How We Work
Suncoast Waterkeeper follows the functional model established by the Waterkeeper Alliance, built on the foundation of the original Hudson Riverkeeper, where the Suncoast Waterkeeper founder worked for several years. It is a watchdog model, in which either staff or a member of the public will report a possible violation of the Clean Water Act or other environmental regulation, or identify an environmental threat to a local waterway. Read more
Protecting Marine and Coastal Habitat
Sarasota Bay has more ”hard” coastline than most areas along the Gulf coast. Hard shoreline includes seawalls, bulkheads and other vertical surfaces meant to resist erosion. Part of the hardening process involves removing the mangroves that prevent erosion and provide critical nursery habitat for the young of many economically important marine species – the very fish that many people come here to catch. Read more
Dredging and Inlet Management
Because of the role dredging has played in bringing the region’s ecosystems to the brink of disaster, we will oppose most dredging projects, unless they seek to restore ecosystem functions (historic flows) or are designed to physically remove specific contaminant deposits from the bottom. Read more
Upland Habitat Loss and Degradation
Not all development is good development. Strip mining, for example, however economically important, is destructive to native habitats that are becoming increasingly scarce. Residential sprawl development is little more than another form of strip mining, because miles upon miles of native habitat are stripped away and covered with houses and lawns. Read more
Aquatic and Terrestrial Species
The Suncoast is home to a number of threatened and endangered animals. The Suncoast Waterkeeper will support efforts to protect and restore these and many other animals. Read more
Stormwater and Sewage Pollution
Stormwater pollution is believed to be the greatest source of pollution of the Suncoast’s waterways. Development practices that harden and compact surfaces have caused a 50 percent increase in stormwater runoff flowing into Sarasota Bay, carrying pollutants such as litter, motor oil, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, pet wastes, sediments and anything else that can float, dissolve or be swept away by moving water. Read more
The staff of Suncoast Waterkeeper has a long history of successful opposition to the presence of toxic materials in our environment, and take every reasonable action needed to ensure the removal of toxic substances, inhibit the transport of such materials, and ensure the lawful safety of their storage. Read more
Tampa Bay is home to numerous power plants that are responsible for a host of environmental ills. Atmospheric deposition of nutrients and toxins into the watershed, leaking coal ash impoundments, water pollution, habitat destruction, and devastating direct impacts to local waters and fisheries from outdated once-through cooling technology top the list. Read more
Offshore Oil Development
The threat of offshore oil development will be back. It’s just a matter of when. Suncoast Waterkeeper will oppose offshore drilling unequivocally. Read more
Suncoast Waterkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance strongly support community-level commercial fisheries and their traditions, but oppose unsustainable modes of harvesting, such as draggers and factory trawlers. Read more
One of the foremost, guiding principles of the Waterkeeper Alliance is to fight for fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters around the world. In the Suncoast region, we encounter waters that are above and below the water quality thresholds for three metrics: phosphorus, chlorophyll-a and nitrogen. But do these measures tell the whole story? Read more
In general, drinking water in the Suncoast is poor quality water, highly mineralized. Floridan Aquifer waters are migrating through the porous bedrock of the region into the Intermediate Aquifers and creating a lateral spread of waters with a high mineral content. This water is entering the area’s rivers, creating difficulty for the surface-water treatment facilities, which must now deal with high-conductivity ground waters. Read more
Resilience to Climate Change
Florida is ground zero for sea level rise, which is likely to be one of the most pronounced impacts of climate change. Large areas of Florida are projected to be underwater by the end of this century. We favor higher mileage vehicles and clean energy now, as two of the most obvious solutions that must be adopted.
Public Access to Waterways
Excepting limited beach access points, there are remarkably few places where the public can enjoy access to the sights, smells and recreational opportunities of the Suncoast’s waterways. Suncoast Waterkeeper, following upon lessons learned on the Hudson River and waterways around the world, will support the creation of parks and mixed-use public amenities on the Suncoast’s shores.
Preserving Cultural Traditions
Suncoast Waterkeeper understands and respects the importance of the region’s maritime cultural heritage, and supports its sustainable continuance unimpeded by development or economic interests.
Dredging and Beach Renourishment
Suncoast Waterkeeper calls for a comprehensive environmental impact study of beach and inlet erosion control and nourishment practices in our region. Currently we face a disjointed series of projects and proposals from local governments that seek to protect local beaches from erosion in a vacuum. The proposed dredging of Big Pass has raised immediate concerns about Sarasota committing to a 50 year plan to dredge enough sand to fill four Empire State Buildings, but that is but one of a series of projects that seek to mine the shoals that define our area passes and use the sand as fill to build up our vulnerable beaches.
These projects are driven by the promise of easy money, handed out at the federal and state levels with relatively little cost born by the local government. Avoiding thorough environmental reviews, they are wholly uncoordinated and rarely take adequate consideration of the potential impacts on neighboring beaches and communities, the ecology of the larger estuary, the alternatives available, and they beg examination of the broader fiscal implications of subsidizing beachfront communities' short-term interests.
