Water-Related News

Author Cynthia Barnett leads forum on Pinellas water issues Feb. 28

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Join award-winning water author and journalist Cynthia Barnett and local experts for an honest, aspirational conversation on the future of water in Pinellas County. Our community overcame decades-long water wars over public supply and helped rejuvenate Tampa Bay from the brink of collapse. Facing new water challenges and a warming world, how can citizens and local government again work together to foster innovative solutions and develop a water ethic that will last for generations?

Other participants include:

  • Paul Boudreaux, Professor, Environmental Law, Stetson University College of Law
  • Dr. Christopher F. Meindl, Professor, Geography & Florida Studies, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
  • Doug Robison, Senior Scientist & VP, Environmental Science Associates
  • Moderator: Dr. Linae Boehme, Interim Director, Bay Pines STEM Center, St. Petersburg College

Seating is limited and online registration is required.

This event is one in a series of programs developed with the Suncoast Sea Level Rise Collaborative.

Robinson Preserve’s environmental classroom taking nature’s shape

In nature, there are no right angles. So when planning for Manatee County’s first true environmental classroom, it was natural for Charlie Hunsicker to want one without any boxes, squares or rectangles.

“It’s the intent to insight the wonder of exploration of this property without the right angles not found in nature,” Manatee County’s parks and natural resources director said as he watched construction of the environmental classroom at Robinson Preserve.

Construction crews were on-site Friday morning working on the 1,700-square-foot environmental center, elevated boardwalks and restrooms. The project is about 40 percent complete.

Backwood Bridges LLC, based in the Panhandle town of Freeport, was sawing the edges of the boardwalk, which leads up to the Mosaic Center for Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology.

Clearwater couple wins 2016 Water-Wise Award

Tiki and Brian Bates of Clearwater are the winners of the 2016 Water-Wise Award in the single-family residential category.

Tiki was on hand at the Jan. 24 Pinellas County Commissioners meeting where she received recognition and the coveted mosaic-glass stone from Brian Niemann, Florida-Friendly Landscaping Extension agent and commission Chair Janet Long.

The Bates have lived in their home in Coachman Lakes Estate since 2000 and have spent many years working to transform their yard into an urban oasis, Niemann said. Because their yard wasn’t suitable for growing grass, they decided to create a landscape made up entirely of shrubs, trees and groundcovers.

Niemann pointed out that their wise choice of plants makes it possible for their landscape to exist primarily on rainfall. The couple does have a 1,200-gallon cistern and a series of hoses they can use. In times of extreme drought, they also can use the in-ground irrigation system that came with the house to keep their plants alive.

Florida lawmakers push water agenda

WASHINGTON – Fully upgrading the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee could be done three years ahead of schedule if Congress appropriated the full amount this year to complete the project, a senior U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official told a gathering of congressional lawmakers from Florida Wednesday (Feb. 15th).

“If we were able to maximize funding, we think we could move the timetable up to 2022 (from 2025),” Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, the agency’s deputy district commander for South Florida, told the group. “There are some constraints with being able to work on components of the dike at the same time, so we don’t think it’s feasible to speed it up any faster than (that).”

But convincing Congress to pony up the $800 million for the dike — not to mention funds for dozens of other Everglades-related projects — won’t be easy considering the limited resources and competing interests on Capitol Hill, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Weston.

“We should all maintain a constant worry that the patience of our colleagues who have very major water projects of their own (around the nation) in the queue and the number of years that this project was expected to take — and is taking — has a tendency to wear thin not only on the staff that makes recommendations on funding these projects but on our colleagues.”

The bipartisan Florida congressional delegation met to discuss the state’s significant water woes, which range from last summer’s toxic algae blooms along the Atlantic coast that were visible from space, nutrient-addled shorelines in Southwest Florida that have wreaked economic devastation, and red tides that led to massive fish kills near Sarasota.

Much of Wednesday’s meeting focused on speeding up and funding the massive, multibillion-dollar project to rehabilitate the Everglades.

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

Florida lawmakers in DC learn there are no easy fixes for red tide plague

Red tide has become a vexing issue for many residents of Sarasota and Manatee counties over the past year, but lawmakers from Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation learned Wednesday that the natural phenomenon is hard to stop.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, the co-chairman of the state’s delegation, which met as a group for the first time this year Wednesday, opened up the line of questioning by asking what was the best course of action that the federal government could take to fight red tide and its potential impact both on the coastline and state’s tourism industry.

