Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Keep red clay and sand out of our waterways

Carmen Reynolds is a resident of Santa Rosa County and a member of the Friends of the LDC Revision.

Carmen Reynolds is a resident of Santa Rosa County and a member of the Friends of the LDC Revision.

Who can forget the clouds of turbidity entering Carpenter Creek during the I-110 highway expansion project during 2003?

How about the red-clay pulses which entered Indian Bayou with each rain event in 2017?

Carpenter Creek flows into Bayou Texar, just as Jones and Jackson creeks flow into Bayou Chico, which all eventually enter Pensacola Bay. Mulat, Indian and Trout bayous enter the same waters above the 3-mile Bridge, into the Escambia Bay.

The Escambia & Pensacola Bay System have lost many vital habitats including important salt marshes (2,600 acres), and tidal wetlands (4,200 acres) since the 1950s. This loss resulted in more than 6,000 acres of seagrasses and more than 8,000 acres of oyster beds. How did this happen? Well, a combination of watershed fragmenting, clearing coastal lands, stormwater runoff and now unbridled development have contributed to [BA1]upland activities being conveyed into nearby surface waters.

The salt marshes and tidal wetlands intercept wave action and trap sediments before they enter the waters. With their numbers dwindling, more sensitive seagrasses and oyster reefs became choked.

Instead of retreating from coastal regions, we are building bigger homes closer to open waters on the lower elevations.

Recently at Nature’s Cove in Gulf Breeze, without silt fencing for more than three weeks, red sediment made it into the Sound. Currently, the rules in place to prevent sediment from leaving are not 100% effective under all circumstances. Moreover, even a surge from a small tropical storm can churn out the dirt behind the seawall or even farther inland. The only way to keep red clay out of surface water is to keep red clay from being used on or near the waterfront in the first place. We’ve[BA2] been provided many reasons by our county as to why this isn’t doable[BA3], however.

If the current rule disappears, as proposed by Planning and Zoning, we’ll be back to square one, with red clay appearing on waterfront lots and into our waterways.

It’s nice to fantasize that no sediment is to leave the property, but with waterfront property, this is not always possible when storms hit the coast. Red clay and the redclay particles in the sand are death to our seagrasses. This is a proven fact and why it’s imperative to disallow the possibility of having clay agents form suspended silt, blocking out the light the seagrasses desperately need. The existing code that is wrongly proposed to be eliminated, requires red clay to be used only for foundations and driveways and capped with concrete, and has worked out well, as seagrasses have actually returned on the intracoastal waterway.

The economic and environmental impacts provide ample justification for paving miles of red-clay and sand roads in Santa Rosa County. Without seagrasses, the fish can’t propagate. When the fish disappear, this area’s declining fishing industry income evaporates. Other regions have proactively addressed their red-clay problems.

In the early 1970’s, the Lake Superior Water Quality Conference focused on erosion and sediment issues, giving birth to the Red Clay Project to demonstrate methods for improving water quality in the Great Lakes. A two-state-regional consortium and the EPA worked toward improving water quality.

In fact, the 1999 Special Grand Jury Report on Air and Water Quality identified the major pollution sources for the Blackwater River Basin as road construction areas, clay and sand roads.

In addition, the Mobile Baykeepers work aggressively to combat the negative impact of red clay’s introduction into their waterways. Santa Rosa County must do the same by retaining its land development code prohibition on red clay to save our waterways.

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