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

Water-Related News

Florida Gov. DeSantis rolls out environmental proposals

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways and to lock an environmental-funding pledge into state budgets for at least the next three years.

The proposals are the first of a series the governor said he will make ahead of the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee on Monday to start holding committee meetings to prepare for the session.

Doubling fines for sewage spills would eliminate what DeSantis described as a “slap me on the wrist” approach to penalties for local governments. Civil penalties are now up to $10,000 a day, DeSantis said during an appearance last week at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples.

“What we end up seeing happening is, you have some of these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”

DeSantis noted, for example, spills that have occurred into Tampa Bay.

Small harvest leaves Florida stone crabbers in a pinch

There is one more victim of the red tide outbreak that plagued Florida’s Gulf Coast last year. This season’s stone crab harvest is among the state's lowest, according to seafood industry experts.

Estimates show only 1.9 million pounds were collected during the season, reports

The season ran from Oct. 15, 2018 to May 15, 2019. An average season ranges between 2.5 and 3.2 million pounds.

According to Bill Kelly, the executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, red tide is to blame.

The algae bloom cut off oxygen to the seafloor in Florida’s southern waters, forcing the crabs to move to other areas in search of better conditions.

"Stone crabs are typical burrowing animals, we affectionately call them ditch diggers, and they didn't have any mud to dig a ditch, and so they had to move on,” said Kelly.

Study: 4 billion particles of tiny plastics pollute Tampa Bay

This study received funding from a Tampa Bay Estuary Program Mini-Grant.

To the naked eye, the waters of Tampa Bay look clean and inviting. But a new study says the bay, Florida’s largest estuary, is awash in tiny bits of plastic.

The study, published Thursday in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, found about four billion particles of microplastics in the bay. Microplastics are each a 1/8 of an inch or smaller — tiny fragments of plastic bags or bottles, or threads from polyester clothing, discarded fishing line and other artificially manufactured jetsam.

Next up: a study that looks at how those bits of microplastics might be affecting manatees and other marine creatures that make their homes in the bay, according to Kinsley McEachern, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg marine sciences graduate student who led the study.

“Harmful chemicals and toxic organic pollutants like pesticides stick to them,” she said. And because the chemicals on microplastics can mimic hormones, "they can cause reproduction difficulties. It could have impacts throughout the entire food chain.”

So far, she said, there have been no studies on the impact on humans.

This is the first study to try to gauge just how badly polluted the bay has become from microplastics. McEachern got the idea for it several years ago when she heard Eckerd College professor David Hastings talking about his discovery that microplastics were turning up in samples his students were taking throughout the bay.

SWFWMD to hold workshop on minimum levels for 41 Tampa Bay wetlands

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) invites the public to a workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the District’s Tampa Service Office, located at 7601 U.S. Highway 301. The purpose of the workshop is to allow for public comment on the proposed reevaluation of minimum levels for 41 wetlands in the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area.

During the workshop, District staff will present the technical basis for the proposed minimum wetland levels. 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. Adopted levels are periodically reevaluated to support ongoing District assessment of minimum flows and levels in the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area.

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

Major hurricanes helping shape regional resiliency climate change plans

Hurricanes such as Dorian are providing valuable data and modeling for planners and politicians working to battle climate change.

The process is called resiliency.

For the past year, a coalition of six counties and 22 cities around Tampa Bay has gathered and coordinated data for everything from new transportation needs to zoning rules. The plan is to combat sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Dorian, last year's Hurricane Michael and 2017's Harvey showed that catastrophic tropical weather and their soaking days of rain are here to stay.

“This is sort of, unfortunately, the new normal,” said CJ Reynolds, the director of resilience and engagement for the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, “and we have to figure out how we need to look at our cities and our roads and our houses and think about how can we make ourselves more resilient.”

The coalition’s members include the coastal counties and cities from Citrus to Manatee. They hope to develop regional solutions for issues including rising sea levels, rainfall, heat, wildfires, droughts, flooding and storms. The Tampa Bay regional coalition covers 4 million residents, or one in five Floridians.

The idea is to coordinate the governments’ response to climate change, coming up with, among many other things, new building codes, zoning designations and transportation projects -- as well as adjusting county and municipal budgets to pay for them.

How Tarpon Springs is preparing for climate change

TARPON SPRINGS — A small city threatened on two sides by water has taken an important early step in the fight against climate change.

