Wetlands of Escambia County
Wetlands have been protected in the state of Florida since the 1970’s. The reason for this legislation was that scientists and agencies realized their biological value. It is hard to imagine a state as wet as Florida having drinking water issues, but in fact many areas are. Science has found that wetlands hold and trap freshwater and many of the plants that grow here actually purify this water. Many researchers in our state are now looking at the purification properties of these plants and are using them to clean and purify water running off into our streams and estuaries. One of the research institutions in this field is the University of West Florida and both of our water treatment plants, Bayou Marcus on Blue Angel Parkway and the new Central Water Treatment near Cantonment, are using natural wetlands to help in the water purification process. The water purification processes within wetlands keep our streams and rivers in a healthy condition. Data shows that the loss of wetlands can reduce water quality in our riverine systems and many of the species that live here, such annelid worms and mollusks, suffer from this. This in turn causes issues for the larger members of the community such as bass and bream; it is particularly stressful on their developing young. Another important asset of wetlands is the great variety of organisms that depend on them for their survival.
Over most of our history, since the settling of Northwest Florida by Europeans, we have looked at wetlands as breeding spots for biting insects that carry diseases – “mosquito farms”, snakes, stagnate water, and were of little use to humans. For a long time the thought was that these areas would better serve man if we would clear and drain them. We would then have another source of wood (cypress) and more land for agriculture. It has only been in recent times that we have learned how the removal of these ecosystems is contributing to poor water quality (and loss of water) in many parts of our state; hence the passing in the 1970’s of the Wetland Act to protect them.
The passing of this Act was by no means overwhelming popular. Developers looking for land to build new communities for one of the fastest growing states, farmers looking for more land to cultivate to feed the growing population, and citizens who disliked the mosquitoes, snakes, and alligators these ecosystems support were not exactly happy that you could not develop this land. The increase demand for land forced the state to look into a mitigation program that would allow the development of these wetlands as long as the developer produced equal acreage of wetland habitat in another location. This brings up the issue of “what is a wetland”. For years the system focused on the species of plants that grow there – if you had this plant on your property… you lived on wetland. However there were locations where this was not always true, the removal of that plant would change the labeling of that property so that it was no longer a wetland and no mitigation policy had to be followed. Today soil scientists and ecologists define a wetland as that having HYDRIC SOILS. These are soils that are wet. If you take a soil sample at a location, squeeze in your palm and find water, you have a wetland. View the following pages to learn more about the different wetland we have here inEscambiaCounty. BOGS, SWAMPS, and MARSHES.