Workshopping the Watershed

By Jeremy Morrison

For decades, development and growth around Pensacola have had environmental consequences for local waterways, leading to water quality and loss of habitat issues. Through the so-call Restore the Watershed project, efforts are now being made to improve some of these degraded conditions within the Carpenter Creek and Bayou Texar watershed.

On May 2, the city of Pensacola and Escambia County are hosting a Restore the Watershed open house to allow the public an opportunity to assess and offer feedback on a collection of 15 proposed projects aimed at improving water quality, water quantity, loss of habitat issues, public access and recreational opportunities, as well as have a focus on community resiliency within the watershed.

According to Terry Barry of Escambia’s Natural Resources? Department, the Restore the Watershed team — made up of the city and county, as well as consulting firms Wood and SCAPE — has spent the past couple of years assessing conditions and issues within the watershed, collecting public input and developing potential restoration projects.

“This is a watershed management plan,” Barry said. “So, we’re looking at the entire 19 square miles from Carpenter Creek and Bayou Texar watersheds to come up with plans and projects that we might be able to do to improve the watershed.”

Following this open house session, the watershed team will select two or three projects to take a deeper dive on.

“Once we have that, that gives us a little roadmap,” Barry said, explaining that the planning phase of this project — funded with RESTORE funds, which stem from environmental penalties associated with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill — should be wrapped up by the end of 2022. “At that point, then we have to start trying to find construction funds.”

The collection of projects that the watershed team has compiled addresses both environmental and access issues. Some projects are on land owned by the city or county, while others are on private land.

Barry said that when selecting the final projects to explore more in-depth, some practical considerations will have to be considered.

“I don’t know for sure, but I would think one of the things we would be looking at is our low-hanging fruit — so, if there’s a stormwater pond, for example, that the county owns or the city owns, that needs to be modified, that might be a lower hanging fruit that we can get to faster than property acquisition,” Barry said.

Escambia County District 4 Commissioner Robert Bender, whose district falls within this watershed, has framed these restoration efforts as integral for the area’s future — both environmentally and culturally.

“We’re a community that was started, sustained, and thrives because of our connection to the water. Protecting and preserving these resources, from the beach to the bays and the waterways that feed them, are important for our future,” Bender said. “The Carpenter Creek and Bayou Texar Watershed Management Plan will be the roadmap for specific improvements in those waterways toward a cleaner, healthier, more resilient community.”

Mayor Grover Robinson, who previously held Escambia’s District 4 seat and also was instrumental in securing RESTORE funding for the region, said in a statement that this open house event is an opportunity to help reshape the watershed for generations to come.

“Like many people, I grew up around Carpenter’s Creek and in parts of Pensacola that used to be undeveloped woodlands,” Mayor Robinson said. “Our community’s growth over the past several decades has impacted the creek and bayou, and these 15 projects can help us repair and restore this waterway. I hope the citizens will take time to share their opinions and help protect this watershed for generations to come.”

The May 2 watershed open house is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Bayview Community Center, 2000 E. Lloyd St.