Last week, Tarpon Springs officially formed a citizen-led sustainability advisory committee, which will help city officials make a comprehensive climate change plan. Although other cities have similar groups, Tarpon Springs’ will have a unique challenge in combatting the threats posed to a historic city in an age of rising seas.

Dory Larsen, who led the citizen-driven push to form the group, said she hopes the committee can establish concrete goals and priorities for the city. An employee of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Larsen will be an inaugural member.

Susan Glickman, who has worked in the Florida climate change space for decades and is a colleague of Larsen’s at the Alliance for Clean Energy, said the advisory committee will help the city evaluate its needs.

“Before you start a diet, you have to step on a scale,” Glickman said. “They need to get a clear sense of where they are as a community.”

Great Scallop Search valued as water quality indicator

The Great Bay Scallop Search returns after being canceled last year.

ST. PETERSBURG — Fort De Soto Park was packed for the annual Great Bay Scallop Search, and for good reason: Around 200 volunteers were energized after having to miss out on the search last year because of red tide fears.

“(We're) definitely very excited to have all these volunteers out here. It was a shame to miss it last year, and all the volunteers are very excited to get out there on the water,” said Eric Plage, an environmental specialist with Tampa Bay Watch.

The goal was not to find dinner.

“We are returning the scallops to the area from which we found them. We are not harvesting them and putting some garlic butter and some white wine and all that good stuff on it," Plage joked. Scallops are water filters. If the water is too contaminated or diluted, they cannot filter.

"If they’re prevalent in an area, that means there’s good water quality there. If we can’t find any, that’s kind of a sign that the water needs improvement. That the water quality is a bit poor." Plage said.

The annual search has been conducted nearly every year since 1993 to gauge the water quality in Tampa Bay.

Brown water: natural tannins or sign of looming red tide?

Tannin-stained waters are blasting out of some Southwest Florida passes as rain water continues to wash off the watershed and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Water quality scientists and others worry nutrients in that water could eventually feed a red tide bloom that's already on the horizon.

"The volume of water and the amount of nitrogen that’s being delivered to the nearshore Gulf is an issue," said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. "We’re starting to see background levels of Karenia (red tide), so the timing is really bad. Enriching nutrients for the nearshore water, it couldn’t happen at a worse time as we're heading into the red tide season."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports from Tuesday show low to medium concentrations of red tide in Sarasota Bay.

Karenia brevis is the organism that causes red tides in the Gulf of Mexico. It's naturally occurring at background levels but can devastate the entire coastline during major blooms.

Last year, a massive red tide bloom killed millions of pounds of marine life, including hundreds of dolphins and sea turtles, manatees and even a whale shark.

Court rules Obama EPA violated law on WOTUS

More than nine months after the last hearing in the case, and nearly nine months to the day of the briefing deadline for that hearing, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood handed a victory to the state of Georgia and nine other states that sued the federal government over the Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the United States Rule.

Wood stated that the rule, which was intended to provide better protection of the nation’s water, violated the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, and she remanded it back to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers for further work.

She wrote that while the agencies have authority to interpret the phrase “waters of the United States,” that authority isn’t limitless, and therefore their decisions in doing so do not fall under what’s called Chevron deference, a matter of case law in which — for lack of a better phrase — the tie goes to the agency.

City of Tampa to spend $3.2 billion replacing aging infrastructure

TAMPA – Officials with the City of Tampa say they responded to more than 1,200 water main breaks in 2018 and nearly 1,000 wastewater cave-ins since July 2017.

We're told the City of Tampa spends about $20 million a year fixing its aging infrastructure. Public Works rolled out a plan to residents Monday night to make a fix, spending $3.2 billion over the next 20 years.

“It’s imperative that we do this and we do this and we do it quickly," said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “It's like having to replace your roof on your house or your air conditioning system, it’s not something people wanted to spend money on but it’s something that has to be done.”

The city plans to increase water rates for customers incrementally in the coming years. ABC Action News has learned, many residents will see an average $4 monthly hike starting next year.

"We don’t have a choice," said Public Works Director Brad Baird. "We have to fix our infrastructure or our reactive costs are going to keep going up and up.”

The rain keeps falling. The water keeps rising. And catfish roam the streets.

The catfish had River Drive to themselves on Saturday.

Days of nonstop rain finally led the Alafia River to bulge and swell over its banks, sending 1 to 2 feet of water into nearby River Drive by Saturday and allowing catfish to swim by the stilted homes scattered throughout the Lithia Springs Conservation Park.

