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

Water-Related News

Harbour Island residents want answers on proposed sewer line

For seven decades, a pipe taller than your average fifth-grader has carried Tampa sewage from downtown to Harbour Island, snaking near upscale townhouses and behind multi-million dollar homes before burrowing under Sparkman Channel to the city’s sewage plant.

Workers laid that pipe in 1951 when Harbour Island was home to nothing but garbage and rats. Now that it’s nearing the end of its useful life, the question becomes: Where is a new pipe going to go?

City officials haven’t decided yet, but Harbour Island residents are worried their recreational trails, commutes and possibly even their back yards are about to be torn up.

Manatee emergency officials: start preparing now for hurricane season

Although hurricane season is more than three months away, emergency officials say residents and businesses should start preparing for a potentially damaging storm now.

On Wednesday, about 40 people participated in a Manatee Chamber of Commerce seminar, “Hurricane Irma: Lessons Learned.”

“To be responsible business owners, we need to be prepared,” Chamber President Jacki Dezelski told them.

Phill Baker, vice president of Boyd Insurance & Investment Services, recommended that property owners make certain in advance that they have adequate insurance. Once a storm approaches, they will be unable to get coverage.

“At that point, it doesn’t matter,” Baker said. “We are shut down for insurance.”

DEP to drop controversial water pollution regulations and start over

Florida regulators are withdrawing a set of controversial standards for how much pollution can be dumped into the state’s waterways.

The standards drew strong opposition from environmental groups, local governments and Native American tribes. Now the Department of Environmental Protection says it will start over and work with one of those groups to produce new pollution standards.

"DEP has identified an opportunity to partner with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to gather additional data as we move forward to protect Florida’s water," agency spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times .

She said that with their help, the DEP wants to "update the state’s water quality criteria to ensure the department is relying on the latest science."

Attorneys for the Seminole Tribe did not return a call seeking comment Friday. No one at the Miccosukee Tribe offices answered the phone.

The pollution regulations that are being withdrawn marked the first update to the state’s water quality standards in 24 years. When they were first unveiled in 2016, critics said they would allow polluters to increase the level of toxic chemicals they dump into Florida bays, rivers and lakes. Those most at risk would be children and people who eat a lot of seafood.

The 2016 standards, which were strongly supported by business and manufacturing interests, called for increasing the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals and also raising the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens.

New satellite data confirm accelerated sea level rise

USF marine science professor Gary Mitchum is part of a team using statistical analysis of satellite data to enhance previous studies based on tide gauge data

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2018) -- Twenty-five years of satellite data prove climate models are correct in predicting that sea levels will rise at an increasing rate.

In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that since 1993, ocean waters have moved up the shore by almost 1 millimeter per decade. That’s on top of the 3 millimeter steady annual increase. This acceleration means we’ll gain an additional millimeter per year for each of the coming decades, potentially doubling what would happen to the sea level by 2100 if the rate of increase was constant.

“The acceleration predicted by the models has now been detected directly from the observations. I think this is a game-changer as far as the climate change discussion goes,” said co-author Gary Mitchum, PhD, associate dean and professor at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. “For example, the Tampa Bay area has been identified as one of 10 most vulnerable areas in the world to sea level rise and the increasing rate of rise is of great concern.”

Dr. Mitchum is part of a team led by University of Colorado Boulder Professor Steve Nerem, PhD, that used statistical analysis to enhance previous studies based on tide gauge data, which have also suggested acceleration over the last century. However, satellites give a better view of sea level rise, because samples are collected over the open ocean, rather than just along the coastline.

Experts have long said warming temperatures are heating ocean waters and melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. As it continues, the next generation will experience a far different landscape than it does today.

Floods are getting worse, and 2,500 chemical sites lie in the water’s path

Anchored in flood-prone areas in every American state are more than 2,500 sites that handle toxic chemicals, a New York Times analysis of federal floodplain and industrial data shows. About 1,400 are located in areas at highest risk of flooding.

As flood danger grows — the consequence of a warming climate — the risk is that there will be more toxic spills like the one that struck Baytown, Tex., where Hurricane Harvey swamped a chemicals plant, releasing lye. Or like the ones at a Florida fertilizer plant that leaked phosphoric acid and an Ohio refinery that released benzene.

Flooding nationwide is likely to worsen because of climate change, an exhaustive scientific report by the federal government warned last year. Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency.

At the same time, rising sea levels combined with more frequent and extensive flooding from coastal storms like hurricanes may increase the risk to chemical facilities near waterways.

The Times analysis looked at sites listed in the federal Toxic Release Inventory, which covers more than 21,600 facilities across the country that handle large amounts of toxic chemicals harmful to health or the environment.

