Liquid mystery: Fluctuating water quality tests stump experts

Published: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 03:03 PM.

Sarah Schindele of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance said she is not surprised by the inconsistent water quality reports.

"Those tests are a picture of just a little bit of water and that little bit is always moving," she said. " When we have a lot of rain, it's draining the land and flushing it all into the water. The bacteria might be detecting waste from a nearby park. Not that the tests aren't helpful. If you consistently see that one area is always 'poor', then that might be a problem."

Since the mid-1990s the CBA has conducted its own water quality tests monthly. The tests are completely separate from the health department's and do not include bacteria checks — which the non-profit does not have the funds for, said Schindele. CBA volunteers head to more than 140 stations in the watershed including Choctawhatchee Bay , Choctawhatchee River and Walton County 's coastal dune lakes to monitor temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, oxygen saturation and water clarity.

"What it allows us to do is establish a baseline," said Schindele, grant coordinator for CBA. "This type of data didn't exist before CBA, so we didn't know what was normal. We now know when things change and can determine areas that are suitable for restoration efforts such as oyster reefs."

Schindele explains that the test results from Choctawhatchee Bay waters are "generally quite good." Although, there are high levels of phosphorus in Oyster Lake , which a student at University of West Florida is researching.

Main issues in Choctawhatchee Bay are erosion of the marsh areas and sedimentation from development construction entering water bodies.

"The sedimentation can carry pollutants, which could cause an imbalance to the system," Schindele explained. "And while the erosion of marsh areas is a natural process, it is one of the challenges we face."

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