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

Water-Related News

Mote to host fifth Sarasota Lionfish Derby

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Mote Marine Laboratory and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) are teaming up to help combat invasive lionfish that are taking over the Gulf of Mexico. Get ready for the July 6-8 Sarasota Lionfish Derby hosted by Mote, an environmentally beneficial event that helps divers harvest lionfish and provides public education. Join local chefs for a lionfish tasting competition, tickets available for $15 per person.

Lionfish Derbies are an important way to harvest large numbers of this invasive species that has spread along the eastern Atlantic coast, Columbia to Escambia counties. Derbies help divers harvest lionfish and provide public education.

This year’s event will be based at Mote, with a captain's meeting on July 6, lionfish hunting July 7 in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico — tournament boundaries are defined as Collier County to Escambia County — and the lionfish weigh-in July 8 at Mote Marine Laboratory. Cost to participate in the Derby is $120.00 per team (minimum 2 people per team, maximum 4 people). The public is invited to join Mote scientists and derby participants at the weigh-in for educational dissections and lionfish tastings on Sunday.

Trump's move to redefine water rule threatens wetlands banks

GAINESVILLE — A private firm is making big money selling promises about some gator-infested Florida swampland.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank isn't another land boondoggle, but part of a federal system designed to restore wetlands across the United States. Panther Island's owners preserved one of the nation's last stands of virgin bald cypress, 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) on the western edge of the Everglades where they cleared away invasive plants and welcomed back wood storks, otters and other native flora and fauna.

Banks like this sell "wetlands mitigation credits" to developers for up to $300,000 apiece, offsetting the destruction of marshes by construction projects elsewhere. It's a billion-dollar industry that has slowed the loss of U.S. wetlands, half of which are already gone.

This uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands, growing a market for mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups.

Now the market is at risk.

Administrator Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency has completed a proposal for implementing President Donald Trump's executive order to replace the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, with a much more limited definition of what constitutes a protected federal waterway.

F.I.S.H. nets new funding from fundraiser, FWC

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage received another much-needed injection of funding at its June 4 meeting.

Coming off a sub-par Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival fundraiser, FISH board members said they hoped to fill in the revenue shortfall by other means. And so they did. FISH raised $30,000 through participation in the Giving Challenge in May.

The next fiscal gain was larger. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced a gift of $116,000 to help FISH remove invasive vegetation and enhance the 95-acre preserve established by the organization to buffer the fishing village from development.

“This was the highest-scoring and most-liked of all projects statewide,” said Corey Anderson of the FWC. “It has lots of support from lots of people.”

The money will pay for clearing exotic trees and tidal channel excavation within the 95-acre FISH Preserve. Invasive Australian pine and Brazilian pepper trees will be removed from 2.4 acres and tidal channels will be excavated on approximately 1 acre.

The only catch, the money, which will be available July 1, must be spent within 12 months of receipt.

“That’s a relatively quick turnaround,” Anderson said.

Anderson emphasized the money is not a grant. It comes from a $300,000 FWC trust fund dedicated to supporting freshwater marine projects.

The FWC is hiring, supervising and paying the contractor.

FISH is responsible for fulfilling the FWC’s scope-of-work document. FISH has secured permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, according to vice president Jane von Hahmann.

The funding puts FISH, the Cortez group dedicated to preserving and enhancing the commercial fishing way of life, back on track.

Founded in 1991, FISH also operates boat-building and repair programs and members lobby against land developments deemed harmful to commercial fishing.

FISH will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, July 2, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4511 124th St. W.

Study: Anatartica's ice is rapidly melting, threatening coastal communities worldwide

OSLO – An accelerating thaw of Antarctica has pushed up world sea levels by almost a centimeter since the early 1990s in a risk for coasts from Pacific islands to Florida, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

Antarctica has enough ice to raise seas by 190 feet if it ever all melted, dwarfing frozen stores in places from Greenland to the Himalayas and making its future the biggest uncertainty in understanding global warming and ocean levels.

