Reel Time: Pulitzer Prize winning author to speak

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Reel Time: Pulitzer Prize winning author to speak
Nitrogen rich waters contribute to recurring red tide events that negatively impact our fisheries. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

On March 8, Suncoast Waterkeepers (SWK), a local environmental group whose mission is to protect and restore the Florida Suncoast’s waterways through enforcement, fieldwork, advocacy and environmental education, will hold its annual fundraiser Brunch for the Bay at the Bradenton Yacht Club.

The group uses the funds to advance its water quality enforcement and “Sick of Sewage” campaigns. SWK has been effective in educating the public about man-made pollutants (stormwater and sewage) and enforcement with legal challenges to municipalities in Tampa Bay and surrounding waters.

After a series of horrific sewage spills in 2016 despoiled Tampa Bay and other local waters, SWK and partners brought suit against the cities of St. Petersburg and Gulfport to stop serious and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act. It focused its efforts on achieving four key goals for municipal wastewater systems: to de-politicize the issues by agreeing to court oversight of overdue infrastructure maintenance and improvements; to provide certainty via mandatory long-term commitments and deadlines; protect local waterways and to ensure public transparency along the way.

During the course of the hard-fought two-year litigation against St. Pete and Gulfport, Suncoast Waterkeeper began investigating sewage spills in Sarasota County. The investigation of Sarasota County’s sewage system revealed a shocking pattern of longstanding, systematic infrastructure failures and disregard for public health and water quality in area waters. In a race to consolidate its far-flung sewage system, the county decommissioned two tertiary, or Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT), plants to better centralize its operations. However, the remaining plants that it increasingly relied upon employed only secondary treatment, leaving billions of gallons of highly nitrogenated wastewater as a byproduct.

At the same time, demand for the reclaimed irrigation water from the county was disappearing as developers, in managing nitrogen in stormwater runoff, turned to less polluting options, such as well water or highly treated reclaimed water from the city of Sarasota. To date, spills from the Bee Ridge facility have totaled over a billion gallons since 2013 on at least 394 separate days, adding over 65 tons of nitrogen into bay waters.

Meanwhile, the extensive sewage collection system was deteriorating and poorly maintained in a piecemeal fashion, resulting in periodic spills of dangerous raw sewage throughout Sarasota County. In early 2019, the environmental groups initiated a federal lawsuit under the Clean Water Act.

According to SWK’s lead attorney Justin Bloom, “to their credit, the Sarasota County Commission showed a willingness to immediately work towards a solution and to avoid protracted litigation.”

You can help support the group’s efforts and learn about its ongoing campaigns in Sarasota and Tampa Bay by attending the fundraising event. Not only will you be treated to a wonderful brunch at the scenic Bradenton Yacht Club, but you’ll hear a presentation by University of Florida history professor Jack Davis.

Davis’s book, “The Gulf,” garnered numerous literary accolades including the Pulitzer Prize for history, the Kirkus Prize for non-fiction, was a finalist National Book Critics Circle Award (nonfiction) and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, just to name a few. I’ve lived here for close to 40 years and the book caused me to see the place I live with new eyes. I highly recommend it and this is a chance to get your own signed copy.

Suncoast Waterkeeper is a group that has earned the support of anyone that values and is willing to work to protect the amazing marine ecosystem surrounding our local islands, and that is vital to the region’s local economy. Anglers, in particular, can learn how the group’s efforts are supporting an environment conducive to healthy fisheries, now and for future generations. Learn more at the Suncoast Waterkeeper website. Tickets can be purchased for the brunch online.

I hope to see you there.

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