Water-Related News

Effort to restore Feather Sound wetlands taking shape

By Kate Bradshaw

CLEARWATER - Ditches, drains and canals have altered much of Florida's coastal landscape beyond recognition, but a new effort aims to reverse part of that trend in Feather Sound.

With help from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program wants to remove a concrete barrier, called a weir, that lies between a canal near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport and the shallow waters of Old Tampa Bay. The barrier is several feet wide and spans the width of the canal's mouth - a little less than 200 feet. As part of the project, workers also would grade the sides of the canal and plant sea oats.

The $200,000 "reverse-engineering" project aims to ease pollution and encourage sea grass to flourish, along with the fish and birds the plant life supports. Organizers discussed the plan with residents at a Wednesday meeting.

"It's kind of analogous to removing dams in the Northeast and out West," said Ed Sherwood, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program project manager.

The canal, known officially as Channel 5, is nearly a mile long. It abruptly ends at the weir, which borders a dense mangrove forest and was built in the early-1970s to drain nearby wetlands for development. Once a creek that fed into a brackish tidal wetland, Channel 5 now consists of five razor-straight segments that line clusters of town homes on one side and the airport on the other. The waterway collects fertilizer runoff and other pollutants from homes, a golf course and nearby industrial operations. The runoff would normally flow slowly into the bay; but the barrier keeps most of that nutrient-dense water from spilling out, except in spurts, during heavy rainfall. Such events spell disaster for birds and fish because they push nutrients into the water that eventually kills the sea grass and creates a inhospitable environment for fish and other aquatic life.