District SWIM Program Reaches 20-Year Milestone

The Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program at the District turned 20 this year.

The SWIM Program currently manages more than 100 projects throughout the District’s 16-county region. These projects focus on restoring degraded habitats and reducing pollution entering the SWIM priority water bodies.

“The District’s SWIM Program, with the help of local, state and federal partners, has been successful in helping water bodies recover from years of pollution and habitat loss,” said Jennette Seachrist, SWIM Program manager. “In Tampa Bay, water quality is the best it has been since monitoring began in 1975, and there are more acres of seagrass than at any time since 1950.”

In 1987, the Florida Legislature created the SWIM Act to protect, restore and maintain Florida’s surface water bodies that have been affected by pollution and habitat loss. Under this act, the state’s five water management districts identify a list of priority water bodies within their authority and implement plans to improve them.

Currently, the District’s ten priority water bodies include Tampa Bay, Rainbow River, Banana Lake, Crystal River/Kings Bay, Lake Panasoffkee, Charlotte Harbor, Lake Tarpon, Lake Thonotosassa, Winter Haven Chain of Lakes and Sarasota Bay. The list of priority water bodies is updated periodically to reflect changes in the health of individual water bodies.

Over the past 20 years, the District’s SWIM Program has completed more than 200 habitat restoration and water quality improvement projects, which have restored more than 3,000 acres of habitat and provided water quality treatment of more than 46,000 acres of watershed.

The SWIM Program and its partners have received 39 environmental excellence awards for these projects.

“SWIM cannot do the job alone and partnerships are very important to the success of the restoration and long-term management of our priority water bodies,” said Brandt Henningsen, District chief environmental scientist. “Fortunately, various partners, including environmental groups, government agencies and thousands of volunteers, are eager to help clean up or plant restoration sites.”

The SWIM Program is funded by taxes through the District’s eight Basin Boards and state trust funds, in addition to local and federal funds. One of the keys to the success of the SWIM Program is the cooperation of partners that support SWIM projects through land acquisition, cooperative funding or in-kind services.

To celebrate this anniversary, the District hosted three events to recognize program supporters, increase overall awareness and showcase the success of the SWIM Program. The events were held at Lake Hartridge Nature Park in Winter Haven, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center in Punta Gorda and Cockroach Bay in Ruskin.

Winter Haven Chain of Lakes
Left: Mike Britt, Natural Resources Division director for the City of Winter Haven, points out where the projects are on the map. Middle: Winter Haven Mayor Nathaniel Birdsong presents Jennette Seachrist, SWIM Program manager, with a proclamation for the District. Right: Participants were able to see the restoration projects via a boat tour.

Winter Haven Chain of Lakes

The District’s 20th Anniversary of SWIM celebration kicked off on October 12 at Lake Hartridge Nature Park on the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, one of the 10 SWIM priority water bodies.

Winter Haven Mayor Nathaniel Birdsong presented a proclamation recognizing the District for 20 years of protecting the region’s water quality and proclaimed Oct. 12, 2007, as Southwest Florida Water Management District SWIM Day in the City of Winter Haven.

“This proclamation further affirms the importance of our partnership with the City of Winter Haven, our cooperative accomplishments and the continuation of the SWIM Program,” said Seachrist.

Seachrist, on behalf of the SWIM Program at the District, presented Mayor Birdsong with a limited edition print by artist Thomas Brooks titled “Mangrove Hideaway,” which depicts a scene from a mangrove forest at Cockroach Bay.

The event also included a presentation by Mike Britt, Natural Resources Division director for the City of Winter Haven, who discussed the restoration projects on the chain. An optional boat tour followed the presentation, which began on Lake Hartridge and toured lakes Idylwild and Jessie.

Charlotte Harbor
Left:Patsy Symons, Governing Board member, talks about the importance of the restoration projects in the Peace River basin. Middle: Seachrist presents a commemorative print to Al Cheatham, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center chief executive officer. Right: Jason Hale, environmental scientist, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, gives reporters a closer view of seagrass in Charlotte Harbor and the sea life that depend on it.

Charlotte Harbor

The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center in Charlotte County was host to a second celebration on October 17 to honor 20 years of the SWIM Program.

Al Cheatham, chief executive officer for the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, welcomed SWIM Program supporters, followed by a presentation by Patsy Symons, Governing Board member and co-chair ex officio of the Peace River Basin Board, who acknowledged the success of the SWIM Program. An overview of the program and restoration projects at Charlotte Harbor was provided by Seachrist.

Seachrist presented Cheatham with a limited edition print of “Mangrove Hideaway.”

The event concluded with an optional boat tour, which gave key media from Charlotte and Sarasota counties a firsthand look at the District’s seagrass mapping and hurricane restoration efforts in Charlotte Harbor.

Cockroach Bay
Left: Judy Whitehead, Governing Board chair, and David Moore, District executive director, talk with Bob Martinez, former governor. Middle: Past and present SWIM staffers gathered to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary. Right: A couple admire the tidal creek at Cockroach Bay.

Cockroach Bay

The final SWIM 20th Anniversary event took place at Cockroach Bay in southern Hillsborough County on November 2.

District Executive Director David Moore welcomed more than 150 SWIM Program staff, alumni, supporters and members of the environmental community as they reunited to celebrate 20 successful years.

Judy Whitehead, District Governing Board chair, expressed the importance of SWIM Program volunteers and cooperators.

“The SWIM Program runs on relationships,” said Whitehead. “It’s what has made the first 20 years of the program a success, and I’m convinced it will be the cornerstone of the program’s future.”

Operations staff members were also recognized for their work on numerous SWIM restoration projects.

Moore and Whitehead presented keynote speaker and former Governor Bob Martinez with a limited edition print of “Mangrove Hideaway.” Martinez was a strong supporter of the SWIM legislation and signed the act into law in 1987.

The event had several significant community leaders in attendance, including Dick Eckenrod, the first SWIM Program staff member and current executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Eckenrod, who is retiring this year, was also presented a limited edition print of “Mangrove Hideaway.”

The event provided an optional boat tour of the restored areas of Cockroach Bay.