Water-Related News

DEP continues to scrutinize former Palmetto golf course for housing development

PALMETTO — It’s been close to a year since the Florida Department of Environmental Protection put the brakes on building 142 homes on the old Palm View golf course in Palmetto. The project is now called Jackson’s Crossing, but DEP officials are still waiting for the developer to get them up to speed on potential hazardous materials on the site.

After months of getting incomplete data from the developer’s environmental team, DEP has set a new March 28 deadline to have additional information submitted.

Lakeland-based Highland Homes purchased the 58 acres in January 2016 for $1.4 million pending final site plan approval, just weeks after the owner announced the 50-year-old course would be closing for good. Residents surrounding the course became concerned that development would disturb soil that had been treated with chemicals for a half-century.

Republicans lead fight to ban fracking in Florida

Citing unresolved health concerns, Florida lawmakers are weighing the fate of a measure that would ban fracking across the state.

Legislators are pushing the bill to safeguard Florida’s clean water supply, which is the drinking water source for 90 percent of Floridians and a major player in the state’s economy, from agriculture to tourism.

If passed, the bill would effectively ban any type of well stimulation technique statewide. That includes fracking — a practice that requires pumping huge volumes of chemicals, sand and water underground to split open rock formation to allow oil and gas to flow.

Environmentalists say chemicals used in the process can leak into underground water sources. Because Florida sits atop porous, spongelike sedimentary limestone, environmentalists believe it is at a higher risk of chemical leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2016 that fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but added that a lack of information on the practice makes it hard to know how severe that risk would be.

Manatee County tomato grower wins award for responsible fertilizer use

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Gary Reeder and West Coast Tomato Win a 2017 4R Advocate Award from The Nature Conservancy

Florida’s farmers are stewards of 9.45 million acres of land and responsible for $4 billion in agricultural commodities exports. Our farmers are facing the challenge of meeting produce demands while conserving soils, supporting water quality, minimizing water usage, and protecting landscapes. The Conservancy works closely with many members of the agricultural community to help ensure best management practices are implemented to support conservation. On March 2, 2017, Conservancy partner and farmer Gary Reeder and his colleagues at West Coast Tomato were honored for their environmental stewardship and received a national 4R Advocate award from The Fertilizer Institute.

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship program promotes practices for sustainable and effective fertilizer use, focusing on the "4Rs" — the right source, right rate, right time, and right place. Reeder’s family has farmed the same land for 45 years, and he has been implementing practices aimed at efficiently using nutrients and water even before the 4R program had its name. Growing spring and fall tomatoes requires great volumes of water and careful management, and the farm’s highly efficient irrigation system allows water usage to remain below permitted water allotments. Through best practices and constant soil testing, the right nutrient decisions are made and quality plants are grown, limiting nutrient loss.

St. Petersburg officials again hear public suggestions for sewer fixes

ST. PETERSBURG — Some people came to listen, others to offer ideas, and a few simply to vent. In all, more than 60 people spent their Wednesday evening engaging with St. Petersburg officials as the city begins overhauling its overburdened sewage system. The night's focus was a 12-page consent order drafted by the state, essentially a roadmap to fixing the city's aging system in the wake of a prolonged crisis. Fulfilling the state's requests, such as increasing wastewater plant capacity, would help St. Petersburg avoid up to $810,000 in penalties.

Fix water quality or Florida tourism will suffer, fishing and boating industries warn

TALLAHASSEE — The leaders of one of the nation's largest outdoors companies, a major boat manufacturer, and tourism industry officials met with Gov. Rick Scott and legislators Wednesday to make the case that urgent action is needed to end the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

They detailed how their industries suffered from the impact of the guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and state of emergency last year. They offered statistics on how Florida is losing business to other states, warned about the social media buzz over Florida's bad water and suggested that if things don't turn now, it may take years to reverse.

"If Florida is known as a destination of subpar water quality or bad water, it would absolutely crush our local economy," said John Lai, representing the Lee County Development Association and the Sanibel/Captiva Chamber of Commerce. He said that one in five jobs in his region relies heavily on tourism but, in the last 30 years, he has watched "the complete degradation of Florida estuaries and water quality."

Plan that includes keeping toxic algae from waterways is now bigger and more expensive

A Senate plan to bond $1.2 billion in state funds to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee grew to become a $3.3 billion bonding program that would fund dozens of water projects around the state — from sewage treatment in Tampa Bay to wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys — all in an attempt to win wider approval for the top priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

Despite the modifications, the 5-1 vote of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee for SB 10 is closer than it appeared. Many supporters expressed reservations that the expensive plan to store water is the most cost-effective solution to prevent discharges of polluted water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries after those discharges led to guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and a state emergency announced by Gov. Rick Scott in the spring and summer of 2016.

