Water quality ‘Playbook’ released by Gulf Coast Community Foundation in effort to improve environmental health of region’s waterways

43 activities recommended, with Playbook to be updated as progress is achieved

Image courtesy Gulf Coast Community Foundation

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation has published a first-of-its-kind resource that its leaders hope will “spur and guide community-wide action to transform environmental water quality throughout the Sarasota County region,” the Foundation has announced.

The Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways, which can be accessed at www.WaterQualityPlaybook.org, “is a comprehensive online manual of recommended activities to reduce and remove manmade nutrient pollution in the region’s waterways and sustain those improvements in the future,” the release explains. “While the Playbook focuses on Sarasota County, the proposed activities can be adapted, transferred, and customized to other coastal Florida communities,” the release points out.

“Sarasota County’s economy and reputation depend on protecting and restoring our natural waters,” said former county Commissioner Jon Thaxton, senior vice president of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, who chaired the Playbook initiative. “This Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways focuses, prioritizes, and coordinates critical activities we must undertake to realize our community’s vision for clean and healthy waters,” he added in the release.

In a companion YouTube video, Thaxton points out that the Playbook “is a unique opportunity for us to turn back the hands of time and correct the mistakes of the past.”

Jon Thaxton. Photo from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation website

“The Playbook integrates public policy, applied science, and community education to more effectively manage nutrient pollution, specifically nitrogen, in the region,” the Foundation release explains. Among target audience members are leaders of municipal, county and state governments and agencies, and nonprofit environmental organizations, and those in business and agriculture, as well as philanthropic funders and homeowner associations, the release points out.

“Everything we do on the land impacts our Bay and our creeks,” said Stevie Freeman-Montes, former sustainability manager for the City of Sarasota, in the release. “Everybody has an intersection point into this resource.”

“The Playbook’s 10 chapters comprise 43 recommended activities for improving regional water quality,” the release notes. “Topics range from central wastewater management and stormwater system maintenance to fertilizer use and wetlands restoration. Each prescribed activity includes relevant information to catalyze first steps and foster full implementation, including current status, key actions, performance measures, recommended champions, and cost estimates,” the release explains.

“The website is designed so users can access and organize its rich information in different ways, depending on their role and interest,” the release adds.

“The strength of the Playbook is that it’s a ‘do list,’” said Sandy Gilbert, chair and CEO of START (Solutions to Avoid Red Tide), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, in the release. “The key now is for organizations like mine and the government and others to start doing the things in the list to improve water quality.”

The Playbook also was “conceived to be a ‘living document’ that will continue to be updated as progress is made on different activities,” the release points out.

“The Playbook is a completely new innovation,” said John Ryan, Sarasota County’s environmental manager, in the release. “It won’t be like an old book with bad references. It will be fresh, and it will be current.”

This is a view of part of the City of Sarasota’s waterfront. Image courtesy Gulf Coast Community Foundation

Thaxton, a three-term county commissioner widely known for his conservation work, notes that the Playbook “aims to leverage and build on Sarasota County’s decades-long commitment to improving water quality.”

Thaxton cites “pioneering efforts in fertilizer management, stormwater management, and seagrass restoration as examples of past collaborative successes,” the release adds. “However, he points out that excess human-based nitrogen pollution, which has been entering Sarasota County waterways for generations, could soon push the ecosystem over a tipping point of impairment.”

Thaxton, Freeman-Montes, Gilbert and Ryan were among 10 members of a Steering Committee of regional experts and practitioners who developed the Playbook, the release explains. “The work group also included leaders from business and agriculture, a nonprofit land trust, and two national estuary programs. Principals from Sarasota-based consultants Shafer Consulting and Progressive Water Resources facilitated, researched, and wrote the Playbook,” the release says.

A graph shows the increase in nitrogen load in Sarasota Bay over the past decades. This was part of a March 10, 2020 presentation to the County Commission. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Members of the Steering Committee made a presentation to the Sarasota County Commission on March 10, 2020. Among them, Stephen Suau of Progressive Water Resources of Sarasota pointed out that research undertaken by the group already had determined that golf course managers in the area potentially have been putting twice as much nitrogen on the grounds than they needed. Eliminating fertilizer applications on courses where reclaimed water is used for irrigation would reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the ground and, ultimately, into the watershed, he told the commissioners.

In the Foundation release, Steering Committee member Alan Jones, owner of Parrish-based Jones Potato Farm and a statewide agricultural leader, pointed out of the Playbook initiative, “It’s really a broad perspective of concerned citizens and organizations in our community coming together in an effort to achieve a common goal. … At the end of the day, I would like to think that all of us want to leave the world a little bit better place than we found it.”

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation is a public charity that was created in 1995 through the sale of the Venice Hospital, the release notes. Since then, the Foundation has “become the philanthropic home of nearly 1,000 families, individuals, organizations, and businesses that have established charitable funds here,” the release adds. Learn more at GulfCoastCF.org.