An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Algae bloom confirmed in Old Tampa Bay

Pinellas County Environmental Management has confirmed a bloom of algae in Old Tampa Bay stretching from Safety Harbor to the south end of the Bayside Bridge this week following reports of discolored water and strong odor.

The bloom of the organism Pyrodinium bahamense became visible last week and was confirmed with testing. Fish kills have also been reported in the area. Residents may experience an odor due to the algae bloom and fish kill.

Pyrodinium bahamense blooms typically occur in the summer months in Old Tampa Bay. It is not the organism known as Florida red tide, although blooms can have a reddish-brown tint.

Algae blooms can kill fish by decreasing levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. During nighttime and cloudy weather, low sunlight causes algae to switch from producing oxygen to consuming the oxygen needed by fish. During severe events, fish can suffocate from low oxygen levels.

The growth of algae like this species is fueled by nutrients, including those in fertilizers, sediment, yard waste and animal waste. These nutrients are carried into Tampa Bay and other local water bodies through stormwater runoff. Warm water temperatures and sunny weather after heavy rainfall also contribute to the blooms.

Pinellas County residents can help by remembering the slogan “Only rain down the drain” and properly disposing of grass clippings and other yard waste, pet waste and chemicals. Residents should also continue to follow the summer fertilizer ban, which prohibits the application of nitrogen or phosphorous to lawn and landscape plants from June through September.

If residents observe fish kills, they should call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Kill Hotline at (800) 636-0511 or visit MyFWC.com/FishKill to report them.

Florida flood risk study identifies priorities for property buyouts

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A study of flood damage in Florida by scientists at UC Santa Cruz and the Nature Conservancy proposes prioritizing property buyouts based on flood risk, ecological value, and socioeconomic conditions. Forecasters say an above-normal hurricane season is likely in the Atlantic Ocean this year, while a rising sea level is making Florida increasingly vulnerable to dangerous flooding.

The study, published in the Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics, focused on the problem of "repetitive loss properties" and aimed to identify lands in Florida that are potential targets for projects with multiple benefits: reduced flood exposure, conservation benefits, and remediation of social vulnerability.

The study shows the location of more than 15,000 repetitive loss properties in Florida which, collectively, filed more than 40,000 claims against the National Flood Insurance Program between 1978 and 2011 (more than 1,200 claims per year, on average). As of March 2016, the National Flood Insurance Program, which is up for reauthorization in 2017, owed the U.S. Treasury $23 billion.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program seeking new executive director

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Deadline to Apply: No later than 2:00 P.M. EST on Friday, October 6, 2017

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) is seeking qualified applicants for the Executive Director position. The successful applicant will have demonstrated experience in effectively managing multi-entity environmental, scientific and/or engineering programs; fostering and maintaining collaborative approaches to complex environmental issues; the ability to facilitate consensus among diverse and sometimes conflicting stakeholders; success in raising funds from public and private sectors, including federal, state and local grants; and the ability to manage an effective and talented staff.

Position Summary
The Executive Director is a full-time position responsible for ensuring the efficient and fiscally-responsible operation of the TBEP. This includes providing the supervision and appropriate oversight of the managers of TBEP's technical projects, its public education and outreach initiatives, and its program administration function. The Executive Director will also be responsible for maintaining existing and developing new sustainable funding sources from public and private sectors, and meeting requirements stated in the various grants (including EPA Cooperative Agreements) awarded to TBEP.

Primary among the Executive Director's responsibilities is to maintain and strengthen TBEP's local, state and national reputation as a science-based 'honest broker', encouraging all stakeholders to work together to form effective solutions to meet agreed-upon goals for the restoration and protection of Tampa Bay.

Stormwater rate hike coming for Hillsborough County residents, businesses

TAMPA – Stormwater fees in Hillsborough County are going up for the second time in three years after remaining flat for more than two decades.

Single-family households will pay $36 this year, an increase of $6. Apartment complexes will now pay $18 per unit and non-residential parcels will pay $0.03 for every 1.5 square feet.

The new rates, approved 5-1, also give commissioners the option of raising the rate for residents to $42 next year.

Commissioners hope the hike can help the county address a significant backlog in the kind of culvert and watershed improvements that can alleviate flooding that habitually occurs after even modest rains.

It’s necessary for Hillsborough to address stormwater infrastructure because of its “special problems” as a coastal county that sees heavy rainfall in summer months and is susceptible to sea level rise and tropical storms, Commissioner Pat Kemp said.

Administrator Mike Merrill, however, said that while this is a step forward but many larger stormwater projects remain unfunded in the capital plan.

Tampa Bay Water offers watershed protection grants

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Clean drinking water starts at the source, and Tampa Bay Water is looking for groups who share the goal of protecting the waters of our region. With mini-grants between $2,000 and $10,000 available to community groups, non-profits, schools and universities, Tampa Bay Water is seeking partnerships to prevent pollution, clean local waterways and protect our drinking water sources.