Florida scientists fear hurricane forecasts, climate research will suffer under Trump

A growing chorus of scientists is raising the alarm over reports of Trump administration budgets cuts that would affect climate change research and hurricane forecasting.

On Monday, 32 Florida scientists sent a letter to the president voicing worry over reports that the Department of Commerce, which overseas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has proposed cutting 17 percent from its budget, with the nation’s network of satellites taking the biggest hit. The satellites include a system of polar orbiters that provide critical data from the top and bottom of the planet and help scientists understand two of the biggest threats facing the peninsula.

Bill to strengthen pollution notification rules advances in Florida Senate

A Senate committee in Tallahassee unanimously passed a bill that would set standards for how to swiftly notify the public about pollution. It’s an issue residents in the Tampa Bay Area have grown weary of.

It's pouring rain in downtown Tampa. Standing just outside Port Tampa Bay, you can see towering cargo ships, rumbling trucks and equipment.

Justin Bloom is Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. He says most commercial industries like those operating at the port are highly regulated to ensure environmental safety precautions are in place.

“But extraordinary events happen, and sometimes these safety measures are ignored,” Bloom said. “You know, look at what happened with Mosaic, for example.”

It's a reference to last August, when a massive sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Polk County. 215 million gallons of contaminated water dumped into the Floridian aquifer – and it was weeks before the public knew about it.

Bloom says while that was and is a serious concern, a more significant threat is constant storm water runoff. The day-to-day pollutants on our lawns, sidewalks and driveways – not to mention toilets – on a rainy day like this, often end up in our water, especially in the summer.

Bill that would ban fracking in Florida passes Senate committee

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee unanimously passed landmark legislation Tuesday that would permanently prohibit fracking in Florida.

Senate bill 442, which passed by a vote of 5 to 0, already has bipartisan support from 15 Senate co-sponsors. The bill would ban unconventional “well stimulation” techniques including acid fracking and matrix acidizing.

Fracking is a method that fractures rock apart with a high-pressure mixture of water, chemicals and sand so that gas and oil are more easily released. Environmental groups disdain it because of the need for large amounts of water, and what they claim is toxic impact.

Environmental researchers warn of dangers of nitrogen fertilizer

TAMPA – Environmental researchers are urging people to look out for potentially toxic nitrogen fertilizer leaking into storm water.

This comes after recent issues with nitrogen in water, which has been linked to red tide, the loss of seagrass and toxic algae blooms on the east coast of Florida.

Leesa Souto, executive director of the Marine Resources Council in Palm Bay said nitrogen-based fertilizer in storm water cause water quality issues.

Independent researchers, including Souto, created a report for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, looking at how people responded to ordinances banning the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers during part of the year.

Hillsborough County community had the highest estimated fertilizer nitrogen inputs, the highest fertilizer frequency, the highest percentage of professionals responsible for landscape management, and the highest estimated annual total nitrogen loads of the communities studied in Pinellas, Manatee and Hillsborough, the report found.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program said these are the most recent numbers they have regarding fertilizer usage. The Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board is set to review the report on March 21.

Marine debris removal volunteer day Mar. 25 at Cross Bayou/Joe’s Creek Waterway

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The event, sponsored by Pinellas County and Keep Pinellas County Beautiful, will be part of the annual Great American Cleanup

Each year, community members and organizations like Keep Pinellas Beautiful, work with local governments to identify areas that are inundated with marine debris. The Great American Cleanup is a campaign through which Keep Pinellas Beautiful will be hosting numerous sites throughout Pinellas County. Dedicated site captains, volunteers and team members plan to remove a large amount of potentially hazardous materials from our creeks, watersheds and oceans.

Won’t you join us for this Waterway and Mangrove island cleanup in Pinellas Park? You can bring your own canoe/kayak or borrow a canoe from us (assigned morning of event, first come first serve). We'll provide all the cleanup materials you'll need and the American Waterworks Association-Florida Section is providing everyone a picnic lunch after the event!

Please note that this event is for participants 18 years old and older.

Participants must wear a closed- toe wading shoe (old tennis shoes, keens, scuba booties). Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, cover up) and insect repellent is highly recommended. All participants must abide by the safety policies and recommendations of Pinellas County Staff.

Registration is REQUIRED (link below). Space is limited. If you register, please plan to attend or email if you need to cancel.

