Okaloosa County Environment
In January of 1994, the Environmental Council began a citizens' volunteer water monitoring program along areas of Choctawhatchee Bay, the Destin Harbor, and the intracoastal waterway. The project's objectives are to acquire a long-term database documenting normal/abnormal water quality trends and fluctuations through monthly water sampling at various sites. Each month, volunteers collect samples from 20 sites around the Bay and its tributaries. These samples are driven to Pensacola for processing by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The water is tested for qualities such as pH, temperature, salinity, depth, conductivity, clarity and dissolved oxygen. DEP includes this water quality information in state and national water quality trend databases. The information is provided periodically to the Environmental Council in a data report format.
Maximum values above established standards are indicators of problems. Here are some things to look for:
Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD): This is a measure of oxygen demand of microorganisms in the water. The standard "normal" reading would be 5mg/liter of water or less. High readings can indicate the presence of sewage or other extra nutrients threatening to reduce the dissolved oxygen needed by fish and other wildlife.
Salinity: The wide range of salinity experienced in Choctawhatchee Bay waters is blamed by some to be the reason for the loss of shoreline vegetation and the rampant erosion on bay beaches. Seawater has about 35 ppt (parts per thousand) of salt compared to normal drinking water that has less than 0.5 ppt. There is normally a regular annual cycle of high salinity in the cold months when rainfall is low, and low salinity in the warm, rainy months.
Fecal Coliform Bacteria: Elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria are a symptom of sewage getting into surface waters. Leaking septic tanks, poor treatment of sewage and concentrations of boats pumping out toilet holding tanks may contribute to this health hazard. The state standard for our waters is less than 200 bacteria detected per 100 ml of water. We often experience jumps in fecal coliform values after heavy rains.
Turbidity: Solid particles of matter suspended in water is called turbidity. Turbid water cuts off the light needed by submerged plants, leading to a decline of the seagrasses that are the nurseries for many of our sport and commercial fish species. Turbidity often comes from human activites (silt from farms and ranches up the Choctawhatchee River and stormwater runoff carrying silt and other pollutants into the Bay from our streets and cleared land). Aqualab is working to establish a baseline of turbidity that will help us understand how the Bay is evolving. The standard unit of measurement is the NTU (nephelometric turbidity units). The state standard for good surface waters is a reading not to exceed 29 NTU's above the level found naturally in the environment.
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