Stormwater Management

dirty water line in Gulf at Sanibel Island

The effects of a rain event from the Caloosahatchee watershed, which often includes Lake Okeechobee discharges.

Stormwater & Nutrient Pollution

As the landscape is cleared for various uses, flood control measures typically create more water quality problems. Stormwater is engineered to run off into canals and waterways much quicker than in the natural systems which allowed for standing water and the filtering of pollutants by wetlands.  Ditching, dredging and road building throughout Florida, has altered floways and accelerated runoff in many watersheds. This leads to downstream impacts to receiving waters from stormwater runoff, especially after large rain events.

Stormwater runoff is a dynamic vehicle that introduces many pollutants into our waters, including nitrogen, phosphorous, fecal bacteria, copper, mercury, plastics and more. Whether we’re talking about agricultural or residential uses, the development, fertilization, irrigation and flood control decisions we make on land have a lasting impact on water quality.

Stormwater management and oversight in Florida is a somewhat complex web of government and stakeholder involvement.  Land owners, cities, counties and Community Development Districts (CDDs) are all responsible for compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) which the state’s Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is charged with overseeing. The state’s water management districts also play an important role in flood control projects and stormwater permitting on larger developments.

Many of our other priority issues are related to stormwater loading. For example, Lake Okeechobee discharges are driven by rainfall, carrying legacy nutrients and pollutants. Excess nutrient loading (pollution) of nitrogen and phosphorous are the primary fuel for harmful algal blooms.

When water on our landscape is not allowed time to percolate through the ground or a riparian buffer, it is often inadequately treated in stormwater treatment areas or drained directly into our waterways, taking contaminants with it.

Nutrients & Other Impairments

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) oversees the assessment and verification of impairments to Florida waters. There are a variety of parameters that cause impairments, with the most common being for nutrients (nitrogen or phosphorous), dissolved oxygen, fecal indicator bacteria, turbidity, copper and mercury.

The process of classifying, grouping and assessing our waterbodies is quite laborious and complex. In our view, both the Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) and accompanying Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) programs, created by the Florida legislature, are largely failing to protect and restore Florida’s impaired waters.

At Calusa Waterkeeper, we are doing our best to independently analyze the state’s stormwater rule-making process, vet local Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits, identify possible NPDES stormwater violations and hold FDEP and polluters accountable to monitoring requirements and restoration plans.


continuous Caloosahatchee pollution from development sites

By the Numbers

Water Quality Trends in SWFL

SWFL Water Quality Report Cover Page

In 2021, Calusa Waterkeeper began a novel assessment of our local water quality trends using FDEP’s impairment data. This is a relatively comprehensive and unbiased way of determining local water quality trends. 

This impairment assessment summary also represents a baseline that can be easily updated from annual FDEP comprehensive verified lists in association with evaluation criteria, such as population growth, that contribute to impairment as presented here. A relatively narrow initial period of record was chosen that would include the latest changes in assessment criteria for added inter-year comparability.

The summary may also provide a basis for evaluating restoration effectiveness by understanding net change in impairment through time. 

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The city’s latest request to remove the lock should be denied on many of the same grounds that it was denied on a few short years ago in Administrative Law Judge Francis Ffolkes’ December 2019 ruling.

Pollution Mystery: Where has the Chocolatey Runoff Been Coming From?

Pollution Mystery: Where has the Chocolatey Runoff Been Coming From?

Earlier this month, pilot Ralph Arwood, who volunteers for the nonprofit Calusa Waterkeeper, photographed brown billows flowing into the Caloosahatchee from the Townsend Canal in Hendry County, near Lee’s border. Its milk chocolatey color contrasted with the river’s dark blue.

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Priority Issues

Marina 1 alt

Harmful Algal Blooms

Cyanobacteria & Red Tide

Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and Karenia brevis (red tide) have been making major impacts on Southwest Florida.


Lake Okeechobee Discharges

Revise System Operating Manual

The Caloosahatchee River often suffers from too much freshwater in the wet season, and not enough freshwater in the dry season.

Chiquita Lock

Cape Coral Spreader Canals

Nutrient & Sediment Loading

The City of Cape Coral is working to remove large storm-water barriers to make recreational boating more convenient.

Cassani at Billy's Creek

Bacteria Monitoring

Fecal Indicator Bacteria

Calusa Waterkeeper has been at the forefront of monitoring this Fort Myers tributary for fecal bacteria indicators.