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

Water-Related News

Hurricanes are strengthening faster in the Atlantic, and climate change is a big reason why

A group of top hurricane experts, including several federal researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published striking new research Thursday suggesting that hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean have grown considerably worse, and climate change is part of the reason why.

The study focused on rapid intensification, in which hurricanes may grow from a weak tropical storm or Category 1 status to Category 4 or 5 in a brief period. They found that the trend has been seen repeatedly in the Atlantic in recent years. It happened before Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and before Hurricane Michael pummeled the Gulf Coast with little warning last fall. Hurricane Michael, for example, transformed from a Category 1 into a raging Category 4 in the span of 24 hours.

The study, published in Nature Communications, describes its conclusion in blunt language, finding that the Atlantic already has seen “highly unusual” changes in rapid hurricane intensification, compared to what models would predict from natural swings in the climate. That led researchers to conclude that climate change played a significant role.

UF researchers say people are moving away from lakes and rivers

University of Florida researchers say the U.S. population is becoming less reliant on rivers and waterways. Instead trends have reversed to an increased demand for groundwater.

Historically, populations relied on rivers and waterways for transportation, agriculture, and drinking water. But now University of Florida researchers say U.S. populations are moving toward a new source of water; and it’s underground. James Jawitz professor of soil and water sciences says with the peak of the second industrial revolution the population’s reliance on rivers and waterways reversed.

Kids sue state of Florida for action on climate change. DeSantis wants suit dismissed

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relatively green platform and his promises to prioritize the environment have received bipartisan applause since he was sworn in.

In a state where former Gov. Rick Scott banned regulators from using the phrase “climate change,” DeSantis has gotten credit for making resiliency a priority and even hiring someone to oversee efforts in the state.

But the words “climate change” appear nowhere in his executive order on the environment. And while he nods to rising seas and increased flooding, he never references humans’ role in the changing landscape.

Red tide recovery continues with redfish release in Manatee County

Over 2,000 redfish to be released to support the recovery of the fishery.

The Coastal Conservation Association Florida, Duke Energy, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will continue red tide recover efforts with the shoreline release of 2,000+ redfish in Manatee County on Tuesday, February 26th. The organizations joined forces to address the loss to the redfish population on the southwest coast of Florida as a result of red tide. The redfish release program was announced in the fall of 2018. The upcoming release will include approximately 2,000 juvenile fish and 30 adult redfish, all hatchery-reared and donated from the Duke Mariculture Center in Crystal River. Over 8,000 juvenile and adult redfish have been released in February in Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Sarasota Counties, and another 6,000+ will be released in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte Counties in March.

The release will take place beginning at 11 a.m. at Robinson Preserve, 1704 99th Street NW, in Bradenton.

Additional upcoming releases:

  • Lee County – March 12, 11 a.m., at Tropical Point Park, 3401 Tropical Point Drive, St. James City
  • Collier County – March 15, 11 a.m. at Shell Island Boat Launch, 10 Shell Island Road, Naples
  • Charlotte County – March 19, 11 a.m. at Ponce De Leon Park, 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway, Punta Gorda

For more information about the release program, contact Teresa Donaldson at (407) 923-3530 or via email at

Manatee County gives update on fall beach renourishment for AMI

Beach renourishment projects for Anna Maria Island are on the fall calendar.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, updated county commissioners Feb. 12 on beach renourishment plans, including the area from 79th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass.

The first project is a minor repair to Coquina Beach, using sand dredged from Longboat Pass to replenish the beach in Bradenton Beach.

The second project, beginning in November with completion by July 2020, will cover the beachfront from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.

The section of work is known as the central beach project and is authorized to receive federal funding. At a total cost of $16 million, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay 54 percent. The state and county will split the remainder.

The third project will begin at Fifth Street South and end at Longboat Pass, at a total cost of $4 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will shoulder 75 percent of the cost, with the state and county sharing the remainder.