The Tampa Bay region depends on groundwater, rivers and desalinated seawater for its drinking water, and Tampa Bay Water, as the regional water utility, works with the community to protect those sources. Mini-grant projects are ideal opportunities for scouts to earn merit badges, students to fulfill volunteer hour requirements, and service clubs and organizations to get involved in supporting public health and safety. The projects are also great for educators looking to combine STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts and lessons with hands-on experience to supplement classroom learning.

To qualify for a grant, applicants should submit an event or project plan related to source water protection in Tampa Bay Water’s service area that includes Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Deadline to apply is November 15th.

Record year for sea turtle nests means more hatchlings on beaches

This week marks the halfway point of sea turtle nesting season and Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program’s (STCRP) 36th year. So far this year, STCRP has documented a record-breaking number of nests from the north end of Longboat Key to Venice – 4,385 loggerhead and 77 green turtle nests. This is an increase of more than 1 percent for loggerheads and 1,183 percent for green sea turtles compared with the entire 2016 nesting season.

“With these significant increases in sea turtle nests it is even more important for beachgoers and local residents to be aware of how their actions could affect our local hatchlings,” said Mote Senior Aquarium Biologist Holly West. “This nesting season, we have already had over 1,200 hatchlings come through Mote’s Hatchling Hospital. The most common reasons for hatchlings to be admitted is disorientation due to artificial lights along the beach and being injured by predators.”

During summer months Mote Aquarium visitors can view sea turtle hatchlings in rehabilitation via an exhibit window in the Hatchling Hospital. These individuals will receive medical care, and when they are deemed healthy, they will be released either on the beach or via boat.

“This is a busy time for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program," said Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella. "The Sea Turtle Patrol has walked the local beaches every morning for the last few months, diligently marking and monitoring nests, and now we are starting to see the evidence of hatches.” When asked how the public can help, Mazzarella replied, “The two most important ways a person can help sea turtle hatchlings is to stay off the beaches at night so you don’t disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings and to shield or turn off lights visible to the beach.”

On the nesting beaches, artificial light from waterfront properties or people with flashlights or cell phone lights can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Also, beach furniture, holes, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young. Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to follow the turtle-friendly tips listed below during nesting season, May 1 - Oct. 31.

The sea level did, in fact, rise faster in Florida and the southeast U.S.

For people in the southeastern United States, and especially in Florida, who feel that annoying tidal flooding has sneaked up on them in recent years, it turns out to be true. And scientists have a new explanation.

In a paper published online Wednesday, University of Florida researchers calculated that from 2011 to 2015, the sea level along the American coastline south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., rose six times faster than the long-term rate of global increase.

"I said, 'That's crazy!' " Andrea Dutton, one of the researchers, recalled saying when a colleague first showed her the figures. " 'You must have done something wrong!' "

But it was correct. During that period of rapid increase, many people in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and other coastal communities started to notice unusual "sunny-day flooding," a foot or two of salt water inundating their streets at high tide for no apparent reason.

In the paper, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists proposed a mechanism to explain the rapid increase: Two large-scale atmospheric patterns had intersected to push up the water off the Southeast coast, causing a "hot spot" of sea-level rise.

This new mechanism, if it holds up to scientific scrutiny, might ultimately give researchers the ability to predict tidal flooding more accurately and warn communities what to expect months in advance.

Pinellas partners to review Local Mitigation Strategy plan

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Pinellas County, its municipal partners and other stakeholders are gearing up to review and update this year’s Pinellas County Local Mitigation Strategy (LMS).

Pinellas partners to review Local Mitigation Strategy planCounty News List Pinellas County, its municipal partners and other stakeholders are gearing up to review and update this year’s Pinellas County Local Mitigation Strategy (LMS).

Updated annually, the purpose of an LMS is to establish ongoing processes that make hazard mitigation part of the daily functioning of the entire community. Mitigation plans identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities, set goals and establish specific actions or remedies to reduce the risk of natural or manmade hazards to people, buildings, infrastructure and the environment.

Mitigation plans are also required by the federal government for municipalities to be eligible for federal hazard mitigation grants. The Florida Division of Emergency Management has previously recognized Pinellas County’s Local Mitigation Strategy plan as among those in the top tier of the state.

The county’s hazard mitigation efforts underscore a component of its strategic plan, ensuring public health, safety and welfare by providing planning, coordination, prevention and protective services to ensure a safe and secure community.

Residents and community stakeholders are invited to participate in the process by attending LMS planning meetings and providing comments on current LMS projects, which are detailed in the 2016 annual update. Visit www.pinellaslms.org to review the plan. Updated annually, the purpose of an LMS is to establish ongoing processes that make hazard mitigation part of the daily functioning of the entire community. Mitigation plans identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities, set goals and establish specific actions or remedies to reduce the risk of natural or manmade hazards to people, buildings, infrastructure and the environment.