The frozen continent lost almost 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

The thaw, tracked by satellite data and other measurements, contributed 0.3 inches to sea level rise since 1992, they wrote in the journal Nature.

And the ice losses quickened to 219 billion tons a year since 2012, from 76 billion previously. "The sharp increase … is a big surprise," professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds and a leader of the report, told Reuters.

Tampa Bay spill preparation requires constant vigilance and cooperation

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Florida’s stunning Tampa Bay stands out as exactly the kind of place where you have to think about hazardous materials emergencies. It was 25 years ago, on August 10, 1993, that a freighter collided with two barges near the entrance of Tampa Bay, causing a fire and spilling over 32,000 gallons of jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline and about 330,000 gallons of heavy fuel, devastating beaches, wildlife and habitat. Tampa Bay doesn’t want to relive it.

At 400-square miles, Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida. It also boasts more than 80 miles of manmade deepwater shipping channels. The Port of Tampa is also among the nation’s busiest. Every year, more than 4 billion gallons of oil, fertilizer components and other hazardous materials pass through Tampa Bay, all of it transiting the most diverse water bird nesting colonies in North America.

Preparing for and Preventing the Next Big One

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) was established by Congress (in 1991) to assist with Bay protection and improvement efforts. TBEP has a “Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan” to sustain progress in bay restoration through the year 2027. Spill prevention and response gets major attention, which TBEP divides into two broad parts:

•  Technology to improve ship coordination, and
•  A focus on specific environmental priority areas.

For example, Tampa Bay’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) provides information about tides, winds and currents. The Bay is one of a few Coast Guard sites testing virtual, or electronic, navigation aids. On the policy side the Bay has a public-private sector Spill Committee that meets monthly. Readiness includes unannounced drills at industrial facilities. A full-scale test of the Area Contingency Plan is held every four years, at a cost of $100,000.

Tampa Bay is unique, but on the other hand it isn’t. Comprehensive ‘hazmat’ planning occurs everywhere. That’s because, as former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Jim Loy used to say, “If you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port.” Tampa Bay hasn’t had a major spill in 25 years, a record of success largely duplicated across the United States. On the other hand, familiarity breeds contempt in much the same way that complacency tends to distract. In as little as 10 years, autonomous vessels might transit Tampa Bay, or a hundred places in between. Stakeholders find themselves asking, “Does an accident in 1993 properly advise scenario assessments for 2023?”

Photo credit: PORTS

Last call for entries in Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards

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CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay Water, the University of Florida IFAS Extension and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program are accepting final entries for the 2018 Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards. The deadline is quickly approaching and Tampa Bay Water urges all applicants to apply today! The application is available at tampabaywaterwise.org and must be received by June 30.

Residents, businesses, and community organizations in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties are eligible to apply.

Winners receive a custom-made, mosaic landscape stepping stone created by a local artist and the award is presented during a ceremony with county commissioners, city council members or mayors within their local governments.

Each landscape entry is evaluated and scored on-site by a University of Florida IFAS County Extension representative during regular business hours; applicants are not required to be present for this evaluation.

Getting your hands on the award stone requires balancing Florida-friendly plants and landscape elements with attractive design and minimal maintenance, as well as using water-efficient irrigation techniques that reduce water use.

Winning landscapes represent the beauty and resiliency of our natural environment, and awards are given to those who are truly committed to conserving our water resources.

If your yard combines elements of beauty, creativity and water efficiency — don’t wait until the deadline, apply today at tampabaywaterwise.org.

About the Community Water-Wise Awards

The Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards program is designed to recognize attractive, water-conserving landscapes in various water-use sectors (e.g., homes, businesses, industry and government). Moreover, the program seeks to identify actual examples of outstanding Florida-friendly, water-wise landscaping and to promote those principles within the community. To learn more, visit tampabaywaterwise.org

Rainy season fertilizer restrictions now in effect

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Residents and landscapers are reminded that Pinellas County’s fertilizer ordinance prohibits the sale or application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30. Phosphorous cannot be used at any time of the year unless a soil test confirms that it is needed.

