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St. Andrew and St. Joseph Estuary Program FAQs

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams, creeks, and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, mouth of a bay, or any point along a stream or creek channel.

What is an Estuary?

Estuaries and their surrounding wetlands are bodies of water usually found where rivers, creeks and bays meet the sea. Estuaries are home to unique plant and animal communities that have adapted to brackish water—a mixture of fresh water draining from the land and salty seawater that provides high levels of nutrients both in the water column and in sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world..

What is an Estuary Program?

It is a place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of an estuary.  The estuary program works with a wide variety of stakeholders to identify challenges and establish priorities in action plan.

The National Estuary Program (NEP) is an EPA place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Currently, 28 estuaries located along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico are designated as estuaries of national significance.

What areas are included in the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program?

“Covering about 1,156 square miles in the central Florida Panhandle, the St. Andrew Bay watershed includes the interconnected estuarine system of St. Andrew, West, North, and East bays; St. Joseph Bay; and Econfina Creek and the groundwater contribution area for springs discharging into the creek. The watershed also includes Deer Point Lake Reservoir, Lake Powell and several other coastal dune lakes, and contributing basins and tributaries of all of these waterbodies. It is the only major watershed in northwest Florida located entirely within the state of Florida.”

“The St. Andrew Bay watershed provides numerous functions critical to our quality of life. Its wetlands and floodplains store and regulate stormwater runoff, protecting water quality, providing flood protection, and recharging aquifers and potable water supplies. Its lakes, streams, and coastal waters sustain numerous species of fish, shellfish, and wildlife. Its springs provide windows to the aquifer below, and its wetlands and coastal barriers provide resiliency against storms and coastal change.”  2017 St. Andrew Bay Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, Northwest Florida Water Management District

St. Andrews and St. Joseph Watershed


Dark green – Upland Forest * Red – developed * Light green - wetlands


Lavender– bacteria * Purple– bacteria & nutrients * Orange – nutrients * Pale yellow – dissolved oxygen



Where is the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program located?

The Estuary Program is being hosted and partially funded by the Florida State University Panama City.

How is the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program initially funded? How will it be funded in the future?

The St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program is being initially funded to produce a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan by Bay County Restore funding, the Nature Conservancy, the Florida Legislature and Florida State University Panama City. The Program will hire an executive director and staff.

Estuary programs are typically funded by local governments who have a presence in the watershed, regional, state and federal agencies through project support, and foundations, businesses, nonprofits and volunteers for support of program activities

What is a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP)?

The Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) serves as a long-term place-based plan and science blueprint as a guide to future decisions that establish priorities for activities, research and funding for the estuary program and related projects.  The CCMP focuses on restoring and conserving habitat (enhancing the health, diversity, and resilience of key marsh habitat and other coastal, estuarine, and marine habitats) and water quality, protecting living coastal and marine resources, enhancing community resilience and revitalizing the regional economy. More information 

This initiative will be a community-based process to develop consensus on a roadmap for the protection, restoration and preservation of the St. Andrew and St. Joseph bays  system. The CCMP will be completed in three years (2021-2023) and will seek to align and build consensus on the conservation and economic priorities.  The CCMP will direct implantation of  projects to improve the bays and monitor outcomes and adapt strategies through the ongoing work of the Estuary Program. This plan will seek to improve the overall health of the estuaries and support the investment of resources to make the St. Andrew and St. Joe Bays Estuary Program one of the best in the country.

What is the first step in launching the Estuary Program?

The first step of the Estuary Program development process is a Stakeholder Assessment conducted by the FSU Consensus Center. They interview over 80 people representing  a range of key stakeholder sectors to learn what issues and challenges will need to be addressed in the estuary’s CCMP, and to help identify potential citizen participants in the Estuary Program’s Policy Board, Management Council and committees.  The St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Stakeholder Assessment report released in December 2020 will help frame the initial work of the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program Policy Board and the stakeholder Management Council to establish the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) by the Summer of 2023. The Policy Board will be convened in February 2021.

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