For the third project, Hunsicker plans to coordinate with the contractor hired for the central beach project by the Army Corps of Engineers to avoid additional mobilization costs.

At a total cost of around $20 million, the projects would replace more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand lost to erosion. Dredging from an offshore sandbar of beach-quality sand will be carried in pipes to the beach.

SWFWMD schedules maintenance to Keystone structure in Hillsborough County

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) has scheduled maintenance work to the Lake Keystone water conservation structure. The District will build a temporary dam around the structure to dewater or “dry out” the work area.

The work will take place between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and is scheduled to begin Feb. 18 and should be completed by March 8. During that time, drivers may experience occasional short-term traffic congestion as equipment is moved in and out of the area. Drivers are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and use caution as the work area will be very close to oncoming traffic.

The Lake Keystone structure is located on Tarpon Springs Road between Keystone Manor Road and Wayne Road at the northern tip of Lake Keystone. The District will actively monitor water levels in Lake Keystone and Lake Island Ford during the construction.

For additional questions, please call the District at (352) 796-7211.

Manatee official chosen to tackle red tide algae on Florida water policy committee

A local government official will have a say in statewide water regulation rules.

The Florida Association of Counties announced Tuesday that Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh has been elected to serve on the organization’s Water Policy Committee. The group, comprised of 37 Florida commissioners, determines policy statements used to guide lobbying discussions during legislative sessions.

Baugh, who was elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2012, will “play a key role in addressing the widespread water crisis affecting Florida coastlines, lakes, springs, estuaries and river,” according to a press release. She is the only Manatee commissioner serving on the committee. 

Florida red tide levels are the lowest in more than a year

After more than a year, lab tests showed red tide concentrations across Florida were rated at “not present” to “background” concentrations.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tested more than 100 water samples offshore and in bay areas from Northwest, Southwest and the east coast of Florida, where red tide peaked in August and September. Those tests showed levels of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, were under 1,000 cells per liter for the first time since the outbreak began in late October 2017.

Red tide levels began to dip around Christmastime, but there was a resurgence at the beginning of January off the coast of Sarasota and Charlotte counties. Manatee has background concentrations (between 0 and 1,000 cells per liter) and Sarasota did not appear on the report Monday.

Charlotte County observed medium concentrations near Placida Harbor during tests performed from Jan. 17 to 24, but samples taken in the region on Monday showed levels dipped to trace amounts.

It is unknown whether more toxic algae lurks offshore, but conditions have shown notable improvement.

Polluted lake in Holmes Beach will see a cleanup in the near future

HOLMES BEACH - People who live on or near Spring Lake in Holmes Beach say the lake has gone from very clear to very dirty. There continues to be a strong push to get it all cleaned up.

Back in 2015, more than 22,000 gallons of raw sewage dumped into the lake after a Manatee County storm pipe collapsed. Residents say the water has been murky and polluted ever since. Holmes Beach city engineer Lynn Burnett recently met with Southwest Florida Water Management to talk about options to clean up the lake. It’s something the city is very close to making reality.

“There’s about three foot of muck in there and sediments now mixed in with some lovely sewage as well," said Burnett. "Step one would be dredging it out and also installing an aeration system on it.”

Although there are now signs of fish and other wildlife returning to the lake, the pollution had killed hundreds of fish. Longtime resident Bob McCaffrey’s home sits right on the lake. He tells us it’s been tough having to live with these lake issues.

“We would see scum and what used to be heron, egrets, fish jumping we had everything from snook, red snapper and everything else in here and they disappeared" said McCaffrey. "To me and the wife we lost that whole view, we lost everything.”

McCaffrey says he’s happy to hear the city now being proactive when it comes to having this lake cleaned once and for all.

“Whatever works to get the animals and the rest of the vegetation and everything else back to normal, I would appreciate tremendously,” said McCaffrey.

More than 16K fish to be released in Florida after red tide devastates marine life

PORT RICHEY – More than 16,000 young and adult redfish are slated for release into the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay after one of the worst outbreaks of red tide killed hundreds of thousands of tons of marine life.

