Improving Water Quality and Bringing Back the Bayous

Those who have lived in the Panhandle area for many years will remember the days when our local bayous were places people water skied, kids learned to swim, and fishermen brought home plenty of speckled trout.  But today we see little of this.  Water quality within our bayous has declined to a point that the general public is concerned about recreation within them and most use them as access to larger bodies of water where they can enjoy water activities.

What Happened?

The mouth of Bayou Grande near Navy Point; a popular recreation location

The mouth of Bayou Grande near Navy Point; a popular recreation location

Those who lived here when things were better say they first noticed problems when new roads and subdivisions were built in the 1950’s.  Decline in water clarity was one of the first things they noticed.  This was followed by a loss of submerged grasses, fish kills, and an increase in health advisories due to high levels of bacteria.  These new subdivisions cleared much of the native vegetation in the neighborhoods and along the water front.  The loss of vegetation and new roads allowed for more runoff to reach the bayous.  Much of this runoff was in the form of leaf litter, twigs, animal waste, and maybe even carcasses of dead creatures.  Once reaching the water these organics are broken down by bacteria into forms of nitrogen and phosphorus that can be utilized by aquatic plants and phytoplankton.  This increase in plants will produce more oxygen, but they also consume oxygen in the evening.  The high demand for oxygen in the evening can cause dissolved oxygen levels to decline to a point where aquatic life begins stressing; we now say the water is hypoxic. To add to the problem people began to have the desire for lawns of non-native grasses which require fertilizer and watering; thus increasing the nutrient load on the system and an increase in hypoxia.  This eutrophication process was a major contributor to the fish kills that the bayous were experiencing.

In addition to nutrients, animal waste could be found in the stormwater.  Animal waste can contain pathogens that could be a serious risk to public health.  Scientists monitor the concentration of these pathogenic bacteria by using a group of indicator bacteria called fecal coliform bacteria.  High levels of these fecal coliforms indicate that a potential health risk could be present and the Escambia County Health Department would issue a health advisory for that body of water.  A study showed that the concentration of fecal coliforms increased in areas where coastal development increased, connecting them to stormwater problems.

So What Can We Do?


Marine Science Academy students from Washington High School measuring chlorophyll in Bayou Texar

Marine Science Academy students from Washington High School measuring chlorophyll in Bayou Texar; photo: Ed Bauer

We will probably never be able to get the bayous back to the state they were in before the development boom of the mid-20th century but there are few things we can do.

First, the reason the nutrients and fecal coliforms increased was an increase in runoff.  This increase was due to road construction and loss of vegetation.  We cannot do much about the roads but we can rethink how we landscape our yards and waterfront property.

The Florida Friendly Yards Program is one that helps residents with selecting plants and landscaping features that require little or no fertilizer or water.  This not only reduces the runoff but saves the homeowner money.  Rain barrels and rain gardens are also methods that can both reduce water runoff and save money.  For more information on this program you can contact Carrie Stevenson at the Escambia County Extension Office; 850-475-5230 or

Shoreline vegetation can be restored through the Living Shoreline Program.  In this program the Florida Department of Environmental Protection works with the homeowner on designing a shoreline marsh and/or oyster reef project.  Living Shorelines utilize plants that remove much of the nutrients found in runoff and oysters are known to filter 50 gallons of water per day, reducing turbidity typically caused by runoff.  Not only do Living Shorelines reduce nutrient runoff, they also reduce erosion caused by wave energy.  For more information on Living Shorelines contact Beth Fugate at

Planting a Living Shoreline on Bayou Texar in Pensacola; photo: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Planting a Living Shoreline on Bayou Texar in Pensacola; photo: Florida Department of Environmental Protection

A third program that can help bring back the bayou is the Clean Marina / Vessel Program.  This program is through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. For more information contact Jeanne Williams at

We hope you will consider using one of these programs to help improve the water quality within our bayous.  If you are interested in having a presentation on these programs contact Rick O’Connor at the Escambia County Extension Office; 850-475-5230 or

Invasive Species of the Day Series (March 10th): Palmer Amaranth & Nutria

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3rd – March 8th

March 10th: Palmer Amaranth (Palmer amaranth) & Nutria (Myocastor coypus):


Image courtesy of University of Illinois Extension

Image courtesy of University of Illinois Extension

Palmer Amaranth: Palmer Amaranth, a type of pigweed, is invading the Southeast.  It is a very troublesome weed for us because it is fast growing, produces a lot of seed and easily develops herbicide resistance.  Palmer is a summer annual weed that can grow up to 10 feet tall.  Each female plant can produce up to 500,000 seeds.  Populations of this weed have developed resistance to 4 different classes of herbicides, including glyphosate or “Round-Up”.  There are other types of pigweed in Florida, such as spiny and redroot pigweed, so you must be able to positively distinguish Palmer Amaranth from others.


