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

Water-Related News

State funding announced to permanently close Piney Point gyp stack

MANATEE COUNTY – Flanked by County Commissioners and Manatee County delegation members, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this morning announced that unprecedented state resources will be used to address the process water at Piney Point.

The Governor today directed $15.4 million within the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) budget to be reallocated to Piney Point for "innovative technologies to pre-treat water at the site for nutrients, in the event further discharges are needed."

He said rigorous water quality monitoring will continue in order to fully measure the ecological impacts of the process water that has been discharged into Piney Creek and, ultimately, Tampa Bay near Port Manatee.

"We want this to be the last chapter of the Piney Point story, so today I'm directing DEP to create a plan to close the site," DeSantis told local media this morning from Piney Point. "I have requested that DEP's team of engineers and scientists develop plans for the permanent closure of this site including identifying the necessary resources to do so."

Beyond DeSantis's initial $15.4 million commitment, Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said he is working closely with the Governor and DEP staff to formulate an appropriations request of $100 million for legislators to consider as a first installment payment this year. If more is needed, Florida lawmakers will include any additional needs as part of next year's budget.

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said his team of scientists and engineers is closely measuring the environmental impacts of the uncontrolled discharge at Piney Point so that "we can fully hold (property owner) HRK fully accountable."

DeSantis commended the state and local teams that responded around the clock to successfully address the threat to public safety and manage the uncontrolled discharge of process water into Piney Creek. Dr. Scott Hopes, Manatee County Administrator, thanked the Governor for taking decisive action to mitigate the risk to public safety and the environment.

Update on Piney Point gyp stack situation from DEP

Today, Governor DeSantis was joined by legislators, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein and Manatee County officials at the Piney Point facility in Manatee County to announce next steps in the state’s response at Piney Point. The announcement included directing DEP to create a long-term plan for the closure of Piney Point, ensuring this will be the last chapter in the site’s long history. The Governor also directed DEP to take any and all legal actions to ensure HRK and any other actors are held fully accountable.

The first step towards permanent closure is to ensure we are ready to take the next steps toward any necessary restoration and mitigation as quickly as possible. To that end, Governor DeSantis also announced that he is redirecting $15.4 million from existing appropriations at DEP to be used for innovative technologies to pre-treat water at the site.

Senator Wilton Simpson expressed the legislature’s support to supplement these immediate actions with future funding appropriations, starting with an estimated $100 million in the coming fiscal year.

Key status updates and response activities:

  • Discharges to Port Manatee remain ceased.
  • Approximately 222 million gallons remain in the NGS-South compartment. Elevation and volume will likely fluctuate as innovative technologies are deployed to initiate water treatment.
  • DEP continues to monitor and sample surrounding waterways following previous discharges. DEP’s interactive water quality dashboard details sampling locations and corresponding results to evaluate any environmental impact. Results will continue to be posted as soon as they are available.
  • There are no reported fish kills in the area.

The department remains fully engaged in first response activities and is diligently monitoring conditions at the site. At approximately 3:30 PM, a low-level flow was observed from the concentrated seepage area on the east wall of NGS-South compartment. Dive crews immediately arrived on-scene and are currently in the water confirming that the plate placed over the liner seam separation has remained secured and no other leaks are identified.

Residents can find the latest information on the status of the site and response activities at ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov/PineyPointUpdate.

USF researchers use models to predict travel of Piney Point pollutants

The models will help predict how the nutrient-rich wastewater dumped into Port Manatee will disperse throughout the bay.

ST. PETERSBURG — Where the wastewater discharged from Piney Point into Tampa Bay will go and how long it will take to disperse are questions Bob Weisberg is trying to answer.

The University of South Florida College of Marine Science professor, with his team in the Ocean Circulation Group, are developing forecast models to predict the polluted water’s movement. The models are based on tides, winds and river inflows.

“It’s moving around with the tides and the winds and is slowly spreading,” Weisberg said. “Now we’re really concerned with what the concentrations will be going into the future.”

Like a weather forecast model, Weisberg says these models can help guide researchers to where they should be testing for water quality and other measures. The brighter colors denote higher concentrations of nutrients in the water.

More than 200 million gallons of untreated, nutrient-rich wastewater from a leaking reservoir at the site of the former Piney Point phosphate plant were discharged into the bay to avoid what officials said could’ve been a catastrophic collapse.

