Until 2020, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Watershed Assessment Section used a five-phase cycle that rotated through 29 basins throughout the state over a five-year period (all water bodies were assessed once every five years). However, in 2020 the FDEP changed its approach for assessing waters and under the new process, all of the basins in Florida are assessed simultaneously every two years.
FDEP's Integrated Water Resource Monitoring Network (IWRM), monitors Florida's water at three spatial scales or "tiers". Tier I relates to the state as a whole. Tier II includes basin-scale monitoring to identify and confirm impaired waters. Tier III consists of site-specific monitoring to determine regulatory compliance. Monitoring is performed at the FDEP District level and the resulting data are submitted to the Watershed Information Network's database for use by the Watershed Assessment Section.
Implementation of the numeric nutrient criteria requires two to three years of data to assess a water body, rather than the single year of data used under previous rules. As a result of this data sufficiency requirement, in most years, each of FDEP's six districts will be monitoring in multiple basins.
Many types of data are collected in an effort to determine whether or not a water resource is impaired. Sampling is conducted by the Watershed Assessment Section, supported by environmental scientists employed within individual Districts.
Biological data includes information about algae, bacteria, plants and other wildlife:
Algae sampling generally involves filtering water samples through special glass-fiber filters; these filters "trap" algal cells so they can be analyzed for chlorophyll concentrations in the laboratory.
Bacterial monitoring involves the collection and filtration of surface water samples, and the incubation of the filtrate (bacteria caught by the filter). After incubation, colonies of indicator bacteria (i.e., fecal coliform, total coliforms, etc.) appear as clusters of red or blue dots (depending on the type of test you use) on the filter. These colonies are counted, and an assessment can then be made about whether the water body is a potential health risk.
The term "wildlife" includes birds, fish, macroinvertebrates, etc., which are usually monitored by counting the number of different species and their actual abundance living in a water resource. The presence or absence of some animals is often an indicator of water resource health. For more on this, see the Macroinvertebrates "Learn More".
You can find Biology Reports by using the FDEP Bureau of Laboratories Report Search tool.
Water chemistry data are also obtained from in-situ (i.e., within the water) and lab analyses of surface water samples. This includes analyses for various forms of nitrogen and/or phosphorus—two essential nutrient groups found in virtually all water bodies. Tests are also performed to detect the presence of metals (lead, iron, etc.), pesticides, and other chemicals.
Physical characteristics indicating water clarity like turbidity and suspended solids are measured. Good water clarity is necessary for light penetration into the water column, allowing aquatic plants to photosynthesize. The amount of oxygen dissolved in the water is measured; both plants and animals that live in water require oxygen for respiration.
Water chemistry/physical data can be found in the FDEP Watershed Information Network (WIN) database (2017 and later) and/or in the Florida Storage and Retrieval (Florida STORET) database (2017 and earlier). WIN and Florida STORET are the source of much of the data displayed on the Water Atlas websites.