Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The Canal Warrior

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The Canal Warrior

Article excerpt

One-man effort in Venice could have ripple effect countywide

It started with one man, a pair of waders and a rake.

Four years ago, Rick Eaton left his house in South Venice. He drove to the nearby Siesta Waterway, which is nothing more than a glorified drainage ditch. He started raking the muck from the bottom and depositing it on the banks.

He returned again and again. Sometimes he sank deeper than his knees, but he kept at it. Soon, some of his neighbors joined in. Before long, the clogged, muck-laden soup had turned into a flowing stream with a solid, sandy bottom and water as clear as it comes from the tap.

The frogs are back. The birds are back. The fish and crabs are back.

Now, if things go according to plan, the efforts in South Venice could revolutionize the way Sarasota County maintains its drainage system of creeks, ditches and lakes. Don't worry. You won't have to buy a rake. The county would hire professionals to get things moving.

Under the new approach, the county would restore the waterways to their original conditions, then let nature take over.

Someone would have to check regularly to ensure that nothing impeded the flow during rainy season.

But by abandoning the present emphasis on mowing and herbicides, the county would clarify the water, diminish unwanted nutrients, cut down on harmful algal blooms, satisfy state and federal water quality regulations, restore wildlife and do it all for less money than it costs now.

That's the theory, at least, and its enactment could have considerable ramifications because Sarasota County has about 800 miles of manmade, stormwater channels ripe for Siesta Waterway-type restoration.

While acknowledging the potential, the county is starting cautiously with pilot projects. It has awarded $313,000 to the South Venice Civic Association to kick off more work in that subdivision.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District may chip in another $300,000. Much of the money will go toward native plants to be installed on the banks of waterways and ponds.

"What's interesting to me is that the community initiated this," says John Ryan, the county's interim manager of water resources. …

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