Of those sites, more than 1,400 were in locations the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers to have a high risk of flooding. An additional 1,100 sites were in areas of moderate risk. Other industrial complexes lie just outside these defined flood-risk zones, obscuring their vulnerability as flood patterns shift and expand.

35 manatee deaths in January blamed on cold weather

Cold waters in January caused the deaths of 35 manatees across Florida, wildlife officials say.

The animals died due to cold stress syndrome brought on by low water temperatures, the Bradenton Herald reports. The deaths occurred between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, according to a preliminary report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Officials say there were five times as many manatee deaths last month compared to the same timeframe in 2017, the Associated Press reports. However, it’s still much less than the 151 manatees killed by a cold snap in January 2010.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that water temperatures never climbed above 67.1 degrees at Port Manatee in January, according to the Herald. The average temperature was 57.6 degrees.

Cold stress syndrome can occur when marine mammals are immersed in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time. Manatees begin to experience hypothermia, which causes their organs to fail and their skin to slough off.

In total, 87 manatees were found dead across the Sunshine State last month, the Herald reports. The deaths are measured in eight categories, ranging from natural to undetermined.

Wildlife officials told the AP that boat collisions killed 10 of the animals statewide last month.

Mote announces plan to move HQ to Nathan Benderson Park

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On Feb. 8, 2018, surrounded by some of southwest Florida’s most influential residents, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, made the announcement many in the area had been waiting to hear: Mote will build a spectacular new Aquarium on mainland Sarasota County.

The new Mote Science Education Aquarium will be designed and located strategically to serve a much greater cross-section of residents and visitors in Florida, and enhance ocean literacy opportunities and impacts for all. Mote leaders have had preliminary discussions with appropriate officials from Sarasota County to understand the potential opportunities for use of approximately 5 acres of county-owned land within Nathan Benderson Park, a highly accessible location in a hotspot of community growth adjacent to Interstate 75. The interstate’s intersection with University Parkway hosts an average 60,000 drivers on both sides daily, allowing an expected average of 43 million drivers to view Mote’s new facility each year. With Mote’s Feb. 8 announcement of the overall concept and goals for Mote Science Education Aquarium, Mote is now planning to initiate a formal request for a lease to be approved.

Powering this major advance is Mote’s new, $130-million capital construction fundraising effort, Oceans for All: Improving Access to Marine Science & Technology. Contingent on progress toward this goal, Mote leaders aim to begin construction in 2019. The fundraising effort started strong on Feb. 8 with the announcement that commitments for over 20 percent of facility’s total cost have already been made.

Senate committee approves statewide fracking ban

A controversial method of extracting natural gas would be banned statewide under a bill approved by a Senate panel Monday.

But while the Senate is moving forward on a ban on fracking — a process whereby a mixture of water and chemicals is forced deep underground at high pressure to release natural gas — its chances look slim in the House.

Anti-fracking activists say the possibility of fracking fluids polluting groundwater is high in Florida, where slabs of limestone could make it easier for leaking chemicals from fracking sites to seep upward and pollute the aquifer that South Florida uses for drinking water.

The bill sponsor, state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, held up a chunk of porous, 125,000-year-old limestone from Miami-Dade County and said, “This is what our state is built on, and this is the reason for this bill.”

Advocates for fracking disagree.

“You’re sending a message to the rest of the country that fracking is not good, and I think that’s the wrong message,” said Eric Hamilton, of the Florida Petroleum Council, which lobbies for fossil fuel interests. “It may not be advantageous to use it at this time, but as we find additional reservoirs, it may be a technology we can rely on. And it can be done safely.”

The bill appears to be dead on arrival in the House.

Eco Fun Festival returns on Feb. 25th

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The Pinellas County Water Atlas will have an exhibit at the Eco Fun Fest. Come by and play our Water Jeopardy! game to test your aquatic knowledge!

Pinellas County Solid Waste’s Eco Fun Festival is returning this year with equal parts of fun and learning about sustainable and environmentally-friendly living. The event will be held on Sunday, Feb. 25, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., at Bridgeway Acres Commons on the grounds of the solid waste facility in Clearwater. The event is free and open to the public. Free parking and shuttles to the event will be available at 11418 34th St. N.

The family-friendly event will have fun for all ages, including tours of Pinellas County’s Solid Waste Facility, environmentally-themed exhibitors and demonstrations, giveaways, food vendors and the always-popular Touch-a-Truck exhibit in the park-like atmosphere of 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 creating sustainability in our local environment.

