62 mg/L

Chlorophyl*

11.7 µg/L

12.6 ug/L

6.1 µg/L

6.1 µgL

*Chlorophyl is a useful indicator of algae levels in water


In order to restore our estuaries before they pass that irreversible tipping point, Charlotte County must commit to achieving these established water quality standards and adopt a transparent, science-based process for managing stormwater and wastewater. A diagram of an effective science-based problem-solving process is outlined in Figure 1, below.


Figure 1: Science-Based Estuary Management Decision Process




While investments in upgrading our stormwater and wastewater will be substantial – our estuaries, economy and lifestyles are well-worth the cost. From experiences in other Florida communities, once an estuary is seriously degraded, it cannot be repaired in a timely or affordable way. We must make these investments now or risk losing our invaluable estuaries and our economic foundation.

How we can commit to and begin restoring our estuaries is detailed in the full report, that will follow on these pages after it has been delivered and discussed fully by the Charlotte County commissioners and water quality manager.


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