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County begins education campaign on watersheds
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A campaign starts with a Nov. 28 eTownHall to educate Pinellas County’s citizens about the importance of watersheds and their role in keeping them healthy.
Many of Pinellas County's storm drains eventually flow directly into the lakes and bays.
Swales like the one pictured above serve as a conduit, which rainbwater flows through on its way to lakes, ponds and bays.
Pinellas County needs its citizens to understand the role they play in protecting its watersheds.

A watershed is the land through which water flows on its way to the streams, lakes, bays and the Gulf of Mexico.

“In Pinellas County, every square foot of land drains somewhere, and the actions we take affect the health of our waterways and the economic vitality of the area, including the health of our tourism industry and the quality of life we enjoy,” says Mary Burrell, operations manager for the county’s Communications Department.

A panel of experts will talk about watersheds and answer questions on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 7 to 8 p.m. during eTownHall: Watershed, where we Live, Work and Play.

Citizens can ask questions or make comments by blogging at the etownhall website, calling 464-TOWN (8696) or Tweet to #pinellaswatershed.

The event will be streamed live on the website and residents can watch on PCC-TV, Bright House Channel 622, Knology Channel 18 or Verizon Channel 44.

Burrell explained that the eTownHall is just the beginning of a “special effort to educate residents, visitors, business people, community leaders and all those who live, work and play in Pinellas County.”

During Wednesday night’s event, Communications will unveil the first of a three-part series of video public service announcements, which will be accompanied by brochures and posters - all focusing on the importance of a collective approach to protecting the county’s watershed.

County staff is working on a watershed management plan that includes investigating solutions to improve overall quality and address drainage problems.

“Increased public awareness is the key to understanding the role of the community as part of the solution to these countywide problems,” Burrell said.

Communications recently surveyed participants in its Citizen’s University and members of the Youth Advisory Council to get an idea of interest in the topic of watersheds.

“Most said they didn’t know what a watershed is,” she said. “But they did have an interest in the environment and said they would be willing to do things different to protect it.”

Burrell admitted that the topic was “a complicated thing” affecting all the land (watershed) on which we live.

“The rain washes over the land and into the waterways,” she said.

People affect the process in “all the little things we do,” Burrell said.

An example is grass clippings left in the street that are washed by rainwater into storm drains and drainage ditches and then on to creeks, lakes, stormwater ponds and bays before converging on the Gulf of Mexico.

“Everything drains onto one of the watersheds, and what we’re doing is affecting it, causing fish kills and algae blooms,” Burrell said.

Burrell pointed out that it’s not just a problem for environmentalists. The health of the county’s watersheds and waterways is a quality of life issue, she said.

The county’s education campaign also will show the effect of watersheds on the economy and jobs and the area’s tourism industry.

Residents can learn more about watersheds by watching a video posted at Links to other resources are available. For more information about the event, call 464-4600.

The public is welcome to view the eTownHall from the conference room at the Communications Department, 333 Chestnut St., Clearwater. Persons with disabilities who need special accommodations to participate in the eTownHall can call the Office of Human Rights seven days in advance at 464-4062 (V/TDD).

For years, the county’s watershed management has consisted of addressing its needs piecemeal instead of holistically. Millions have been spent on Lake Seminole and other water bodies with no connect to the health of watersheds as a system.

“This is the beginning of the communication,” Burrell said. “A push to help people understand watersheds a little better and know they can make a difference.”
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