Manatee County water safe to consume; discoloration caused by treatment modifications

Some north Manatee residents may see discolored tap water, but it's safe to drink

MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County Utilities Department says recent adjustments to the water treatment process has caused some County utility customers -- many of whom live in in Parrish and near Palmetto -- to see discolored water coming from the tap. Utilities officials say the water meets drinking water standards and remains safe to consume.

The discolored water comes as the result of modifications being made to the water treatment process in recent months at the Manatee County Water Treatment Plant. Portions of the plant were taken offline and after being reconnected, some discoloration occurred for many customers in north Manatee County.

Efforts are underway to address the discoloration by adjusting chemical balances in the water. Utilities officials say it may take some time for discolored water in the system to work its way through to the tap, even after the water leaving the treatment plant is back to normal.

Manatee County Utilities customers will always receive a notification if and when there are any safety concerns with the water. The public’s trust in our water supply is of utmost importance to Manatee County. Customers with questions can call Customer Service at (941) 792-8811.

Measuring Piney Point’s impacts will take time, USF researchers say

Data on nitrates and phosphate will be important when determining the spill’s effect on Tampa Bay.

Scientists will be paying close attention to water quality data as they work to determine the environmental impacts that polluted discharges from the Piney Point phosphate plant have had on Tampa Bay.

But some of the most important data about nitrates and phosphates takes time to process, researchers say.

A team of scientists from the USF College of Marine Science on Wednesday took a vessel into Tampa Bay to study the area and bring back water samples.

But they don’t expect to have some of the results for days or weeks because some chemicals take longer to process and involve more resources, said Tom Frazer, Dean of the USF College of Marine Science.

“Let's say you're analyzing something for nitrate, or phosphate or something like that. There's a set of protocols that are in place. There's lab time involved and you have to run it through the various instrumentation to get that result,” said Frazer. “So some things move faster than others.”

The team will develop forecast models that show where they expect the polluted water to go and observe any anomalies in Tampa Bay.

The scientists didn’t find any large anomalies on the surface of Tampa Bay during their first day of research, Frazer said.

“We didn't see any fish kills or things like that. But that's why you collect the samples ... so we understand what types of nutrient concentrations are on the water,” said Frazer.

The team collected samples of bacteria and water to analyze types of phytoplankton that might be present. The researchers also collected samples of sediments and fish, to see if there are any contaminants that are in the tissues of those organisms, or in the sediments themselves.

USF launches research cruise to study Piney Point’s environmental impact

The research team will set out to answer how the wastewater will affect our environment and marine life.

TAMPA — The wastewater emergency at the former Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County has sparked a lot of questions.

The state of Florida says quality tests show there is a high amount of nutrients in the water, including phosphorous and nitrogen. And it's being released at a rate of about 23,500 gallons a minute, in an effort to avoid a larger uncontrolled collapse of the retention pond.

It remains unclear just how that water will affect our environment, ecosystems and marine life. But, scientists from the University of South Florida have set out to find answers.

A team from USF's College of Marine Science launched the first research cruise into Tampa Bay Wednesday to study the environmental impacts of the Piney Point reservoir release.

Deep well injection now imminent at Piney Point

MANATEE COUNTY — On Tuesday, Manatee County Commissioners unanimously authorized the use of a deep injection well on county-owned property directly south of the Piney Point site across Buckeye Road. The county says that the action gives the BOCC "total control" over the well and allows the county to dictate the quality of the water before it goes into the well.

In various iterations of the deep-well solution as previously proposed, what went into the well and how much it was treated first varied and was sometimes unclear. In some cases, a private company would have looked to offset costs by accepting other wastewater from other areas. The presentation Tuesday emphasized that only water from Piney Point would be injected into the well and that the county would control the level of treatment the water underwent prior to being injected.

"The residents and business owners of North Manatee can rest assured that the water atop the stacks will be treated before it is transferred to the deep injection well and then capped to ensure no other water enters the well," Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh said.

The cost would be absorbed by the state with the county contributing no more than the $6 million it had originally committed to a deep-well injection site. As for liability, Manatee County Attorney Bill Clague explained that as the owner of the well, the county would be liable.