Small communities with out adequate resources to gather and analyze the information needed to make these important decisions rely on the behemoth Army Corps of Engineers, which validates its existence by pursuing projects which continuously increase in size, scale and cost. The Corps drives these projects forward, minimizing and ignoring public input, failing to study existing conditions, failing to use the best available science and engineering, and oftentimes failing to adequately consider the realities of sea level rise and its implications for our coastal communities.
The Corps projects the conversation as one about public safety, minimizing considerations of potential environmental impacts and wielding the subtle threat of disappearing access to federal funds. Communities are being manipulated by the Corps and powerful special interest groups into pursuing piecemeal projects, which funnel massive amounts of money into the hands of a few government contractors. This is like the cart pushing the horse into quicksand.
We're not suggesting that communities abandon beachfront property owners facing critical erosion, nor are we proposing that government neglect the critical infrastructure provided by our beaches and dunes. This is not an issue of Siesta versus Lido or Longboat or Anna Maria, or mainland versus barrier islands. Our coastal resources are the foundation of our broader region's well-being. We're all in this together and have an obligation to make good decisions to protect and promote the communities of our beautiful Suncoast.
So let's take a step back, exercise some caution, use some restraint, gather information, examine potential adverse impacts and potential alternatives at a wider scale and make decisions using the best available information and input from all stakeholders. We call for a comprehensive regional EIS that covers beach and inlet erosion control and nourishment practices Sarasota and Manatee County beaches and demand that interim renourishment projects undergo a full EIS rather than the abbreviated assessments that the Corps has offered up to hungry municipalities and complacent regulators.
This is not a novel perspective raised by the tree-hugging fringe, it’s the law. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), one of the foundations of our environmental laws, demands rigorous and objective analysis of a proposed project’s environmental and community impacts, as well as alternatives to the project proposal that lead to informed, realistic governmental decision making. Russell Train, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, urged that NEPA’s “[c]onsideration of the impacts of proposed government actions on the quality of the human environment is essential to responsible government decision-making. Government projects and programs have effects on the environment with important consequences for every American, and those impacts should be carefully weighed by public officials before taking action. Environmental impact analysis is thus not an impediment to responsible government action; it is a prerequisite for it.”
Nor would this approach be new to the Corps or our area. After multiple phosphate projects were proposed to the Corps nearby, a chorus of concerned environmental groups and leaders were successful in persuading the Corps to perform an areawide EIS. Although such a comprehensive review may take additional time, it may ultimately speed implementation time by obviating the need to conduct future environmental impact studies for projects that are considered within the proposed comprehensive review. It could also help to identify other sources of sand, alternative strategies for protecting shoreline and reduce costs by more efficiently allocating sand budgets and future projects.
Stormwater and Sewage Pollution
Stormwater. Stormwater pollution is believed to be the greatest source of pollution of the Suncoast’s waterways. Development practices that harden and compact surfaces have caused a 50 percent increase in stormwater runoff flowing into Sarasota Bay, carrying pollutants such as litter, motor oil, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, pet wastes, sediments and anything else that can float, dissolve or be swept away by moving water. The most significant challenge at hand is to ensure the appropriate adoption and enforcement of strict numeric nutrient water quality standards mandating regulation of all of the state’s waterways, including manmade canals, ditches and storm water conveyance systems. Litigation by environmental groups, including St. Johns Riverkeeper has successfully forced EPA to take action and enforce the Clean Water Act. Currently the DEP is involved in rulemaking and the litigation continues. There is significant need for additional advocacy at a statewide and local level on this issue, and when the time comes to adopt NNC for the Suncoast’s watersheds, strong advocacy will be critical.
Sewage. The last several decades have brought about dramatic improvements in sewage and wastewater treatment in the Suncoast, but the progress has stalled and threatens to backslide. Aging private septic systems and municipal infrastructure cause significant amounts of sewage to contaminate the watershed. Major sewage spills are on the rise and expected growth in the region will further challenge the effort to balance the area water’s ability to absorb rising nutrient levels. Lax enforcement and insufficient budgeting for maintenance and upgrades are important issues to be addressed.
Public Information & Accountability
Suncoast Waterkeeper conducts independent monitoring and investigations, but also relies on public access to government information. We seek to provide members and the public with the necessary tools and information to understand environmental issues and our work so that they are familiar with coastal resources and challenges to help our community engage government officials more effectively.
We regularly monitor Public Notices of Pollution, Public Notices relating to Permits for projects and developments of concern, publicly available files for specific facilities through the State Document Management Portals like Oculus and the FDEP Portal, Harmful Algae Bloom and other water quality condition reports from municipal government, State and Federal agencies.
Some examples and resources that we encourage all to use:
- Piney Point Updates
- Pollution Notices - subscribe to learn more about pollution near you
- State Document Management Portals
- Water Atlas
While we regularly monitor pollution information, if you see something, say something! Reach out to us about pollution or development concerns in your community.
And here are some resources we encourage members and the public to use to reach out and engage government officials:
Finally, to get your students and kids involved, here is an excellent resource brought to us by a wonder group of individuals who know a lot of about water.
*Suncoast Waterkeeper does not endorse O.Berk, its services, or products and does not have any affiliation with the company.