One big problem with red tide is the damage it inflicts on tourism and seafood industries. NOAA estimates that $82 million a year in economic loss in the United States can be attributed to toxic algal blooms, which includes red tide.

A few methods of reducing red tide were brought up during the meeting, including disrupting stagnant fresh waterways, which algal blooms thrive in, said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Hillsborough won't increase accepted lead levels in wastewater but arsenic limits remain undecided

Hillsborough County won't allow industrial companies to dump more lead into its wastewater system after all.

As for arsenic, that's still up for debate.

County commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to keep at existing levels the allowable concentrations of toxic materials in wastewater from industrial facilities, backing away from a proposal to raise the threshold for nine chemicals, including lead.

But the county delayed a decision on what to do about arsenic after a company said it has trouble meeting the existing limit of 0.25 milligrams per liter.

The company, Progressive Waste Solutions, which operates the Sun Country Landfill in Wimauma, has at times exceeded the current allowable levels of arsenic in wastewater tests, according to a recent county review of the results.

Manatee County votes 5-2 to approve Mosaic phosphate mine

In a series of 5-2 votes, the Manatee County Commission on Wednesday approved a rezoning and a master mining plan so Mosaic Fertilizer can extend its phosphate mining operations in the Myakka-Duette area to its Wingate East property.

Commissioners Betsy Benac, Vanessa Baugh, Stephen Jonsson, Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Carol Whitmore formed the majority. They added the caveat that "waivers" Mosaic requested for reduced setbacks from the mining operation from Duette Road, Duette Preserve and off-site wetlands be denied. Mosaic agreed to the conditions.

Commissioners Charles Smith and Robin DiSabatino cast dissenting votes. Smith made a previous motion to deny both the rezoning and mine plan, with DiSabatino being the only other vote in favor.

Benac told environmentalists, neighbors and others who spoke against the mine that the commission was not deciding "a popularity contest." She said Mosaic could sue the county if it denied the project. "The fact of the matter is they have property rights."

A new rain gauge on Mill Creek will be the county's ninth gauge on waterways

Manatee County is installing a new stream and rainfall collection gauge to help it anticipate floods in the Mill Creek area.

The installation should be complete within 90 days.

“It communicates as it operates every second, every minute,” said Sia Mollanazar, the deputy director of engineering for the Manatee County Public Works department. “We could look at real-time data on any given day, how much rain was falling where, at what rate. It will show the corresponding flood level within the river rain system.”

So why is that so important?

Mill Creek is a flood-prone watershed and such information is useful for Manatee County staff as it monitors conditions. It also provides important information when it comes to the design of stormwater facilities associated with road projects.

Long term, if data show the Mill Creek area floods less than indicated on Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps, that could mean a roadway could be built at a lower elevation, saving on engineering, stormwater, fill dirt and other costs.

Wanted: site captains for April 22nd Great American Cleanup

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful recruits volunteers to foster unity and strengthen community bonds through beautification and improvement efforts across Hillsborough County. Any individual, family, school, group, place of worship, business or government entity can coordinate or participate. For more than twenty years, this locally activated community improvement program brings the power of volunteers and sponsors together to inspire change and build sustainable, vibrant communities.

Sign up to be a Site Captain (link): https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeIs32fDQWzcHb6qidUQzdsqo6SYaXnB9h9qiuStUwfl0nLhg/viewform

Projects may include:

  • Community gardens (butterfly, sensory, vegetable)
  • Habitat restoration
  • Invasive plant removal
  • Litter cleanups (waterways, roadways, shorelines, parks and underwater dives)
  • Landscape maintenance and planting (weeding, trimming, etc.)
  • Playground/park equipment restoration (painting, mulching, etc.)
  • Storm drain marking
  • Tree plantings

* Trash bags, water and soft gloves are provided. Promotional give-a-ways available while supplies last.*

Long slog likely if Trump EPA attempts WOTUS do-over

President Trump's pick to lead U.S. EPA, Scott Pruitt, is an avowed foe of the agency's Clean Water Rule.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the Obama administration over what he deemed an unlawful expansion of federal regulatory power over isolated streams and wetlands. And if he's confirmed as EPA chief, he has said he will replace the rule.

But legal experts say killing that rule is one thing, replacing it another.

The regulation — which is also known by an acronym, WOTUS, for "Waters of the United States" — was written by the Obama EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to help regulators and landowners end a murky, decadeslong legal battle over the reach of the Clean Water Act.

At issue: unclear case law and a vaguely written statute.

