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

Water-Related News

Almost half of Florida water bodies have algal blooms, and climate change is worsening the problem

Florida — home of armed iguana hunters, exploding toilets, and the nation's grandparents — just so happens to be the perfect petri dish for algal blooms. Because blue-green algae absorb energy from the sun and quickly grow in warm freshwater, the Sunshine State offers optimal conditions for the microorganisms called cyanobacteria to thrive.

Nearly all of Lake Okeechobee was covered in cyanobacteria in 2018, and the bacteria has returned this summer. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection tested 108 bodies of water statewide in the past month, and 44 percent had algal blooms. Eight sites were tested in Broward County in the past two weeks. Algal blooms were found in all but one.

"We have a problem," says Soren Rundquist, the director of spatial analysis for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "Florida's warmer climate is naturally conducive to algal blooms."

Rising seas could speed up loss of Florida mangroves, study finds

Four thousand years ago, rising seas decimated huge swaths of mangroves in Florida Bay.

Today, seas rising at a far greater rate, combined with increasing storms and drought, could lead to another catastrophic loss of mangroves that help keep the state from sliding into the sea, according to a new study published by the U.S. Geological Survey in the journal Nature Communications.

"This was surprising because mangroves are thought to be relatively resilient to sea level rise," said Miriam Jone, a USGS geologist and lead author for the study.

While previous studies revealed mangroves have disappeared amid rising seas in the past, this study is the first to show just how quickly that happened. 

Manatee County commissioner schedules White House meeting

Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh has been to the White House before, but when she goes this October, it will be after she had met with President Donald Trump.

She spent two-and-a-half hours with him in March at Lake Okeechobee, where he and other top-level officials discussed repairs needed on the earthen dam around the lake as well the impacts of its polluted waters.

When Baugh visits the White House again in October, she hopes to pick up their conversation. Red tide, an algal bloom caused by rapid growth of a microscopic algae called Karenia brevis, plagued the Sarasota and Manatee county coastlines in 2018 and early

President Donald Trump visited Lake Okeechobee in March to talk about repairs needed to its earthen dam and to improve water quality in the area. Courtesy photo.
2019, which killed sea life and caused health issues for some people exposed to it.

USF's poop-powered generator could have worldwide impact

Flowers are blooming in an unconventional spot. It's a vertical hydroponic wall attached to a small generator.

"Which is basically making use of the nutrients and water recovered from the waste water that our system is treating," explained University of South Florida researcher Jorge Calabria.

The mini sewage system is called the NEWgenerator. It was developed by USF engineering professor Dr. Daniel Yeh and his research team.

“NEW" stands for nutrients, energy and water, which the generator recovers from human waste.

"This system works well,” said Yeh. “It allows us to get rid of our waste and actually recover clean waterfrom that.”

It also harnesses energy.

"Think of this as a renewable natural gas that's sitting in our waste and we're, for the most part, not mining that. So we can mine that for heating water, cooking, generating electricity, a number of uses," explained Yeh. 

DEP hosts 2019 resilient Florida: planning, policy and practice workshop

DEP, in conjunction with the University of South Florida, Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Climate Institute, hosted the inaugural 2019 Resilient Florida: Planning, Policy and Practice Workshop in Tampa this week. The two-day workshop, held Aug. 8-9, 2019, brought together nearly 200 attendees, including floodplain managers, community planners, climate change adaptation professionals, natural resource managers, park managers, academic representatives and other stakeholders to discuss tactics and data that will help Florida’s coastlines prepare for the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding.

“We are making pivotal strides in resilience efforts, and it is an exciting time to be tackling resilience in Florida under Governor DeSantis’ leadership,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I was thrilled to see so many resiliency experts from around the state and across the nation gathered together to learn from one another and build relationships that will create the essential collaboration to successfully address the state’s most challenging resiliency issues.”

Among some of the topics discussed by experts were infrastructure, living shorelines, land acquisitions related to climate change and coastal flooding. Officials from local governments and Florida universities shared how their communities have been involved in resiliency projects, discussing various success stories. Additionally, Florida State Parks staff talked about ways they’re working in parks to plan infrastructure projects and other coastal initiatives.

District to hold workshop on minimum and guidance levels for Lake Calm in Hillsborough County

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) invites the public to a workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the Austin Davis Public Library, located at 17808 Wayne Road, in Odessa. The purpose of the workshop is to allow for public comment on the proposed minimum and guidance levels for Lake Calm in Hillsborough County.

