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Watershed Management Lab

Hot Topics!

Several issues are hot topics in watershed management in Northwest Florida. Here are just a few that are related to ongoing projects the Watershed Management Lab.

forest and woody understory vegetation

Forest management

The majority of northwest Florida’s watersheds are forested. Forest composition can play a large role in the water balance of a watershed: differences in factors such as species type and density can affect evapotranspiration, altering wetland hydrology and discharge into the Gulf and its estuaries. Groups such as the Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership are leading projects on this topic.

photo of poor stream restoration project

Stream restoration in the gulf coastal plain

Decades of landscape modifications without thinking about hydrologic ramifications have altered the form and function of streams. Channel incision and bank erosion are common across the Gulf Coastal Plain. Many mechanisms for stabilizing stream banks that have been useful elsewhere such as boulders and riprap are not ideal in Northwest Florida because they are not characteristic of local ecosystems.

photo of boardwalk near the water

Panhandle Estuary Programs

In 2018, The US EPA provided funds to develop an Estuary Program for Pensacola and Perdido Bays. The goal of an Estuary Program is to improve and maintain the health of estuaries through collaborative programs and to promote awareness of the resources they provide. Neighboring counties around Choctawhatchee, St. Andrew, and St. Joseph Bays are providing resources to support Estuary Programs in these  estuaries as well.

a road closed due to flooding.

Hydrologic Variability

Scientific models suggest that hydrologic conditions such as floods and droughts will become more extreme over the next few decades. Resource managers and planners will need to adapt practices to reflect a wider range of hydrologic conditions that may be encountered in the future. 

a construction project in Escambia County, Florida.

Rapid development

Parts of Florida's Panhandle are experiencing population growth as fast as anywhere in the state. This growth can place stresses on natural resources and the ecosystem services that help to regulate water quality and accommodate the heavy rainfall we receive in this region. 

a bayou and bay with a cooling tower in the background

Water-borne illnesses

Aquatic organisms such as Karenia brevis, cyanobacteria, and Vibrio vulnificus have attracted a lot of attention across Florida. Though uncommon in the Panhandle, they do exist here. Factors such as eutrophication may cause these organisms to become more abundant in our warm local waters. 

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Cleaner Production

Cleaner production describes a perspective of industrial production that uses less resources and produces less waste, through methods that include upgrades in technological methods, increased staff training, and innovative treatment practices. In addition to reducing impacts to health of workers and nearby communities, cleaner production can have long-term economic benefit as well.

Innovative Wastewater Treatment Methods

In recent years, research has demonstrated the value of innovative treatment methods such as floating treatment wetlands in reducing waste output for small- and medium-scale production enterprises. Scientists and industry leaders can play an important role in demonstrating the value of innovative methods and communicating findings to other producers.