Bernadette Rappold, former director of the EPA Office of Civil Enforcement's Special Litigation and Projects Division, said all the legal baggage complicates the effort to write a clear, scientifically defensible rule for protecting areas that are valuable as filters for water pollution, buffers for floodwaters and habitat for wildlife.

Florida has seen bad effects from Trump-like climate gag orders

Kristina Trotta was working for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Miami in 2014 when she and her colleagues were called into a staff meeting. “We were told by the regional director that we were no longer supposed to say ‘global warming,’ ‘climate change’ or ‘sea level rise,’” says Trotta, who works on coral reef conservation. “We were finally told we are the governor’s agency and this is what the governor wants, and so this is what we’re going to do.”

Florida’s hush order, along with a similar effort in North Carolina, offers a preview of what will happen if Pres. Donald Trump continues preliminary moves to muzzle climate communication from key federal agencies. The Florida gag effort was part of a broader move by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who questions the scientific consensus on climate change. Experts and local officials say it hampered community efforts to plan for worsening flooding and extreme weather.

Now on the national level all references to climate change have been removed from the White House Web site (except those promising to eliminate Obama climate policies). Trump aides also reportedly ordered the deletion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s main page on the topic, although those plans were put on hold after word leaked out. Federal agencies have more responsibilities than state authorities, including gathering and analyzing authoritative data about effects on wide areas of the country. If they pull back, the negative effects could be much bigger.

What’s a “Splash Trash Tour”?

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Splash Trash Tour to promote clean beaches, waterways stops at Robinson Preserve in February

MANATEE COUNTY – Visitors to Robinson Preserve’s Valentine House will soon have an opportunity to learn about protecting beaches and the Gulf of Mexico as part of an environmental exhibit moving around the state.

The Splash Trash Tour is an arts-based, hands-on Pop Up Show that's fun for all ages, presentations to local groups and work with schools and youth. It is visiting six Florida counties in early 2017 and Manatee County is its third stop. The tour promotes dialogue and action about trash in oceans and what can be done to make a difference. Created by environmental communicator, Bette Booth, the tour is an artistic exhibit that utilizes trash items found in the ocean to create art.

“We’re extremely excited to host the tour here in Manatee County,” says Melissa Nell, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Volunteer and Education Division Manager. “The sculptures and artwork in the tour makes a striking visual impact that definitely evokes wonder at the sheer volume and diversity of trash found in our world’s oceans. By hosting the tour, we hope to not only inform viewers but to also inspire them to take action to improve the situation.”

The tour will stop at the Valentine House Feb. 15 - 25 and will be hosted in and around Robinson Preserve’s Valentine House. Throughout the tour’s stop at Robinson, a variety of special programs will be held.

“We’re particularly excited about the programs,” said Nell, “Participants will have the opportunity to create a piece of art to add to the tour.”

On both Feb. 18 and 25 guided tours of the exhibit will be hosted at the site, from 9 - 11 a.m. and from 2 - 4 p.m., with each event including hands-on activities to further the learning experience.

A grand opening for the exhibit will be held Friday, Feb. 17 from 4 - 7 p.m. The tour’s artist Bette Booth will be present to host and there will be light refreshments to celebrate. Additional programs during the week will include two library talks, one for adults and one for children, and several homeschool programs too.

Walton County was the first stop on the Tour and the response was overwhelming, Booth says. In the first week the tour worked with high school science classes, presented at the local college, created beach trash art with a local 4-H club and held the Pop Up Show at the 4-H Pancake Breakfast. More than 200 people participated and half of those made a public commitment to adopt a new habit that will reduce plastic in the ocean.

Contact Information

Melissa Nell

Vounteer/Education Coordinator, Manatee County Government

(941) 748-4501 x6042

Legislature needs educating about flood risk

A state senator proposing legislation to mitigate flood risk said Friday that lawmakers in Tallahassee don’t fully appreciate the extent of that risk.

Brandes discussed flood insurance during the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Insurance Summit in Miami.

He has introduced SB 584, to create a statewide flood mitigation and assistance program, providing up to $50 million per year in matching grant money.

The money would help reduce the risk and severity of coastal flooding by using Amendment 1 resources for land acquisition and preservation, and extending the expiration of deregulated rates in flood insurance to 2025 from 2017, giving the flood insurance market more time to grow.

National Flood Insurance Program costs less in communities that have mitigated their flood risk, Brandes said during a short interview.

What would happen to Florida if the EPA really did go away?

For years the Environmental Protection Agency has been depicted as a jackbooted thug, a humorless generator of red tape, even the nefarious villain in such films as The Simpsons Movie and the original Ghostbusters.

