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

Water-Related News

Trump budget falls short on Everglades work, omits new reservoir plan

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget slashes spending by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by 31 percent and fails to include money for an Everglades reservoir aimed at reducing polluted water flushed from Lake Okeechobee to coastal estuaries.

In a Washington press conference on Tuesday, R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for civil works, and Corps commanders said the proposal includes $63 million to help restore Florida’s wetlands and other ecosystems. That includes completing two small reservoirs east and west of Lake Okeechobee, and restoring winding bends in the Kissimmee River. But that’s well short of the $200 million Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers requested for Everglades work.

The budget also omits a vast 17,000-acre reservoir on sugar fields south of the lake to reduce the polluted discharges that last year helped fuel slimy green algae blooms and a red tide that littered the Gulf Coast with dead fish.

Input needed for Local Mitigation Strategy Workshop March 21

Residents and businesses are invited to a workshop and community open house to provide their observations and concerns about local natural and man-made hazards throughout Pinellas County. The event will be held on Thursday, March 21, from 6 – 8 p.m., at the Lealman Exchange, located at 5175 45th Street N., in St. Petersburg.

Attendees will be able to learn more about the Local Mitigation Strategy (LMS) plan, currently-identified hazards such as storm surge vulnerability, sea level rise and flooding, while sharing their observations about different hazards that may be impacting them.

The workshop is the first step in the federally-mandated five-year update of the LMS plan. The LMS is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order for the county and participating municipalities to remain eligible to receive federal hazard mitigation grant funds for projects that eliminate the risks associated with these hazards. The LMS also serves as the county's floodplain management plan, earning credits towards flood insurance premium discounts for property owners within participating jurisdictions under the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System.

The workshop will also include information booths staffed with experts to evaluate a property owner’s risk for flooding, look up flood zones and hurricane evacuation zones, provide advice about purchasing flood insurance and preparing for hurricanes and other emergencies, and information about sea level rise. In addition, members of the Lealman Community Emergency Response Team and Pinellas County Mosquito Control will be onsite to offer their expertise.

For more information about the Local Mitigation Strategy, visit www.pinellaslms.org.

Scientist Refutes Red Tide Dogma

BRADENTON — Dr. Larry E. Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, presented his lecture "Red Tide and Blue/Green Algae, Causes, Human Impacts and Health Consequences" at Suncoast Waterkeeper's annual Brunch for the Bay fundraiser, last Sunday at the Bradenton Yacht Club.

Brand is an expert in the ecology of algae and phytoplankton and holds a Ph.D. from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst./Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His 2007 study on the Karenia brevis algae (red tide) links the long-term increase along the southwest Florida coast to human activity. His research contradicts commonly held theories among other scientists, including the idea that the algal blooms follow a seagrass die-off that occurs after reduced freshwater flow leads to hypersalinity.

Check Your Irrigation Timer When You ‘Spring Forward’ for Daylight Savings Time

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is reminding residents to check the timers on their irrigation system controllers this weekend, which is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.

Saturday night, Mar. 10th, is when we turn our clocks ahead one hour. The time change is also a good time to make sure irrigation system timers are set correctly to ensure that the systems operate consistently with year-round water conservation measures.

All 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries are currently on year-round water conservation measures, with lawn watering limited to twice-per-week unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours. Local governments maintaining once-per-week watering by local ordinance include Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties.

Know and follow your local watering restrictions, but don’t water just because it’s your day. Irrigate your lawn when it shows signs of stress from lack of water. Pay attention to signs of stressed grass:

  • Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
  • Grass blades appear blue-gray.
  • Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

For additional information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

Manatee County to host open house meetings, answer flood map questions

MANATEE COUNTY – FEMA representatives and County officials will hold two meetings in April to answer questions about new FEMA preliminary flood insurance rate maps (FIRM) and elevation requirements that will impact insurance rates for many Manatee County homeowners.

FEMA and County floodplain officials will be on hand to answer questions during open house meetings scheduled for Monday, April 1 from 4 – 7 p.m. and Tuesday, April 2 from 1 – 7 p.m. at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Home and business owners, renters, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, surveyors and insurance agents are encouraged to attend.

Manatee County will send mailer notices to thousands of property owners in the affected areas in unincorporated Manatee County notifying them of the meetings.

Over time, flood risks change due to weather events, environmental changes, erosion, land use and other factors. Maps are updated periodically to reflect these changes. FEMA recently released updated, digital flood hazard maps that show the extent to which areas throughout the county are at risk for flooding.

The new preliminary FIRM is based on updated coastal modeling and Gamble Creek watershed in Parrish. The map shows flood hazards more accurately than older maps. FIRMs indicate whether properties are in areas of high, moderate or low flood risk. After reviewing the new Manatee County FIRM, many property owners may find that their risk is higher or lower than they thought. If the risk level for a property changes, so may the requirement to carry flood insurance.

