For the new year, the Board of County Commissioners made water quality a top priority to improve drinking water and water in the harbor, canals, and rivers. On Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, Charlotte County, Florida took its first step toward a One Water journey.
With two rivers, the Peace and the Myakka, emptying into Charlotte Harbor and fantastic weather and fishing, beaches, and a historic downtown area, Charlotte County is a piece of paradise. Improving the county’s water quality would preserve its beauty and the surrounding southwestern coast. The county has already started a septic to sewer conversion program but recognizes a need to do more than convert the thousands of properties still using septic tanks and the several programs that target water quality. The board has instructed a cross-departmental group of county staff to develop a water quality task force that will develop a strategy to improve the county’s water quality and preserve its beauty.
The task force decided on an integrated water resources approach modeled after One Water, a program developed by US Water Alliance. One Water manages finite water resources to meet community and ecosystem needs for sustainability, and the approach would help the county not only target water quality issues but protect the environment.
The task force held the first One Charlotte One Water Assembly, which joined partners, stakeholders, citizens, business owners, and other agency staff. Scott Berry, US Water Alliance Director of Policy and Governmental Affairs, started the day with a presentation on the one water concept and the US Water Alliance. Attendees learned how to be transformational leaders in Charlotte County’s one water journey and separated into four breakout groups. The groups provided a forum where everyone, whether a water professional, business leader or environment advocate, learned from each other and formed new connections.
Since the assembly met to set goals for preserving the county’s water quality and beauty, the meeting’s first breakout session discussed how success would look. Attendees discussed the meaning of water quality and how to monitor it and know when the assembly had met its water quality goal. When the attendees set an achievable goal, they could envision Charlotte County’s clearer rivers and drinking water within a workable time frame. They learned the county’s water needs and new methods after watching a video produced by Charlotte County, followed by a presentation from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) about its new Water School and water management and education.
In the second breakout session, participants discussed what the county, and others, should do to improve water quality. They brainstormed how to test and monitor water quality and conduct improvement projects and support for water-based businesses, which include communication, education and outreach, restoration, technology and innovation, and legislation. Monitoring the water quality and conducting improvement projects would help the task force overcome obstacles, meet the county’s needs, and connect with the community. Each group conceived more than a hundred ideas and selected eight top priorities, which helped participants envision the county’s prioritized roadmap.
The final session invited the groups to determine how the county would move its goal forward and asked for a commitment to help. The attendees noted anyone absent from the discussion and exchanged views on easy-to-solve problems and how to resolve them at little cost.
The one water journey won’t be easy or quick, but with engaged partners and stakeholders, it will be successful. Through its initial steps, the One Charlotte One Water Assembly has already helped improve, protect, and preserve water quality and paradise in Charlotte County. Envisioning clear waters is no longer dreaming but a plan in action.