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Manatee County makes strides in improving water quality

Manatee County – Local water quality is improving through the efforts of Manatee County environmental staff, according to the county’s Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker.

“Our people in water quality and environmental protection are working hard every day,” Hunsicker told commissioners on Jan. 23. “And with our utility partners and public works partners, we are working to protect the water quality in Manatee County.”

Hunsicker said water is monitored at more than 80 sites around the county, with more than 11,000 samples being tested annually.

“Manatee County is working hard to always observe where we are in our water-quality picture,” he said.

Hunsicker presented numerous charts showing county efforts to maintain water quality that include:

• Wastewater treatment upgrades ($600 million invested over the next five years);

• Increased street sweeping;

• 5,000 seagrass plugs planted;

• 25,000 trees planted in 2023;

• 15,000 acres of habitat restored; and

• 1,500 vertical oyster gardens installed.

“More than 18 million gallons of water were saved last year alone in water irrigation efficiencies (through the IFAS University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences),” he said.

Hunsicker said 114,262 acres of seagrass off the coast of Manatee County in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are dependent on water quality.

“We also have storm sampling for bacteria,” Hunsicker said. “Last year and the years before we were faced with possible closures of our recreational beaches along the Gulf because of bacteriological readings that were taken around Palma Sola Bay and assumptions made by the health department that contamination extended throughout the entire county. We were able to respond to them and keep our beaches open and to prove and demonstrate with our own sampling efforts that bacteria were not affecting the Gulf beaches of Anna Maria Island.”

“This is really important, and it is of major concern to our residents,” Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Ray Turner said.

Commissioners praised the Natural Resources staff for being stewards of voter-supported efforts to purchase more preservation land through the County’s Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC).

“I hope the board hears that the investments the county is making into natural resources is bearing fruit,” District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said.

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