Sponsors: We are actively recruiting sponsors for this event. If you would like to participate, please contact Anamarie Rivera. Participation can include donating items or funds to purchase items for the free volunteer appreciation raffle, and opportunities for a display table at the event to promote your organization.

Contact Information

Anamarie Rivera

Environmental Scientist, Watershed Management, Pinellas County

(727) 464-4605

Manatee seeks money to relieve Rubonia flooding

Area is often under water after heavy rains

MANATEE COUNTY — State legislators this week are hearing in-person appeals from Manatee County commissioners for funding and other support, with a $2.8 million request to relieve flooding in the low-income neighborhood of Rubonia being a high priority.

Platted in 1913, the subdivision north of Palmetto and south of Interstate 275, just 2 feet above sea level in some areas close to McMullen Creek and Terra Ceia Bay, frequently is under water after heavy rains that swell its ditches and make its roads impassable.

Commissioners regard their chances of securing state dollars to construct curbs, gutters and storm drain piping in Rubonia as slim — but they intend to try.

"We know money is not grown on trees in Tallahassee," Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said as the board reviewed the request last week. "It's going to be a tough, tough, tough sell."

Even so, commissioners want to at least attempt to get a grant before considering another option their staff is exploring.

Can we get rid of red tide? Not yet, according to Mote scientist

SARASOTA — As one of Mote Marine Laboratory's resident red tide researchers, Richard Pierce, lectured on the facts and future of red tide Monday evening, one question kept coming up from the audience: What can we do to stop red tide?

One man suggested changing the water density in red tide-affected parts of the Gulf of Mexico. A woman wondered whether alternate forms of energy could have an effect. But the consensus from the panel of Mote red tide scientists at the talk was clear: At this point, there is no sure way to eradicate red tide or even significantly lessen the concentration of the blooms of Karenia brevis, the red time organism.

"It's not currently possible to control red tides in the Gulf," Pierce, Mote's assistant vice president for research and the program manager of its Ecotoxicology team, said while concluding his lecture to a filled hall of about 150 people. "In many cases, we can reduce the risk, but we probably won't get rid of it."

In the meantime, Mote scientists have made some promising discoveries, such as an algae byproduct that could inhibit red tide growth and its toxins, according to Pierce. The Phytoplankton Ecology team, led by program manager Vincent Lovko, is working on that prospect, but both Lovko and Pierce said it was in the trial period.

Lawmakers propose $50 million to restore beaches

Beach restoration is the latest area targeted for a slice of the money voters set aside two years ago for environmental preservation.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, announced Friday they want to match Gov. Rick Scott's request to allocate $50 million a year for beach restoration. The money would come from the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which handles money from a 2014 constitutional amendment aimed at boosting land and water conservation.

The proposal (SB 1590 and HB 1213) would require the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a three-year plan for beach repairs. It also would refocus attention on sand management at inlets and rank the most serious erosion problems as priorities.

FWC continues seagrass research and conservation with new status report

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues its conservation of valuable seagrass beds in Florida’s coastal waters with a second edition of its statewide report.

Scientists and collaborators from agencies across Florida, including researchers with the Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, published new information this month on seagrass health and status. Each of the 23 regional chapters includes color-coded status reports of seagrass health, as well as maps of the distribution of seagrass beds in each estuary or subregion.

More than 40 scientists from agencies across Florida work to map and monitor seagrasses statewide and report assessments of seagrass health online. Using available data, researchers estimated there are approximately 2.5 million acres of seagrass in estuaries and nearshore waters of Florida. These are the largest beds of seagrasses found in the continental United States. Florida seagrass beds are extremely valuable marine habitats. Many economically important fish and shellfish species depend on seagrass beds for their survival. Seagrasses provide food and shelter for endangered mammals and turtles, and also play a vital role in the ecosystem.

The seagrass monitoring program was developed in 2009 to protect and manage seagrasses in Florida by providing a collaborative resource for seagrass mapping, monitoring and data sharing. The statewide report provides a summary of the status of seagrasses in Florida.

The report’s second edition was funded by grants from the FWC’s State Wildlife Grants Program and the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program’s statewide report and copies of individual regional chapters can be downloaded by going to MyFWC.com/Research, clicking “Habitat,” then “Seagrasses,” “Seagrass Projects” and “Active Projects.”

Trump takes aim at WOTUS rule

The “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS) was the definitive water-policy achievement of the Obama administration. Proponents said it clarified which waterways could be regulated by the federal government under the Clean Water Act. Jurisdiction under the law had become obscured by court decisions, WOTUS supporters said.

The rule has been in Republican crosshairs for years. President Trump strongly opposed it during his campaign. The agriculture industry and the GOP say the rule amounts to government overreach.

