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Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve - Water Quality Quick Topics

The basic characteristics of Estero Bay's water vary naturally in response to the daily, seasonal, and long term forces which make the estuarine habitat conditions among the most dynamic on earth. Not supplied with freshwater by any one major river, the estuary instead is fed by a number of smaller rivers and creeks, as well as by sheetflow across the landscape. This drainage pattern has made the bay extremely sensitive to runoff and upland discharge. Historically, the Estero Bay basin consisted of low-lying topography with slow moving flow, allowing rainfall to provide a constant input of fresh water into the bay throughout the year. This water was filtered by vegetation and sediments as it slowly moved its way across the landscape and into the estuary, depositing nutrients and other materials in habitats like salt marshes before entering into the tributaries or into the bay itself. Through time, however, this slow moving sheetflow has been largely diverted and shunted into area creeks and rivers.

While there are numerous point sources of pollution located within the watershed including golf courses and water treatment facilities, the principal source for the bay is thought to be from nonpoint source pollution. Runoff from agriculture and development has led to an influx of excess nutrients, as well as pesticides, fecal coliforms, and other substances. Many people do not realize that materials entering into the majority of area stormwater drains are carried directly into the bay. A large portion of the land abutting the estuary on its eastern side has been acquired for preservation, and serves to filter some of the sheetflow from across the landscape, providing some protection from nutrients entering the bay. Hydrological alterations, however, continue to exacerbate water quality conditions as a large percentage of the historical sheetflow has been diverted and shunted into the bay's tributaries. Such alterations have led to altered timing, flow, and reduced filtering of water coming off the landscape and entering into the bay. Additionally, increases in stormwater runoff from developments carries with it pesticides, fertilizers, and other substances into area creeks and rivers, as well as the estuary itself, unimpeded and unfiltered. Old and failing septic systems also add nutrients as well as pharmaceuticals and possibly other poisonous substances. As a result, increased loading has occurred. Fortunately, there are currently several efforts by multiple agencies and organizations addressing this issue through projects such as filter marshes along tributary headwaters.

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve is addressing these water quality issues by continuing its participation in the Charlotte Harbor Estuaries Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring (CHEVWQMN) program, and serving as its local coordinator. In addition, Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve has three continuous water quality monitoring stations in the bay and is exploring adding more sites. This water quality data is consolidated and analyzed.

Efforts are also underway to reduce nonpoint sources of pollution by educating residents on the dangers of over-fertilizing their yards, and explaining how stormwater drains carry neighborhood runoff straight into the bay unimpeded. Nevertheless, there is a high citizen turnover rate due to seasonal residents and tourists, making public education a difficult task. Additionally, recurrent budget cuts for many agencies and organizations often translate to diminished education and outreach efforts, and less water quality testing with subsequently fewer trends data.

Staff taking a water quality sample

Last updated: December 18, 2015

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