Mitigation plans are also required by the federal government for municipalities to be eligible for federal hazard mitigation grants. The Florida Division of Emergency Management has previously recognized Pinellas County’s Local Mitigation Strategy plan as among those in the top tier of the state.

The county’s hazard mitigation efforts underscore a component of its strategic plan, ensuring public health, safety and welfare by providing planning, coordination, prevention and protective services to ensure a safe and secure community.

Residents and community stakeholders are invited to participate in the process by attending LMS planning meetings and providing comments on current LMS projects, which are detailed in the 2016 annual update. Visit www.pinellaslms.org to review the plan.

Meeting on Cortez Bridge replacement to be held Aug. 31st

CORTEZ – The stage is set for the final showdown on the future of the Cortez Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has scheduled a final Project Development and Environment meeting on the 60-year-old drawbridge on Thursday, Aug 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W. in Bradenton. The hearing starts at 5 p.m. with message boards and maps and project officials who will be available to answer questions. Around 6 p.m., there will a video and more questions. Attendees will have the opportunity to express their preferences.

A four-year history

FDOT began collecting information on the future of the bridge in 2013 when staff members manned at a booth at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on Feb. 16 and 17. They collected 168 opinions at the festival. Fifty-six percent wanted to rehabilitate the bridge, and 36 percent wanted to replace it.

FDOT held a public kickoff meeting on April 30, 2013. About 170 people attended the three-hour open house at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church.

Staff discussed project issues using aerial photographs of the existing bridge and the surrounding study area. A video explained the study process.

FDOT distributed surveys by U.S. mail and received almost 850 completed surveys. They also received 38 written comment sheets, letters and e-mails through the study website. The results of the completed surveys received in April and May indicated:

  • 51% favored further rehabilitation of Cortez Bridge
  • 43% favored replacement of the bridge;

Of those in favor of bridge replacement:

  • 38% preferred a high-level fixed bridge;
  • 19% opted for a mid-level drawbridge;
  • 33% wanted a low-level drawbridge;
  • 4% favor another option such as a tunnel or another bridge to Longboat Key.

At an alternatives public meeting on Aug. 28, 2014, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, in Holmes Beach, 87 people attended and 60 responded to a questionnaire. Eleven percent wanted to repair the bridge, 23 percent wanted to rehabilitate it, while 72 percent favored replacing it. Preferences for a replacement bridge were 16 percent for a low-level drawbridge, 33 percent for a mid-level drawbridge and 21 percent for a high-level fixed-span bridge. Nineteen percent wanted another plan, such as a new bridge to Longboat Key.

Fixed span gains fans

It was back to St. Bernard Church for the highway department on Aug. 9, 2016, where 179 people attended another public alternative meeting. FDOT officials stressed the fact that the bridge is rapidly deteriorating. To date, they have received 425 completed comment sheets, and the results are 5 percent prefer a low-level drawbridge, 19 percent favor the mid-level drawbridge and 44 percent want the high-level fixed span. Four percent want a new bridge to Longboat Key.

In the past, residents of Cortez Village have opposed the high-level bridge saying it would be out of character with the village’s cottages. They say the higher bridge would have to be longer than the low-level bridge it replaces, impacting some businesses along Cortez Road.

GE to Upgrade Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant

BRADENTON – GE Water & Process Technologies announced this week that it will supply its advanced water treatment equipment for an upgrade of the Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant.

GE will provide the Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant with its ZeeWeed 1000 ultrafiltration membranes for the surface water trains, which will produce water quality that meets stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards. The upgrade will enable Manatee County to continue to meet the water needs of its citizens without increasing the footprint of the plant.

Manatee County decided to upgrade the plant, as its multimedia filters in the surface water treatment trains were approaching the end of their useful life. The county selected ultrafiltration technology to accomplish a retrofit within the footprint of its existing media filters.

Beruff’s Aqua by the Bay Goes Back Before Manatee BOCC Wednesday

BRADENTON — Controversial developer Carlos Beruff will return to the county administrative building on Wednesday when his proposed Aqua by the Bay development goes back before the Manatee County Commission. The project has now been recommended for denial by both county staff and the Manatee County Planning Commission.

Aqua by the Bay is a proposed development project on the last major undeveloped portion of Sarasota Bay in Manatee County. The site sits behind IMG Academy and is to include 2,894 residential units and 76,000 square feet of commercial space.

Beruff, CEO of Medallion Homes, had initially hoped to build a more ambitious project called Long Bar Pointe that was to include a hotel and marina on the property. After a losing a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of Manatee County rules on coastal development, he returned with plans for Aqua by the Bay.