Here are the main differences:

1.  Petioles (or stalks joining leaves to the stem) are as long or longer than the leaf blades.

2.  The plant has long terminal inflorescence (cluster of flowers on top of the stem).

3. They have prominent white veins on the lower surface of the leaves.

4.  They have hairless leaves.

5.  They are faster growing than other pigweeds.

If you have identified palmer amaranth in your field, treat with glyphosate.  If the pigweed survives, then quickly hand-weed the female plants as soon as possible.  Even if just a few plants survive this year, next year you could have thousands more.  Palmer Amaranth is very difficult to control but by employing sound IPM principles it can be managed.  Refer to for identification and control measures.

For more information contact the author Jennifer Bearden, Agriculture Extension Agent, 850-689-5850.


Photo Courtesy of US Fish &  Wildlife National Digital Library

Photo Courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife National Digital Library

Nutria: This large rodent resembles a beaver but has a round tail.  They are originally from South America and were brought to the United States for the fur business.  Nutria are completely vegetarian and feed on both land and aquatic plants.  Their small forelimbs are used to dig out roots and rhizomes and they can eat their own weight in plants each day.  Feeding occurs anytime but is most often at dawn and dusk. From their initial release in Louisiana they have spread all over the Gulf coast.  There are reports of them in the Chesapeake Bay area, Ohio, and along the Oregon coast.  They become sexually mature very quickly (4-9 months) and have a short gestation period (130 days).  Breeding year around a single female can produce 2.5 litters each year so in a short period of time high numbers of nutria can completely clear a densely vegetated area.  Another problem with them is their ability to burrow into dikes and levees, making them weaker.  Their occurrence in Florida has been spotty, with 45 individuals being recorded.  There are records in all Florida panhandle counties except Bay.

For more information, contact the author Rick O’Connor, Sea Grant/Marine Sciences Agent 850-475-5230.


Invasive Species of the Day Series (March 9th): Mimosa Tree & Eurasian Water Milfoil

mimosa tree pic

Mimosa Tree: When traveling down secluded roads, one always marvels at the beautiful fragrant puff-like flowers lining the right of way. Many people decide that they must have one for their yard. Unfortunately, obtaining one for landscaping purposes is a bad decision. This tree is a Mimosa, Albizia julibrissin, and is famous for the ability to thrive in disturbed areas and fix nitrogen. Mimosa was brought from China in the 1700 for use as an ornamental and remains popular today. Unfortunately it crowds out native vegetation by reducing sunlight and nutrients available and may clog small waterways with intense growth.  What’s more, it produces numerous seed that can remain viable for many years and is capable of vegetative propagation. Fortunately, Mimosa may be controlled by a variety of techniques. Eliminating existing trees mechanically, such as with a power saw, will reduce future numbers substantially. Additionally, the application of a 25% solution of glyphosate or triclopyr herbicide to a freshly cut stump will prevent re-sprouting of cut trees. When applying herbicides, apply them only to the stump and not to surrounding areas. Remember to make the application within one minute of cutting the tree. Enjoy your invasive removal!

For more information, contact the author Matt Orwat, Horticulture Extension Agent 850-638-6180.


Video courtesy of UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants



Photo Courtesy of Universtiy of Florida

Eurasian Water Milfoil: Eurasian water milfoil is a submerged aquatic plant that can be found in northwest Florida in lakes, rivers, and coastal marshes. Water milfoil forms a dense mat of vegetation that can block sunlight and habitat for native plants. These mats can increase water temperatures and interfere with boat traffic, fish habitat, and native aquatic plant species. Eurasian milfoil was first documented in Florida in 1964. It was reportedly planted by aquarium plant dealers. It is still used today in the aquarium industry and obtained through suppliers and through internet sales. This plant is listed as a category II on the Florida Exotic Species Pest Plant Council List, which means it has the potential to overtake native submerged plant communities. The spread of Eurasian milfoil can be caused by the breaking of stems and roots, which can be carried by boats, engines and trailers to other lakes and coastal marshes. To help prevent spread of Eurasian water milfoil to Florida’s waters, always clean off your boat, motor and trailer at the ramp to avoid transporting vegetative stems to other areas. In addition, never release or dispose of aquarium plants or animals into local waterways.

For more information, contact the author Chris Verlinde, Marine Science Agent 850-623-3868.