During the workshop, District staff will present the technical basis for the proposed minimum levels for Lake Calm. Minimum levels are established to protect lakes and wetlands and the minimum level is the limit at which further water withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources and/or environment.

The workshop is an opportunity for local government, citizens, and others to provide input regarding the proposed minimum and guidance levels. Information will be summarized and made available to the District’s Governing Board. At the Board’s September meeting, Board members will choose whether to recommend adoption of the minimum levels into District rules. Governing Board meetings are open to the public, and brief oral comments are permitted on meeting agenda items.

District to hold workshop on minimum and guidance levels for Sapphire Lake in Hillsborough County

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) invites the public to a workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the Lutz Community Center, located at 98 1st Avenue NW in Lutz. The purpose of the workshop is to allow for public comment on the proposed minimum and guidance levels for Sapphire Lake in Hillsborough County.

During the workshop, District staff will present the technical basis for the proposed minimum levels for Sapphire Lake. Minimum levels are established to protect lakes and wetlands and the minimum level is the limit at which further water withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources and/or environment.

The workshop is an opportunity for local government, citizens, and others to provide input regarding the proposed minimum and guidance levels. Information will be summarized and made available to the District’s Governing Board. At the Board’s September meeting, Board members will choose whether to recommend adoption of the minimum levels into District rules. Governing Board meetings are open to the public, and brief oral comments are permitted on meeting agenda items.

Researchers deploy new tech to explore depths of Gulf of Mexico

FIU marine scientist Kevin Boswell and a multi-institution research team will deploy experimental technology next week to explore the deep scattering layers of the ocean.

They are looking for information about animals in the Gulf of Mexico that make up the scattering layers — those that undergo daily vertical migrations of 100 to 1,000 meters. These animals represent the largest organized animal migration on the planet, yet little is known about them. What scientists do know is these animals are major players in the global carbon cycle, transporting carbon to deeper waters as they migrate. Some of them are part of a global discussion about whether they could have economic potential from a fisheries standpoint.

The research team will deploy an autonomous glider modified with sonar technology to collect up-close and personal data on the migrating animals in the water column. The slow-moving glider can stealthily travel through the water measuring where organisms are and how they are moving. An exciting addition to the glider is an ‘acoustic brain’ developed by the University of Washington team that processes acoustic data and sends data products home through a satellite connection. Having near-real-time acoustic data facilitates changes to the glider path when interesting acoustic features are observed. The team will simultaneously deploy a prototype camera system developed by the National Geographic Society called the Driftcam. Also an autonomous device, the Driftcam is designed to collect high-resolution images of species composition, distribution and even behavior that is not possible to capture with current technologies and methods. It too, is a minimally invasive device.

A new old way to combat toxic algae: float it up, then skim it off

In Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers is working to combat a growing environmental menace: blue-green algae. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms and subdivisions combines with warm summer weather to create massive blooms of algae in rivers and lakes that can be toxic.

In central Florida, Lake Okeechobee has been hit hard in recent years. In Moore Haven, on the western shore of the lake, Dan Levy was recently working on a solution. He was standing on a platform peering into a large water-filled tank. Inside, floating on top of the water was a thick mat of blue-green algae. "This is our treatment system," said Levy. "This is where we actually float the algae up and skim it across."

Levy is with AECOM, an engineering and infrastructure company that's working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the nagging and sometimes devastating problem. Algal blooms aren't just a nuisance. The algae, actually cyanobacteria, can produce toxins that threaten drinking water supplies, local economies and human health.

District may activate Tampa bypass canal system to help prevent river flooding

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) may need to activate the Tampa Bypass Canal system in response to heavy rains in the Tampa Bay area. Boat barriers were put in place where I-75 crosses the Hillsborough River, restricting navigation in that area.

The Hillsborough River is nearing an elevation of 25 feet above sea level, which triggers the Army Corps of Engineers activation level of the Lower Hillsborough Flood Detention (LHFDA) area. This involves stopping all or part of the flow of the Hillsborough River before it reaches the City of Temple Terrace and City of Tampa and impounding it in the LHFDA, which will assist with flooding from the Hillsborough River in the cities of Temple Terrace and Tampa.

District staff stops the flow of the river by closing the S-155 structure. The S-155 structure is located north of Morris Bridge Road and east of I-75 and can be seen from I-75 as you cross the Hillsborough River.