The application for Aqua had initially won a recommendation for approval from both staff and the planning commission on April 13 of this year. It then went to the county commission on May 4, where hundreds of citizens showed up to oppose the project on the grounds of excessive environmental destruction and incompatibility with the county comprehensive land use plan, as well as the surrounding communities.

It was ascertained during the meeting that county staff had misunderstood Beruff's plans for high rise condos, incorrectly determining that only two towers exceeding the county's height limit of 35 feet were planned, when in fact the application noted two "types" of buildings over the limit without stipulating a number (applications with the water management board indicated two dozen such towers had been planned).

Deputy County Attorney Sarah Schenk then advised that it would need to be sent back to the planning commission with more clarity. That meeting has been delayed while the developer has gone back and forth with county staff who warned that unless questions about the number of and placement of the towers were better answered, it would go before the planning commission with a negative recommendation.

Despite many issues still seeming to remain, staff nonetheless recommended approval. The Manatee Planning Commission, however, rebuked the staff on Thursday, when it again recommended against approval to the BOCC. Staff then reversed its decision on Friday and is now likewise recommending that the county commission deny they application. Wednesday's meeting begins at 9 a.m. Those attending are advised to get there early as seating will be limited.

Tampa Bay Water, Glazer Children’s Museum partner to teach wonders of water

CLEARWATER AND TAMPA – Imagine shaping the land around you, moving mountains and creating oceans with the touch of your hand. You can now make that dream a reality at the Glazer Children’s Museum. The museum, in partnership with Tampa Bay Water, has a new interactive exhibit that gives guests of all ages and abilities the power to build unique environments and see how the plants and animals that live there respond.

The Ocean Sandbox uses augmented reality to provide real-time feedback to the movement of sand in the exhibit to show the relationship between our land and water. Guests can shape the sand to sculpt mountains, islands, waterways and pools, while the marine landscape comes to life with ocean creatures, palm trees, treasure chests and more. In addition, the exhibit is wheelchair accessible and features therapeutic sand, continuing the Glazer Children’s Museum’s emphasis on inclusivity.

Understanding how land and water interact is an important part of protecting the place we call home and our drinking water supplies. Tampa Bay Water uses a unique blend of river water, desalinated seawater and groundwater to provide clean, safe water to homes and businesses across the Tampa Bay area. Working with the museum to empower children with the knowledge that even small actions can lead to significant changes in their environment helps ensure a bright future for our water supply.

Be mindful of summertime algal blooms, report them to FDEP

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Health are encouraging residents and visitors to be mindful during summertime recreational activities as the season’s high temperatures, abundant sunlight and frequent rainstorms annually increase the presence of algal blooms in certain Florida waterbodies. Individuals should avoid contact with algae and can report algal blooms using DEP’s toll-free hotline (855-305-3903) and online at (www.reportalgalbloom.com). Currently there are no health advisories or any reason to believe the health of residents has been impacted.

State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. Celeste Philip said “The health and safety of Florida families is DOH’s number one priority. It is important to avoid coming into contact with any algae and we do not recommend swimming or fishing in areas where algae is seen. We will continue to work with DEP to keep residents, visitors and local officials updated.”

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said “DEP encourages residents and visitors to immediately report algal blooms to help us respond as quickly and efficiently as possible. Florida is a national leader in responding to and managing algal blooms. We are committed to working with state and local agencies to ensure the health of Floridians, visitors and our natural resources."

DEP and Florida’s water management districts frequently monitor Florida’s water quality and routinely collect algal bloom samples as soon as they are observed to identify algal type and test for toxicity. In addition, staff are deployed to take additional samples in response to reported blooms – whether from a citizen, other response team agencies or other sources. To keep residents and visitors informed of the latest algal bloom monitoring results and activities, DEP has a website where it posts the dates and locations of samples collected. Test results are added as they become available. Persistent blooms are routinely monitored and retested.

Businesses bucked Gov. Rick Scott's rule to notify public about pollution

In April, workers cleaned up 341,000 gallons of raw sewage released because of a pipe break near neighborhoods south of Clermont.

Another 2,000 gallons containing water-purifying chemicals were spilled in June on county property near SeaWorld’s new Aquatica water park.

The two events were among more than two dozen pollution incidents in Central Florida in the first half of the year. None were reported to local media after complaints from industry associations led to a new 24-hour public notice requirement for pollution spills — sparked by a Polk County spill — to be overturned.

But the judge’s decision led to a new law that open-government advocate Barbara Petersen said is an improvement over the situation that existed before the short-lived requirement on polluters. The law allows the media and anyone else to sign up for alerts about pollution incidents, a process that didn’t previously exist.

Is Tampa Bay prepared for sea-level rise?

In a major news story last month, the Washington Post looked at this exact question. It begins: “Tampa Bay’s coming storm. The area is due for a major hurricane, and it is not prepared. If a big one scores a direct hit, the damage would likely surpass Katrina.”