The ordinance regulates landscape maintenance practices year-round and the sale and use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous during the rainy season. Homeowners, landscapers and lawn care services must follow the practices described in the ordinance or face fines up to $10,000 per day. All landscapers who apply fertilizer in the county must display a Pinellas County-certified vehicle decal.

The nitrogen/phosphorous ban aims to prevent fertilizer runoff from entering storm drains and lakes, ponds, rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous can cause harmful algae blooms that lower oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Recent data shows that the ordinance is having a positive impact on the aquatic environment.

Pinellas County Environmental Management recommends the following Florida-friendly lawn care best practices to keep a healthy landscape during the summer:

  • Look for products with “0-0” as the first two numbers on the fertilizer label.
  • Apply iron to keep lawns green during the summer without increasing growth, as well as other environmentally friendly landscape products, available at your favorite lawn and garden store.
  • Use compost to enrich soil.
  • Set lawn mower blades between 3½ to 4 inches for St. Augustine turf to encourage deep roots that resist fungus and pests.
  • Buy plants adapted to Florida’s hot and humid climate and plant them in places that suit their sun and water needs.

Pinellas County is one of more than 90 Florida communities that have summertime fertilizer restrictions.

Landscapers and residents looking for more tips on skipping fertilizer can visit, www.befloridian.org. To learn more about Pinellas County’s landscape and fertilizer restrictions, visit the link below.

Mulberry sinkhole filled, trust issues linger for Mosaic

NEW WALES – A massive sinkhole that swallowed millions of gallons of radioactive water and threatened nearby wells in Mulberry is finally filled.

Mosaic says it took nearly two years and 20,000 cubic yards of grout to fill the void at the New Wales fertilizer plant.

The sinkhole cratered beneath a gypsum stack in late August 2016.

It flushed 215 million gallons of slightly radioactive contaminated water used in the fertilizer process into the aquifer.

Mosaic contends it is capturing that water with an aggressive pumping effort.

But after a less than forthcoming beginning, neighbors aren't so sure.

"It sounds good, I reckon, but I don't believe it. Nobody else does either. I don't think they do," said neighbor Eddie Tuten.

Our investigation found that in late August 2016, Mosaic employees saw an alarming dip in the water level in the gypsum stack.

The company alerted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP kept it quiet for nearly three weeks, failing to notify neighbors who were on well water.

See a whale shark in the Gulf? Call Mote Marine Lab immediately!

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Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Mote Marine Laboratory received a report of five whale sharks — Earth’s largest fish species — about 40 miles off Anna Maria Island last weekend, and Mote scientists are asking members of the public to report new sightings off Florida’s Gulf Coast immediately.

“It’s exciting that we are hearing reports of five whale sharks in one area, because it suggests they might be feeding on something in a special spot,” said Dr. Bob Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote.

Whale sharks sporadically visit Southwest Florida’s coastal waters, most likely to filter-feed on localized blooms of plankton or fish eggs. They are easily identified by their massive size, up to about 45 feet, and their polka dot coloration. “It’s important to understand where these sharks migrate, feed and carry out other key parts of their life cycles, so that resource managers can successfully protect them,” Hueter said. “We have placed satellite-linked tracking tags on numerous whale sharks at a major feeding aggregation off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the past decade, but it’s rarer that we can find and tag these huge fish off Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

If others are reported in the Gulf, Hueter and partners want to attach a special type of satellite tag to one or more of these gentle giants, to collect data on their geographic location and the temperatures and depths they encounter over a six-month period.

This tag trails behind the shark’s first dorsal fin on a short tether and, whenever the shark is at the surface, the tag transmits precise location data. Retrieving the tag will yield extensive data, but if it cannot be recovered, the scientists will still receive real-time GPS signals from the tag, revealing where the shark is traveling, along with other summarized data on depth and temperature.

Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Rainy season fertilizer restrictions now in effect

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Residents and landscapers are reminded that Pinellas County’s fertilizer ordinance prohibits the sale or application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30. Phosphorous cannot be used at any time of the year unless a soil test confirms that it is needed.

The ordinance regulates landscape maintenance practices year-round and the sale and use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous during the rainy season. Homeowners, landscapers and lawn care services must follow the practices described in the ordinance or face fines up to $10,000 per day. All landscapers who apply fertilizer in the county must display a Pinellas County-certified vehicle decal.

The nitrogen/phosphorous ban aims to prevent fertilizer runoff from entering storm drains and lakes, ponds, rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous can cause harmful algae blooms that lower oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Recent data shows that the ordinance is having a positive impact on the aquatic environment.

Pinellas County Environmental Management recommends the following Florida-friendly lawn care best practices to keep a healthy landscape during the summer:

  • Look for products with “0-0” as the first two numbers on the fertilizer label.
  • Apply iron to keep lawns green during the summer without increasing growth, as well as other environmentally friendly landscape products, available at your favorite lawn and garden store.
  • Use compost to enrich soil.
  • Set lawn mower blades between 3½ to 4 inches for St. Augustine turf to encourage deep roots that resist fungus and pests.
  • Buy plants adapted to Florida’s hot and humid climate and plant them in places that suit their sun and water needs.

Pinellas County is one of more than 90 Florida communities that have summertime fertilizer restrictions.

Landscapers and residents looking for more tips on skipping fertilizer can visit the Be Floridian website.

Public's help solicited in locating marine debris hot spots

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A new map funded by a Tampa Bay Estuary Program Mini-Grant is designed to use crowdsourced data to help determine what areas around Tampa Bay have the highest concentrations of marine debris. The tides and currents can carry debris from the land and deposit it anywhere along shore, but frequently it collects in specific locations. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission created the interactive map to get information from the public about where they commonly find trash accumulating, so that cleanup organizations can focus on these spots and allocate more resources to keeping them clean!

Users can visit the map to see details about high-trash areas already identified: type of debris, estimated quantity (# of pieces), weight of the items (lbs.), and photos of the area. Using the map's tools, they can add their own information to these pre-identified spots or add new locations where they see garbage collecting.

Because many areas are not be accessible by car, information from boaters, kayakers, and paddle-boarders is especially valuable. If you have any difficulty using the new map or need help to add information, please email Ryan.Druyor@myfwc.com. Please include any information that you would like to share and attach images you have of the site.

Tampa Bay Mini-Grants are funded by sales of TBEP's "tarpon tag". To help support projects, like this, get a Tampa Bay Estuary license plate for your vehicle!

Crews from St. Pete help Bradenton clean up sewage spill

ST. PETERSBURG — When Bradenton public works crews found themselves overwhelmed by a sewage spill Friday, the city's public works department joined with other nearby crews to help clean up the spill.

It all started Thursday when a contractor mistakenly broke a sanitary sewer force main — the pipeline that conveys wastewater.

City of Bradenton crews mobilized to suck up the spills and convey the wastewater to its treatment plant. However, by Friday morning, it was clear the job was too big for the city crews, said Jim Martin with Bradenton Public Works. So they put out the call for help.

Martin said they received assistance from about half a dozen counties, including Manatee, Charlotte and Hillsborough.

The city of St. Petersburg sent a pair of vactor truck crews to assist, said public works spokesman Bill Logan. These trucks have pumps and tanks that are designed to suck up liquids, sludge and sewage.

"We're in this together," St. Petersburg Water Resources Director John Palenchar said. "We're all there to help."

Crews vacuumed waste water and transferred the sewage to non-damaged pipes. Some sewage seeped into storm drains, but it's not clear at this point how much.

Despite the consequences of the spill, Martin said Friday was an example of how cleanups should work — a group of teams coming together to clear the scene as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"We all work for the same people, the public," Martin said. "That's the way it should be."