Piney Point: Here’s how to read water quality results

Samples are being taken from points across the bay and near the discharge point in Port Manatee to determine any changes in baseline water quality. PALMETTO — Officials appear to have avoided a "catastrophic" collapse of the leaking Piney Point reservoir by pumping hundreds of millions of gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater into Tampa Bay.

Now scientists and environmentalists are closely watching to determine what kind of environmental impact that discharge will have on sea life in the Bay.

Samples are being taken regularly from areas across Tampa Bay and near where the wastewater was being pumped into Port Manatee to give officials a baseline for comparison. Those sampling results are being updated regularly by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on this website.

FDEP is collaborating with Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to collect the samples from 11 different locations daily, monitoring for salinity, nutrient levels, radionuclides and other variables, according to the site.

Mark Luther, director of the USF Center for Maritime and Port Studies, explained the significance of some of the measures being tracked.

Local students win conservation art awards

Three Lakewood Ranch students are recognized by county utilities officials.

LAKEWOOD RANCH – Three Lakewood Ranch High School (LRHS) Mustangs have won the 2021 Water Conservation poster contest hosted by the Manatee County Utilities Department.

Every year Manatee County Utilities Department hosts the 'Drop Savers' Water Conservation Poster Contest, organized by the Florida Section American Water Works Association (FSAWWA).

The goal of the contest is to promote awareness and importance of water conservation in daily routines. Sixteen Manatee County schools participated in the 2021 contest.

The first-place winning entries from each division were sent to the statewide 'Drop Savers' contest.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program helps us to ‘Sort Through the Green Stuff’

What is it? Algae, cyanobacteria, or seagrass?

This past week, the four Florida National Estuary Programs, along with local and regional partners, convened a 3-day workshop around the topic of macroalgae. Macroalgae refers to larger species of algae, whose individuals you can see without a microscope. Seaweed is another name commonly used.

If you’ve been out in Sarasota Bay or the Gulf, chances are, you’ve probably stumbled across this “green or brown stuff” floating in the water or tumbling along the seafloor. However, it is important to note that not all the green/brown stuff you may see is algae. It could be cyanobacteria or marine plants. So what exactly is the difference between the three?

Pinellas County launches new sustainability and resiliency planning process, website

Pinellas County launched a new sustainability and resiliency website this week to share the County’s current and upcoming sustainability and resiliency efforts and offer residents ideas for how they can make a difference in their community. The site can be found at sustainability.pinellas.gov.

The launch of the new website comes as the County recently began developing its first comprehensive Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan (SRAP) to address the unique geographical, environmental, social, economic, and climate challenges of Florida’s most densely populated county.

Scheduled for completion in March 2022, the Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan will guide Pinellas County governmental policies and programs, as well as external community services.

The development of the action plan, led by consultant VHB, will include a greenhouse gas inventory to measure the carbon footprint of County operations as well as unincorporated Pinellas County communities. The process will also include an internal review of programs and policies, and public outreach through surveys and a community stakeholder advisory group.

Amid growing concerns about sea-level rise and other climate change impacts, Pinellas County has expanded its focus on sustainability and resiliency in recent years. Some highlights of the County’s actions include:

  • Creating the County’s first Sustainability & Resiliency Coordinator position in 2019
  • County leadership in the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition
  • An administrative directive to integrate resiliency, including sea-level rise analysis, into all future capital improvement projects
  • Co-founding the Pinellas Sustainability and Resilience Network, an informal partnership of local government officials and 10 municipalities that are implementing sustainability and resiliency programs
  • Publishing the County’s first comprehensive progress report on its sustainability and resiliency efforts
  • Entering Duke Energy Florida’s Clean Energy Connection Program later this year to offset 40 percent of the County’s energy consumption through solar power generation starting in 2024

A quarter of Pinellas County’s land lies in the Coastal High Hazard Area, an area that is considered particularly vulnerable to the effects of coastal flooding from tropical storm events. Pinellas County has seen nearly eight inches of sea-level rise since 1946, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Seventy-six percent of Pinellas County residents consider sea-level rise a concern to them, according to the 2020 Pinellas County Citizen Values survey.

Piney Point update from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Piney Point Key Talking Points

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is working with regional partners to coordinate and synthesize water quality, benthic, seagrass, and fisheries monitoring data. We are also consulting with USF to model forecasted plume trajectory from the Piney Point discharge.