WOTUS is currently unenforceable due to court action. “A court stayed [WOTUS] days after it was finalized,” E&E News reported. “The Supreme Court agreed last month to take up the challenge brought by more than 30 states and many industry and farm groups,” the publication said.

Now Trump is getting ready to do away with the policy. The Washington Post reported this week that Trump is preparing an executive order to kill the regulation.

Manatee County wins comp plan challenge from Long Bar developer

The 2nd District Court of Appeal let stand a lower court judgment for Manatee County against Long Bar Pointe developers.

County Attorney Mitchell Palmer announced the appellate victory Feb. 24 to the seven-member board of commissioners in an email.

In the 2nd DCA appeal, Cargor Partners VIII and Long Bar Pointe LLLP challenged 12th Circuit Judge John Lakin’s January 2016 decision that upheld coastal policies in Manatee County’s comprehensive plan. The developers are Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman.

The developers’ suit was aimed at eliminating coastal regulations for their large-scale subdivision, Aqua by the Bay, about 5 miles southeast of Cortez on Sarasota Bay. Located off El Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton, nearly one-third of the property is submerged lands, including state-protected mangroves and seagrass.

It is still in the county development pipeline.The comp plan policies protect wetlands and submerged lands and restrict dredging of channels, canals and basins and prohibit construction of new boat ramps.

Multi-million dollar St. Pete sewage fixes begin

St Petersburg is committed to fixing its sewage problems, and work has already begun to make the city’s two main sewer plants capable to take on more water during rainstorms and hurricanes.

Over the next five years, 305 million dollars will be poured into fixing the sewage system.

St Pete is working to fix the problems now before the rainy months ahead.

It’s welcoming news for Ed Carlson, whose Jungle Terrace neighborhood was inundated with 58 million gallons of sewage. The water poured through the streets, the parks, people’s yards and even bubbled out of the manhole covers.

Carlson helped push the city into fixes. Now, crews will soon begin $16 million in upgrades to the Northwest plant, just a few blocks from his home, to prevent future spills.

St. Petersburg's Northwest sewage plant will also be upgraded, hopefully by rainy season

As the city addresses the recent sewage crisis, much of the attention has been focused on whether it should reopen the shuttered Albert Whitted wastewater treatment facility.

City staff, council members and activists have also spent hours vetting the massive expansion underway at the Southwest sewage plant.

But what about the Northwest plant?

That plant also had its own massive spill during last year's crisis, enraging residents and eroding trust in Mayor Rick Kriseman. He initially claimed residents didn't need to be notified that 58 million gallons of overflowing sewage was running through the streets beyond warning signs because it was basically reclaimed water.

A week later, the mayor admitted the error, that the water was dirtier than the city initially reported.

Now the city is spending $16 million on upgrades at the Northwest plant to prevent a similar spill in west St. Petersburg. After Hurricane Hermine dumped heavy rains on the city in September, sewage flowed into neighborhoods, across 22nd Avenue N and into nearby Walter Fuller Park.

St. Petersburg residents seek reassurance there won't be a summer sewage sequel

About two dozen residents spent Monday evening quizzing city officials about planned work on the sewer system in a forum that distilled the fears and confusion of a city bracing for the coming rainy season.

At issue was a state consent order that is being finalized in the wake of the recent sewage crisis: St. Petersburg discharged 200 million gallons of sewage onto land and water during the heavy rains of the past two summers. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection order, which should be agreed upon by mid-April, would compel the city to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix its ailing sewer system.

That would help the city avoid up to $810,000 in state penalties.

"We can't afford to kick this can down the block anymore and let someone else handle it," Public Works Department spokesman Bill Logan told the forum at the Lake Vista Recreation Center.

City officials detailed the work being undertaken on the city's 937 miles of pipes to reduce the amount of stormwater seeping into them. They explained how new injection wells at the Southwest and Northwest wastewater treatment plants should help the city dispose of treated sewage by pumping it deep underground. And they outlined massive projects to expand capacity at the city's three remaining sewer plants (closing the Albert Whitted plant in 2015 helped precipitate the sewage crisis.)

Trump begins dismantling Obama’s EPA rules today. First up: the Clean Water Rule

At first glance, it’s hard to see why the Clean Water Rule (also known as the “Waters of the US rule”) inspires such fury. It’s a technical regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency meant to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under federal clean water protections — a question that had been causing legal confusion for years.

But when the rule was published in June 2015, it triggered fierce blowback from farm and industry groups across the country. “Opponents condemn it as a massive power grab by Washington,” Politico reported, “saying it will give bureaucrats carte blanche to swoop in and penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch.” Many of those criticisms were overblown, but the rule was widely cited by conservatives as a prime example of EPA overreach under President Obama. (The regulation is currently being tied up in court and hasn’t taken effect yet.)