Register now for Great Bay Scallop Search August 24th

Get out your snorkel and sign up quickly!

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This is a no-harvest event.

The goal of the Great Bay Scallop Search is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. This year it's set for Saturday, August 24 meeting at 9am at the Fort De Soto Park boat ramp. Tampa Bay Watch aims to recruit forty volunteer boaters with more than 180 participants to search selected sites within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bay for the elusive bay scallops. Click here to read more about the Scallop Search.

Tampa Bay Watch mainly recruits volunteers with shallow draft boats, but have limited spots for canoes and kayaks and volunteer snorkelers without boats. Space for volunteers snorkelers without boats is based on registered volunteer boaters having space for additional passengers.

Sign up fast for this free event, and help us tally up the bay scallop population in Tampa Bay!
Event Sponsors: Sea World Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Sarasota researchers conducting red tide/human health research

Congress recently approved $6.25 million to study how red tide algae blooms affect people's health. Multiple facilities in Sarasota will work together on the research.

Right now, physicians and scientists only know that red tide causes people to cough and makes their eyes water, but Mote Marine Laboratory, the Roskamp Institute and Sarasota Memorial Hospital are teaming up to learn more.

"For example, for my asthma patients, or my elderly patients with emphysema, COPD-- how are they affected by red tide?" asked Kirk Voelker, a lung doctor and clinical researcher at Sarasota Memorial.

"I know that I get a lot more people who come into my office during an outbreak of red tide with respiratory complaints."

The project is still being designed, but the plan is to test the blood of people who live or work on the coast and inland, both during red tide outbreaks and when the coast is clear.

They're looking for short term and possible long term effects of exposure.

"It's something that needs to be looked at because community physicians have theories that red tide may lead to some illnesses and that question needs to be answered," said Voelker.

Click here if you're interested in participating in the study.

These maps show where urban sprawl is making big storms more deadly

Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are the Florida regions most at risk from flooding.

Southern Louisiana seems to have dodged a bullet with Tropical Storm Barry. Although heavy rain caused widespread flooding after the storm hit the state Saturday, the region’s two biggest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, were spared the worst.

But nationwide, the threat to lives and property from rain-triggered storm flooding is escalating, with global warming spawning larger, apparently slower-moving storms, and asphalt and concrete covering permeable open ground that would have soaked up rain as cities expand.

Flooding has always posed the main danger when tropical storms come ashore, and historically, the main killer has been storm surge — a sudden rise in sea level caused by low atmospheric pressure and winds blowing onshore. But in the past three years, 75% of the more than 160 deaths from hurricanes making landfall along the US Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard have been due to flooding from heavy rain rather than surging seas, according to statistics from the National Hurricane Center.

Tampa Bay Water wants feedback to know where it should build a new water pipeline

Tampa Bay Water is planning to construct a new water transmission pipeline.

The new water main will ensure people living in Hillsborough County south of State Road 60 have adequate supplies of high-quality drinking water for decades to come.

The pipeline will connect Tampa Bay Water’s facilities in Brandon to one of three locations in the county: Falkenburg Road, in the Balm area or the Lithia Water Treatment Plant.

The final site will be determined after Tampa Bay Water and Hillsborough County receive input from residents over the next several months via public surveys and meetings.

St. Pete considers robot program to help monitor aging sewer systems

As we start to see all the heavy rains that storm season brings, the city of St. Petersburg is considering new robot technology to make sure sewage isn't spilling into our bays.

"We have a lot of pipe in the ground, and to put eyes on it and really see what is happening is crucial for us, to be able to maintain the system in the long run for our residents and to prevent the sanitary sewer overflows,” said Lisa Rhea of St. Pete Water Resources.

Right now, the city uses large trucks to transport equipment and drops a camera down into the sewer. Crews then watch the video and check for cracks and leaks in the pipes. However, with hundreds of miles of pipe to check and rainy season well underway, the city believes robots could be a better solution.

"They put a crossbar on the manhole, and they set it, and it goes from one manhole to another," said John Stanton of Water Resources. "It doesn't need an operator. They get roughly 7,500 to possibly 10,000 feet a day, if all goes well."v 

As seas rise, Florida will likely lose more coastal property value than any other state

Long before rising seas permanently swamp homes, millions of Americans living in coastal communities will likely face more frequent and disruptive high-tide flooding — and the effects will ripple through the local economy.