Now the agency started by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, faces an uncertain future. The new president who once pledged to eliminate it now promises to refocus it. The man he nominated to be its new leader, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, made his reputation suing it. Meanwhile, a Florida congressman has filed a bill to obliterate it.

Under the bill filed by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the EPA would cease to exist at the end of 2018.

"They have exceeded their original mission substantially under both Republican and Democratic presidents and violated the sovereignty of the states," Gaetz said in explaining his bill. "I think we need to start fresh."

His bill would leave it to "states and local governments to protect their environmental assets in the absence of federal overreach."

Will Hillsborough increase allowed levels of industrial toxins in wastewater?

Hillsborough County is considering an ordinance to deal with wastewater; environmentalists say overall that’s a good thing but there’s concern about one aspect: a proposal to allow higher levels of some industrial toxins in wastewater before it gets treated.

Kent Bailey, chair of Tampa Bay Sierra Club met with some members of county staff Friday morning to address his concerns.

“The Sierra Club is particularly concerned about new standards, which would establish allowable levels for two chemicals that have previously not been a part of our ordinance and regulated. One is dichlorobenzene and the other is DEHP.

“Now, DEHP has been banned by the European union. They don’t allow it there. It has been identified as one of the 6th most dangerous chemicals in the world, to human beings. It is associated with various cancers of reproductive organs in men and women, breast cancer. It interferes with the proper development of the sex organs in embryos and has numerous other health implications and we’re very concerned about the prospect of seeing DEHP or dichlorobenzene in our bay waters.

“The staff was very forthcoming. We appreciate, very much, the opportunity to talk to them about this ordinance. And while they didn’t have answers to all of our questions, we’ve been promised that they will get back to us, especially about these two particularly bad chemicals, the DEHP and the dichlorobenzene and assure us that these are not going to be finding their way into our bay ecosystem.”

“The ordinance is over 120 pages long and our concern is pretty much related to just 3 or 4 of those 120 some pages. It’s gonna do a lot to reduce stormwater intrusion into our wastewater system. It’s gonna help our wastewater system work more efficiently. It’s gonna save taxpayers money. It’s overall a really great ordinance, I think. A good ordinance. Outside of our concerns about allowing higher levels of some pollutants and most particularly the DEHP and the dichlorobenzene, we’re happy to see this coming forward.”

Obliterating EPA would create chaos, experts say

After soliciting endorsement from his colleagues earlier this week to eradicate the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has garnered support from a trio of congressmen in what he assures would translate to a smooth transition in oversight and regulations from the federal government to individual states.

But legal experts disagree with the Fort Walton Beach Republican, arguing that eliminating the agency would incite statutory chaos and devastating impacts to human health and the environment.

"When it was originally created, states and local communities didn’t have the technology or expertise to protect the environment," said Gaetz, who has targeted 2018 for when he hopes to see the agency disappear. "We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years. Time and again, I’ve seen constituents unknowingly subject themselves to the oppressive jurisdiction of the EPA by doing simple things."

Gaetz said Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) have agreed to co-sponsor a bill to the House Committee on Natural Resources to eliminate the agency. At that point, the committee's chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), would decide if it would be put to a vote. Many environmental protection laws create legal standing for states to enforce federally administrated regulations. Gaetz contended that without the EPA, authority for those laws would simply shift to states. But multiple professors at the University of Florida Levin College of Law contradicted him.

"A lot of states just don’t have resources available to them," said Mary Jane Angelo, professor and director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Program at the university. "Wealthier states would have better protection for their citizens’ health than poorer states."

In Florida, debate over pollution limits rages

In Florida, members of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation argued with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in January about its handling of controversial new water pollution limits.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that In May, the DEP introduced an update to human health criteria “for 43 chemical compounds that are allowed in Florida’s rivers, lakes and estuaries and [created] new limits for 39 others.”

The agency’s plan received a lot of criticism from environmental groups, not only because of the relaxed standards for some of the chemicals but also because of the way the agency presented the proposal.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that on May 15 Florida wanted to weaken its restrictions on roughly two dozen cancer-causing chemicals that it would allow in its surface waters.

DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said the coverage "inaccurately and unfairly" depicted the agency's proposal.

"The state has some of the most comprehensive water quality standards in the country, including the most advanced numeric nutrient criteria in the entire nation," Steverson told the Tallahassee Democrat. "We will continue to coordinate with EPA to adopt standards that will ensure our residents and natural resources enjoy clean and safe water."

