This week I spoke at the Manatee County Commission meeting on behalf of the Florida Conservation Voters, advocating for a resolution to seek federal designation for portions of the Little Manatee River as a Wild and Scenic River.
This is an exciting and prestigious opportunity, as less than ¼ of 1% of federal rivers and 1/5 of 1% of our state’s rivers have received the Wild and Scenic River designation. It is our nation’s strongest form of protection for free-flowing rivers and streams and, of the 25,949 river miles in Florida, only 49.2 miles have earned this designation. Little Manatee River flows through both Hillsborough and Manatee counties and, by seeking this designation, it demonstrates both counties’ leadership in recognizing the enormous economic and ecological value of this river system.
As a former employee for 14 years with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, I had the remarkable fortune to explore and seek ways to protect and restore the bay, its tributaries, and the surrounding lands. Little Manatee River is one of the most beautiful, pristine, and outstanding parts of Tampa Bay, and I’ve spent countless hours paddling its meandering waters. It is teeming with wildlife and I am always amazed at the quality of the water, especially in a state with a rapidly-growing population.
Through the hard work and dedication of partners like Manatee County, Tampa Bay has made an incredible turnaround. From a poster child for pollution in the 1970s to an economic driver, a healthy Tampa Bay now supports 20% of the jobs in the region. This recovery is to be celebrated and it was possible because of the leadership and foresight of bay partners that knew the value of a clean and healthy bay and ecosystem.
Designating the Little Manatee River as a component of the Wild and Scenic River System and developing a Comprehensive Management Plan will help to ensure the long-term protection of this resource. People continue to move to the Tampa Bay region because of its beautiful natural environment and thriving economy. Protecting and properly managing our natural resources supports our economy, provides valuable recreational opportunities, and improves real estate values. It is a smart economical move that will continue to “pay off,” as our grandchildren will be able to enjoy the natural beauty and quality of life that we have worked to protect for them.
As someone who advocates day in and day out for the protection of water and natural areas, it makes me incredibly proud to see the Manatee County Commission take this step towards federal designation. Within 30 days, the Commission will revisit this proposal, as will the Hillsborough County Commission. I hope that both Manatee and Hillsborough counties demonstrate the foresight to protect this unique resource for generations to come.