Friday, June 22, 2012

Sierra Club's Water Sentinels to Launch July 14th in Sarasota and Manatee County

Sierra Club water quality testing to debut in Manatee/Sarasota

Published: June 21, 2012 
MANATEE -- The Sierra Club has picked the Manatee-Sarasota area as the first location in Florida for a program that will train volunteers to test the quality of local bodies of water.
The club's "Water Sentinels Program" is expected to debut July 14 and already has attracted about 30 volunteers who hope to learn to accurately test water quality, according to Cris Costello, the club's regional organizing representative.
The venerable environmental organization plans to train people to monitor areas near, for example, Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC's Wingate Creek phosphate mine, and a recently-approved mine extension near Duette.
The mines sit near the headwaters of the Myakka River, whose lower portion has been designated among the state's "Outstanding Florida Waters," because of its lush flora and fauna.
"We're starting it here because my office happens to be in Sarasota County," explained Costello Wednesday. "We intend to take this program all across the state; we're starting small to work the bugs out."
Those training as "Water Sentinels" will join 13,000 others in 22 states, according to the national Sierra
Club website. Volunteers, who do not have to be club members, monitor approximately 48,000 square miles of watersheds across the U.S. that are home to 184 million Americans, the website said.
By the end of the year, Costello hopes to provide training across Florida, she said.
She has already contacted the Manatee County Natural Resources Department, the county Health Department, and state environmental protection officials, Costello said, adding the responses have been "absolutely positive."
Typically, testing focuses on substances like nitrogen, phosphorus or fecal coliform, which can be indicators of water pollution, said Costello.
However, local volunteers working near phosphate mines might test for other substances, she said.
Sierra Club trainer Tim Guilfoile is slated to lead classes; the club plans to contract with a local lab to evaluate sample results, Costello said.
Asked how often bodies of water near phosphate mines are currently tested, a local official said it varies, depending on the mine and other factors.
For example, Wingate Creek mine and its extension would be monitored for water quality monthly for the first year of active mining, then with county approval, dropped to quarterly testing, said Alissa Powers, environmental program manager, mining services, Manatee County Natural Resources Department.
Groundwater wells typically are sampled semi-annually for water quality and weekly for water levels, she said, adding that the mines also would be checked for radiation levels and rainfall data.
Russell Schweiss, manager of public affairs for the Mosaic company, declined comment.