Invasive Species of the Day Series (March 8th): Red Imported Fire Ant & Giant Tiger Prawn

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3rd – March 8th

March 8th: Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) & Giant Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon):


Photo Credit: David Almquist, University of Florida

Red Imported Fire Ant: Many of us cherish childhood memories of family picnics during summer. What we likely also remember are the surprise guests that arrive to take away any crumbs we happen to drop their way. Ants are a common site in almost any yard or farm in Florida. Homeowners and farmers spend time and money trying to rid their landscapes of the pests. Red imported fire ants (RIFA) are a species first introduced into the United States in our local area through the port of Mobile.  These ants have now spread to states as far west as California and north to Maryland. Red or brown in body color, they build large nests with soil above the ground. Any disturbance of the mound brings thousands of angry ants to find the intruder. Ants have a short lifecycle and lifespan. Eggs usually hatch in 22-38 days and workers live no longer than 6 months. Queens can live to 6 years, however. RIFA’s forage on dead animals and home food wastes. Garbage and food left around the home can attract ants into dwellings. Mounds are common around or under structures, moving to higher ground during rainy weather. RIFA’s can also damage crops and cause equipment damage with large enough infestations. Management for these pests can be accomplished in two ways: through individual mound treatments or through broadcast treatments. Individual recommendations can be found here, Whatever method of treatment you choose, make sure to follow proper label recommendations on products. Care should be given to areas where children, pets, and livestock have access to avoid ingestion of treatments chemicals.

For more information, contact the author Allison Meharg, 4-H Livestock & Small Farms Agent 850-475-5230.

tiger shrimp 2

Photo Credit: FWC photo by Michelle Sempsrott

Giant Tiger Prawn: This large shrimp, also known as the Asian Tiger Shrimp and the Black Tiger Shrimp, can reach lengths between 8-12 inches.  It resembles are native edible penaeid shrimp but differs in that it has distinct black and yellow stripes.  It was brought to the U.S. from the Indo-Pacific region as an aquaculture product.  There was an accidental release of 2,000 animals from a South Carolina farm in 1988.  Reports of this shrimp in the wild have increased over time.  They have been found in all Gulf coast states and there has been at least 1 record in each of the Florida panhandle counties.  The impact of this shrimp to our area is still unknown but they have a high tolerance for salinity change and consume many types of benthic invertebrates.  It is thought that they could become serious competition for our native penaeid shrimp and could possible transmit diseases.  If you think you have found one of these shrimp, record size location (GPS preferred) and email information to  To learn more about this species view the USGS factsheet.

For more information, contact the author Rick O’Connor, Sea Grant/Marine Sciences Agent 850-475-5230.

Invasive Species of the Day Series (March 7th): Chinaberry & Water Lettuce

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3rd – March 8th

March 7th: Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) & Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes):

Photo by University of Florida IFAS

Chinaberry: The Chinaberry tree has been around so long, you’d think it was a native instead of an invasive exotic plant. Introduced to America in the late 1700’s, the scent of its abundant light purple flowers defines Southern summer evenings. And what Southern child hasn’t gotten in trouble for deciding to throw the hard yellow berries at something?

It grows almost anywhere except wet places. If you cut it down or it blows over, it sprouts again. Although the seeds are toxic to humans and livestock, birds spread them from their perches on fences. Thunderstorms can snap the brittle wood and damage fences. Chinaberry defines the “weed tree”. It takes over neglected land and neither the wood nor the tree has much production value.

The best control is prevention, but escaped trees can be managed with “basal bark” and “cut stump” herbicide treatments. More information on these techniques is available at  For additional assistance on identification and management of Chinaberry or other invasive species, contact your local UF IFAS Extension office.

For more information, contact the author Jed Dillard, Livestock & Forages Extension Agent 850-342-0187.

Photo courtesy of University of Florida IFAS

Water Lettuce: Water lettuce is a floating aquatic plant that resembles floating heads of lettuce. It can create large vegetative mats that can impede boat traffic, impact native plants and animals by eliminating habitat, food sources, sunlight and water flow.

Some speculate that the plant is a native, as it has been documented in Florida since the 1700’s.  Others believe water lettuce arrived in Florida waters as a result of being released along with the ballast water of ships. It has been used in the aquarium trade and is available today. Water lettuce is listed on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council list as a category I, which means it can be invasive and disruptive to native plant and animal communities.

Water lettuce can be carried to other areas by boats, engines and trailers. Always make sure to rinse your boat, engine and trailer at the ramp to prevent the spread of water lettuce to other water bodies. Check out  for indetification cards and control measures.

For more information, contact the author Chris Verlinde, Marine Science Agent 850-623-3868.