There were other catfish sightings across the region, too, thanks to August’s above-normal rainfall totals. The constant thundershowers continued the minor street flooding across the bay area, pushed rivers close to or just over flood stage and overwhelmed local wastewater systems this weekend.

Tampa International Airport’s rain gauge has recorded 8.53 inches of rainfall so far in the month of August — 4.29 inches above normal and it’s the middle of the month. St. Petersburg has recorded 8.72 inches of rain, which is 4.49 above normal. But for the past three days it is Hernando County that may have seen the heaviest rains in the region. The Hernando Beach gauges have recorded 7 to 11 inches total so far this month.

Hillsborough County proposes increase in stormwater fee to deal with flooding

Hillsborough County officials say over the last few weeks, with all the rain, they've had to install 18 to 20 temporary pumping stations to deal with all the water.

"The drain systems fill up, the natural ponds and wetlands all get full of water and they don’t have time to recover with these intense rains,” said John Lyons, the Public Works Administrator for Hillsborough County.

But the county says funding to clean out drains and pipes and replace aging infrastructure is really low.

It’s why the county suggested a stormwater fee hike for nearly 300,000 property owners in unincorporated Hillsborough County based on the size of their home.

"A medium size home that pays $42 today would pay somewhere around $100 annually,” Lyons said.

The county is holding a series of public meetings to help answer any questions residents may have.

More information on the stormwater fee:

Oldsmar officials shower praise on new rain garden

Several Oldsmar officials, including Mayor Eric Seidel, Council members Linda Norris and Dan Saracki, and Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelly, attended a dedication ceremony for the city’s new rain garden on July 16.

Created in partnership with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program using a mini-grant that funded the planting of the garden, the natural feature, located at the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, is designed to hold and collect excess water during rain storms in order to filter it before it enters water systems as well as reduce pollutants and attract pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and ladybugs, that are beneficial to the environment, according to experts.

“As a city, we are dedicated to ensuring we provide environmental stewardship,” Seidel said to the small group that gathered for the event. “This rain garden helps us move towards our goal of becoming a more sustainable community by protecting our waterways and enhancing our quality of place. This garden also helps beautify the city, making it a pleasant place to visit and live.”

How to keep your dog safe from deadly blue-green algae

It was a sad weekend for a few dog owners as they thought they were just bringing their dog for a fun day at the lake. Within a few hours, four dogs in two different southern states died due to a common toxin in Florida known as blue-green algae.

In Georgia, a border collie named Arya died in less than an hour after being brought to a lake. While the pup loved playing in the water, her owners didn't realize it would be her last time as she started vomiting and was brain dead by the time they reached the emergency room.

The vet said it was "most likely" caused from a lake toxin like blue-green algae.

In North Carolina, a pet parent is also warning others after her three dogs died within three hours of exposure to a lake. The dogs began seizing when she started giving them a bath and she rushed them to an emergency vet.

The vet later told it was cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, which caused it. 

District to hold public workshop on ranking water bodies

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is seeking public input about the order in which minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for lakes, wetlands, rivers, streams and aquifers in the District will be determined. Legislation requires the District to review and, if necessary, revise this schedule each year.

A public workshop will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at the District’s Tampa Service Office, located at 7601 U.S. Highway 301. The workshop will provide an important opportunity for local governments, residents and the public to be part of the scheduling of minimum flows and levels for priority water bodies.

A minimum flow or level is the limit at which further water withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources or environment. The District’s Governing Board sets these limits as part of achieving the balance between meeting water needs and sustaining Florida’s natural systems.

Here come the robots: St. Petersburg inks deal for pipe-inspecting robots

It’s official: Robots will soon be crawling under city streets.

The City Council unanimously green-lighted a $600,000 contract Thursday with RedZone Robotics to start inspecting pipes using the company’s “Solo” robots to help remedy its sewer issues.

The autonomous crawling machines will enable the city to detect leaks three to four times faster than current methods, senior water resources manager Lisa Rhea has told the Tampa Bay Times. That allows the city to make repairs faster and prioritize areas that need work, said RedZone Robotics sales operations manager John DePasquale.

The city’s aging system released up to one billion gallons during the 2015-2016 sewage discharges. Leaky pipes contributed to that. Even on dry days, as much as two-thirds of the sewage flow came from groundwater entering the pipes, a consultant said. When rain fell, the volume proved too much for the pipes and the overflow contributed significantly to sewage spills during storms.