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SBEP: Historic rainfall deals Sarasota Bay water quality a setback

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June 20, 2024 – Director's Note from Dave Tomasko

Yesterday, I sent out a Director’s Note about the good news we are seeing, in terms of the bay’s recovery. It is true that our bay’s water quality has improved over the past few years, and that we are likely to see a substantial increase in seagrass coverage when our 2024 maps come out sometime early next year. That is not by chance, it is the result of spending over $300 million on wastewater upgrades and regional stormwater retrofits.

But it’s also true that our watershed holds more people per square mile than Biscayne Bay, and that when we get hit by rainfall amounts like what we received last week, the bay’s response is not going to be good. Below are two photos supplied to me by Rusty Chinnis. On the left is what it looked like at the 10th Street Boat Ramp, in downtown Sarasota, during that rain event. Notice the water pouring over the sidewalks, overwhelming the stormwater collection system. The photo on the right is a close-up of what that urban stormwater runoff looked like. Note the gray, gritty look to the water mass – this is what a big storm will bring.

Over the last few days, I have received comments from many fishing guides – including Rusty Chinnis, Captain Scott Moore, and my neighbor Kyle Eldridge, about bad-smelling and foul-looking water, and also fish kills. Yesterday, Dr. Abbey Tyrna from Suncoast Waterkeepers went out on the bay and found fish kills across the northern mainland shoreline of Sarasota Bay, with the worst conditions centered around the area of New College and the Crossley Estate. It might not help that a large area of uplands had recently been cleared just inshore from New College’s shoreline with the bay – creating a large area of newly exposed and non-stabilized sediment right next to the bay. But that’s not the only active construction site along our shoreline, at all. Abbey found low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, which is the most likely cause of the dead fish noted across the upper bay - Suncoast WaterKeepers collecting data in Sarasota Bay following fish kill (