Pinellas County has monitored the quality of surface waters since 1991. The objectives of our monitoring program are to:
- Provide long-term assessments of water quality
- Measure success of management efforts
- Meet regulatory program requirements
For more information on the county’s Monitoring Programs, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monitoring Program Components
- Ambient Water Quality Monitoring
- Bay Benthic Monitoring
- Biological Monitoring
- Phytoplankton Monitoring
- Seagrass Monitoring
Ambient Water Quality Monitoring
The physical and chemical water quality components of the county’s surface waters are monitored eight times a year. Streams are visited at fixed locations throughout the year, while lakes and coastal waters have randomly pre-selected sites that are sampled every year. Multiparameter instruments are used to measure pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and salinity, and water temperature. Samples are collected and analyzed by the county’s Utilities laboratory for other parameters, including nutrients. The county’s data is submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) periodically to fulfill mandated Clean Water Act assessments. The FDEP website presents the current water quality status of waters throughout the state.
Bay Benthic Monitoring
The bottom of a waterbody is known as the benthic zone and is critical habitat for plants and animals. Some organisms spend only a part of their lives in this zone, while others are specifically adapted to spend their whole lifetimes there. The plants and animals that live in, on, or near the bottom are known as “benthos.”
The health of the benthos can be determined by what organisms are found there, as well as what chemicals, such as metals and nutrients, are stored in the sediments.
Pinellas County participates in a bay-wide monitoring program to assess the health of the benthic environment. Efforts include collecting data about sediment grain-size, sediment toxicity, water chemistry, water clarity, and benthic macroinvertebrates. The results of the benthic sampling are summarized every few years, and the most recent report indicates that the benthic communities in the area are in fair to good condition with improving trends.
Biological Monitoring Program
In 2014, Pinellas County initiated a biological monitoring program for freshwater systems as an important addition to the routine monitoring program. The FDEP has established methods for determining if streams/flowing waters and lakes support a healthy, well-balanced aquatic community or if human disturbance has impacted a system.
For flowing waters (streams, canals, ditches), the following components are measured twice a year (dry season and wet season), every other year, along a 100-meter length of stream to determine if the biological and plant communities are healthy or imbalanced:
- Macroinvertebrates: organisms are collected, identified in the lab, and then a “stream condition index” is calculated
- Available Habitat: eight attributes of habitat that are important to biota in flowing waters are measured, and a habitat score is calculated
- Algae: percent algal coverage is measured
- Aquatic plants: aquatic plant species are documented, and the abundance of non-native and invasive plants is measured
For lakes, a “lake vegetative index” is calculated based on the following components, which are measured once every other year:
- Native taxa
- Invasive taxa
- Sensitive taxa
- Dominant Coefficient of Conservatism (C of C)
Biological monitoring assessment results are summarized in Pinellas County’s watershed summaries.
Phytoplankton Monitoring Program
Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that live in watery environments, both freshwater and marine. When conditions are optimal, phytoplankton populations can grow explosively, creating a “bloom” which can potentially have adverse effects. Currently, the phytoplankton in Lake Seminole and Lake Tarpon are monitored year-round on a regular basis, and marine waters are monitored regularly during the wet season (May–Oct). Pinellas County also collects samples for analysis in response to potential blooms, as indicated by a visible color or the presence of dead organisms in the water.
Why monitor phytoplankton?
- The relative abundance of phytoplankton species in an aquatic system can give an indication of general water quality conditions.
- Phytoplankton are particularly sensitive to changes in nutrients, water clarity, and other water quality parameters due to a short life cycle.
- Some phytoplankton may impact human health as well as the health of aquatic organisms.
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are tracked by the state and can be viewed on the FDEP Algal Bloom Sampling Status dashboard. Citizens can also report a suspected HAB on this site. Red tide is an example of a phytoplankton bloom which has impacted Pinellas County and surrounding areas recently. Learn more about this type of algal bloom on the county’s Red Tide information web page.
Seagrass is an important coastal resource, ecologically, recreationally, and commercially. Seagrasses can reduce shoreline erosion and help improve water quality by trapping suspended sediments.
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 Tampa 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 and aerial imagery. The acreage of seagrass in Tampa Bay has increased significantly in recent years after a drastic decline in the 1970s and reaching targets set in the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Comprehensive Management Plan for Tampa Bay.