The Calusa Waterkeeper conducted an assessment to understand the factors contributing to water quality impairment in Florida. The “Water Quality Impairment Status and Trends of Southwest Florida Counties – 2018-2020” assessment is essential for determining pollution sources and eventual planning for restoration.

The purpose of this assessment is to summarize water quality impairment in nine southwest Florida counties between 2018 and 2020 using consistent Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) assessment criteria gathered from FDEP’s annual comprehensive verified list of impaired waters.

Annual changes in both the number of water bodies or water body segments impaired and their associated water quality parameters are essential for evaluating restoration programs or projects. Some consistent findings or commonalities concerning water quality changes and related metrics defining or contributing to impairment were evident among the nine counties assessed.

The following are highlighted summary points of concern:

Counties ranking highest regarding increased water quality impairment rate from highest to least were Lee, Collier, Manatee, and Charlotte

Counties ranking in the top three, in the order listed, (highest first) concerning population increase: Lee, Manatee, and Collier; percent of total waterbody ID units (WBID) impaired: Glades, Hendry, and Lee; percent increase in development 2001-2016: Manatee, Collier, and Hillsborough; percent increase in impervious area 2001-2016, Manatee, Collier and Lee

For the seven coastal counties, urban population growth and associated development underlie impairment causality. However, as an exception, Manatee County had a relatively high agriculture area as potentially contributing to its overall highest impairment status among all nine counties

Fecal bacteria was the most frequently occurring impairment parameter in six counties, including Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas. Fecal bacteria present a public health risk in addition to parameters emphasizing ecosystem or aquatic life support criteria. In 2020 impairment for fecal bacteria represented 80 percent of all verified impairments in Manatee, 69 percent in Hillsborough, 62 percent in Sarasota, and 49 percent in Lee. Many of these fecal bacteria impairments occur in Outstanding Florida Waters supposed to be protected from water quality decline by statute

Nutrients represented the highest proportion of impairments in Collier, Glades and Hendry counties. A relatively high percentage of Hendry and Glades county land use is agriculture. Glades County had the highest percentage of WBIDs impaired across nine counties’ parameters. In Lee County, nutrient impairment increases were responsible for the county’s highest rate of increase in total impairments among all nine counties, despite having two BMAPs starting in 2012 (Everglades West Coast and Caloosahatchee Estuary) involving nutrient pollution.

Overall impairment trend. The order (highest impairment status to lowest) of counties ranked across all metrics defining or contributing to impairment was Manatee, Lee, Hillsborough, Collier, Charlotte, Sarasota, Hendry, Glades, Pinellas.

To learn more and read the entire assessment report, click HERE.

The ECCL supports the Calusa Waterkeeper, a Fort Myers-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to Protect and Restore the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee to the Coastal Waters. For more information, visit