Let’s leave aside for a second the fact that the area is not “due” – the odds of a future hurricane don’t increase if it’s been a long time since the last one. But, whoa, hat a wake-up call that should be. More than 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina and parts of New Orleans were changed forever.

Joining us in the studio for the hour is Melissa Baldwin, the founder of Chase Media Services, a communications company that specializes in sustainability and climate change.

We started with a quote from the article:
“Tampa Bay is mesmerizing, with 700 miles of shoreline and some of the finest white sand beaches in the nation. But analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit. A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.”

Also from the WaPo:
“Tampa Bay hasn’t suffered a direct hit from a hurricane as powerful as a category 3 or higher in nearly a century. Tampa has doubled down on a bet that another won’t strike anytime soon, investing billions of dollars in high-rise condominiums along the waterfront and shipping port upgrades and expanding a hospital on an island in the middle of the bay to make it one of the largest in the state.”

They’re referring, at least in part, to a major $3 billion development planned for downtown Tampa, called Water Street Tampa. It’s headed by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and funded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ investment fund and also will get funds from Tampa taxpayers. About 2 years ago WMNF News asked Vinik if it was wise to build at sea-level in downtown Tampa. His response seemed vague and lacked details.

Lakewood Ranch HOA hopes to reign in unnecessary irrigation

All around Steve Ayers’ yard there are hints of what some may consider an obsession with rainfall and irrigation.

In flower beds and under oak trees, yellow cups made for measuring rain dot the landscape. An irrigation pressure reader hides in a front yard bush, and he even has a weather station positioned at the corner of his lanai roof.

“I’m not the typical resident,” Ayers admits.

As one of five ad hoc irrigation committee members for the Country Club Edgewater Village Association, Ayers is keen on solving some of the community’s irrigation-related issues. The Country Club Edgewater Village Association is the homeowners association for residents in the Lakewood Ranch Community Development Districts 2 and 5 portions of the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.

With the support of Braden River Utilities, the ad hoc committee has seen improvements in using less irrigation water throughout the district.

And with rainy season in full force, supervisors are considering what can be done to minimize water usage at a time when irrigation isn’t actually needed. Florida yards require about an inch of water per week — a requirement that’s been satisfied naturally since late May.

Even so, in June, the districts used 47 million gallons of water, which cost the CDD $57,000.

Erosion may send homeowner to bank in Lakewood Ranch

For more than six years, Stuart Siegel has worried about how the Braden River has been creeping toward his property line.

Now Siegel, a resident of the Summerfield Bluffs neighborhood on River Bluffs Circle, is challenging supervisors on the Lakewood Ranch Community Development District 1 board to take action.

The river bank near his property has slowly eroded, with land crumbling down a 10-foot drop as the river erodes the bank.

“It’s systemic,” he said of the problem. “It’s all along the river.”

CDD 1 supervisors are exploring ways to help residents in Summerfield Bluffs who, like Siegel, might have property eroded by the flow of the river. Up to nine homes eventually could be effected by erosion, although most are situated farther from the river than Siegel’s home.

Free “Blue Carbon” wetland workshop August 24th

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Blue is the New Green: Including Coastal Wetlands in Sustainability Planning for Florida

WHEN: Thursday, August 24, 2017 (10am to 3pm)

WHERE: 4000 Gateway Centre Blvd, Suite 100, Pinellas Park, FL (Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council)
REGISTRATION: Online at https://flbluecarbonandsustainability.eventbrite.com.
Registration is free. Lunch will be provided.

Coastal wetlands are an integral part of the Florida landscape, providing many benefits to the surrounding community. A newly recognized benefit is the ability of coastal wetlands to address adaptation and resiliency goals through carbon capture (“blue carbon”). Blue carbon presents a new opportunity to address climate adaptation and mitigation, and tap into carbon finance to support coastal restoration through market incentives. Through this workshop, participants will learn:

  • What is blue carbon, and how can coastal wetland restoration support sustainability goals?
  • How coastal wetland restoration can generate revenue and contribute to carbon neutrality
  • Blue carbon in Florida – case studies of realizing blue carbon potential in Tampa and Naples

This workshop is for regional planning council members, sustainability coordinators, economic developers, urban planners, NGOs, resource managers, etc.

Workshop sponsors include: National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, Restore America’s Estuaries, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

For questions related to this workshop, please contact Stefanie Simpson.

TBEP Bay Mini-Grant Applications Due September 15

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Informational Webinar Set for August 22

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is again offering grants of $500-$5,000 to community groups for projects that help to improve Tampa Bay. Schools, neighborhood associations, and non-profit organizations are encouraged to submit restoration, education or pollution prevention proposals that advance the mission of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

First-time grant applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a free informational webinar on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. The webinar will discuss reimbursable costs, eligibility and a new online application form. To register, contact misty@tbep.org.