St. Pete in talks with TECO to discuss biogas project

ST. PETERSBURG — City officials have had two meetings with representatives from TECO Peoples Gas this month to determine whether its possible to use natural gas to power its sanitation trucks.

The renewable energy would come from a $93.6 million biosolids project that the city has been working on for seven years. Now set to be completed in June 2019, the project is designed to convert wastewater byproducts into methane gas at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility next to Eckerd College.

The goal is for that biogas to then integrated into the natural gas distribution system for TECO Peoples Gas.

The project was first conceived in 2011 but all these years later still faces unanswered questions such as: Is Peoples Gas willing to provide a pipeline to get the gas from the new facility to the trucks?

City Council members expressed concern at a May 3 meeting that they still don't know whether Peoples Gas will actually commit to the project. Using biogas to fuel the city's garbage truck fleet is a key part of the city's plan to earn money back from the project.

Hurricane season has anxiety running high. How much is development to blame?

MANATEE – Most agree that a major storm packing fast and furious rain events can't stop flooding from taking place across Manatee County. A lot of factors go into it, including the amount of rain, how fast it drops, tides, stormwater pipe capacity, and yes, development.

While new developments come with the bells and whistles of modern stormwater infrastructure and retention ponds, no one is building a new Ware's Creek or a new Cedar Hammock drainage canal. New drainage pipes can whisk away the water from that particular project, but the water still has only so many places to go.

With hurricane season once again upon us, anxiety levels are running high in those neighborhood that have historical flooding issues, as well as areas that have recently been prone to flooding due to surrounding new development.

Tampa Bay still vulnerable to flooding despite major upgrades

Hundreds of millions have been spent on upgrades, but a major storm is still a threat.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ask anyone who drives in South Tampa. When it comes to flooding, they all know the usual suspects.

The city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods were exposed when record rainfall fell in August 2015, leaving cars stranded and homes and businesses flooded.

Since then, Tampa had passed a new set of taxes and fees allowing it to implement a 10-year plan – a total of $251 million for cleanup and construction.

Several projects are already underway, expanding capacity.

In addition to construction, maintenance projects will keep water moving.

“We have cleaned out outfalls to the tune of about 600 tons of material,” said Tampa Public Works Administrator Brad Baird. “We cleaned out ponds of almost 400 tons of material. All to make the system function better.”

Aside from construction, Tampa improvements in just the first year and a half include:

  • 18.8 miles of stormwater ditch grading
  • 136.8 miles of stormwater pipe inspections and cleaning
  • 20,473 curb miles swept
  • 6,944 tons of debris swept up

In St. Petersburg, the same floodwaters overwhelmed the city's sewers.

Areas that typically flood, like Shore Acres on the city’s west side, were isolated for days.

Since then, St. Pete has also spent millions to expand capacity.

Longboat Key group pushes for sea level rise solutions

The Revitalization Task Force sent a letter to island leaders asking for an infrastructure analysis plan about what parts of the island could be impacted by sea level rise.

The Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force has called for local action on sea level rise, saying recent storms and floods portend more drastic conditions in the future.

In a letter to the Town Commission this week, Revitalization Task Force Chairman Tom Freiwald warned island leaders of the potential adverse impacts of rising sea levels, including more intense storms, higher tides and storm surges and a potential decline in property values.

“LBK needs a well thought-out master plan, combined with a timeline of action, in order to counter all the negativities that will soon cloud our reputation as a reliable long-term investment and desirable place to live,” Freiwald wrote.

Global sea level has been rising over the past century, a rate that has increased in recent decades, which the National Ocean Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributes to continued atmospheric and ocean warming.

The average annual rise in sea levels is one-eighth of an inch, according to NOAA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration estimates that by 2100, sea levels could rise anywhere from just over half a foot to six-and-a-half feet. Most of the island would be underwater if sea levels were to rise six feet, according to NOAA projections.

