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White Pelicans glide past an old stilt ice house in the bay by the Village of Cortez.

Clear Water Hides Looming Problem

This post is a Reel Time column I write for the Anna Maria Island Sun.

The red tide is gone! I don’t know anybody who isn’t elated that the most recent harmful algae bloom is absent from local waters. Cross any bridge, look out at the bay and you’ll be convinced that all is well. The water is clear and there are large areas of flats that appear covered with seagrass. Unfortunately, things are not what they seem. 

While it’s true that the water in the bay is crystal clear, this same clear water is revealing what may be a “ticking time bomb.” Large areas of Sarasota Bay, even some close to the passes and enjoying daily flushing, are choked with algae. The clear water also affords a look into the bay and my experience over the last few weeks has been discouraging. In areas that are generally flush with mullet, you could sit and count off the minutes without seeing one of the ubiquitous fish jump. There are signs of recovery, as bait enters the bay and mullet are again starting to make an appearance. Still, after dealing with red tide events since the early 80s this is one of the slowest recoveries I can remember.

If there’s a “proverbial” pony anywhere, it’s that people who in the past quickly reverted to the “out of sight, out of mind” school of thought are asking important questions. When Realtors and developers realize that the price of inaction on water quality incurs a serious cost we may be finally rounding a corner towards awareness.

The first line of defense lies with our local politicians who enact the laws that protect our water, air and land. Let’s not forget that they work for us. Unfortunately, the public, and I include myself, has not been as engaged as they need to be in this decision-making process. Hopefully, that’s changing. Residents of Manatee County need to get behind commissioners who are working to address water quality issues. They are currently tackling the need to establish a dedicated source of funding to improve water quality. Residents are encouraged to learn about this initiative and get involved in assuring that common sense rules, regulations and infrastructure support us economically as well as protecting the quality of life that we enjoy.

Still, with the apparent “new will” and understanding of the problem in Tallahassee, there is resistance to doing the “right thing.” A good example is legislation that Manatee County state Rep. Will Robinson has introduced, with a companion bill by state Sen. Joe Gruders of
Sarasota, to monitor and inspect septic tanks, thought to be a leading problem in water pollution. The bills would require the state health department to identify all onsite systems in the state and compile that information in a database. Beginning in 2022, the bill would require onsite systems to be inspected at least once every five years unless the system is covered by an operating permit.

What appears to be common sense legislation is being intensely lobbied by entities like state restaurant and homeowner associations. The arguments seem to be the same – that the bill would be too expensive and cause economic hardship to the interested parties. What’s missing from this reasoning is the understanding that not addressing these issues will actually be more expensive for those that oppose it, not to mention future generations of Floridians. It’s time that we all take a more proactive role in addressing these critical issues.