Ten days after Hurricane Ian, Clark Road in Sarasota was open after being closed because of flooding. Ditches were full to overflowing.
Ian’s rains (more than 20 inches in some areas) had created a sodden landscape that drained into the creeks, which flowed into the Myakka River.
The Myakka River is fed by rain. In late spring, it is so low, shorebirds at Myakka River State Park feed in water just up to their knees. On this day, I was seeing a river spread out over its flood plain about 20 miles wide, to my reckoning.
Earlier that week, near my home in Nokomis, I had driven east on Laurel Road toward Venice Myakka River Park to find that the river had spread throughout the landscape, most of which had recently been developed. About a quarter-mile from the park, I was stopped by floodwaters. Runoff encroached on new developments on either side of the road.
Given their egregious actions on Oct. 25, approving up to 5,000 new homes on 4,100 acres in northeastern Sarasota County, our county commissioners appear to have limited understanding of what happens when land is developed. Sarasota’s County’s native habitats (forested lands, prairies, hammocks, mangrove swamps, dunes, etc.) are all nature’s stormwater managers. In this area of Laurel Road, pine flatwoods would have allowed rainfall, even Ian’s exceptionally heavy rains, to percolate down into the Floridan Aquifer, our precious source of drinking water, which is being depleted. Instead, developed land produced runoff into creeks and rivers, flooding and more water in the Gulf of Mexico rather than in the aquifer, a triple whammy.
On the way home from my day on the Myakka floodplain, I ran into a young alligator crossing Clark Road, a stark reminder of how our native wildlife is pressed into living on the fringes. I slammed on the brakes but was unable to avoid hitting it. Horrified, I hoped it came to its senses and went on its way.
I hope ALL of us come to our senses before the next “big one.”
Fran Palmeri first came to Florida in 1950. She is a past member of Sarasota’s Tree Advisory Council and author of Florida Lost and Found.