Interactive water quality ‘story map’ launched to help residents learn about Sarasota County initiatives and how they can pursue their own projects

County Commission gets a preview of the resources

Want to learn how to create healthy ponds in your neighborhood?

Interested in installing a “WaterGoat” to keep debris out of a waterway in your community?

Sarasota County’s University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension and Sustainability program has launched an interactive water quality “story map” that provides a multitude of resources for the public.

That followed an official unveiling of the map to the Sarasota County Commission on May 9, as part of the board’s regular meeting that day in Venice.

Lee Hayes Byron, director of the county Extension office, pointed out to the commissioners that the map not only explains what the county is doing to protect water quality, it also suggests opportunities for residents to pursue their own projects. The map explains that “everyone has a role to play in protecting water quality,” she added.

During her presentation, Byron said that the draft of map was completed in April. “The project has been in the works for about a year now.”

The Extension staff contracted with the Science and Environment Council, she noted, to come up with the initial content, and then staff members with multiple county departments assisted with the effort.

Scrolling through the map, she explained how each of the 10 categories had been organized. Those categories are as follows:

  • Advanced wastewater treatment conversion;
  • Dona Bay watershed restoration;
  • “Green” infrastructure;
  • WaterGoats installation and implementation;
  • Environmental restorations;
  • Land acquisition and conservation easement issuance;
  • Aeration pretreatment;
  • Healthy Ponds initiative;
  • Florida-Friendly Landscaping™;
  • Reclaimed water irrigation uses.

In regard to the Advanced Wastewater Treatment Conversion, for example, the map points out, “When it comes to sewage, out of sight means out of mind, and modern wastewater treatment processes work to keep it that way. But what happens once you flush? For most residents, domestic wastewater generated from bathing, flushing or washing is collected via an underground system of pipes and pumps that convey it to a centralized wastewater treatment facility (WWTF). Minimum state standards require wastewater treatment to remove solid and particulate matter (primary treatment) and disinfect the remaining liquid to be discharged, called effluent (secondary treatment), before it can be disposed of in holding ponds, pumped to underground wells or used to irrigate the landscape.”

While scrolling through that section, a person can click on dots that denote the locations of each of the three main county wastewater treatment facilities to see exactly where they are located and to learn about the timelines for the specific projects. For example, the Central County Water Reclamation Facility (WRF), which stands on Palmer Ranch near the TPC Prestancia community, is scheduled to be upgraded to Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) status by 2032.

Moving on to the Green Infrastructure category, Byron acknowledged, that that is “a pretty broad topic.”

The opening page says, “Green infrastructure is an approach to capturing and cleaning urban stormwater that mimics the way a natural landscape percolates and filters runoff from rainfall. More natural techniques capture stormwater onsite, helping slow the flow and promote water absorption back into the environment rather than piping it directly to water bodies. Also known as Low Impact Development (LID), these constructed stormwater management projects help reduce flooding and improve water quality in downstream waterways.”

A person may click on various buttons denoting types of green infrastructure, such as “Green Roof.”

Byron showed the commissioners an example of a green roof at the county’s Caspersen Beach Park. “You can’t get on top of the roof [there] to see this,” she said, so the story map features a photo of it.

Yet other photos are provided to show rain barrels and cisterns, including a couple of examples from the Extension office at Twin Lakes Park.

Turning to the WaterGoats section, Byron noted that many county residents may be unaware of the devices. As the story map explains, a WaterGoat is “not a mythical creature — it’s a new water quality improvement strategy that helps capture floating trash in our waterways, especially plastic pollution. A WaterGoat is a chain of floating buoys anchored just downstream of a stormwater outfall. It traps and prevents floating debris from continuing downstream and polluting our bays.”

Seven WaterGoats have been installed in the county, the narrative adds — from Alligator Creek in Venice to Whitaker Bayou in the city of Sarasota.

“I think it’s pretty fun to explore,” Byron said of the map as she continued to provide her online tour to the commissioners.

Then, as she wrapped up her remarks, she added, “I hope that you’ll enjoy it and that it’ll be a useful tool for our community to understand all that the county’s doing on the topic [of water quality].”

A resource expected to be ‘heavily utilized’

Commissioner Joe Neunder was the first board member to offer a comment: “This presentation, this website here, is amazing. Tremendous potential academic value here.”

He added of the map, “It’s gorgeous.”

Neunder offered his congratulations to Hayes and her staff. “I think it’ll be heavily utilized …”

Byron stressed that the map was a team effort.

When Neunder asked about the potential use of the map by students, Byron assured him that it would be a “great tool” for youngsters and youth in schools.

A county staff memo in the agenda packet for the May 9 meeting pointed out that the map would be “promoted to the community. A communications plan has been developed to launch the tool, build awareness of its features, and highlight individual projects throughout the year, the memo added.

Neunder also told Byron that he believed the map had helped him find five or six new fishing spots.

The only criticism came from Chair Ron Cutsinger. Referring to the opening image of the map, which shows Sarasota Bay with the Ringling Causeway Bridge in the background, he asked, “Could we do a morning sunrise instead of a dark cloud here?” After some ensuing chuckles died down, Cutsinger added, “I’m serious. I’d like to see Florida sunshine …”

Byron assured him that staff could look into changing that opening image.

Then, referring to the Healthy Ponds section, Cutsinger asked, “Is there a very easy link to resources regarding that particular area?” For example, he continued, would an individual be able to learn about grants that could be used to improve water quality in neighborhood ponds?

Byron replied that making sure the public knows that a wide array of resources are available was one of the primary goals as the story map was developed. A person can find many links through the map, she said.

One link in the Healthy Ponds section takes an individual to Science & Environment Council webpages, with details about six neighborhoods that the Council says are “leading the way as Water Quality Champions.” Another link gives the viewer a step-by-step process for becoming “a clean water catalyst.”

Great presentation,” Cutsinger told Byron.

To watch a short, information video about the story map, visit this link:

For more information, visit or call 311.