Residents can find out whether their flood zone has changed at www.mymanatee.org/floodzonechanges

For questions about the maps or the meetings, email flood@mymanatee.org.

Experts testify on algae solutions at Florida Congressional delegation meeting

More funding, more planning, more coordination.

Those were the calls from experts Wednesday morning as the Florida congressional delegation held a hearing on dealing with the state’s algae problem and other water issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of the year for the Florida delegation, co-chaired by Reps. Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan. The bipartisan group also reiterated their opposition to offshore drilling in Florida’s waters.

Secretary Noah Valenstein of the Department of Environmental Protection flew in from Tallahassee to testify at the Wednesday meeting.

Also on hand were Adam Gelber, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Interior; Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium; and Garrett Wallace, the Florida Government Relations Manager of The Nature Conservancy.

One issue that came up during the discussion on freshwater blue-green algae was the review process currently being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers to revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which dictates the water levels of the lake.

Opinion: 5 things Florida must do to protect our waterways

Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, Guest columnists

Bob Graham is a former governor of Florida and U.S. senator. Lee Constantine is a Seminole County commissioner and former state senator and state representative.

Protecting and conserving Florida’s water is an economic as well as environmental issue, not one defined by geography or party lines. Both of us, a Democrat from Miami Lakes and a Republican from Altamonte Springs, have made protecting and restoring Florida’s waters a cornerstone of our public service. Today, we redouble our efforts to safeguard Florida’s most valuable resource.

Spurred by outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae leading to another summer of dramatic loss in revenue and decline of water quality and quantity in Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes, the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), a coalition of over 80 conservation-minded groups, released “A Water Policy for Florida.” This position statement provides an overview of many of the existing threats to our waters and a pathway for their successful conservation, restoration and protection statewide.

The FCC lays out five critical steps that must be undertaken immediately by our policymakers to safeguard our waters:

Red tide killed tons of fish. Part of the comeback starts at Robinson Preserve

Some took off like a rocket, others meandered a bit and one or two even tried to get back into their release bags, but more than 2,000 juvenile redfish and 31 adults all made it safely into the waters of Robinson Preserve on Tuesday morning.

Robinson Preserve was the fourth of several release points affected by red tide during the past 18 months along Florida’s Gulf Coast. In all, more than 16,000 redfish will be released.

A few dozen people came out to Robinson Preserve in Northwest Bradenton to watch as the adults were released one by one and most of the juveniles — between 4-6 inches long — were delivered into the water from their tank via a tube. All of the fish were certified healthy by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the adults were tagged so if caught, anglers can help the state track their movement.

America uses 322 billion gallons of water each day. Here’s where it goes.

As climate change, urban development, irrigation and other factors are altering the availability of water, it’s important to understand how we use water on a daily basis in the U.S. — and where the opportunities are for using it more wisely.

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides an overview of water withdrawals across the country.

The report includes a few surprises. For example, did you know Idaho withdraws the most water nationwide for aquaculture? That Arkansas — the 33rd most-populous state — withdraws the fifth most water, mainly for crop irrigation? Or that power plants are the largest users of water in the country?

Wildlife officials want more mechanical harvesting, fewer chemicals applied to lakes, rivers

Wildlife managers are trying to find ways around spraying chemicals in freshwater systems to control invasive plants, but in some cases that may be impossible.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met this week in Gainesville and discussed a current spraying moratorium the agency enacted earlier this month.

"It’s the biggest part of our program and the reason is it works the best," said Kip Frohlich, a senior staffer for FWC. "We’ve gotten the best control over hyacinth and water lettuce (by spraying chemicals)."  

Florida’s legislators expected to focus heavily on water this session

Florida water advocates have hoped for several years that lawmakers will address water quality issues plaguing the state. For years, environmentalists deemed each annual legislative session to be "the year of water."

Lawmakers promised to clean Florida’s polluted waters by securing funding, finishing restoration projects and addressing pollution sources. Yet — aside from the EAA reservoir in 2017 — each session has ended with few major changes.

2018 saw one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever — dueling toxic red tide and toxic blue-green algae on both coasts and in Indian River County's Blue Cypress Lake.

Now environmentalists across the state wonder if this will be the year that the Legislature heavily focuses on improving the state's water quality.

Legislators in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle are proposing wide-ranging bills that focus on funding water quality and treatment projects, but few bills have been filed that address pollution or nutrient runoff.

Can we address climate change without sacrificing water quality?

Strategies for limiting climate change must take into account their potential impact on water quality through nutrient overload, according to a new study from Carnegie’s Eva Sinha and Anna Michalak published by Nature Communications. Some efforts at reducing carbon emissions could actually increase the risk of water quality impairments, they found.

Rainfall and other precipitation wash nutrients from human activities like agriculture into waterways. When waterways get overloaded with nutrients, a dangerous phenomenon called eutrophication can occur, which can sometime lead to toxin-producing algal blooms or low-oxygen dead zones called hypoxia.