As the flooding increases over time, coastal residents will be forced to make difficult and costly choices. And if home values decline, an eroding property tax base would jeopardize funding for local services and infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and police and fire departments.

Shana Udvardy, climate resilience analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said homeowners could find themselves with mortgages that exceed the value of their homes, which will be increasingly difficult to insure.

Udvardy believes some homeowners will abandon their properties as they did during the 2008 financial crisis. Banks would then foreclose on those properties. And banks holding risky mortgages on devalued properties — you remember the Great Recession, right?

Researchers working on spray that could help combat red tide

The dead fish, dolphins and the nasty smell of murky water all came with the red tide that plagued Florida’s Gulf coast last summer.

Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota is working to make a spray they believe could reduce the toxins red tide releases.

While researchers are still working on a finding a compound that works, when they do, they say the results could be a game changer.

So far in 2019, there hasn’t been too much to worry about, but scientists said there’s always a chance red tide will make a comeback.

Sandy soil and rising seas spell septic tank disaster in Florida

Communities across Florida are already grappling with aging septic tanks, which leak into groundwater and are considered a leading cause of toxic algae blooms. As sea level rise is expected to worsen that situation, the state and cities are beginning to tackle the expensive task of converting septic systems to sewer or newer septic technologies.

It’s no small challenge. Floridians are estimated to be using 2.6 million septic systems, most of them the conventional variety with two parts: a tank in the ground close to the home and a “drainfield.”

A quick septic 101: When someone flushes a toilet or rinses off a plate, the wastewater is pumped into the tank, where “solids” settle to the bottom, forming “sewage sludge,” while oil and grease float to the top, forming “scum.” When septic systems get pumped, it’s to remove built-up sludge and residual scum.

Blue-green algae making its way around Tampa Bay again

Florida is perfect for summer activities by the water, however, the ongoing problem of blue-green algae has given some people pause about going to the beach.

The foul-smelling and toxic algae, officially called Lyngbya, has popped up in Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and even Hillsborough counties in the last month according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Last year, many bodies of water became slick with from blue-green algae, along with a significant, 14-month-long red tide algae bloom that plagued all three Florida coasts at one point.

A year later, and with a hand-picked blue-green algae task force in place under Gov. Ron DeSantis, some blue-green algae may still be feeding off of the nutrients left behind.

Deal will protect Murphy Marsh

A 543-acre property in eastern Manatee County known as Murphy Marsh will be protected from development after the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast helped secure a conservation easement on the land.

Murphy Marsh links Triangle Ranch, Lettuce Lakes and the newly protected Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve, three other important conservation areas in the Myakka River watershed.

Conservation Foundation officials said the protection of Murphy Marsh will help with efforts to restore the 2,500-acre Tatum Sawgrass marsh, a project that will decrease flooding downstream and expand wildlife habitat in the region.

“Murphy Marsh is a piece of land that sits perfectly into that puzzle that connects the Tatum Sawgrass marsh with other areas. By being able to connect those areas, the restoration of the Tatum marsh is going to be possible,” said Lee Ann Rodriguez, the Conservation Foundation’s Director of Philanthropy. “It’s the piece that makes it all come together.”

Jane Castor may have a fight on her hands over Tampa’s ‘toilet-to-tap’ project

Could Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s first big battle with City Council be over a program to turn sewage into drinking water?

First the facts: only highly-treated reclaimed water, 50 million gallons of which are currently legally dumped into Tampa Bay, be injected into the Florida Aquifer and then pulled back up to be dumped into the Hillsborough River and adjacent canals. Tampa said the resulting drinking water would be safe. Opponents, including the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and, perhaps, several new council members, say environmental questions remain and wonder why the city needs to proceed with a $350 million project without vetting other options.

On Thursday, the issue surfaced again as the Castor administration pulled a $610,000 request for public outreach for what the city dubs the “Tampa Augmentation Project” or TAP and critics sneer as “toilet-to-tap.”

Proposed stormwater fee increase creates flood of complaints

Roughly 300,000 residential and commercial properties in unincorporated Hillsborough County could see a stormwater assessment change, and for many that change will mean a substantial fee increase.

The proposed change still needs to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners but is already prompting a flood of complaints from potentially affected property owners.

The stormwater assessment is an annual payment for flood control and water quality improvements. Currently it’s a flat rate paid when property owners pay their property taxes.

The county is proposing a sliding scale based on a home’s square footage. Below is the potential fee schedule.