Local residents will recall the concerns that surfaced after experts discovered that the water quality of Old Tampa Bay — the area north of the Courtney Campbell Parkway — had declined to such a state that only focused effort would save it. That is why plans to create a management plan for two other important North Pinellas waterways, Clearwater Harbor and St. Joseph Sound, are encouraging. That proactive approach could prevent a calamity in those all-important waters.
At its 3 p.m. meeting today, the Pinellas County Commission is scheduled to discuss awarding a contract to Janicki Environmental Inc. of St. Petersburg to create a comprehensive conservation management plan for Clearwater Harbor and St. Joseph Sound.
Both bodies of water are portions of the Intracoastal Waterway lying between the North Pinellas mainland and the barrier islands of Sand Key, Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island. The harbor and sound, used primarily for recreational boating and fishing, are relatively shallow and don't receive the sort of cleansing flushing that is seen in the gulf.
Just like Old Tampa Bay, these waterways also receive a load of polluted stormwater during every rainstorm. The stormwater carries with it litter, dirt, oil, animal droppings, and traces of fertilizer and lawn chemicals. Those pollutants, especially when combined with stagnation and high temperatures, can lead to algae growth, loss of sea grasses and wildlife, and creation of a thick layer of polluted mud on the bottom of the waterway. The quality of the water is affected, as is its clarity, its value for recreation, and its importance as a wildlife habitat.
How serious is the condition of Clearwater Harbor and St. Joseph Sound? That's one of the questions to be answered by Janicki. The contract with the company calls for it to analyze historic and current water quality tests and sea grass surveys, along with photos and maps, to determine the health of the harbor and sound. Janicki also will map wetlands and wildlife habitat areas. And then the company will develop a plan to address the problems found in the two waterways.
The 30-month contract will cost about $560,000, with the dollars coming from Penny for Pinellas, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Region 4 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the cities of Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater and Largo.
The county staff has suggested that $38,000 be added to the contract for a sedimentation management plan. Commissioners should approve the addition. If too much sediment is washed into a water body, it eventually becomes increasingly shallow, making it less desirable for wildlife and for recreation. That is one of the problems that has afflicted the upper portions of Old Tampa Bay.
The purpose of a management plan is not just to identify changes that have occurred over time and find ways to reduce the pollution, but also to map out a plan to restore the waters to their previous health. That process can take decades.
Identifying and fixing the problems with Clearwater Harbor and St. Joseph Sound is important not only because of their value for recreation and wildlife habitat, but also because pollution of those waters contributes to pollution of the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever can be done to clean up and restore the harbor and sound will be a positive for the region, not just for the communities that border the Intracoastal Waterway.