Improving Walton’s watershed

Nathan Cobb
Walton Sun

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — In an effort to learn about and protect Walton County’s unique ecology, dozens of people gathered Wednesday for a lecture hosted by the Walton County Master Gardeners.

The meeting, part of a monthly lecture series, was held at the Walton County Extension Service Office and spotlighted speaker Laura Tiu, a marine science agent for Okaloosa and Walton Counties’ UF/IFAS-Extension, who focused on the area’s watershed.

“A lot of people, when they come to Walton County, they just think about the beach,” Tiu said. “There’s so much leading up to the beach and so many different ecosystems, habitats and water systems that impact the quality of the beach. ... We need to keep our eye on all of them.”

She added that watershed issues, including plastic pollution, are common among all coastal communities in the United States. Walton County, however, happens to be uniquely delicate becuase it is home to many uncommon habitats, including coastal dune lakes and springs.

“Of all the issues related to natural resources and the marine environment and coastal things ... water is probably the topic that goes across all of them,” Tiu said. “Whether it’s drinking water or for habitat or for clean water ... water is (the) unifying theme.”

According to Evan Anderson, a horticultural agent for Walton County UF/IFAS-Extension, a watershed involves all areas that contribute to a particular system of waterways.

As coordinator of the Master Gardeners, he said that included everything from rivers to streams, all of which eventually link with the Gulf of Mexico.

“As extension, we have the ability to take all the research that is done at universities and isn’t typically accessible to the general public and bring it to communities,” Anderson said. “We’re kind of that connection between the researchers at the university who are actually doing the scientific studies.”

For Barbara Young, a master gardener and Santa Rosa Beach resident, the group is all about spreading research-based information regarding gardening to local homeowners.

She added that there were more than 50 volunteer master gardeners in Walton.

“Watershed is so much bigger than just Walton County,” Young said. “We’ve got so many factors to deal with.”

Tiu believes there were two main things people could do to help strengthen Walton’s ecology: reduce plastics/conserve water and get involved in local restoration efforts.

“I have lived in many other places and have chosen Walton County to be my final location to live, and I am so in awe of the fantastic environment that we have here,” she said. “I feel passionate about being able to protect it and restore it, so that it’ll stay this way or improve over time instead of degrade.”