Aqualab Program

living_env_side.jpgIn January of 1994, the Environmental Council began a citizens' volunteer water quality monitoring program in Choctawhatchee Bay. Okaloosa Aqualab is a volunteer water quality monitoring program sponsored by the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners and its Tourist Development Department, with technical and laboratory assistance provided by the FDEP, which collects monthly samples from 19 sites in Choctawhatchee Bay and its associated estuaries and bayous. Parameters submitted for laboratory analysis include Total Ammonia, Nitrate and Nitrite, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, Total Phosphorus, Total Suspended Solids, and Specific Conductivity. The data is entered in the FDEP statewide public access water quality database, Florida STORET, along with field measurements collected by monitoring volunteers. Volunteers report total water depth, secchi depth, dissolved oxygen (colorimetric field test), water temperature and 48 hour precipitation. A monthly online report is published for Internet access.

Maximum values above established standards are indicators of problems. Here are some things to look for:

Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD): This is a measure of oxygen demand of microorganisms in the water. The standard "normal" reading would be 5mg/liter of water or less. High readings can indicate the presence of sewage or other extra nutrients threatening to reduce the dissolved oxygen needed by fish and other wildlife.

Salinity: The wide range of salinity experienced in Choctawhatchee Bay waters is blamed by some to be the reason for the loss of shoreline vegetation and the rampant erosion on bay beaches. Seawater has about 35 ppt (parts per thousand) of salt compared to normal drinking water that has less than 0.5 ppt. There is normally a regular annual cycle of high salinity in the cold months when rainfall is low, and low salinity in the warm, rainy months.

Turbidity: Solid particles of matter suspended in water is called turbidity. Turbid water cuts off the light needed by submerged plants, leading to a decline of the seagrasses that are the nurseries for many of our sport and commercial fish species. Turbidity often comes from human activites (silt from farms and ranches up the Choctawhatchee River and stormwater runoff carrying silt and other pollutants into the Bay from our streets and cleared land). Aqualab is working to establish a baseline of turbidity that will help us understand how the Bay is evolving. The standard unit of measurement is the NTU (nephelometric turbidity units). The state standard for good surface waters is a reading not to exceed 29 NTU's above the level found naturally in the environment.