Learn more about the Bay Mini-Grants, see FAQs, review summaries of previously funded projects, and apply online at: www.tbep.org/bay_mini-grants.html

The Bay Mini-Grants program is funded by sales of the Tampa Bay Estuary license plate. Since 2000, more than $1.6 million in license tag revenues has been provided for bay restoration and education.

Watering restrictions change Aug. 2

Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 2, Pinellas County Utilities customers will return to a twice-per-week watering schedule following the expiration of a water shortage order issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) in May. Other utilities may have stricter schedules and those customers should check with their supplier to verify watering times and days.

Due to recent rainfall in the region and recovery of water resources in the area, SWFWMD’s governing board voted to allow the modified Phase III Water Shortage Order to expire for Pinellas County and 9 other counties in the region.

For Pinellas County Utilities customers, lawn watering is limited to a twice-per-week schedule using potable, well, lake or pond sources as follows:
• Addresses ending in an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, 8): Thursday and/or Sunday
• Addresses ending in an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, 9): Wednesday and/or Saturday
• Addresses with mixed or no addresses, such as common areas associated with residential subdivisions: Tuesday and/or Friday
• Lawn irrigation is prohibited between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Handwatering and micro-irrigation of plants (other than lawns) can be done on any day at any time, if needed.

New lawns have a 60-day establishment period. On days 1-30, they may be watered any day of the week. During days 31-60, they may be watered three days per week. Even-numbered addresses may water only on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Odd-numbered addresses may be watered only on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Customers are encouraged to follow these tips provided by UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension:
• Water only when plants or lawns start to wilt.
• Consider using soil moisture sensors in line with your irrigation system to automatically gauge water needs and operate sprinkler timers.
• If mowing is necessary, increase mowing height to the highest setting to reduce stress on lawns. The lower the cut, the less drought resistant the lawn will be over time.
• Make sure irrigation systems are operating at peak performance by checking and clearing filters in the system.
• Clean and properly direct sprinkler heads.
• Do not use fertilizer during dry conditions because it increases a lawn’s thirst for water.
• Remove weeds to lessen competition for available water.
• Use mulch to keep moisture near roots of plants.

Over time, these steps will help improve the health of customers’ lawns and landscapes and make them more drought-tolerant.

Pinellas County Utilities encourages water conservation at all times for its customers. For tips about how customers can conserve water around their homes, visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/water-conservation.htm.

Customers using reclaimed water provided by Pinellas County Utilities should follow the reclaimed water restrictions found at www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/reclaim-irrigation.htm.

For more detailed information about watering restrictions, call Customer Service at (727) 464-4000 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/water-restrict.htm.

The Pinellas County water program underscores a key component of the County’s Strategic Plan: reducing, reusing and recycling resources including energy, water and solid waste.

TBEP receives national award for nitrogen partnership

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program's Nitrogen Management Consortium has received the inaugural Coastal Stewardship Award from the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF). The Consortium was honored for its long-standing, innovative public-private partnership to reduce nitrogen pollution in Tampa Bay.

CERF is a national federation of coastal and estuarine scientists and managers dedicated to advancing knowledge and wise use of estuaries and coasts. Every two years, CERF recognizes individual excellence in the fields of coastal and estuarine science, management and education through several scientific and service awards. This is the first year the Federation has honored an organization, project or program as well.

The awards committee noted that Tampa Bay's Nitrogen Management Consortium "demonstrated impressive achievements in all the key criteria considered important in the mission of CERF to promote the wise use of science and management toward the stewardship of estuaries and coasts around the world."

The Consortium, formed by TBEP in 1996, is comprised of more than 55 public and private entities from throughout the Tampa Bay watershed who work together to maintain water quality and seagrass recovery in the bay. NMC members include cities and counties, regulatory agencies and key industries such as fertilizer manufacturing, electric utilities and agriculture. Since 1996, the group collectively has constructed more than 500 projects to reduce nitrogen loadings in the bay, resulting in water quality equal to that of 1950. Tampa Bay also has regained 16,000 acres of seagrass, surpassing 1950s levels, at the same time our population has grown from 1 million to nearly 3 million.

"I have grown up on the bay and have watched the cycles of change and I know that TBEP has been a key part of its continued improvement. Hillsborough County is proud to have such an excellent program as TBEP contributing to the health and ongoing rehabilitation of the bay," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.

The Consortium's success in engaging diverse stakeholders also was lauded by a sister watershed management program in Chesapeake Bay.

"We watched and learned from their extraordinary efforts to reach out and directly engage all the source sectors, local governments, businesses, and advocacy groups, and make them part of the shared decision-making process. They effectively blurred the lines between public and private, turning us and them into we," said Rich Batiuk, an EPA scientist who has been involved with the Chesapeake Bay Program for 25 years.

