Chris Anastasiou

Dr. Chris Anastasiou, Chief Water Quality Scientist and the Seagrass Mapping Program Lead for the Southwest Florida Water Management District

Southwest Florida Water Management District Chief Water Quality Scientist Chris Anastasiou explains what water quality really means and the District’s role in managing the region’s water quality.

Q: What is water quality?

A: Water quality is a broad term used to describe the overall condition of water and can include physical, chemical and biological characteristics. Typically, scientists compare water quality data to established standards to help them determine the status of a waterbody from either a natural systems (ecological) or public health perspective. While the Florida Department of Health primarily deals with water quality from a public health perspective, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District), together with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is primarily focused on water quality issues related to natural systems like rivers, bays, estuaries, lakes and springs.

Q: How is the water quality in my lake or river?

A: The answer to this question depends on several indicators. Fortunately, there are state standards to help guide us in answering this question. But whether a waterbody meets some standard isn’t the whole story. Much like getting a physical from your doctor, common vital signs are monitored, but should be taken in the context of the individual patient, or in our case, the individual waterbody. A system may have a particular water quality issue, but still be considered in good overall condition. Much like a person managing high blood pressure can still be in pretty good shape.

Q: What is the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s role in managing the region’s water quality?

A: Water quality is one of the District’s four core areas of responsibility with the goal of protecting and improving water quality to sustain the water, environment, economy and quality of life within the District’s 16-county area. The District focuses on assessing the current status of water quality in water bodies, planning for ways to improve water quality, and implementing projects and programs to maintain areas with good water quality and improve areas with poor water quality. In addition, the District provides data and helps DEP implement water quality programs across the region.

Q: What does the District do to help protect and improve water quality?

A: One of the District’s key programs to implement its water quality mission is the Surface Water Improvement and Management Program, or SWIM Program. SWIM was created in 1987 after the Florida Legislature enacted the SWIM Act, which recognized water quality in surface waterbodies throughout the state had degraded or was in danger of being degraded. The SWIM Act required each of the five water management districts in Florida to identify and manage a priority list of waterbodies of regional and/or statewide significance and develop plans to improve those systems. The District’s SWIM Program has 12 priority waterbodies, each with its own unique SWIM Plan. Additionally, the District’s Environmental Resource Permit program ensures that stormwater discharges from new construction projects will meet state water quality standards or will result in a net improvement of water quality conditions when discharging to a water body that has been identified as impaired or degraded.

Q: How much has the District invested in water quality?

A: The District has invested more than $300 million to fund more than 400 water quality improvement projects since 2002 through its Cooperative Funding Initiative. Combined with contributions from partners, this has resulted in a regional investment of $500 million, providing water quality treatment for more than 215,000 acres of watershed.

Q: What does the future of water quality look like in Florida?

A: Florida’s water quality landscape is constantly changing. Achieving and maintaining good water quality in the future will be a challenge. Population growth, climate change, and sea level rise are just a few of the issues that impact the future of water quality. It is critical that we don’t take water quality for granted. Even holding the line takes a great deal of effort. But together we can and will work together to improve the region’s water quality.

Dr. Chris Anastasiou is the Chief Water Quality Scientist and the Seagrass Mapping Program Lead for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. He holds a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of South Florida and has over 25 years of experience conducting research and implementing projects in marine and freshwater ecosystems across the Gulf Coast.