Today the Phillippi Creek Basin (aka Roberts Bay North Watershed) drains 57 square miles of some of the most densely populated areas in Sarasota County; however, historically the watershed was considerably smaller and released much less water into the bay. During the wet season, the basin would fill up and expand into pine flatwoods; in the dry season, it would dry up. Runoff would occur predominately during large storms. In 1927, the Sarasota Fruitville Drainage District was established to drain the land for agriculture. Isolated wetland areas were connected with canals, which became deeper and wider and more extensive as land-use transitioned to residential and commercial development. As a result, an enormous amount of freshwater was taken off the land and transferred directly to the bay. The timing and flow of that freshwater was also altered. Increased flooding, erosion and sediment loads, nutrient pollution, and reduced salinity in the bay were some of the unintended consequences, negatively affecting productivity, population dynamics, and community structure within the estuary.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 marked a transition in standards with regard to runoff and pollution. Since then, advances in stormwater treatment (e.g., Phillippi Creek Atlantic Wastewater Treatment Plant Water Quality Improvement Project) combined with retrofit designs for sewage treatment (e.g., Phillippi Creek Septic Removal Project), as well as wetland (e.g., celery fields) and stream (e.g., Pinecraft Park Natural Systems Improvement Project) restoration areas are improving water quality throughout the watershed with the goal of improving water quality and reducing the quantity of freshwater entering the bay. Improved access and restored natural areas (e.g., celery fields, Red Bug Slough) offer many popular opportunities for recreation, education and outreach.
Advances in passive, sustainable natural system based technologies, such as biological sequestration of pollutants, provide optimism for continued improvements in water quality. Leadership in these technologies could support significant economic development in Florida. Many of our water retention and nutrient sequestration approaches require continued maintenance (e.g., harvesting littoral zones, dredging stormwater lakes) for optimum performance and sustainability. Finally, renewed promotion of water conservation may reduce the need to build new reservoirs and well fields, which could promote increased aquifer recharge and groundwater restoration.
Roundtable Panel Discussion
- Richard Martin
- Kelly Westover, Sarasota County Environmental Services
- Steve Suau, Progressive Water Resources
- JP Marchand, Kimley-Horn and Associates
- Jeanne Dubi, Audubon of Sarasota
- History of land use, drainage, and hydrologic change: Dams, ditches and diversions
- Challenges of stormwater runoff: Can we restore flow, salinity regime and water quality and prevent flooding?
- Retrofit and restoration projects: Can an engineered problem have an engineered solution?
- Outreach and Ecotourism: Where wildlife and people meet