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.
In 2014, the County established a biological monitoring program for freshwater streams, ditches, canals, and lakes as an important component of the ambient monitoring program. Macroinvertebrates, aquatic plants, and algae are identified and enumerated to determine the health of waterbodies based on the balance of the biological communities present.
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 Tampa Bay, Boca Ciega Bay, Clearwater Harbor, and St. Joseph Sound. Results are summarized every two years, after compiling annual field data collected from various entities as well as aerial imagery. The acreage of seagrass in Tampa Bay has increased significantly in recent years after a drastic decline in the 1970s and continues to increase, as described in the most recent seagrass mapping summary . View the status of seagrass in County waters on the Pinellas County WaterAtlas by selecting “Mapping,” then “Advanced Mapping.” Then, click on the Layer List icon in the upper right, check and expand “Pinellas County WaterAtlas,” check and expand “Seagrass Data,” and check the data year to view.
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. The results of the benthic sampling are summarized every few years, and the most recent report indicated that the bottom-dwelling communities in the area are in fair to good condition with improving trends.
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.
Pinellas County is an active participant in the Southwest Florida Regional Ambient Monitoring Program (RAMP), which ensures that the County monitoring program is engaged in regional environmental monitoring and assessment initiatives. RAMP includes both public and private sampling entities in the state and enables quality assurance of data collected from these various groups through quarterly tests of samples. Participation in RAMP strengthens the overall monitoring program and has been recognized by the State of Florida as an important part of the statewide water quality monitoring program.