For several years, Sinha and Michalak have been studying the effects of nitrogen runoff and the ways that expected changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change could lead to severe water quality impairments.

In this latest work, they analyzed how an array of different societal decisions about land use, development, agriculture, and climate mitigation could affect the already complex equation of projecting future risks to water quality throughout the continental U.S. They then factored in how climate change-related differences in precipitation patterns would additionally contribute to this overall water quality risk.  

Florida delegation focuses on water quality issues

Members of the Florida congressional delegation will be focusing on water quality in the coming days.

On Friday, the two chairs of the Florida delegation–Democrat U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan–announced they would hold a meeting on “some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State” which will include “red tide, harmful algal blooms, offshore drilling and other water quality issues.”

Buchanan weighed in on Friday morning as to why the meeting was being held.

“Florida’s pristine beaches and rivers are what attract countless visitors to our state each year,” Buchanan said. “It is critical that our bipartisan delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans, waterways, beaches are clean and healthy.

Bay area legislative delegation meets at mote emphasizes red tide responses

Florida legislators in the Bay Area Legislative Delegation (BALD) convened at Mote Marine Laboratory this morning, Feb. 26, to discuss multiple important priorities, including Florida red tide and the critical role of marine science and technology in addressing it.

Mote has led innovative red tide research and technology development for decades in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In addition, Mote scientists served as vital red-tide responders and trusted, independent advisors to all levels of government regarding the unusually persistent Florida red tide bloom from late 2017 to early 2019. The Bay Area Legislative Delegation comprises 38 state legislators representing Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties — more than 25 percent of the Florida legislature.

Today’s meeting included BALD’s state legislators, scientists from Mote (an independent, nonprofit, marine research and science education institution), leaders of FWC, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and Tampa Bay Partnership for discussions of local transportation projects, the Regional Competitiveness Report, and Florida red tide and other harmful algal blooms.

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide

A team of scientists led by Christopher Free, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has published an investigation of how warming waters may affect the productivity of fisheries. The results appear in the journal Science.

The study looked at historical abundance data for 124 species in 38 regions, which represents roughly one-third of the reported global catch. The researchers compared this data to records of ocean temperature and found that 8 percent of populations were significantly negatively impacted by warming, while 4 percent saw positive impacts. Overall, though, the losses outweigh the gains.

"We were surprised how strongly fish populations around the world have already been affected by warming," said Free, "and that, among the populations we studied, the climate 'losers' outweigh the climate 'winners.'"

Region had the greatest influence on how fish responded to rising temperatures, according to the study. Species in the same region tended to respond in similar ways. Fishes in the same families also showed similarities in how they responded to changes. The researchers reasoned that related species would have similar traits and lifecycles, giving them similar strengths and vulnerabilities.

When examining how the availability of fish for food has changed from 1930 to 2010, the researchers saw the greatest losses in productivity in the Sea of Japan, North Sea, Iberian Coastal, Kuroshio Current and Celtic-Biscay Shelf ecoregions. On the other hand, the greatest gains occurred in the Labrador-Newfoundland region, Baltic Sea, Indian Ocean and Northeastern United States.

FWC Commissioners direct staff to move forward with improvements to Aquatic Plant Management Program

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today heard a staff update regarding the agency’s longstanding Aquatic Plant Management Program.

Commissioners directed staff to move forward with significant changes informed by stakeholder input. These enhancements include:

  • Expanding the creation of habitat management plans for individual lakes.
  • Forming a Technical Assistance Group consisting of staff, partners and stakeholders.
  • Improving timing of herbicide-based invasive aquatic plant removal treatments.
  • Increasing coordination with manual invasive aquatic plant harvesting companies.
  • Exploring new methods and technologies to oversee invasive plant herbicide application contractors.
  • Developing pilot projects to explore better integrated plant management tools.

“Invasive plants are a serious threat to Florida’s waterbodies, and we know from history that they can cause considerable harm in a short amount of time. We are resuming our management program with a commitment to these enhancements,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton, “and will solicit alternative methods, working with research partners and others - especially in south and south central Florida.”

Climate change is here. Will Tampa Bay be ready?

In a nondescript office building in Pinellas Park, a group of officials came together Feb. 11 to start figuring out how the 3.1 million people who live in the coastal plain that is the Tampa Bay area should grapple with a global crisis.

It was the sixth meeting of the recently formed Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition’s Steering Committee. Officials call it the first time local governments have come together in a meaningful way to identify, address and plan for climate change.

It quickly became clear that the group has a lot of work to do.

Just a few minutes into the meeting, Gulfport City Council member Michael Fridovich voiced concern about $1 billion in waterfront residential construction and road improvements slated for the Tampa end of the Gandy Bridge.

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

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

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

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

UF researchers say people are moving away from lakes and rivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red tide recovery continues with redfish release in Manatee County

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

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

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

Additional upcoming releases:

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

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

Manatee County gives update on fall beach renourishment for AMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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