Landowner hopes mitigation bank will save Parrish property from development

MANATEE – The decades upon decades of cattle farming, citrus cultivation and pine production — then the lifeblood of East Manatee — have slashed and stripped the natural features of a plot of land just southeast of Lake Parrish. In an effort to turn back the clock, the latest effort to set aside land for preservation rather than development can be found in the proposed Manatee Mitigation Bank. A mitigation bank is a piece of disturbed wetlands that, once permitted, is cleaned up by the landowner and assessed for "credits." Local developers who unavoidably destroy similar wetlands with their own projects can buy these "credits" from the "banker," or landowner, to offset their impacts. Each credit can be tens of thousands of dollars, and more valuable depending on the type of wetland. Tampa-based Mitchell Family LLC, headed by George Mitchell, filed their plans earlier this year with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal agency is now taking comments for the proposal.

Manatee County Commission preserves 'vested rights' for Mosaic phosphate mines

MANATEE COUNTY — In a series of unanimous votes Thursday, the Manatee County Commission amended plans for two of Mosaic Fertilizer’s phosphate mines in the Myakka-Duette area.

The revisions involve extending deadlines for the 3,028-acre Wingate Creek Mine and the continued use of clay settling areas at the 2,508-acre Southeast Tract, where mining has been completed and most of the land has undergone environmental restoration.

“We are not asking for additional land to be mined,” said Hugh McGuire, attorney for Mosaic.

The changes partly involve transferring requirements in previous state-mandated “developments of regional impact” into updated local land development agreements. In 2015, the state dismantled the DRI process of getting regional approvals of major developments that could have impacts across county lines.

Mosaic officials said they wanted “vested rights” from what has become an obsolete document under state law reiterated in the county-approved mining plans. They added that they are not seeking changes in groundwater withdrawals, trucking routes, ore processing or zonings.

St. Pete prepares sewage plants for wet weekend ahead

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Workers in St. Petersburg are in a mad dash to get the city’s sewer treatment plants ready for this weekend's deluge of rain water.

Crews at the Southwest Wastewater Plant started working Tuesday to prepare for the wet weather by emptying sewage storage tanks, digging a deep stormwater swale and hauling in pumps to suck up any stormwater on the sewage treatment center's property.

St. Petersburg resident Bert Dooley gets nervous every time rain is in the forecast. His home is just blocks from the Southwest Water Reclamation facility, where crews are working to stop sewage leaks with a $326 million project.

"I think everyone in Pinellas County is concerned with that because it has been such an issue,” Dooley elaborated.

Dooley and his neighbor Harold Wells say they cannot help but feel rattled by rain ever since FWC blasted the city for dumping one billion gallons of waste during heavy rainfall into neighborhoods and Tampa Bay.

“It’s disturbing and I hope that’s something that never ever happens again,” Wells said.

St. Petersburg Public Works leaders say they are confident it will not happen again even with significant rain in the forecast this weekend.

Ken Wise, plant manager at the Southwest facility, says they have nearly doubled capacity which should alleviate many of the issues.

Scientists: Please report horseshoe crabs on Florida's west coast

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They look like tanks.

They hook up on the beach.

Their lineage goes back more than 445 million years.

Call them blue bloods — without the paparazzi.

They are horseshoe crabs. They really do have blue blood.

And although they’re not conventional celebrities, these critters are crucial to human health and the region’s ecosystem.

That realization is propelling increased monitoring and public education efforts on many levels.

It’s no easy task; they cover a lot of territory. Horseshoe crabs are found along the North Atlantic coast, from Mexico to Maine.

They live in shallow ocean waters, coming ashore only to reproduce. They eat fish, algae and crustaceans, and can live about 20 years.

"Crab" is a misnomer. They're more closely related to spiders or scorpions.

Modern horseshoe crabs are not listed as “threatened,” but it's believed their numbers have declined due to over-harvesting and loss of habitat.

Little is known about their numbers today, though, in the Sunshine State.

