CHNEP executive director addresses GPICA
Jennifer Hecker addressed the Greater Pine Island Civic Association on March 2nd
As water quality topped the list of concerns for islanders, Jennifer Hecker, executive director of the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Program, gave a presentation on the restoration of water and wildlife. Hecker brought up four priority action areas, from a plan drafted by program partners. They include, water quality improvement, hydrological restoration, fish wildlife and habitat protection, and public engagement.
Nutrient pollution is a water quality issue, said Hecker, among the sources of this issue are excess nitrogen and phosphorus that can come from agricultural, storm water or wastewater run off. This nutrient pollution, she said, can contribute to harmful algae blooms or a lower dissolved oxygen that can result in death for many aquatic creatures. Failing septic systems are another contributing factor, as they can leech nutrients and bacteria into groundwater and indirectly into surface waters. Florida has a high water table and sandy soils, she said, allowing wastewater to move quickly.
“Pine Island Sound is a Class II water body,” Hecker said. “It’s designated for shellfish, propagation and harvesting.”
Some areas on Pine Island Sound are currently considered impaired or fail to routinely meet water quality standards, for fecal coliform bacteria and also for mercury, which she says is common in Florida. In the estuarine areas, Hecker said nitrogen is particularly concerning, showing an up tick in nutrient levels. Matlacha Pass is also a class-two water body with unsafe levels of nutrients.
One of the ways the program is trying to address the issues is by installing the Coastal Charlotte Harbor Monitoring Network, which takes a monthly sample to measure water quality. This sampling, she said, includes Pine Island Sound. Another step taken toward the betterment of water quality is funding the maintenance of something called, the CHNEP (Coastal Heartland National Estuary Partnership) Water Atlas.
An upcoming project this year is the Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve Wetland Habitat Enhancement Project, Hecker said.
“We’re going in and doing a physical restoration of the site,” said Hecker. “We are investing $86,000 this year to do that project.”
One of the things they do, said Hecker, is to inform decision makers, whom she says are often policy makers interested in cost benefit and return on their investment of these kinds of costly projects. The Pine Island Sound Basin has been found to have primary economic drivers of tourism, commercial fishing and agriculture, resulting in $1.35 billion a year in economic benefits with $1.46 billion in property value premiums, $3.8 million in agriculture production, $1.39 billion in recreational spending. Natural resources, she said, are directly affecting economic activity in the area.
This information has gone out to elected leaders at the local, state and federal level in an effort to show return on investment of the area.
“This is hopefully a motivator to them to undertake those necessary investments to upgrade our wastewater infrastructure, improve our storm water management and do other things that can reduce pollutants entering our waterways,” Hecker said.