SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Sarasota County’s beautiful and picturesque beaches bring in countless visitors from across the nation every year. Some worry diminished water quality will take a toll on the county’s reputation as a top destination.
The area was hard hit with red tide back in 2018. This year, the red tide is back and seems to be lingering after a brief reprieve in September.
Locals at Manasota Beach had to dodge dead fish along the shoreline Monday. FWC’s daily sample map showed high concentrations of Karenia brevis at Englewood Beach.
“It is bad. This is the worst I have seen it in a lot of years. Well, 2018 it was bad, but this is the worst I have seen it in a long time,” said Sarasota County resident Cliff Fisher.
Sarasota County officials held a virtual water quality update Monday highlighting the county’s ongoing commitment to water quality education, outreach initiatives, as well as improvement projects.
Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents the county’s northern barrier islands and part of Siesta Key tells 8 On Your Side ‘water quality is a top issue’.
“Our economy, our tourism, our quality of life.. everything is dependent on having good quality water,” said Commissioner Ziegler.
One of the top projects on the horizon is upgrades to the county’s three wastewater treatment facilities. The facilities will be converted to what’s called AWT or ‘advanced wastewater treatment’. Ziegler says the county’s eyes are set on the Bee Ridge plant first.
“When we get that plant online, it is going to make a huge impact on water quality here in Sarasota County overnight, explained Ziegler.
The task to upgrade the systems comes with a hefty price tag.
“Addressing water quality, there is a huge cost that comes from it. We are improving the Bee Ridge plant going from regular wastewater treatment to advanced wastewater treatment. That is going to be almost $200 million. We have two other facilities that we are looking at improving — that will probably be another $200 million combined so it is almost half a billion dollars in terms of water quality infrastructure improvements that we are committed to doing and we are moving forward,” said Ziegler.
Executive Director of Sarasota Bay Estuary Program David Tomasko tells us he’s glad to see the county doing more than ‘reacting to the red tide of the day’.
“Things that we can do to reduce the human contribution to making red tide worse will benefit us whether we have a red tide or not. So I think that is what you saw today was Sarasota County really stepping up to the plate and also it goes beyond Sarasota County,” explained Tomasko. “Manatee County, City of Sarasota, Bradenton, Longboat Key… all of them combined have committed to capital improvement projects of almost $1 billion over the next 5 to 10 years to get us to the water quality that people expect us to be able to achieve,” he continued.