FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 8, 2014
BAYOU CHICO RESTORATION MOVES FORWARD
~System responding to efforts, commitment continues ~
PENSACOLA – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection hosted the Bayou Chico 2nd annual stakeholders meeting where it presented a report on the progress of restoration efforts for the bayou. At less than halfway into the first five-year phase of the restoration plan, the report reflects that implemented projects are already resulting in reduction of sources of bacteria and overall improvement in bacteria contamination.
Two years ago, a water quality restoration plan was developed by the Department in partnership with the City of Pensacola, Escambia County, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, Florida Department of Transportation, Bayou Chico Association, U.S. Naval Air Station Pensacola, University of West Florida, and the Bay Area Resources Council. This plan identified actions to significantly decrease fecal coliform bacteria in six waterbody segments within the Bayou Chico watershed. Preliminary results show that average bacteria counts have reduced by 71 percent in the area; however, local governments will continue to work together to achieve the restoration target.
“I am truly impressed with the efforts of the local governments and stakeholders who have worked so hard at implementing the projects required by this water quality improvement plan,” said Drew Bartlett, DEP Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Projects. “The entire Pensacola region should be proud that we have already reduced average bacteria concentrations by 71 percent since 2008.”
The restoration plan lists the steps that must be taken to reduce bacteria, a schedule for their implementation, and potential resources to accomplish the reductions. Unsafe levels of fecal bacteria in an ecosystem may indicate contamination by human waste and lead to potential human health risks from disease causing pathogens, especially in swimming areas. Recently developed laboratory tools now allow the Department's scientists to better determine whether fecal bacteria are related to humans, animals or other sources. In addition to source typing the bacteria, sampling at multiple sites will enable the Department to isolate specific segments of the Bayou where large numbers of bacteria are showing up in the water. Knowing which segment is the point of entry will also help target and eliminate sources more efficiently.
An important management strategy in the resotration plan is the extension of central sewer and connection of septic tanks. To that end, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority has successfully completed connection of 1,087 onsite septic systems to central sewer. Connection to the central sewer system is facilitated through ECUA's waiver of the capacity impact fee (approximately $1,600) as an incentive during the first year of availability of the sanitary sewer.
Improvement to the management of stormwater is the second major thrust of the Bayou Chico restoration plan. These projects will help reduce untreated runoff carrying pollutants into the water. To date, with the help of $1 million in funding assistance from the Department, Escambia County has invested more than $6.75 million in the completion of 17 stormwater reduction and treatment projects. In 2014, Escambia County will receive more than $750,000 in Section 319 Grant funding from the Department to construct Phase I of the Beach Haven Stormwater Improvements.
“The water quality improvements that we are seeing in Bayou Chico are the result of the collaborative efforts and commitments of many governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. This is a great example of the success that can be achieved when federal, state, and local stakeholders work together to address and reduce historical and current sources of pollution that have negatively impacted our local environment, economy and quality of life for many years,” said Escambia County Senior Scientist Taylor “Chips” Kirschenfeld.
The City of Pensacola is investing approximately $1 million in the L and Zarragossa St. Drainage Improvements project. Construction of this project is expected to begin in the spring of 2014.
“This project will help alleviate chronic flooding that has historically occurred at this intersection. This will greatly benefit our waterways by removing a high percentage of pollutants from the stormwater runoff prior to ultimate discharge into the bayou,” said City of Pensacola Mayor Ashton J. Hayward.
Many of the sources of human bacteria have been eliminated through infrastructure improvements, removal of improper wastewater connections, connection of septic systems to central sewer, and a process to identify and eliminate sewer overflows. As a result of these actions, the restoration plan’s annual report reflects progress toward the goal of lower fecal coliform counts and confirms efforts are on track for eventual removal of the Bayou from the impaired waters list. Pinpointing inputs will enable the partners to design more appropriate and well-targeted restoration strategies leading to better public health for the Bayou Chico estuary.