“They’re poorly understood and understudied,” said Armando Ubeda, marine biologist and Florida Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension for Sarasota County.

Manatee County finalizes purchase for Johnson Preserve at Braden River

MANATEE COUNTY, FL (May 22, 2018) – Manatee County Government and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast today announced the permanent protection of a 44.5-acre preserve on the Braden River that will be named the Floyd C. Johnson & Flo Singer Johnson Preserve at Braden River.

Over the past six months volunteers, donors, private foundations and the Manatee County Commissioners worked together to find a way to purchase the land, the majority of which was slated for development.

Located on the Braden River east of I-75, the 44.5-acre oasis of nature is home to an amazing diversity of plants and animals not normally seen in similar suburban areas, with mature live oaks, tall long leaf pines, important wetlands that store water preventing flooding, imperiled swallowtail kites and gopher tortoises. The land’s riverfront and floodplain forests are part of a corridor linking natural habitat along the Braden River, which supplies drinking water for the City of Bradenton.

Beckett Bridge to remain closed until further notice

Due to a mechanical failure, the Beckett Bridge drawbridge in Tarpon Springs will remain in the closed position until further notice.

The bridge, which spans Whitcomb Bayou on Riverside Drive, remains open to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, but cannot be raised for boaters.

Beckett Bridge is the only drawbridge of its kind in Pinellas County, featuring a single-leaf movable span rather than the standard double-leaf span. It is also one of the oldest bridges in the country.

Pinellas County Public Works staff is working to secure a special order part that is needed to repair the bridge, which was built in 1924 and reconstructed in 1956.

City of Clearwater seeking interns for Stormwater Utility positions

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A one-year intern position is available for tasks associated with the following descriptions. Responsible work in calculating the Stormwater Utility Billing for commercial customers found within City limits. Employee will receive inquiries regarding stormwater billing complaints from customers, customer service, and supervisors, and is responsible for coordinating resolutions for these problems. Duties include the managing of Stormwater Utility records for departmental use; making field inspections in preparation of utility billing; communication with new and existing customers; and utilizing the GIS ArcMap software to accurately calculate Stormwater Utility Billing. This position will be available for a full year. Prefer a candidate who can provide 15-20 hours a week of availability.

There will be possible opportunities to gain construction, environmental, utility, and traffic experience throughout the Engineering Department.

A Summer intern position is available for the following tasks: Coordination with city staff and consultant on the verification of existing stormwater pipes. Work will include field verification, data entry, and other related tasks. Prefer a student who can work up to 29 hours a week from May 7 through August 17.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: Candidate who is a math/science/engineering student that has completed their freshman year of college. Candidate must possess a valid driver’s license. Experience with MS Word and MS Excel software required.

HIGHLY DESIRABLE: Has some experience using GIS Arcmap and AutoCAD.

These are paid positions.

Full position description »

Employment application »

Back to the future? Hillsborough Planning Commission okays filling lagoon for townhomes

TAMPA — Think of the bay breeze wafting through Snell Isle’s graceful curving streets, Davis Islanders’ stunning views of Hillsborough Bay, or the man-made fingers that make up Venetian Isles.

Many of Tampa Bay’s most scenic and pricey waterfront neighborhoods were built by pouring soil into the open water. Known as "dredge and fill," the practice largely ended in the 1970s as lawsuits and state and federal laws designed to protect marine environments made it difficult.

Now, officials in Tampa may be turning back the clock.

On Monday, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a proposal to fill in 3 acres of open water north of Rocky Point Drive, near the eastern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

An Albany, N.Y., developer wants to build 16 townhomes there, each 3?½ stories high with a private dock. Residents would enjoy views of private Scarborough Park and what’s left of an 8.8 acre lagoon once part of it is filled to create the property.

The 6-3 vote followed more than 90 minutes of contentious discussion among planning commissioners, neighbors and businesses. Opponents call it a precedent-setting decision that would harm marine life, limit public access to the water, and encourage people to move into a coastal flood zone.

