Sarasota County has been selected to receive a $14.5M grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Program, for the Alligator Creek Stream Restoration Project.
As part of Sarasota County’s ongoing commitment to improving water quality, the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners will consider the grant allocation in the next few months. The NOAA grant funding, in addition to county’s current commitment of $1.4 million, will allow the county, project partners, and stakeholders to mitigate the past negative impacts of the urbanized Alligator Creek and restore vital ecological habitats.
“The Alligator Creek Stream Restoration project is an outstanding opportunity for Sarasota County to demonstrate that stream restoration via natural channel design is feasible in Florida,” said Sarasota County Public Works Stormwater Environmental Utility Manager Amanda Boone. “The restoration extends beyond the stream, restoring wetlands and upland habitats. Fisheries are an important part of Florida’s economy, and our restoration effort is intended to bolster habitat for important fish species.”
Designated as a Florida Department of Environmental Protection aquatic preserve and Outstanding Florida Water, Alligator Creek is an essential 11-square-mile tidal creek that serves as an urbanized drainage basin, flowing into Lemon Bay and is responsible for more than 20% of the water drainage. Historical nutrient loading and hydrologic changes in the 1940s, such as deep excavation and channelization, disrupted the natural water flow and reduced the creek's connection to the floodplain and nearby wetlands. This, in combination with the creek's steep-sided banks causing erosion and sedimentation, has degraded crucial benthic and fish habitats. Additionally, invasive vegetation and bank erosion have impacted the vitality of marine life, birds, and native animals that rely on the ecology and salinity of Alligator Creek.
The Alligator Creek Stream Restoration Project involves reconfiguring approximately 42 square acres of corridor and stabilizing banks to improve water quality and fisheries habitat. It will also prevent further erosion, reduce nutrient and sediment pollution, restore a more natural hydrology, and reconnect to adjacent wetlands. Another element of the project will focus on removing stream barriers to increase access to low-salinity habitats, which is important for fish nurseries and provide safe harbor during toxic red tide algal blooms. Habitat restoration will increase species diversity and stability including recreational sport fish species such as red drum, snook, sheepshead, and mullet, as well as the endangered smalltooth sawfish.