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On the Edge

I was a curious child, always dipping homemade nets into the ponds in my neighborhood, playing in the muck, watching birds and trying to catch frogs. It never occurred to me as I grew older that these ponds were an important resource. The ditch, pond, lake, mud hole, eyesore; many names for what is supposed to be an important tool in urban water quality: the retention pond. We drive past them without a second thought; they exist within our neighborhoods and in our public spaces. What are retention ponds? The Environmental Protection Agency defines them as; “stormwater control structures providing both retention and treatment of contaminated stormwater runoff”. Contrary to popular belief, retention ponds are not natural and they are not just a design feature in a planned community. Essentially, they provide an area to retain stormwater to lessen downstream impacts during heavy rainfall and clean pollution out of the water through a variety of settling and biological processes. If there is one thing I have learned through my studies of the environment, it is that all things are connected. No process is more connected than that of the water cycle. In Florida, it is often easier for us to see these connections. We have vast wetlands, underground limestone aquifers, rivers, estuaries and we are surrounded by the ocean. Floridians are no strangers to heavy rain with our summer rainy season and hurricanes. Our state also happens to have a diversity of land uses that affect the quality of our water; agriculture, golf courses and large scale residential development. The increase in these types of land uses, particularly in residential development, can increase the amount of impervious (hard, difficult or impossible for water to infiltrate) surfaces. Many of us don’t realize that the water we drink comes not just from our limestone aquifer but also from our surface waters. In fact, in Sarasota the county purchases water from the Manatee River and the Peace River to supplement our potable water supply.  Florida, historically, had a great expanse of wetlands that acted like a sponge to absorb the rainfall. With the increase in development, we have lost many of our natural areas that protected us from flooding and cleaned stormwater before it reached our streams and rivers. Stormwater ponds are an attempt to mimic the natural processes that once took place. Without these ponds in our communities and public spaces our water quality would be greatly reduced. Unfortunately, since most of us don’t make the connection between the water that comes out of our tap and the water that sits in the pond behind our house; stormwater ponds are neglected. They become a harborage for invasive plant species, Canada geese and algae. Often, they do a poor job mimicking the native landscapes that they are meant to. A stormwater pond with little aquatic vegetation and lack of diversity in water’s edge plants can have less ability to remove pollution from the stormwater. An increase in plant diversity will increase the wildlife habitat potential of these ponds. If made attractive to wildlife, protected birds such as; Roseate Spoonbills, Sandhill Cranes and Wood Storks will utilize the ponds. Creating wildlife habitat within the vast expanse of developed suburbia could have a beneficial impact on migratory species and native endangered or protected species. Here at the Sarasota County Extension Office we are in the process of creating a demonstration landscape and garden; the purpose of this demonstration space will be to encourage interactivity and project based learning in our educational programs. Extension staff wants the landscape to be a space to test and showcase best management practices. As part of this ongoing project we are installing water’s edge landscaping for the retention pond adjacent to our building at Twin Lakes Park. The first test plot was identified and planted on August 8th. More installments are planned to be planted along this pond and we are looking forward to expanding the variety of shoreline treatments.

Additional Information Reducing Stormwater Runoff in the home landscape

Florida Friendly Plants for Stormwater Ponds  TLP and Home 002waters edge compressed