The primary pollutants of concern for this discharge are phosphorus and nitrogen (primarily ammonia nitrogen), which may stimulate an algae response and cause adverse effects on seagrass, fish, and other wildlife.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is focused on reducing nutrient pollution to Tampa Bay, no matter the source. As a community, we need to renew our commitment to a healthy Tampa Bay and continue to invest in protecting this natural resource that we’ve worked so hard to restore over the past 30+ years.

Our website (tbep.org) will provide links to baseline data and any updates from monitoring in the future. Additional information, including regular updates from FDEP, featured media interviews, and live drone footage are available at https://linktr.ee/TBEP. If you would like to share this statement on social media channels, visual resources are available for your use here.

Please direct any questions or requests for support to esherwood@tbep.org and mburke@tbep.org.

10 tips to save water for “Water Conservation Month”

While the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) encourages water conservation year-round, there is extra emphasis each April for Water Conservation Month. April is historically one of the driest months of the year and typically marks the peak demand season for public water suppliers.

With these 10 simple tips, you can lower your monthly water bill and do your part to save hundreds of gallons of water:

INDOOR

  • Only run your washing machine and dishwasher when they are full.
  • Use the shortest clothes washing cycle for lightly soiled loads; normal and permanent-press wash cycles use more water.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, not under running water.
  • Scrape, don’t rinse, your dishes before loading in the dishwasher.
  • Install high-efficiency showerheads, faucets and toilets.

OUTDOOR

  • Check your home’s irrigation system for leaks.
  • Turn off your irrigation system and only water as needed.
  • Don’t leave sprinklers unattended. Use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to turn sprinklers off.
  • Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle when washing the car.
  • Consider installing a rain barrel with a drip irrigation system for watering your landscaping. Rainwater is free and better for your plants because it doesn’t contain hard minerals.

Leaks are the biggest water waster, both inside and outside of your home. You can use your water meter to check for leaks. Turn off all faucets and water-using appliances and make sure no one uses water during the testing period. Wait for the hot water heater and ice cube makers to refill and for regeneration of water softeners. Go to your water meter and record the current reading. Wait 30 minutes. (Remember, no water should be used during this period.) Read the meter again. If the reading has changed, you have a leak.

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

Mote Marine Lab to construct marine science education center at Anna Maria pier

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and the City of Anna Maria have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to pursue the construction of a marine science education and public outreach center at the famous City of Anna Maria Pier. The Pier, one of Manatee County’s largest tourist attractions, was reconstructed following Hurricane Irma, and this Center will inspire visitors and residents alike to connect to the importance of the surrounding marine ecosystem that makes Anna Maria Island one of the top destinations in Florida.

Unanimously approved by the City of Anna Maria Commission, and signed by Mayor Dan Murphy and Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby, this MOU will allow the City of Anna Maria and Mote to pursue constructing the Center in the 1,800 square foot empty space currently located at the Pier. Physical plans for the Center include several live animal exhibits as well as several interactive exhibits. Mote’s Education team will also provide regular programming for members of the public that will help them better understand and appreciate the area’s native flora and fauna and learn conservation-minded fishing practices. Following the acquisition of funding by the City, the construction will take approximately six months.

Gulf Coast fish farm permit will get second look under Biden Administration

The facility, which would be operated by Hawaii-based company Ocean Era, would host 20,000 almaco jack in a pen suspended 45 miles offshore in the Gulf. The EPA granted the company a discharge permit last October.

Under direction from the Biden administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is revisiting a permit granted to a proposed industrial fish farm off the coast of Sarasota.

WUSF's Cathy Carter spoke about the future of deep-sea aquaculture with environmental attorney Marianne Cufone. She's also executive director of Recirculating Farms Coalition, one of more than 50 groups that signed on to a letter urging the new administration to take a second look at the EPA permit and to undo an order from the Trump administration that could accelerate the construction of off shore finfish farming nationwide.

Marianne, this planned facility known as Velella Epsilon would be the first finfish farming project in federal waters. You're group is part of the Don’t Cage Our Oceans Coalition. Can you remind us— what are environmentalists' concerns with offshore aquaculture?

Things like escapes where fish get out of the pens. There's the potential for them to intermix with or overtake wild fish populations, competing for mates and habitat and food. Other issues are pollution from the cages because any food, waste or chemicals that are used in the cages can flow directly into the natural environment. And of course, they also take up real space in the environment, causing conflicts with existing industries like fishing and boating and diving so there are a whole host of concerns that come along with creating a new aquaculture industry offshore in the United States.

