Ambient Water Quality Monitoring
Pinellas County has monitored the quality of surface waters (such as creeks, lakes, the bay and intracoastal waters) since 1991. The objectives of our monitoring program are to:
In addition to inland creeks, open waters monitored include the east and west coasts of Pinellas County, Lake Tarpon, and Lake Seminole. From 1991 to 2002, open water monitoring stations were fixed. In 2003, Pinellas County implemented a random site selection program for all of its open waters. This new design provides for a more statistically significant assessment of water quality status and trends to assess the effectiveness of management actions.
The Regional Ambient Monitoring Program (RAMP) coordinates the bay-wide water and sediment/benthic quality monitoring programs of many sampling entities in the state including both the public and private sectors. RAMP meets quarterly to collect water samples for interlaboratory comparisons and to discuss approaches to strengthen overall monitoring program compatibility. Each of the monitoring programs has its own laboratory run the samples for a core group of parameters and the RAMP participants compare the results at a following meeting. This process, which allows the participants to resolve differences between laboratories and discuss updated methods and techniques, has been recognized by the State of Florida as a core group for inclusion in the developing statewide program.
Pinellas County participates in a regional, multi-governmental seagrass monitoring program developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP). The program was designed to characterize the general health and condition of seagrass meadows around the bay area. Pinellas County monitors seagrass in Boca Ciega Bay, Clearwater Harbor, and St Joseph Sound.
Pinellas County monitors benthic macroinvertebrates in Boca Ciega Bay and Tampa Bay as part of a TBEP collaborative bay-wide monitoring effort to assess sediment quality. This program is patterned after US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), which includes sediment grain-size analysis, sediment toxicity, water chemistry, water clarity, and benthic macroinvertebrates. Special study areas are often included in the program to provide data on areas where benthic communities are significantly stressed. Special study areas have included Bayboro Harbor, the Bayside Bridge, Riviera Bay, Clam Bayou, and Safety Harbor.
Phytoplankton Sampling and Taxonomy Monitoring Program
Phytoplankton or algae form part of the basis of the food web in a water body. To understand the biological and chemical functioning of rivers, streams, lakes and marine systems, it is essential to investigate the phytoplankton populations within them. Phytoplankton are particularly sensitive to changes in nutrients, water clarity and other water quality parameters, responding rapidly when changes occur. Due to a short life cycle, planktonic, free-floating algae react quickly to environmental changes and are therefore a valuable indicator of water quality.
Currently, sampling programs are in place for monitoring phytoplankton in Lake Seminole and Lake Tarpon. The data will supply County scientists with valuable information including long-term trends, problem species, and the effects of remedial management measures aimed at improving water quality or restoring system health.