Training session prepares area scientists for seagrass surveys

Tampa Bay Estuary Program staffers Gary Raulerson and Maya Burke led an annual hands-on training session in July for Tampa Bay environmental scientists, in the shallow flats near Lassing Park in St. Pete.

Participants from a variety of agencies and organizations practiced techniques for measuring seagrass abundance, density and health. The scientists are using a standardized method that ensures that all the data they collect about the bay's seagrasses will be consistent and accurate. They'll be collecting seagrass info this fall from about 60 different locations in Tampa Bay.

The transect monitoring provides a fine-scale snapshot of seagrass health annually, while baywide aerial photography coordinated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District every two years gives an overall tally of seagrass acreage and distribution. Combined, the two monitoring efforts present a comprehensive portrait of this key indicator of the bay's condition.

In this short video, Gary Raulerson explains the training basics.

President Trump's budget would eliminate Florida's Healthy Beaches bacteria monitoring

Time and money may be running out for the program that tells you if it's safe to go to the beach.

President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate funding for Environmental Protection Agency grants that pay for the Florida Healthy Beaches program, which measures bacteria from fecal contamination at beaches and rivers.

The state health department has received $495,000 from the EPA to fund the program until Aug. 1, spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email. The state is scheduled to receive $445,000 to pay for it until August 2018.

"We have not received word that our grant will be affected after the grant cycle in 2018," Gambineri wrote. "Should the grant opportunity not continue in the future, the department will consider alternative funding options."

The health department's county offices conduct the tests and post the results on their websites. In 2016, the Florida Healthy Beaches Program posted 153 avoid-water advisories.

The tests measure levels of enteric bacteria, which inhabit the intestinal tracts of humans and animals.The bacteria in water is an indication of fecal pollution.

Ingesting or contacting contaminated water can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, eye irritation and skin rashes.

State delegation asks Corps of Engineers to stay neutral in water wars

Florida's two senators and its entire congressional delegation are asking the president to ensure that a federal agency remains neutral in the ongoing court battle between Florida and Georgia over water use from the Apalachicola River system.

Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 filed a lawsuit in the U. S. Supreme Court against Georgia claiming that the upstream state's water use caused the collapse of Apalachicola Bay's oyster population. In February, special master Ralph Lancaster recommended that the court throw out the case because the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates reservoirs upstream from Florida on the Chattahoochee River, was not a party to lawsuit.

Study of freshwater turtles to improve treatment of toxins in sea turtles

New research is paying off long-term for endangered sea turtles facing illness and even death during Florida red tides. From 2011-2014, the NCCOS sponsored project “Brevetoxin Metabolism and Physiology – A Freshwater Model of Morbidity in Endangered Sea Turtles” used non-endangered freshwater turtles as models to determine the effects of Florida red tide on endangered sea turtles.

Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, produces a suite of nerve toxins called brevetoxins. The toxins cause human respiratory illness along beaches and accumulate in shellfish, which, when consumed by humans, cause Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. Severe blooms result in mass mortality of fish and a number of protected and endangered species. Among the species impacted are threatened and endangered sea turtles.

With sea turtles, brevetoxin concentrations that compromise organ physiological and immune functions are generally unknown. Due to the legal status of federally protected sea turtles, basic physiological questions cannot be addressed directly, as they require experimental investigation with controlled doses of toxins on healthy animals. The use of freshwater turtles as a surrogate physiological system allows for the determination of effects of brevetoxins on turtle physiology and immunology and helps develop effective treatment plans for sea turtles.

Led by Dr. Sarah Milton (Florida Atlantic University) and co-lead Dr. Catherine Walsh (Mote Marine Laboratory), the research project used freshwater turtles to identify how red tide toxin gets into turtles, how long it stays, and the impacts on organs such as the lungs, muscles, and nervous system. The research continued beyond 2014 with funding from the U. S. National Institutes of Health and other agencies.

Florida communities prepare for sea level rise, potential costs to local economy

Imagine: $16 billion of local coastal property permanently underwater, including up to 30,000 homes. Property tax rolls slashed by more than $250 million. Tens of thousands of coastal jobs displaced or lost, cutting upwards of $161 billion from the Tampa Bay regional economy. Waterfront parks and infrastructure washed away or made obsolete.

“It’s a statement of the problem,” explains Brady Smith, a planner at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. “One could say the problem is sea level rise. What does that mean, exactly? What are our vulnerabilities?”

“The Cost of Doing Nothing,” a study released earlier this year by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, paints a striking economic portrait of how rising sea levels might transform the area’s economy by 2060 if Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee county communities fail to take more measures to reduce their flood risk.

The idea behind the report? To equip local communities with a more tangible understanding of what may be at stake as seas rise.

Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute

When Amalie Oil president Harry Barkett plunked down $6.75-million for his Bayshore Boulevard mansion, he picked up 12.5 bathrooms, a pool, a hot tub, an elevator and a deck bigger than some one-bedroom apartments.

