J. Scott Angle: Stormwater ponds could do invaluable work protecting water quality

September 10, 2021

The only body of water a majority of Floridians see at least twice weekly is not the gulf, the ocean, a river, a spring or a lake. It’s a stormwater pond. 

Basil Iannone wondered how many of these ponds we have in Florida. So he and Eban Bean counted them. With sophisticated mapping software, he located 76,000

Iannone and other public scientists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences see in the human-made neighborhood pond the potential to become a powerful anti-algae tool that could reduce the incidence of green rivers and red tides. 

The scientists believe that with plantings on the banks of these ponds instead of grass, the ponds’ perimeters could act as filters. The more grass cuttings and storm water debris the plantings trap, the more lawn fertilizer runoff they can eat, and the less would make it into our ponds and groundwater where they contribute to harmful algal blooms. 

Deploying pond perimeter plants as a pollution-fighting tool would mean a lot of planted greenery. FNGLA helped jumpstart this idea with a $5,000 grant for Iannone to investigate whether adding ornamental plants to stormwater ponds could benefit water quality. Conclusion: More research needed. 

Like the stormwater pond itself, though, FNGLA mini-grants have potential as powerful tools. Such grants help researchers gather preliminary data that can serve as the foundation for much larger projects. After getting his start with FNGLA seed funding, Iannone has secured $197,000  from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue. 

With the EPA grant, Iannone has built a team to monitor water quality, to try different mixes of plants, to gauge how effective each mix is in filtering and, importantly, to get a feel for what the ponds’ neighbors find attractive. 

UF/IFAS is among the few organizations that can build the team of social, biological and physical scientists to examine such a complex problem in such a pedestrian venue. Iannone is an ecologist, Paul Monaghan a social scientist (as is Laura Warner, who surveyed Floridians on what water they see), A.J. Reisinger and Mary Lusk soil scientists, Bean an engineer. They work in alliance through the Center for Land Use Efficiency

As land-grant university scientists, they work through university-government-industry partnerships bringing together expertise, funding and identification of relevant problems so public science can do the most public good. 

The land-grant university approach delivers solutions because it has front-line scientists like Michelle Atkinson. She is a UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County environmental horticulture agent, so it’s her job to deliver science directly to the neighborhood associations that control what gets planted where. 

Through years of educating Lakewood Ranch residents on irrigation, fertilization and other landscape best practices, she has earned their trust. Lakewood Ranch management has granted the UF/IFAS team access to a handful of ponds because of her credibility and service-oriented approach.

And Manatee County is supporting her by spending $50,000 toward stormwater pond plantings in several county parks.

It all has the potential to drive massive change. The stormwater pond’s job has traditionally been flood control. If the UF/IFAS team and its government, industry and residential partners can identify the right mix of plants, stormwater ponds could do invaluable work protecting our water quality. The pond plantings could host pollinators and other wildlife, or host “good” bugs that feed on and outcompete pests.

An ideal mix would have plants that filter water, attract wildlife and protect laborers who currently get injured when their mowers tip over on grassy slopes by ponds. But the mix would also not block residents’ “waterfront” views or appear a tangled, wild mess.

Eventually, it could lead to a whole new line of business for the state’s landscape professionals and nursery growers. And it all got started in part because FNGLA works so well with UF/IFAS.


Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).


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