Environmental Quality of the Pensacola Bay System – Introduction

In 2016, Dr. Mike Lewis (U.S. EPA), Taylor Kirschenfeld (Escambia County Division of Water Quality and Land Management), and Traci Goodhart (West Florida Regional Planning Council) published an EPA document (EPA/600/R-16/169) entitled Environmental Quality of the Pensacola Bay System: Retrospective Review for Future Resource Management and Rehabilitation. This 145 page technical report is an excellent review of all the work that has occurred in the Pensacola Bay System; what we know and what we do not know.

The Pensacola Bay System is fed by four rivers and numerous streams. There are seven bayous and four named bays within the system.
Image: Google Earth

Florida Sea Grant will break this document down into smaller fact sheets to assist the county residents within the Pensacola Bay System (PBS) watershed to better understand the information within. We will take the information and re-write in a format that uses shorter comments and bullet points. We begin with a simple introduction to the PBS.






The Pensacola Bay System

Bodies of water within this system include

  • Pensacola Bay
  • Escambia bay
  • East Bay
  • Blackwater Bay
  • Big Lagoon – not typically included but does connect the PBS to the Perdido system
  • Santa Rosa Sound

Portions of Big Lagoon, Santa Rosa Sound, and Blackwater Bay are classified as Florida Outstanding Waters, providing the highest form of protection offered by the state of Florida.

According to a 1998 Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) report – Blackwater Bay is the most threatened within the system. A paper in 2000 considered Escambia Bay as a priority site for conservation.

The PBS is the 4th largest estuarine system in Florida

  • Surface area – 373 km3
  • 889 km of coastline
  • Flushing time has been reported as little as 8 days and as many as 200 days
  • Human population increased 500% from 1950 to 2000
  • Human population is expected to increase 20% in Escambia County and 64% in Santa Rosa County between now and 2020.

Environmental problems within the PBS began as early as 1900

  • Decline in fisheries and an increase in fish kills between 1950 and 1970
  • 98% reduction in shrimp harvest between 1968 and 1971
  • 1990’s smaller fish kills continued in the local bayous due primarily to hypoxia
  • Many of the estuarine habitats have been degraded, fragmented, or destroyed due to human growth
  • A 2010 reported stated that the PBS is one of the lowest in biological quality (in terms of fish and invertebrate biomass) when compared to several other Florida estuaries.
  • A 2005 EPA report scored 16% of the PBS in good condition, 68% in fair, and 16% in poor condition.

Much has been done to rectify problems but much is still left to do.

Next post will focus on the biodiversity within the bay.


Posted: May 30, 2017

Category: Coasts & Marine, Water
Tags: Coastal Habitats, Water Quality

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