But the home included one other item: a huge water bill.

During the first five months of 2017, the 13,000-square foot house used 1.2 million gallons of water, more than any other residence in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater or unincorporated Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Put another way, that's more than 8,000 gallons of water a day, about as much as the average house uses in an entire month.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay area was suffering one of the worst droughts in its history. Just 11.93 inches of rain fell from October through May — the fourth lowest amount ever for that period. The result was brush fires and water restrictions. Gov. Rick Scott had to declare a state of emergency and the National Weather Service termed it a "severe drought.''

Yet hundreds of homes across the region's ritziest neighborhoods averaged more than a gallon of water a minute during the dry months.

Sea level rise is accelerating in Florida, scientists warn

Clay Henderson has lived on the same block along the Indian River in New Smyrna Beach for 34 years. Living in a storm-prone state like Florida, you expect to see a river top its bank on occasion, but only in the past two years has Henderson seen it happen on sunny days.

He hears similar stories almost everywhere he travels in Florida. In dozens of locations along the state's 1,350-mile coastline, sea level rise is no longer an esoteric discussion or a puzzle for future generations to solve. It's happening now and is forecast to worsen over the next 20 to 30 years.

Canal systems in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables have become a liability. For officials in Port Orange and Longboat Key, fortifying storm drains against encroaching seawater is a concern. Along the Withlacoochee River on Florida's Gulf Coast and the Matanzas River at Marineland, residents report finding saltwater species they've never seen before in those waterways.

Rick Kriseman's administration lashed in St. Pete sewage report

A state report places much of the blame for the city's 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The 7-page draft report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, does not name Kriseman or any of his staff. It also starts with the long view, blaming two decades of city leadership for setting the stage for St. Petersburg's massive sewage problems.

Then the report quickly zooms in on the recent crisis and the mistakes, indifference and neglect that sparked it, exacerbated it and prevented City Hall from making a course correction while millions of gallons of sewage spewed into neighborhoods and waterways.

"(St. Petersburg's) leadership has had a culture of being willfully and negligently indifferent toward known problems in its waste water treatment system that ultimately lead to some of the largest wastewater discharges in State history," wrote FWC investigator Ammon Fisher.

This is the report that Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe used when he recently decided that no city officials should face criminal charges in the sewage mess.

St. Pete sewage crisis ends with no charges, $326 million bill

The city has put the legal fallout from the sewage crisis behind it.

Last week, St. Petersburg officials learned that the criminal investigation into the crisis — the city dumped up to 200 million gallons of waste from 2015-16 — would not result in any city employees facing charges.

That was contingent on the St. Petersburg City Council approving a consent order with the state pledging to spend $326 million to improve the sewage system that failed so spectacularly.

The council did just that on Thursday evening. They expressed reservations about how the city will pay for those repairs. But they were also ready to put months of blame, criticism and opprobrium behind them.

FDOT moving ahead with new solution to stormwater pollution

Work on a “look-around” solution to water quality continues at the Florida Department of Transportation where nearly all necessary permits have been completed for a 239-foot bridge that will enhance tidal flow to the bay section north of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Originally proposed as part of the Tampa Bay Express project, the bridge is expected to lead to water quality improvements and the anticipated seagrass gains will now be used as mitigation for multiple FDOT projects across the region. The $10.5 million project will be less expensive than the traditional go-to retention pond solution to stormwater management in a region where available land is growing scarcer – and more expensive.

FDOT consultants expect it to have a significant impact on the water quality in the area north of the causeway where seagrasses species are limited because of low salinity. The cut in the bridge is expected to nearly double tidal flows to the section of Old Tampa Bay north of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, increasing the potential for other seagrasses to recruit into what is currently a monoculture of wigeon grass (Ruppia maritima), a pioneer species more tolerant of lower salinity but a less extensive root system.

Attention Boaters! FWC has established new manatee protection zones for the state

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Manatee protection rules are established by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to restrict the speed and operation of vessels to protect manatees from being injured. Although the manatee species’ status was changed from endangered to threatened in March of 2017, there was a record number of manatees killed in Florida by boaters in 2016, so it’s imperative to obey speed zones. Click on the following links to see the maps of the updated speed zones.

Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, & links to all maps for the State of Florida.

Boaters needed for Great Bay Scallop Search

Don your snorkel and sign up quickly: The Great Bay Scallop Search date has been set for Saturday, August 26. The Tampa Bay Watch are recruiting 200 volunteer snorkelers to search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bay. The goal of the event is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Sign up fast for this free event, and help us tally up the bay scallop population in Tampa Bay!

They are recruiting volunteers with shallow draft boats. They have already filled all of our spots for canoes/kayaks and volunteer snorkelers without boats.

Click here to read more about the Scallop Search.

Registration fills up very quickly, so don't hesitate to sign up today!