Originally, the DEP stated that it would take the proposal to the state Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) for approval in the fall but changed the meeting to July. The ERC had then voted on the plan while two of its seats set aside for environmental and local government representation were vacant. The ERC in July approved the limits in a 3 to 2 vote.

Pinellas Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force presented with preliminary action plan

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The second countywide Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force meeting was held on Monday, Jan. 30, at St. Petersburg College Seminole campus, with the Technical Working Group—a body comprised of 17 technical representatives from utility agencies within Pinellas County—presenting the Task Force Steering Committee members with its findings and recommendations to reduce wastewater overflow issues around the County.

The Initial Action Plan included an analysis of the events that led to the recent overflow situation during Hurricane Hermine and provided recommended approaches to avoiding future sanitary sewer overflows, including:

  • Increasing wastewater treatment capacity at appropriate levels
  • Increasing wastewater storage capacity at appropriate levels
  • Reducing inflow and infiltration of stormwater and groundwater into the separate sanitary sewer system

The Technical Working Group’s recommendation merged the three solutions into a cohesive plan of action to reduce the greatest cause of inundation of the system—inflow and infiltration of stormwater and groundwater into the sanitary sewer system—at the same time, incrementally increasing treatment capacity and/or storage capacity where applicable or appropriate.

Additionally, the technical working group recommends implementing a countywide public dialogue program to increase education outreach and citizen engagement.

The Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force formed last year to address countywide wastewater and stormwater issues brought about by heavy rainfall events. The countywide team is comprised of leaders and staff from Pinellas County Government, 17 municipal partners and three private utility systems.

In response to the common goals established at the first Task Force meeting, the Technical Working Group has been meeting over the last three months to evaluate each utility system’s status in regards to rehabilitation and replacement projects that are underway and/or planned, collaborate on common approaches to remediate system-wide issues and discuss detailed future mitigation plans to avoid sanitary sewer overflows during extreme weather events.

Leaders and staff will continue to meet and track progress of the various joint initiatives.

Public invited to Eco Fun Festival Feb. 26

Pinellas County Solid Waste will be hosting the 1st Annual Eco Fun Festival on Sunday, Feb. 26, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., at Bridgeway Acres Commons on the grounds of the solid waste facility, located at 11418 34th St. N., in Clearwater. The event is free and open to the public. Free parking will also be provided.

This family-friendly event will feature tours of Pinellas County’s Solid Waste Facility, educational and environmental presentations, environmentally-themed exhibitors, equipment demonstrations, giveaways, food vendors and the ever-popular Touch-a-Truck exhibit in the park-like atmosphere of the newly-designated Bridgeway Acres Commons—a dedicated green space within the facility.

The goal of the Eco Fun Festival is to showcase the many options residents have to make positive environmental changes in their lifestyle, homes and community. These positive changes can add up and have a big impact on preserving our local environment.

Other learning opportunities will include: today’s recycling system, composting, using rain barrels to supplement your landscape’s water needs, sustainable gardening techniques to increase availability of healthy food, understanding our watershed system in Pinellas County, protecting our waterways and marine animals, energy-efficiency for the home and much more.

The Touch-a-Truck display will include the Walking Excavator, a multi-legged, backhoe-type machine that is used to excavate and clear vegetation. Other equipment will include a Pinellas County Mosquito Control airboat and fogger truck, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s marine rescue vehicle, a life-saving Sunstar ambulance, an aircraft firefighting vehicle, bucket trucks, dump trucks and many more.

The first 2,500 registered attendees will receive a reusable cup and bag. For more information about Eco Fun Festival and to register for the event, please visit www.pinellascounty.org/ecofunfest.

For more information about Pinellas County Solid Waste, visit www.pinellascounty.org/solidwaste.

Tampa Bay seagrasses continue to surpass recovery goal

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Excerpted from TBEP's Feb. 2017 Bay Postscript:

Seagrasses in Tampa Bay increased by more than 1,360 acres, or nearly 3.3%, since 2014, adding to the record-breaking gains reported two years ago, according to survey results released today.

Overall, seagrasses cover 41,655 acres of bay bottom, a number that continues to surpass the 38,000-acre goal set by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP), and sets a new record for the highest amount of seagrass documented since 1950.

However, scientists caution, the aerial surveys that form the basis of the seagrass estimates were conducted during the winter of 2015-2016—before the torrential rains of last summer caused emergency sewer discharges into portions of the bay. Sewer overflows associated with heavy rainfall also occurred throughout the bay in summer 2015.