Now Donald Trump wants to get rid of the rule — a first step in his ongoing efforts to dismantle Obama-era EPA protections. On Tuesday, he signed an executive order that asks new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to begin the long process of repealing the rule and replacing it with... something else.

Except here’s the catch: Rolling back this rule won’t be easy to do. By law, Pruitt has to go through the formal federal rulemaking process and replace Obama’s regulation with his own version — and then defend it in court as legally superior. And, as Pruitt’s about to find out, figuring out which bodies of water deserve protection is a maddeningly complex task that could take years.

Mote developing app so beachgoers can record red tide observations

Almost every day, Mote Marine Laboratory environmental health staff scientist Tracy Fanara gets a phone call or email from someone on the Gulf Coast experiencing the effects of red tide, a toxic algae bloom that has lingered since last September.

Whether the concern is from a tourist or a longtime resident, their response is often similar: they're coughing or seeing dead fish or wondering what that strange smell is in the air.

Now those noticing the effects of red tide during their trips to the beach can take matters into their own hands through Mote's latest venture, the Citizen Science App. Designed as an addition to their online Beach Conditions Reporting System, which details conditions observed by lifeguards and trained sentinels, the app allows users to report what they are experiencing — respiratory irritation, dead fish or water discoloration — along with their exact location. The information is compiled and listed on a separate "citizen reports" layer of the Beach Conditions Report. Although the app is being tested, Fanara says she hopes it will be ready in the next month.

Registration open for Sustainable Floridians course

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  • Six-week course to be held Saturdays from March 25–April 29
  • Program teaches resource conservation and actionable behaviors for sustainability
  • Register for the course at: sustainablefloridians2017.eventbrite.com.
  • Cost is $125 per participant for full course, includes meetings, book rental fees, webinar access, and facility tours
  • "First Look" survey course available for $25

Every day, citizens can have positive impacts on the environment by making simple life changes in areas like energy consumption and purchasing habits. An opportunity to learn how to live a sustainable lifestyle is coming up for residents in Pinellas County.

The UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County is hosting the Sustainable FloridiansSM certificate training course from March 25 to April 29. Classes will be held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. - noon at the Extension office located at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Participants will explore seven areas of sustainability and ways to implement them in daily life.

Each week, classes will feature different subject matter such as water and energy conservation, as well as consumerism and food systems. Participants will have the chance to engage with people who are passionate about these subjects and identify opportunities to create a personal action plan.

The course is $125 per participant and includes five face-to-face meetings, book rental fees, access to webinars and facility tours related to the course content. Participants will visit a water reclamation plant and a local solar contractor facility.

To find out more about Sustainable FloridiansSM and to register for the course, visit: sustainablefloridians2017.eventbrite.com.

UF/IFAS Extension is also offering a recommended prerequisite called Sustainability: A First Look. The single class will be held on Saturday, March 11, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., and is a basic overview of sustainability issues. This class will explain what sustainability is, why it is important and what can be done to promote sustainability in local communities.

To register for this class, visit sustainabilityfirstlook.eventbrite.com. The class is $25; lunch will be provided. The first 10 registered participants will receive the Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living book.

Online tool explores sea level rise and coastal marsh health scenarios

A new online tool developed by the University of South Carolina, with funding through NCCOS’s Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise program (EESLR), allows users to evaluate scenarios of coastal saltmarsh health under a suite of sea level rise conditions. In addition to visualizing results through the web interface, users can download the results to create enhanced graphics for communicating results.

Users can input data relevant to any saltmarsh across the country, although, the data contains pre-calibrated settings for five estuaries, including Apalachicola and Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves. These data are from field studies and adjust to represent a number of sea level rise and management scenarios such as: evaluation of marsh health and longevity through the addition of beneficial use sediments, impacts of measures to increase natural sediment deposition, and carbon sequestration potential.

The online tool is built on the latest version (5.4) of the Marsh Equilibrium Model (MEM). MEM evaluates the relationship between a suite of physical (e.g., water level and total suspended solids) and biological factors (e.g., marsh health and biomass production) over time. This zero-dimensional model is coupled with a hydrodynamic model (ADCIRC) to create a dynamic 2-dimensional marsh model called Hydro-MEM. Together these models advance our understanding of the complex relationships among coastal marshes, sea level rise, and hydrodynamics. Advancement of MEM and development of Hydro-MEM are two products from a long-term EESLR project in the northern Gulf of Mexico.