LBK Gulfside Road beach access temporarily closed

The beach access point at 6399 Gulfside Road will remain closed until mid-April.

The town of Longboat Key has temporarily closed its public beach access point at 6399 Gulfside Road.

Friday’s closure is expected to last until mid-April because of work on its beach renourishment project.

“It’s basically only open for residential foot traffic and the contractor is in the process of mobilizing their equipment,” said Longboat Key town projects manager Charlie Mopps.

The next closest public beach access points to 6399 Gulfside Road are about 1 mile north at 6847 Gulf of Mexico Drive and another at 100 Broadway Street.

“We’re doing our best to kind of mitigate impacts, but at the same time we have to allow, because of the benefits that ultimately this project is going to provide to the citizens, the work to actually go on,” Mopps said.

Mopps said he anticipates the town will close other beach access points in the coming months.

2021 Beach Project Schedule »

District Announces Success of Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area Recovery Efforts

TBNWUCA map

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District), in partnership with Tampa Bay Water, announces the successful environmental recovery efforts of the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area. The success of the Northern Tampa Bay recovery efforts was detailed at the Governing Board’s February meeting. The Board has concurred that a recovery strategy is no longer required for the area because aquifer levels have rebounded and the health of the lakes and wetlands in the region have recovered or significantly improved.

The District has invested more than $300 million and Tampa Bay Water has invested nearly $2 billion toward this 20-year recovery effort, which has reduced groundwater withdrawals by about 50% and has developed innovative solutions to replace these reductions with alternative water sources, including surface water and desalinated sea water. Most notably, the ecological health of more than 1,300 lakes, wetlands, and other surface waterbodies in the area have recovered or significantly improved and most aquifer water levels are at their highest in four to six decades.

“By all measure, this is such an incredible model of what we can do as a community to reinforce and maintain a healthy environment,” said Governing Board Secretary Rebecca Smith who represents Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “I just think it’s amazing. A proud moment for our region, for sure.”

“This is the evidence of the value of the water management district working along with Tampa Bay Water,” said Governing Board Chair Kelly Rice. “We look forward to working with Tampa Bay Water for many, many more years.”

Before the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area was established in 1989, large amounts of water were permitted and pumped from the region’s wellfields, resulting in lakes and wetlands in the area losing water and, in some cases, drying up completely, which caused significant harm to the natural ecosystem. As a result, Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 ending the region’s “Water Wars.” The District and Tampa Bay Water worked in partnership to develop a 20-year recovery plan, which included reducing the amount of groundwater withdrawals in the area and developing alternative water sources for the residents of Tampa Bay.

Part of the joint recovery approach included Tampa Bay Water building one of the largest seawater desalination plants in North America located in Apollo Beach, pulling water from various river sources, constructing the 15-billion-gallon C.W. “Bill” Young Regional Reservoir in southern Hillsborough County, installing miles of pipelines to connect systems, and completing a surface water treatment plant. These alternative water resources have been critical in compensating for the reduction in groundwater withdrawals and the rise in demand for water due to population growth in the area. These alternative sources also provide resiliency, allowing Tampa Bay Water flexibility in its water sources.

The District will continue to monitor the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area to ensure continued success. Currently, Tampa Bay Water has a consolidated water use permit that includes all 10 wellfields in the area for an annual daily average of 90 million gallons. Tampa Bay Water has submitted a request to renew its consolidated water use permit for another 10 years at the current withdrawal level, which will go to the District’s Governing Board for approval later this year.

Low bidder on Port Richey dredging project gets tentative approval

The city manager is taking a deeper look. at the bid by Grubbs Emergency Services.

PORT RICHEY — Months ago, Port Richey city officials balked at a bid for their long-awaited dredging project to improve boating on two channels. When only one bid came in and it was higher than the estimate, they rejected it.

“I believed then that we needed to get dredges in the water,” Mayor Scott Tremblay said last week as the City Council, sitting as the community redevelopment agency, considered two new bids. Tremblay encouraged approval of the low bid.

City council members still questioned the cost, which was higher than before. They also had specific concerns about what was included in the price. The low bid of $816,000 by Grubbs Emergency Services was half the cost proposed by the other bidder.