It's an effort to rejuvenate fisheries and their surrounding environments.

The Coastal Conservation Association Florida, partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Duke Energy, plan to begin the process Tuesday.

They'll meet at 11 a.m. at Brasher Park.

"We’re extremely excited to begin releasing these fish now that the waters are determined to be safe," Brian Gorski, CCA Florida's executive director, said in a news release.

CCA Florida says each of its releases includes about 2,000 juvenile redfish and 25-30 adult fish. All were hatchery-reared at the Duke Energy Mariculture Center in Crystal River.

After working in Pasco County, crews plan to meet again Feb. 7 at Hillsborough County's Cockroach Bay Ramp in Ruskin and Pinellas County's Fort De Soto Park.

Release dates for Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties still are to be determined.

Florida red tide levels are the lowest in more than a year

It is unknown whether more toxic algae lurks offshore, but conditions have shown notable improvement.

After more than a year, lab tests showed red tide concentrations across Florida were rated at “not present” to “background” concentrations.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tested more than 100 water samples offshore and in bay areas from Northwest, Southwest and the east coast of Florida, where red tide peaked in August and September. Those tests showed levels of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, were under 1,000 cells per liter for the first time since the outbreak began in late October 2017.

Red tide levels began to dip around Christmastime, but there was a resurgence at the beginning of January off the coast of Sarasota and Charlotte counties. Manatee has background concentrations (between 0 and 1,000 cells per liter) and Sarasota did not appear on the report Monday.

Charlotte County observed medium concentrations near Placida Harbor during tests performed from Jan. 17 to 24, but samples taken in the region on Monday showed levels dipped to trace amounts.

It is unknown whether more red tide lurks offshore, but conditions have shown notable improvement.

More density in flood-prone St. Pete? City Council says ‘maybe’

The St. Petersburg City Council wants to adapt its land use and overall city comprehensive plans to recently-changed maps showing where areas are most at risk for storm surge, the board decided during a committee meeting.

Under the city’s current rules, new development or renovations to existing development in the established Coastal High Hazard Area designated by the National Weather Service’s Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) computerized storm surge models, cannot add density. There is no wiggle room on that policy.

The idea is to ensure people are able to evacuate when a hurricane threatens.

But the city wants to provide some flexibility to that plan because the SLOSH models have now changed.

Before 2016, the Coastal High Hazard area included about 7,700 acres in St. Petersburg. Those areas were near water and included mostly residential units that had little need for increasing density.

But the models updated in 2016 more than doubled that acreage and now include areas further inland that could affect commercial and multi-unit housing development. Restricting development in areas like the Gateway business district and the southern part of the Skyway Marina District, which are now both within the SLOSH models, could have a potentially deleterious effect on economic development in those areas.

Both are in city-created activity zones targeted for economic development and job growth.

The possibilities for amending the city’s rules on development in high hazard areas are nearly endless.

Florida Aquarium opens Sea Turtle Rehab Center

Several years back, the Florida Aquarium’s leadership team decided they had to do more to protect the state’s iconic but endangered sea turtles.

That commitment became reality last week when the Channel District-based aquarium in downtown Tampa officially opened a $4.1 million, 19,000-square-foot Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center at its growing campus in Apollo Beach in south Hillsborough County.

The two-story, open-air facility includes five rehabilitation pools that range in size from 1,500 to 25,000 gallons of water. An 11-foot-deep sea turtle dive pool will help Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials determine if injured and ill turtles are well enough to return to the wild.

Manatee County drops objection to Greer Island groin

Longboat presses ahead with permitting for five sand-saving structures.

Longboat Key officials are proceeding with plans to build five sand-saving beach structures at the north end of the island after Manatee County officials indicated they would not object to the construction of a third on Greer Island, a county-owned property.

That would bring the project total to five structures, known as groins. Three are planned on the western shore of Greer Island, and two are planned farther to the south, near the Longbeach Condominiums, between North Shore Road and Broadway Street.

