By Natalie Strom
News flash! Water is essential to our everyday lives! Oh, you already knew that? Good. Well, did you know that you can celebrate what keeps you alive on March 22 with the rest of the world. That’s right. It’s World Water Day, and the best way to celebrate the liquid locally is by taking a trip to Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) where its specialty, of course, is water and water research.
Head out to 300 Tower Road, just off of US-951, and you will find the Reserve tucked away in a hidden paradise of walking paths, boardwalks, mangroves and bays. To celebrate, the Learning Center at RBNERR is offering a buy-one-get-one-free entrance for the day. Learn about slithering snakes, get your hands on some wildlife in the touch tank and watch the film, “Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship.” Walk through the learning center’s two floors to learn even more about the water that flows through Southwest Florida in its many capacities.
Is your schedule already full for March 22? RBNERR’s staff wants to make sure you get a good lesson on the importance of water anyway. Regional Communications Director Renee Wilson and Kevin Cunniff, Research Coordinator, have some important facts to share not only about the water that surrounds us and drains through the Everglades, but also the importance of keeping our fresh water supply clean.
“First and foremost, every citizen and visitor of Florida drinks the water that falls as rain onto the land where it stored as surface water, primarily in wetlands, lakes, streams, and canals,” explains Cunniff. “While some of this water discharges to coastal estuaries naturally and through water management operations, a significant amount of water percolates slowly through our porous, limestone-based ground into shallow aquifers.”
These aquifers are basically holding tanks of fresh water from which we pull for municipal water supply.
“These days, we are drawing water out of aquifers at a rate that often exceeds the ability for rain water to recharge them,” states Cunniff. “This has consequences for our ability to hold back saltwater intrusion, maintain viable freshwater drinking sources and to support the habitats that collect and hold water for aquifer recharge.
“We can all help improve this situation by being conscious of the water we use. You can directly help reduce the pressure on our aquifers by reducing your personal water usage at home and your workplace, eliminating water-thirsty turf grass and exotic vegetation and by using your voice to promote habitat protection, conservation, and restoration. Re-planting with native Florida vegetation that is naturally drought-tolerant reduces or even eliminates the need for irrigation. Seventy percent of home water use in south Florida goes toward irrigation.”
“Clean water is important on so many levels,” adds Wilson, emphasizing the need to also keep our coastal waters, canals, estuaries and bays free from toxins. “Non-point source pollution is one of the biggest threats to coastal waters. It happens when rain falling on land picks up pollutants from driveways, roads, parking lots, and yards and runs off to swales and canals that lead directly to our estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico. Keeping up with regular vehicle maintenance and proper application of fertilizers and pesticides are a few easy ways of minimizing non-point source pollution.”
RBNERR constantly monitors the waters within its 110,000 acres for water quality. Wilson and Cunniff explain that the Reserve uses the System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) which is used at all 28 National Estuarine Reserves across the country.
“In addition to recording weather data and collecting monthly water samples for nutrient analyses, we have deployed continuous water quality monitoring instruments at five permanent stations in the Reserve where water quality parameters are measured and recorded at 15-minute intervals,” explains Wilson. “The data collected include water temperature, depth, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity – or cloudiness or clarity.”
Shark and bird population studies are also being performed as another indicator of estuarine health within the reserve.
“Healthy coastal waters are critically important to the economy in Southwest Florida because so much of our tourism income is centered around the local waterways,” Wilson continues. “Boating, fishing, beachfront hotels, waterfront dining, ecotourism, and commercial harvest all rely on clean fresh water entering our coastal zone as runoff from summer rains. Many marine animals in the estuary and beyond are also dependent on fresh water which contains minerals and nutrients important for reproduction, shell formation, and many other functions.”
“Essentially, it is not an understatement that clean water in our estuaries, bays, and canals is the key to our health, fortune and the very livelihood of all Floridians,” states Cunniff.
It certainly isn’t. Be sure to celebrate World Water Day on March 22, but that’s not enough. Do your part and help keep our waters clean every day.
Rookery Bay is located at 300 Tower Road in Naples. For more information on World Water Day or its many programs and activities, visit rookerybay.org or call 239-530-5940.
Tips from the DEP to protect groundwater in Florida:
• Use less by not over-watering your lawn
• Consider Florida-friendly landscaping
• Water in the early morning hours to avoid evaporation
• Install rain sensor devices on sprinkler systems
• Fix leaky faucets and toilets that run continuously
• Don’t pour medications or poisonous chemicals down household drains or toilets
• Use water-saving toilets, faucets and appliances
• Limit fertilizer and pesticide use, follow the label directions
• Maintain your septic system by having tanks pumped and inspected every three to five years
• Test your drinking water wells once a year for coliform bacteria and nitrate
• Encourage and support businesses that are water-conscious