Other learning opportunities will include: an electric vehicle display, food recovery program in Lealman, the Girl Scouts’ new science, technology, engineering and math badge program, a demonstration of how biodegradable containers break down in compost, microplastics awareness, the importance of bees, sustainable improvements for businesses, environmentally-friendly landscaping techniques, understanding our wastewater and stormwater systems, protecting our waterways and marine animals and much more.

The Touch-a-Truck display will include WaterVentures with their mobile freshwater spring exhibit and the walking excavator, a multi-legged, backhoe-type machine that is used to excavate and clear vegetation and. Other equipment will include Pinellas County Mosquito Control’s helicopter, airboat and fogger truck, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s marine rescue vehicle, an aircraft firefighting vehicle, sewer inspection camera truck, bucket trucks, dump trucks and many more.

The event will model low waste generation techniques, including qualifying food vendors for their use of recyclable containers and providing staffed waste stations to educate visitors about recycling. In addition, festival maps will be posted at the event entrance and visitors will be encouraged to use their cell phones to snap a picture of the map in lieu of receiving a paper version.

The event is also reducing waste by asking visitors to bring a reusable water bottle. Fresh tap water will be available at multiple filling stations. A reusable water bottle made from recycled materials will be provided if guests do not bring one.

For more information about Eco Fun Festival and low waste events, please visit For more information about Pinellas County Solid Waste, visit

Tampa Bay Water fends off Tampa in water war skirmish — for now

TALLAHASSEE — The latest skirmish in Tampa Bay’s old water wars ended quickly Tuesday as a bill to allow the City of Tampa to augment its own water supply using highly-treated reclaimed water fell victim to cross-bay politics — and intraparty squabbling.

For once, though, it was the Democrats who decided the fate of a bill in the Republican-dominated legislature.

Tampa and the region’s water authority, Tampa Bay Water, are on opposite sides of a bill that was taken up at the very end of the last meeting this session of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee.

Committee members didn’t debate House minority leader Janet Cruz’s House Bill 1303, which would give Tampa the right to use its reclaimed water to supplement its own water supply.

They adjourned without taking action, likely scuttling the plan this year.

Robinson Preserve wetlands get boost from Deepwater Horizon funds

MANATEE – Converting old abandoned farmland into functioning wetlands takes a lot of work and a lot of dough. But one of the biggest oil spill disasters is helping pay for it.

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council on Wednesday (Jan. 24th) approved nearly $1.8 million to fund the restoration of 118 acres of coastal habitat in Robinson Preserve’s expansion area. The funds were made available through one of three pots of money held by the Restore Act, which was established in 2012 to help fund projects related to the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 and subsequently spilled 210 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Robinson Preserve Wetlands Restoration project is one of three projects funded in the Tampa Bay area and part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Connecting Coastal Waters Initiative. Others include a restoration project in East McKay Bay and through the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program.

Manatee County is slated to receive about $12.4 million over a 15-year period. This recently approved funding is in addition to what the county will receive.

At the preserve, funds will be used to create upland and estuarine habitats with sea-level rise in mind, as well as restore the hydrology of the area.

Supreme Court rules that challenges to WOTUS should be filed in district courts

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that challenges to the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” rule must be filed in federal district courts, as opposed to the federal appeals courts.

The ruling marked the first opinion of the month. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion, which was filled with water puns, though she was not on the bench Monday.

The court heard oral arguments in the case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, in October.

The Supreme Court met to weigh in on which courts had jurisdiction for lawsuits challenging WOTUS, not to decide the merits of the 2015 water rule, which vastly expanded the definition of a waterway that can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The definition of a waterway under the rule includes everything from a simple drainage ditch to streams and rivers. That means many more areas would fall under EPA's enforcement jurisdiction and control, from farmers to individual homeowners to oil companies, critics of the rule say.

The National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit challenging WOTUS in federal district courts after agencies promulgated the rule, and the cases were then consolidated and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the 6th Circuit.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 ruled that appeals courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the water rule.

Research finds discrepancies between satellite, global model estimates of land water storage

Research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that calculations of water storage in many river basins from commonly used global computer models differ markedly from independent storage estimates from GRACE satellites.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 22, raise questions about global models that have been used in recent years to help assess water resources and potentially influence management decisions.

The study used measurements from GRACE satellites from 2002 to 2014 to determine water storage changes in 186 river basins around the world and compared the results with simulations made by seven commonly used models.

The GRACE satellites, operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, measure changes in the force of gravity across the Earth, a value influenced by changes in water storage in an area. The computer models used by government agencies and universities were developed to assess historical and/or scenario-based fluxes in the hydrological cycle, such as stream flow, evapotranspiration and storage changes, including soil moisture and groundwater.