How they work

Groins are shoreline structures, usually about 300 feet long, that run into the water perpendicular to the beach. They work by trapping and accumulating sand as it is moved down the beach by the naturally flowing currents.

Manatee County officials also said they would take part in a cooperative effort to take turns dredging Longboat Pass and direct the dredged sand to the overall effort of maintaining the town’s north-end shoreline, Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said in a memo to City Manager Tom Harmer.

Manatee County officials had objected to a third groin on Greer Island but have since dropped their objection. But, the county said it will not help Longboat with funding the $12 million groin project to build all five. Longboat officials have previously said the project would be funded from the town’s capital budget.

Nearly a third of state's waters are polluted, experts say

FORT MYERS – Not a single resident in Florida lives more than 20 miles from an impaired waterway," said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper, at the first Florida Water Policy Summit last Monday.

Organized around the idea that "clean water is a basic human right," the event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day featured six speakers from local conservation groups who spoke about actionable water policy that can improve Florida's impaired waters.

And Florida has a lot of impaired waters - currently 12 million acres under Best Management Action Plans, or BMAPs, which are 15-year restoration plans required by the federal government when a waterbody is not meeting quality standards.

The Federal Clean Water Act requires each state to compile a list of waterbodies that aren't up to snuff.

Then, the Department of Environmental Protection conducts watershed assessments.

Any waterbody that doesn't meet standards for pollution is scheduled for a Total Maximum Daily Load, which is a limit for the amount of a particular pollutant that a waterbody can handle.

The state of Florida currently has 416 TMDLs, with 80 waterbodies on a waiting list to receive one, according to Maria Carrozzo, senior environmental policy specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

USF forum: Collaboration required to prepare for climate change

MANATEE COUNTY — Although research and planning about climate change is occurring globally, speakers at a University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee conference on Friday (Jan. 25) said that work is not being adequately coordinated.

“Nobody’s put the picture together so people get it,” Bob Bunting, an atmospheric scientist who resides on Longboat Key, said.

Bunting told the near-capacity crowd of 150 not to expect politicians to take the lead. “Public opinion drives government — not the other way.”

“Our task is not to sit around and moan,” said Robert Corell, a climate scientist and principal with the Global Environment Technology Foundation.

Corell said society needs “to know, to assess, to plan, to act.” The impact on what he called the four E’s — energy, environment, economics and education — must be addressed.

Bunting believes global warming can be mitigated, perhaps in ways that have yet to be discovered. Yet researchers and others must stop working in “silos” and craft “an integrated solution.”

Floridians should be especially concerned, Bunting said. The state is the world’s 17th largest economy. If it is to protect that economy, it needs to start preparing for more intense tidal flooding and storm surge. “It would seem we should be leading the world in climate change discussions — but we are not.”

Tom Palmer: The rest of the Itchepackesassa Creek story

Attempts to ditch and drain Florida’s landscape to turn marshes into dry farmland and to make uninhabitable parts of the state inhabitable have a long, unsavory history.

Most of the projects didn’t work in the long run and caused a lot of ecological damage in the meantime.

We’re still living with that legacy today.

For decades one of the places Ledger reporters and photographers were dispatched following tropical storms or during wet El Niño years to document flooding was the Itchepackesassa Creek basin northwest of Lakeland.

This is an area where development had been allowed to increasingly encroach into an area that may not have been suitable for much of it as people sought to escape urban noise and traffic for some relative peace and quiet in the countryside.

According to the Gazetteer of Florida Streams, Itchepackesassa Creek flows 31.3 feet downhill along a 16-mile course that brings it to Blackwater Creek, a 15.3-mile stream that eventually flows into the Hillsborough River.

During one of the flooding episodes, The Ledger published an editorial calling for an end of new construction in the Itchepackesassa Creek basin. At the time work was underway to expand The Ledger’s building. That led the county engineer to call The Ledger’s editorial page editor and jocularly suggest the newspaper halt construction on its expansion, explaining its property lies within the creek’s drainage basin, too.

