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

Water-Related News

All the ways hurricanes can harm-and help-the ecosystems they hit

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma set records with their power, and the devastation they left in their wake. Irma has destroyed more than 90 percent of the structures on some Caribbean islands. All told, Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of water over Texas and Louisiana, swelling floodwaters that have been very slow to drain. Harvey has left its stamp on the landscape, too; the storm appears to have actually pushed a piece of the planet's crust down by more than half an inch.

There are a lot of ways that major storms can impact the ecosystem. When a hurricane hits, animals can be swept away or stranded, trees splintered, and coastal lands swallowed up. “Hurricanes are like people—they’re really different, each one of them, in terms of how they express themselves,” says Tom Doyle, deputy director of the United States Geological Survey Wetland and Aquatic Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. This violent self-expression can be dictated by many features, from a storm’s path and intensity to the geology of the lands it passes over.

Hurricanes alter every ecosystem they pass through on both land and sea. And now that Irma and Harvey have spent their fury, scientists are returning to these areas to take stock of the damage. “With extreme events like this, we need to understand what’s happened, we need to learn from it, and hopefully that will help us when we face future scenarios to be more resilient,” says Bryan Brooks, director of the Environmental Health Science program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Mote asks local anglers to help gather vital snook data

Snook are one of the most sought-after catches in Florida’s saltwater recreational fishing industry, which draws more than $6 billion to the economy annually. However, increased fishing pressure, habitat loss and natural challenges such as freezes and red tide have contributed to a decline in snook populations. Thus, for more than 25 years, Mote and Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) scientists have partnered with local fishermen on research studies designed to evaluate if stocking hatchery-reared snook can be an effective fishery management tool for replenishing snook stocks.

Those interested in becoming citizen scientists are invited to be a part of Mote’s annual William R. Mote Memorial Snook Shindig on October 6-7th. This event allows Mote researchers to document snook caught during the tournament to identify individual hatchery-reared fish they previously tagged and released, recovering vital data that can be used to adjust release protocols.

“This tournament gives participants a unique, hands-on opportunity to learn more about Mote’s fisheries research and conservation efforts, and assist Mote in its mission to assess the snook population size in Sarasota Bay while having a fun day on the water,” stated Mote Staff Scientist Carole Neidig.

Past tournament results have revealed that changes in snook-release strategies, based on Mote pilot studies, have improved survival of stocked snook by as much as 200 percent.

Mote scientists encourage anglers to use the tips provided by FWC when catching snook. One such tip includes proper handling methods, which can help ensure the fish’s survival and the species’ abundance. To learn more about catch-and-release and the best way to handle a fish, visit and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” then “Recreational Regulations” and “Fish Handling.”

Portable Red Tide Detector Debuts at NOAA Emerging Tech Workshop

A portable, hand-held instrument that uses genetics to detect the red tide-causing organism Karenia brevis in the field was featured at the second NOAA Emerging Technologies for Observations Workshop. The device, dubbed a “tricorder” after the fictional Star Trek hand-held life detector, is the first of its kind and is able to provide direct results to end users such as government agencies and businesses.

This technology speeds up the decision-making process in closing beaches and shellfish harvesting beds, as well as helping determine the cause of fish kills. The tricorder uses a biotechnology technique called nucleic acid sequence-based amplification to target the messenger RNA in the carbon fixation gene specific to K. brevis.

Red tides in Florida coastal waters (caused principally by K. brevis) can threaten human health and cost millions in tourism, agriculture, seafood, and leisure industries. Currently the State of Florida detects and enumerates K. brevis through the relatively slow, labor intensive and expert process of light microscopy to differentiate this toxic alga from closely related non-toxic and less toxic species.

Florida needs to improve sewage systems, enviro group says

Hurricane Irma caused massive sewage overflows in Florida, prompting an environmental group to call on local communities to improve infrastructure to prevent that from happening again when the next big storm hits.

“Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida, but sewage in our streets and bays shouldn’t be,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “As these storms get more severe and frequent, we have to be ready for some pretty challenging conditions. We’re not ready now.”

The Department of Environmental Protection has received more than 200 cases of sewage spills since Irma barreled through Florida 10 days ago.

Environment Florida, Florida PIRG and the Frontier Group released a factsheet Wednesday demonstrating that many of the sewer systems in the state’s biggest coastal cities were unable to handle the strong rains and winds that a hurricane like Irma delivered.

Advocates say that the bacteria and viruses in wastewater can infect humans and animals.

Fight over 'flushable' wipes D.C. says are clogging sewer systems heads to federal court

The question of whether flushable wipes — used by potty-training toddlers and people looking beyond traditional toilet paper — are clogging sewer systems will be hashed out in federal court, where a manufacturer has sued the District of Columbia over a new city law regulating when such wipes can be labeled "flushable."

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark, which manufactures Cottonelle, Scott Naturals and Pull-Ups flushable wipes, alleges that the District law — the first of its kind in the U.S. — is unconstitutional because it tries to regulate businesses beyond the city. The company also alleges that the law violates the First Amendment because it could require companies that believe their wipes to be flushable to label their products as "do not flush."

"In seeking this court intervention, Kimberly-Clark is fighting for our consumers and standing up for our brands," company spokesman Bob Brand said in an email. "The District of Columbia has unfortunately passed a law that will severely restrict, if not eliminate, consumers' ability to purchase flushable wipes in Washington D.C."

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, came in response to complaints from DC Water and sewer utilities nationwide that flushable wipes are jamming pumps, blocking screens and clogging equipment at sewage treatment plants. The problem costs U.S. utilities up to $1 billion annually, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

The issue drew international attention a few years ago, when a 15-ton glob of wipes and hardened cooking grease the size of a bus — and nicknamed "Fatberg" by the Brits — was discovered blocking a London sewer pipe.