Seagrass gains were documented in every bay segment but Middle Tampa Bay, which lost 42 acres from 2014 to early 2016. Middle Tampa Bay refers to waters south of the Gandy Bridge, including Hillsborough's South Shore to the Manatee County border, and coastal St. Petersburg to Coquina Key.

The largest gain, 874 acres, was documented in Old Tampa Bay, where historically seagrass recovery and water quality have trailed other bay areas. Old Tampa Bay encompasses the waters from the Gandy Bridge north to Oldsmar and east to Tampa.

Boca Ciega Bay ranked second in acreage gains, with 190 new acres observed.

Hillsborough Bay gained 34 additional acres of seagrass. Hillsborough Bay is traditionally the most heavily impacted part of the bay, encompassing downtown Tampa, the iconic Bayshore Boulevard, and a busy industrial port.

"Overall this is good news," said Holly Greening, director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. "We will need to carefully watch trends in future years to make sure we maintain progress in bay recovery."

Seagrasses are important because they are natural "fish factories" that need clean water to flourish. They support a variety of juvenile fish, shrimp, crabs, marine worms and other bay creatures, and remove and store carbon that contributes to greenhouses gases.

The seagrass surveys are coordinated by scientists with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). Aerial photos are taken every two years in winter, when bay waters are clearest. The digital imagery is plotted, analyzed and ground-truthed to verify accuracy. SWFWMD has used this comprehensive process to track trends in seagrass extent in Florida estuaries since 1988.

State may require licensing for kayaks, canoes, paddle boards

Update: FWC refutes assertion that licensing is intended

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released a statement clarifying its position on the licensing of non-motorized watercraft, as follows:

Today, a group of citizens and stakeholders charged to make recommendations to FWC’s Boating Advisory Council considered a proposal for expanding vessel registration to non-motorized boats in Florida. The FWC appreciates the work of this advisory group, but we are not supportive of increasing fees on Floridians or visitors who participate in non-motorized boating. The FWC greatly values our boating community and will continue to work hard to keep Florida’s standing as the boating capital of the world without increasing costs and fees.

—Nick Wiley, FWC Executive Director

Original News Article:

To fans of kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding, gliding along Florida waters is an expression of freedom; to advocates of boating-regulation reform, it's time to mandate licensing for small craft without motors.

A citizens panel assembled by state-boating authorities will meet in Orlando on Wednesday to explore what could become a path to adopting registration and fees for small boats powered by humans, wind and currents.

"That sounds like a root canal for a paddler," said retired Coast Guard officer William Griswold, a member of the Non-Motorized Boats Working Group, a panel reporting ultimately to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "But we need to start to get a grip on how many of these boats are out there."

Proposals for licensing Florida's canoes, kayaks and other motorless craft have surfaced in past years.

Each has been met by vehement opposition from paddlers and sailors of small boats, who say their pastime is healthy, affordable, inflicts little harm to the environment and is akin to riding a bicycle.

Public expresses mostly opposition to Mosaic mine expansion

As a public hearing about Mosaic Fertilizer's plan to expand its phosphate mining operations in the Duette-Myakka area continued Monday, dozens of residents and environmentalists urged the Manatee County Commission to deny the project.

Mosaic - owner of the Four Corners Mine spanning Manatee, Hillsborough, Hardee and Polk counties, and the Wingate Creek Mine in Manatee - wants to rezone nearly 3,596 acres flanking Duette Road and known as its Wingate East property from agriculture to extraction, which will allow the mining of phosphate ore. Phosphate is an ingredient in fertilizer products.

On Thursday, the first day of the hearing, Mosaic executives and consultants testified that the proposed dredge and dragline mining at Wingate East will have "no significant impact" on the environment, that protected wildlife will be moved before mining and that natural habitat will be restored after mining.

Yet during the public comment portion of the hearing, which ended Monday, most speakers adamantly disagreed with Mosaic's claims.

President Trump transition leader's goal is two-thirds cut in EPA employees

The red lights are flashing at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The words of Myron Ebell, the former head of President Donald Trump's EPA transition team, warn employees of a perilous future. Ebell wants the agency to go on a severe diet.

It's one that would leave many federal employees with hunger pains, and jobless too.

Ebell has suggested cutting the EPA workforce by 5,000, about a two-thirds reduction, over the next four years. The agency's budget of $8.1 billion would be sliced in half under his prescription, which he emphasized is his own and not necessarily Trump's.

MOTE debuts podcat: "Two Sea Fans"

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Hear true stories of marine research from scientists who dive hundreds of feet, tag big sharks, collect fish poop, and have many other adventures in the name of research and conservation, in the new podcast “Two Sea Fans.”