The area was once much wetter.

A 1927 soils map of this section of Polk County shows a stream surrounded by extensive wetlands.

The soils outside the mucky wetlands in this part of Polk County are poorly drained, which means water doesn’t seep into the ground very quickly, so the flooding is hardly a surprise.

The relatively flat topography probably doesn’t help.

That brings me to the recent discussion about flooding in the area, Polk County drainage policy and the construction of Walker Road Park.

FWC to pause aquatic plant herbicide treatment while collecting public comment

Beginning Jan. 28, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will temporarily pause its aquatic herbicide treatment program throughout the state. During this pause, staff will work to collect public comments regarding the FWC’s aquatic plant management program.

The FWC will hold several public meetings to gather community input about the program. Specific dates and locations of these meetings will be announced shortly. Comments can also be sent to

Invasive plants degrade and diminish Florida's waterways by displacing native plant communities. Some invasive aquatic plants pose a significant threat to human welfare and cause economic problems by impeding flood control and affecting recreational use of waterways.

Go to and click on Invasive Plants to find out more about invasive plant management, including Frequently Asked Questions.

Pinellas commissioners receive update on regional water projects

CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay Water has supplied drinking water for Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, as well as New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa for 20 years. The new agency, created in 1998, ended the “water wars” of the past and instituted a new regional approach to meet the needs of residents and businesses in west-central Florida. Instead of 100 percent of the supply coming from pumping groundwater, 34 percent now comes from treating surface water and 3 percent from desalination. To ensure the supply will meet the growing demand, the interlocal agreement between the member governments requires Tampa Bay Water to look to the future with a 20-year outlook. In December, the Tampa Bay Water Board approved a new long-term master water plan.

Matt Jordan, general manager, updated Pinellas County Commissioners on the process during a Jan. 15 work session. He said projections show that Tampa Bay Water will need to supply more water by 2028; however, there will be a need for more water for south Hillsborough County by 2025.

“We have capacity, but not where it is needed,” he said.

The Board considered potential new projects and “shortlisted” three, including a new groundwater treatment plant, expansion of the surface water treatment plant and expansion of the desalination facility.

Much of the work session was spent talking about the Tampa Augmentation Project, which involves taking highly treated reclaimed water and injecting it into the Floridan Aquifer and then drawing it back out to supplement the potable water supply. If the project were to prove successful, it could produce enough water to reduce regional demand and delay the need for new regional water facilities.

Florida Gulf Coast University trying to secure more than $9 million to study red tide

FORT MYERS – Florida Gulf Coast University is hoping to secure more than $9 million from the state so it can launch a multidisciplinary research initiative that will focus on red tide.

"We want red tide to be the first in a series of commitments on water issues, but we know there is a certain economic, ecological and political urgency to red tide," FGCU President Mike Martin said. "We have got ... people of means and influences attention, so we are going to jump on that one first."

Red tide and blue-green algae infected waterways in Southwest Florida and other parts of the state last year, killing marine life and deterring tourists from visiting beaches. The crisis is one of the reasons why FGCU wants the funding for its proposed project.

Algal blooms cost Florida $17.3 million in emergency funding last year

Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say efforts to put down pollution in Lake Okeechobee will help lessen algae blooms.

But it’s unlikely, they warn, the natural nuisance will ever go away.

“We will not get rid of red tide,” said Gil McRae, director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

State officials provided an update on algae to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

The toxic trouble created political turmoil in 2018 as blue-green algae blooms prompted then-Gov. Rick Scott to call a state of emergency in July. Then red tide prompted another emergency declaration in August.

The crisis prompted the state to budget an extra $19 million to research and response efforts. The bulk of the funding, $14.6 million went to cleaning up areas plagued by red tide, mostly removing redfish piled on shores. Millions more went to sampling and sucking blue-green algae that took over the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie rivers and connected water systems.

In total, about $17.3 million was spent in 12 counties from the now-expired executive orders.