SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — An effort to improve water quality has made some additional progress in Sarasota.
This week the County Board of Commissioners awarded a $12 million construction contract for Phase 2 of the Dona Bay watershed restoration around the Venice inlet area.
The watershed restoration would also help improve oyster beds and reduce algal blooms.
This phase of the project would install one and a half miles of pipe that would connect the south end of the previous Phase 1 project.
The primary objective is to reduce the freshwater input which had increased in the 1960s due to the addition of the Cowpen Slough canal system.
"That in turn affected the coverage of seagrasses and oysters and reduce the nursery capability of the estuary. When we reduce the freshwater input we will also be reducing the nutrient load to the estuary," Paul Seminick with the Sarasota County Public Works Stormwater Division said.
That nutrient specifically being targeted is nitrogen which also comes from households, agro-fields, and landfills and is transported through runoff stormwater.
"Nitrogen feeds algae and Karenia brevis which is the organism that creates red tide. Algae blooms are unsightly, they can be smelly and they reduce the water clarity which has a direct impact on seagrasses," Seminick said.
Officials said that over the past two years, they've moved more than 1,500 tons of water hyacinth from the north end of the first phase of the project and that has translated to more than 13,000 pounds of nitrogen. The area is now a restored wetland.
"Reducing nitrogen load will reduce the number and severity of red tide and harmful algal blooms in the Venice Inlet area," he said.
Officials said phases one and two will retain around 80% of the annual freshwater load and help replenish the water table.
"We are embarking on projects that came to mitigate our impacts over the last several decades," Seminick said.
Officials also said the first phase of the project cost around $20 million to complete and they expect around the same for the second phase
Depending on weather conditions and the availability of materials, the Phase two construction is expected to take about 14 months with the groundbreaking expected later in the summer or fall.
There is currently no completion projection through the end of phase six because additional phases will be dependent on securing funding sources.