Harbour Island residents take issue with plans for sewage line replacement

Neighbors in Tampa’s Harbour Island are upset and want answers about the city’s plans to replace a sewage pipeline running through the middle of their community

“The more I find out about it, the more I’m scared that they don’t know what they’re doing,” said Larry Premak, president of the South Neighborhood Association.

With Downtown Tampa facing a major facelift thanks to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, the reliability of the existing sewage pipeline could make a potential problem much more stinky.

“I didn’t realize we were essentially Tampa’s toilet going all the way up to Fowler Avenue. There is a lot of sewage going through us,” said resident Sam Hallenbeck. He’s lived in the neighborhood for 18 years.

Residents are essentially sitting on a ticking time bomb -- the pipeline put down in 1951 was only made to last 75 years. City leaders say it’s reaching its limit.

It runs through Harbor Island and ends at the Howard F. Curren Wastewater Treatment Plant. It carries 30 percent of the city's wastewater, which is more than 15 million gallons a day.

It's why Tampa leaders hosted a meeting Wednesday night to make residents aware of the problem and talk options for replacement.

Those options aren’t sitting well residents who say construction always takes longer than expected.

Mosaic sinkhole finally closed, almost two years later

Two years after it swallowed 215M gallons of polluted water, a Mosaic sinkhole is finally corked

Nearly two years after a massive sinkhole opened at Mosaic’s Mulberry phosphate processing plant, a company spokeswoman says it has been sealed at last and will be completely filled by the end of May.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved demobilizing the deep drilling and grouting equipment used to fill the chasm "since the sinkhole now is sealed in accordance with the consent order requirements," said Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron, which a DEP official confirmed.

All that’s left is some cosmetic work, Barron said.

"We’re currently working to fill the upper portion of the cavity, close the opening and level the surface," she said, predicting that would be done in the next two weeks.

This was no ordinary sinkhole. It was viewed at first as a potential threat to the area’s water supply, and the way it was revealed prompted Gov. Rick Scott to push for a change in state law.

Challenger students experience Florida wetlands without leaving school

SPRING HILL — Mouths dropped as students walked through the door and were immersed in an underwater cave of the Florida aquifer, looking up at the mouth of a natural spring.

Beyond the aquifer model was an equally impressive diaroma of the Florida wetlands, and a variety of hands-on environmental education exhibits and games, all in a 53-foot tractor-trailer transformed into WaterVentures, Florida’s Learning Lab. There were lots of buttons to push, knobs to turn and giant screens that oozed with environmental facts.

The mobile learning lab recently visited Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics two times: on April 11 for fourth-graders, and on April 26 for fifth-graders.

"It’s really cool," said fifth-grade student Grace Bartolomeo. "I feel like I can learn a lot in here."

"I liked learning about the water cycle," said fifth-grader Joseph Rozsa. "It was cool to see how it evaporates ... The aquifer was my favorite."

WaterVentures is a free resource through Crystal Springs Foundation that visits schools, fairs and other events throughout Florida, providing an innovative, hands-on experience on Florida’s watersheds, water conservation and recycling.

Majorities see government efforts to protect the environment as insufficient

Majorities of Americans say the federal government is doing too little to protect key aspects of the environment including water (69%) and air quality (64%). And two-thirds of Americans (67%) say the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. These findings come after a year of change in climate and energy regulatory policies under the Trump administration.

Majorities of U.S. adults say federal government is not doing enough to protect environment in these waysAt the same time, Americans are closely divided (52% to 48%) over whether or not it is possible to cut back on regulations while still effectively protecting air and water quality. There are wide political divides on this issue, with roughly three-quarters of Republicans (74%, including independents who lean Republican) convinced this is possible but 64% of Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) convinced it is not possible.

The national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted March 27-April 9 among 2,541 adults, finds pockets of partisan agreement over expanding solar and wind power, though wide political divides remain over increasing fossil fuels through such methods as coal mining, hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, a pattern consistent with a 2016 Pew Research Center survey.