In each episode, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists and their partners have fun and educational conversations with hosts Joe Nickelson and Hayley Rutger, two sea fans who love communicating marine science to help listeners become more ocean-literate.

New episodes debut every two weeks, streaming at www.mote.org/podcasts and available for free download through iTunes.

Changes in rainfall, temperature expected to transform coastal wetlands this century

Sea-level rise isn’t the only aspect of climate change expected to affect coastal wetlands: changes in rainfall and temperature are predicted to transform wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world within the century. These changes will take place regardless of sea-level rise, a new study from the US Geological Survey and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley concludes.

Such changes are expected to affect the plant communities found in coastal wetlands. For example, some salt marshes are predicted to become mangrove forests, while others could become salty mud flats. These shifts in vegetation could affect the ecological and economic services wetlands provide to the communities that rely on them.

“Coastal wetlands are an invaluable resource,” said Christopher Gabler, a former USGS scientist, currently an assistant professor at the Texas university, and lead author of the study, published January 23 in Nature Climate Change. “They protect surrounding communities from storms and coastal erosion, support fisheries and wildlife, purify water pollution, and help prevent dead zones from forming in the Gulf.”

Deadline March 27th for Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund applications

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The Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund - 2017 (TBERF-2017) is a strategic partnership between the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) and Restore America's Estuaries (RAE). To date, funding for TBERF-2017 has been provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Hillsborough County, Florida Department of Transportation, the Mosaic Company Foundation, the City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Tampa Electric Company, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission and Port Tampa Bay. TBERF-2017 is designed to return added value to current and future Tampa Bay conservation initiatives and provides funding through a competitive application process for projects that will protect, restore or enhance the natural resources of Tampa Bay and its contributing watershed.

The TBERF-2017 Request for Proposal documents are available online at the TBERF Section of the TBEP Technical Projects website.


Proposals must be submitted electronically by 5:00 pm EST, March 27, 2017. Late applications will not be accepted. Email completed proposals to Maya Burke, TBEP Technical Projects Coordinator.


TBERF-2017 seeks applications for cost-effective projects that will implement the coastal, estuarine and freshwater wetland habitat and water quality restoration priorities that have been developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and its partners, and outlined in the Tampa Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), Charting the Course.

Contact Information

Maya Burke

Technical Projects Coordinator, Tampa Bay Estuary Program

(727) 893-2765

Sea level rise could have water lapping at Tampa's edges in 2040, study says

TAMPA — Rising sea levels could swell Tampa Bay 5 to 19 inches over the next quarter-century, sending more water to lap at the edges of the city of Tampa.

That's one conclusion of a new analysis from the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission, which looked at how potential sea-level rise could affect Tampa and its most flood-prone areas through the year 2040.

"This is actually one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge, that this region has," says Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen, whose low-lying South Tampa district already is checkered with flood-prone neighborhoods. He ticks off the challenges affected by rising water: transportation, infrastructure, development, having clean drinking water.

"All these things are inter-related," he says. "Our economic future is dependent on us being dry and us not being so threatened by flooding that people can't live, work and play."

Other local governments around the bay are doing similar work.

Court reinstates EPA rule to allow pumping dirty water unchecked

South Florida water managers can keep moving dirty water from farms and suburbs into the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee without obtaining federal pollution permits, a divided U.S. appeals court ruled this week in New York.

The ruling stems from a decades-long battle by the Miccosukee Tribe and environmentalists to stop water managers from moving water from one body of water to another — for supplies, flood control or other purposes — without first obtaining a federal pollution permit. Dirty water has been at the heart of Everglades restoration, where marshes can quickly get choked by water rich in nutrients. Similar cases eventually surfaced around the country, with sporting groups and environmentalists similarly fighting to keep dirty water from natural areas.

Wednesday’s decision, the result of consolidating a number of cases before New York’s 2nd Circuit court, means the South Florida Water Management District can continue moving water unchecked, which environmentalists directly blame for fouling the Everglades.

Environmental groups want EPA to nix Florida’s new water standards

With a series of legal challenges still hanging fire, environmental groups are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject Florida’s controversial water quality standards.

Environmental groups are asking the EPA to reject Florida's latest water quality standards.

Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeepers, accuses state regulators of using a statistical sleight of hand to justify higher levels of toxins.

“We’re really concerned about things like the bioaccumulation factor and how these chemicals actually accumulate in fish and then get transferred to the human population; toxicity limits and other ways that they accounted for risk.”

