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Sowing the Seeds

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 6, 2014
Photos by Amanda Sebastiano Heritage Harbour South CDD Supervisor and Stoneybrook resident Lee Bettes considers seeing native plants growing near ponds as one of the key reasons he moved to the community.
Photos by Amanda Sebastiano Heritage Harbour South CDD Supervisor and Stoneybrook resident Lee Bettes considers seeing native plants growing near ponds as one of the key reasons he moved to the community.
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EAST COUNTY — For Ryan Heise, the summer months are anything but slow.

Heise estimates he receives 15 calls per day from concerned residents all asking a version of the same question — “What is growing in my pond?”

When a resident has a concern about the condition of the stormwater retention pond or wetland in his neighborhood, Heise, director of operations for Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, addresses the concerns through visits to the residents’ property or over the phone.

He, along with the Manatee County Extension Office, has been working to help residents understand the role plants, such as spikerush, pickerel weed and other non-invasive species, play in the health of the ponds.

With each conversation, Heise has been working to educate Ranch residents on the difference between invasive and non-invasive species of plants.

Non-invasive plants stay within a certain area of the pond and contribute to a pond’s overall health.
Invasive plants can take over a pond completely, if left untreated. For example, the Brazilian pepper tree can spread and cover a pond completely, shutting out oxygen and sunlight for the pond. It also can cause respiratory issues to individuals who live near the pond it inhabits, Heise said.

“Typically, the resident’s concern is that the plants are taking over their pond,” Heise said. “I first explain that native plants that don’t pose a harm to the pond are allowed to be there; we can’t remove those. If the type of plant is spreading throughout the pond, or if the resident is still concerned after I’ve explained that certain aquatic plants are good for the pond, I will go over and check it out.”

Heritage Harbour South Community Development District supervisor Lee Bettes faces similar concerns from residents.

Heritage Harbour has more than 50 stormwater retention ponds.

Bettes, a self-proclaimed environmentalist and nature-lover, views the greenery as a necessary means to provide a healthy environment for the water and wildlife. Non-invasive plants establish biological systems by providing nutrients to birds, fish and other animals that eat the plants, while also providing more oxygen to the animals the pond harbors, Bettes said.

Plants, such as spikerush, can also fight erosion by serving as a barrier between the shoreline and the pond itself. The plants also collect pollutants that may have otherwise washed into the pond after a rainstorm, and subsequently, circulate into Tampa Bay.

Heise also stresses the state mandates the presence of aquatic plants in ponds. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has required that aquatic vegetation must be present in a pond’s littoral zone — a required shallow area within a storm water pond. A littoral zone must occupy at least 30% of the surface area reserved for the pond. Littoral zones are required, unless the lake is less than one acre and was created solely for aesthetic purposes, not to receive stormwater runoff.

Heise and Bettes acknowledge balancing a stormwater ponds’ purpose with aesthetic goals can be challenging.

“It’s all about perception,” Bettes said. “Some people look at this pond and think it looks overgrown and blocks their view of the lake. I don’t. This is natural, and sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t produce plants homeowners want to see in their backyards.”

Survey spawns community campaign
EAST COUNTY — Eager Lakewood Ranch residents sat with notepads and pens, ready for a lesson on landscaping last week.

Town Hall transformed into an interactive classroom July 30, as Emily Ott and Paul Moaghan, of the University of Florida Agricultural Education and Communication department, shared the results of an emailed survey they conducted in October.

The duo asked residents questions on laws pertaining to fertilizer, landscaper certification requirements and the role of stormwater retention ponds, among others.

The meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd.

“There was a lack of awareness of certain cases, but it seems like there is a community interest here today,” Ott said.

Ott and Monaghan emailed surveys to about 3,412 Lakewood Ranch residents.

Although more than half of the survey recipients didn’t respond, the audience’s feedback during the presentation and the turnout encouraged Ott and Monaghan to take the next step in raising awareness to stormwater retention pond health and other environmentally sound practices.

In upcoming months, they plan to work toward establishing a resident-controlled awareness group that educates the community about proper landscape practices.

Monaghan hopes the group will meet and create materials to distribute to inform neighbors about policies, such as the fertilizer ordinance that bans the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen in the summer months. He also hopes the survey’s results and the group’s creation will help alter some residents’ view of a stormwater retention pond as a lake in their backyard.

“I think this meeting is a start,” Monaghan said. “An increase in the number of people who are interested will lead to more people being aware.”

Survey highlights include:
72.4% of respondents did not know when fertilizers containing phosphorous are banned (always);

77.8% have a landscaper apply fertilizer;

61.9% of respondents’ landscapers have the required certifications to apply fertilizer;
Prior to the survey, 50% of respondents knew landscapers must obtain certification to apply fertilizer;

73.5% of respondents said a retention pond’s most important feature is the ability to control flooding; and

45% of respondents said they were very unlikely to request a no-mow zone, which prohibits mowing within 10 feet of a body of water.

The no-mow zone would create a safety buffer to decrease the amount of grass clippings from entering the pond. The clippings contain fertilizer, which can lead to algae blooms.

Ott said the results of the no-mow zone question revealed that residents desire to have a finely trimmed landscape.

Foremost, Ott and Monaghan hope the results will help educate the public on the importance of keeping grass clippings out of the water and ensuring landscape companies hold the proper certification to apply fertilizer.

“We ... wanted to find out how people learn information to best determine how to move forward,” Monaghan said.

44.8 — The percentage of respondents in the survey who hold a graduate or higher level degree
61 — The average age of the respondents
205 — The number of female respondents
394 — The number of male respondents

A.) When is phosphorous banned from fertilizer? Nitrogen?
B.) Do grass clippings in ponds harm fish?
C.) What can happen when grass clippings get in a pond?

Plant Breakdown

Name: Eleocharis palustris or Spikerush
Bloom period: Spring
Uses: Erosion control; cover for nests; high protein — easily digestible for livestock, ducks and geese

Name: Spartina
or cordgrass
Bloom period: Summer
Uses: Erosion control; restoration of wetlands; cover for birds

Name: Pontederia cordata or pickerelweed
Bloom period: Spring
Uses: Shoreline protection; cover for fish, small mammals and birds; food source for geese and muskrats

Name: Hydrocotyle
or dollarweed or
Bloom period: Summer

Name: Pistia stratiotes or water lettuce
Bloom period: varies

Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].




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