Sewage spills add to misery In hurricane-battered Florida

As if loss of air conditioning and refrigeration weren't bad enough, widespread power outages in hurricane-battered Florida are teaming with structural failures to cause another headache: sewage overflows.

Local governments have submitted well over 100 "notices of pollution" to the state Department of Environmental Protection since Hurricane Irma struck, some involving multiple spills and releases of millions of gallons of wastewater in various stages of treatment.

Officials in many cities were still scrambling Thursday to determine how much sewage had escaped, while the state warned people to steer clear of standing water.

"Floodwaters may contain not only bacteria from sanitary sewer overflows but other potential contaminants from agricultural or industrial waste," environmental protection department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said.

About 6 million gallons of wastewater was released from a plant on Virginia Key near Miami during a seven-hour power outage overnight Sunday that disabled its pumps — one of seven spills reported by the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department. The water had gone through most of the treatment process but hadn't been chlorinated, spokeswoman Jennifer Messemer-Skold said.

Officials advised people not to swim at Miami-area beaches until waters could be tested for a variety of pollutants.

Comment period extended for the definition of "Waters of the United States"

EPA and the Army have extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of "waters of the United States" to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in.

The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. The proposed rule was signed by the Administrator and Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and posted to EPA’s website on June 27th and published in the Federal Register on July 27th. When finalized, the proposed rule would replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with the regulations that were in effect immediately preceding the 2015 rule. The public can submit comments, identified by Docket Id. EPA-HQ-2017-0203, at

Federal Register Notice
On August 16, 2017, the EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, Michael Shapiro, along with Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, signed the Federal Register notice extending the public comment period, which published on August 22, 2017.

The Monster Surge That Wasn’t: Why Irma Caused Less Flooding Than Expected

Across coastal Florida, the dreaded storm surge from Hurricane Irma — caused when ferocious winds pile up ocean water and push it onshore — was not as bad as forecast. While some areas were hard hit, notably the Florida Keys and Marco Island, residents of neighborhoods north to Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa Bay were expressing relief.

That bit of good fortune was the product of some meteorological luck.

Because a hurricane’s winds blow counterclockwise, the precise path of the storm matters greatly for determining storm surge. Had Irma lingered far enough off Florida’s Gulf Coast, its eastern wall, where the strongest winds occur, could have shoved six to nine feet of water into parts of Fort Myers and Naples, while swamping Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg as well.

At the last minute, Irma unexpectedly veered inland right before it got to Naples, taking its eastern wall safely away from the ocean. That meant that as the storm tracked north over Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa Bay, the winds at the head of the storm were moving west and actually pulling water away from the shoreline. In Tampa, water levels dropped five feet below normal, and bewildered spectators walked out to see beaches sucked dry. In Sarasota, a manatee became stranded.

Damage to Florida’s coral reef has made the state more vulnerable to storm surges

As we begin to piece together the damage from Hurricane Irma in Florida, scientists are pointing to an environmental factor that may have made the storm’s impact worse: the ongoing loss of coral on the state’s increasingly threatened barrier reef.

At 360 miles long, the Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest barrier reef in the world, stretching from the Florida Keys up to Martin County. But as Chris Mooney of The Washington Post reported just a few months ago, the reef is in big trouble — scientists estimate that less than 10 percent of it is covered with living coral, the result of a long history of damage that, most recently, includes warming waters and back-to-back bleaching events in recent years.

Now, scientists say these losses may have weakened the reef’s storm buffer.

Research demonstrates that “if you reduce coral reef health — if you go from that really rough coral reef with lots of live coral to a degraded coral reef with a relatively smooth surface — you have increased run-up in flooding,” said Curt Storlazzi, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program seeking new executive director

News Image

Deadline to Apply: No later than 2:00 P.M. EST on Friday, October 6, 2017

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) is seeking qualified applicants for the Executive Director position. The successful applicant will have demonstrated experience in effectively managing multi-entity environmental, scientific and/or engineering programs; fostering and maintaining collaborative approaches to complex environmental issues; the ability to facilitate consensus among diverse and sometimes conflicting stakeholders; success in raising funds from public and private sectors, including federal, state and local grants; and the ability to manage an effective and talented staff.

Position Summary
The Executive Director is a full-time position responsible for ensuring the efficient and fiscally-responsible operation of the TBEP. This includes providing the supervision and appropriate oversight of the managers of TBEP's technical projects, its public education and outreach initiatives, and its program administration function. The Executive Director will also be responsible for maintaining existing and developing new sustainable funding sources from public and private sectors, and meeting requirements stated in the various grants (including EPA Cooperative Agreements) awarded to TBEP.

Primary among the Executive Director's responsibilities is to maintain and strengthen TBEP's local, state and national reputation as a science-based 'honest broker', encouraging all stakeholders to work together to form effective solutions to meet agreed-upon goals for the restoration and protection of Tampa Bay.

329,000 gallons of sewage spills in Tampa during storm; St. Petersburg has smaller spill

Heavy rain swamped Tampa's sewage collection network Monday evening, spilling about 329,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into the Hillsborough River.

Across Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg had its own, much smaller spill on the eve of a mayor's race in which the city's wastewater problems have been a central issue.

In Tampa, the bigger of two spills took place just north of the Columbus Drive bridge from an emergency overflow pipe on N Perry Avenue. There, 290,000 gallons spilled into the river from 6:45 to 11:05 p.m.

It's the same spot where 352,000 gallons spilled into the river during heavy rain dumped by Tropical Storm Colin in June 2016. (In August 2015, heavy rains likewise overwhelmed the system, popping manhole covers out of place around the city as rain surged through sewers.)