The standards are being challenged administratively and in a Pensacola federal court. State regulators say the standards, which are more stringent for some pollutants and more lax for others, are safe and based on the latest science.

Beach erosion remains a concern on Manasota Key

Strong winds and rough seas are causing erosion issues on Manasota Key, an issue people living along the beach are familiar with.

Winds were whipping through the area at 30 to 40 mph.

Erosion is a huge concern, especially after 2016's storms Colin and Hermine. The water damage due to those events was so severe that several buildings were condemned.

Sea walls are being built along the coast, but the walls are only a short-term fix. The county is currently working with people affected to draft a beach restoration plan.

The main issue holding the project back is the cost, which could be close to $30 million. The county is trying to get federal funding while the people are working to determine how much they are willing to spend to save the beaches.

Both Pratte and Fischer question why the restoration project, which may be funded by both the county and residents, would be so costly.

Forum: Collaboration needed to counter looming water shortage

If Florida's population continues to grow, the state's drinking water supplies could be 1 billion gallons a day short of meeting the demand by 2030, a state senator warned about 120 people gathered at a forum on regional water issues Thursday.

"We have to be proactive," Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Republican chairman of the General Appropriations Committee, said during a program hosted by the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority and attended by county commissioners, utility managers and others interested in protecting but also expanding potable water sources.

Floridians should not "wake up one day in 2030" and realize the opportunity to "build significant water infrastructure" has passed, State Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Lakeland, said. "We need to build coalitions," the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee advised. "We need to raise the bar."

Latvala, Albritton and other speakers agreed that the Peace River Manasota authority sets an example that other regions in the state need to follow.

Instead of fighting over existing and potential water supplies, the local governments in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto governments decided to collaborate 25 years ago.

Today, the regional authority has become instrumental in connecting public utilities so water can be shared throughout the four-county region - especially in times of emergencies.

A new artificial reef is coming to Manatee County

Thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, coupled with $120,000 from the county, the Borden Reef, which will be located about 6.5 miles offshore almost due west out of Longboat Pass, will be completed by June.

“The site is existing,” said Alan Lai Hipp, the county’s environmental program manager. “It is permitted but it is waiting for materials. It’s a brand new site, so there is nothing out there right now.”

Approximately a quarter-mile by a quarter-mile, the Borden Reef will consist of large, limestone rock, according to Lai Hipp.

“It’s the most natural,” he said of the limestone. “Basically with this reef, we are going to stick with mimicking what’s naturally out there.”

The county currently has 15 reefs, which includes a couple of new permitted ones, but officials plan to continue adding reefs in the future, Lai Hipp said. The other permitted but not yet constructed reef is the Bridge Reef, which is five miles off the north end of Anna Maria Island.

DEP secretary Jon Steverson resigns after stormy 2-year tenure

Jon Steverson, who for two stormy years has led the state Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott, resigned late Friday, effective Feb. 3.

Steverson, whose agency was criticized for not telling the public about a sinkhole at Mosaic's Mulberry phosphate plant last year, made no public announcement about his resignation and did not respond to a request for an interview.

His two-page resignation letter makes no mention of the sinkhole, nor of Steverson's other controversies involving his call to allow hunting and other moneymaking activities at state parks, his replacement of experienced people with inexperienced ones and his push for new water quality standards that allow a larger amount of cancer-causing chemicals to be dumped into the state's waterways.

Instead, the letter focuses on the increased spending by Scott on Everglades restoration and saving the state's springs. He also saluted Scott for pursuing a lawsuit against Georgia over the long-running Tri-State Water War.

Wild ride awaits for water issues under Trump

Donald Trump made some big campaign promises about water during his election campaign. Now that he has been elected president, those promises could dramatically shake up how water is managed in the arid West.

In one of his few direct statements about water, Trump has said he wants to invest in treatment systems to prevent problems caused by aging distribution lines, citing as an example the drinking-water contamination in the Michigan city of Flint. To do this, he proposes to triple funding for a federal loan program, called the state revolving fund, from the current $2 billion to $6 billion.

This could be a boon to local water and wastewater utilities struggling to pay for decaying infrastructure.

Paradoxically, Trump has also vowed to slash Clean Water Act regulations. In particular, he is targeting rules adopted by the Obama administration to protect wetlands and marshes, the nation’s natural water filters.

Like Trump’s vow to build a wall on the Mexican border, these proposed changes would encounter a host of inconvenient realities associated with government. Working that out is certain to be disruptive, whatever the outcome.