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Turning the Tide—How CBA is Saving Florida's Waterways

Meet the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting swimmable, fishable waterways in Northwest Florida through monitoring, education, restoration, and research. Their mission is rooted in the belief that healthy waterways are essential to our economic identity and a thriving local economy.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with CBA’s Executive Director, Alison McDowell, and discussed some of the key projects they’ve worked on to protect local waterways, their long-term goals, and the different environmental programs CBA offers to the community.

Who or what inspired the founding of Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA)?

In early 1996, representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Northwest Florida Water Management District were working together to stand up grass roots watershed organizations to help promote water quality at the local level. There were a lot of red tide events and fish kills in the years immediately preceding that time, and empowering local folks to take care of their waterways was part of the response to these catastrophes. As a result of the representatives’ work, that same year, state, federal, and local government agencies, environmental organizations, and local businesses met with concerned citizens and elected officials at Northwest Florida State College to discuss environment quality. The sharing of concerns from participants and the discussion on philosophies of ecosystem management from the FDEP and Eglin AFB sparked a partnership for sustainable waterways that is now called the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance of Northwest Florida State College (CBA).

What are some of the key projects CBA has undertaken to protect and preserve Florida's waterways?

CBA divides our efforts into four Program Areas: Education, Restoration, Monitoring and Research, but we tend to bin Monitoring and Research together, since it’s hard to have one without the other.

Our big effort in the Monitoring/Research area is our long-term, citizen scientist-driven water quality monitoring program. Our Water Quality Crew are staff and volunteers who go out to a combined total of 136 stations each month to monitor the health of Choctawhatchee Bay, the Choctawhatchee River, and many of its tributaries, as well as the coastal dune lakes. Volunteers are trained to use equipment and collect water samples just like staff, and we send the water samples to our partners at the University of Florida LAKEWATCH lab for analyses. All of our data is uploaded into the national Water Quality Portal and the Statewide WIN system, where it can be used by anyone to guide research and support decision-making. You can see more of this living dataset at our interactive water quality map.

As far as our Restoration Program goes, we are most proud of our living shoreline initiative and all of the on-the-ground habitat restoration that we have done in Choctawhatchee Bay. A living shoreline is a shoreline management option that uses living plants, recycled oyster shells, fossilized oyster shells, sand fill, or natural structures with riprap or offshore breakwaters to protect property from erosion. Living shorelines present an ecological and economical alternative viable for low-erosional settings in Choctawhatchee Bay. To date, CBA has constructed over 45 living shorelines along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay, ranging from 100 feet to one mile of shoreline. Not only do these nature-based infrastructure protect the shoreline from erosion, but they also restore habitat for intertidal critters like oysters, juvenile fish, crabs, snails and plants. Living shorelines are built near the shoreline and are often visited by wading birds and raccoons looking for a snack. We love seeing all the life after we have installed a living shoreline and watched it mature.

Our Education Program is designed to create new water stewards, and the best way to do that is to capture the hearts and minds of kids. Our Grasses in Classes students grow salt marsh plants at their schools while learning about Choctawhatchee Bay in hands-on science lessons. At the end of the year, the students take a direct role in the restoration of Choctawhatchee Bay by planting their salt marsh plants during a field trip to one of our living shoreline sites. This program takes so much time and resources, but it is totally worth it!

What have been CBA’s biggest challenges so far?

It is sometimes hard to convince people that the risk to our waterways is a real and present danger, and that we won’t always have what we have today, if we don’t take care of it.

What are some of the environmental education and outreach programs CBA offers to schools and the community?

Besides Grasses in Classes, our flagship elementary program, we offer summer kids programs, and the All-in Pollution Prevention campaign, where we encourage people to recycle or clean up trash before it gets into our waterways. We have All-in monofilament recycling and cigarette butt recycling receptacles and signage, and All-in beach clean-ups. We have tons of educational volunteer events throughout the year.

What long-term goals does CBA have for the future of local waterways and conservation efforts?

We want everyone in the community to be a water steward, and for it to be a high priority in decision making at the local level, so that we can sustain our waterways into the future.

How can individuals contribute or donate to CBA?

You can donate here, one time, monthly or annually. Or you can email to request more information.

Current Volunteer Opportunities:

  • Citizen Scientist - Water quality monitoring

  • Operation Restoration - Build oyster reefs

  • Monofilament Recycling - Collect and recycle used fishing line

  • CBA Events Committee - Public outreach events

If you would like to learn more about CBA and their efforts please click here. And remember, 5% of every FL BABE purchase is donated to CBA, along with three other incredible nonprofits protecting and restoring Florida waters and wildlife. Click here to learn more about these organizations.


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