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

Water-Related News

Blue-Green Algae Task Force meets for first time since November

FORT MYERS – The Blue-Green Algae Task Force met Thursday for the first time since November to discuss innovative technologies being used around the state to combat the toxic blooms.

State officials showed the scientist-led task force several blue-green algae fighting projects that have been launched around the state already, many through the Department of Environmental Protection grant funding.

Although green streaks lined the surface of the Caloosahatchee by the Franklin Lock Thursday, BGA Task Force member and Florida Gulf Coast University scientist Dr. Mike Parsons said the algae situation has been better in southwest Florida than they feared this year so far.

“Everybody’s trying to prepare though, so if and when we do get larger blooms, what are some of the treatments we can do?” Parsons said. “[The innovative technologies] won’t 100% get rid of it, but if you can knock it back a lot, that’ll be very helpful.”

Fishing and aquaculture affected by Piney Point spill

Business owners in Manatee County took their concerns to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Many fishermen, and clam and oyster farmers, continue to get hammered by red tide in and around Tampa Bay. On Wednesday, business owners in Manatee County took their concerns to the state's Agriculture Commissioner.

Livelihoods dependent on aquaculture have been devastated since red tide was reported in the waters of Tampa Bay in recent weeks.

A group gathered at the home of Curtis Hemmel in Terra Ceia to say the condition has been aggravated by several hundred millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water that poured from the shuttered Piney Point phosphate plant in March.

Hemmel owns Bay Shellfish Company, Florida's largest clam hatchery. He started the hatchery 25 years ago, after the net fishing ban was enacted in 1996.

"There are other factors that could cause that, so, do we think that was the cause, based on the timing?" he asked. "Absolutely. But it's a difficult thing to pinpoint, right?"

Hemmel and others asked Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to include clam and oyster seeding in Tampa Bay as "mitigation" for the spill, meaning they would get financial help for their losses. That's not now required of the plant's operator.

Want to be on Flip My Florida Yard?

FMFY logo

The deadline to apply is July 15th.

The Flip My Florida Yard television show is looking for yards to flip and lives to change! In order to be considered for the show, you must complete an online survey, provide photographs, and send the producers a submission video.

If you are selected, the Flip My Florida Yard team will work with you to determine how to flip your yard, develop a landscape design, and bring it to life!

This may mean replacing plant beds, installing irrigation systems, and/or rethinking your current maintenance practices.

The premise of the show is that if we all do a little, it adds up to a lot. Flip My Florida Yard shows Floridians how they can make small (and big) changes in their own backyards that help to save our water supply and protect our wildlife.

Depending on the size and needs of your landscape, only a portion may be flipped. Before completing the survey, please be aware that you will be asked to provide photographs and video of your yard. If selected, this will help the producers and landscapers decide which portion(s) of your yard to flip.

Complete details and contest rules are at the link below.

Piney Point not believed to be the cause of Red Tide in Pinellas

Florida’s former chief science officer said a leak in a reservoir at a former phosphate plant in Manatee County isn’t the cause of a red tide outbreak along beaches this week in Pinellas County.

But Tom Frazer, now the dean and a professor at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, said during a discussion hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis that nutrients from the Piney Point phosphate-plant site could be helping fuel the outbreak.

Frazer added that other sources could include runoff from area septic tanks, the region’s 18 stormwater systems and agricultural and residential fertilizer.

“I don't think that the red tide was originated as a consequence of Piney Point,” Frazer said during the discussion at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. “One of the things that we saw with the red tide early on was that it was south of the discharge area, with the red tide continuing to kind of migrate or move northward into lower Tampa Bay.”

“It's quite possible that nutrients, recycled nutrients in the system as a result of Piney Point could have contributed to that. But there are a large number of nutrient sources along the coast. And, again, we've tried to address a lot of those nutrient sources.”

The source of toxic algae outbreaks in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico is typically a single-celled organism called Karenia brevis algae, which produces toxins that kill fish, birds, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins and can cause shellfish poisoning in humans.

Wastewater on the Piney Point site is contaminated, and a leak in a reservoir in early April led to a temporary evacuation of residents and a state of emergency amid fears that a breach could lead a wall to collapse.

When asked about holding the owners of Piney Point accountable for the problems, DeSantis said the Department of Environmental Protection is working on a plan to “mothball” the site.

The Legislature agreed this spring to set aside $100 million in federal coronavirus relief money for the work.

Pinellas County authorities continue removing sea life apparently killed by red tide from local beaches.

Researchers working on new test to detect cyanobacteria in humans

Blue-green algae play a role in human health and we see what it does to our water. A diagnostic test at a doctor’s office may still be far off but researchers are working on developing a test to detect cyanobacteria in humans.

Coughing, headaches and rashes can all impact people after they’ve been exposed to toxic algal blooms.

Dr. Virginia Roberts is an epidemiologist with the CDC and says that proving that algae is the source of these symptoms is another story.

“We saw that very few people and animals were getting some sort of diagnostic testing conducted,” said Dr. Roberts. “There are big limitations with being able to go to a doctor and get tested.”

“It is really an important area – the idea of developing those tests – making sure that they work well, and getting them out so that public health laboratories and clinicians and others will eventually have more access to that kind of testing,” Dr. Roberts said.

Hillsborough acquires undeveloped land along Little Manatee River

The county has been trying to purchase the 84 acres since the mid-2000s.

Hillsborough County is acquiring 84 acres of what it calls the Bahia Beach coastal restoration area to help complete a nature preserve at the Little Manatee River.

The county has been attempting to acquire the land since the mid-2000s and now will use RESTORE Act dollars to complete two separate buys via its Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.

The land, sitting between the river and Shell Point Road, is the last remaining large undeveloped property in the area along the Little Manatee River. It can provide public access to the river and completes a landscape corridor of coastal preservation lands along Tampa Bay stretching from Apollo Beach south to the Hillsborough-Manatee County line, the county said.

Surge in nitrogen has turned Sargassum into the world’s largest harmful algal bloom

Unique historical baseline reveals dramatic changes in composition of Sargassum

For centuries, pelagic Sargassum, a floating brown seaweed, has grown in low nutrient waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, supported by natural nutrient sources such as excretions from fish and invertebrates, upwelling, and nitrogen fixation.

Using a unique historical baseline from the 1980s and comparing it to samples collected since 2010, researchers at Florida Atlantic University and collaborators have discovered dramatic changes in the chemistry and composition of Sargassum that have transformed this vibrant living organism into a toxic "dead zone."

The findings of the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded research, published in Nature Communications, suggest that increased nitrogen availability from natural and human sources, such as sewage, is supporting blooms of Sargassum and turning a critical nursery habitat into harmful algal blooms with catastrophic impacts on coastal ecosystems, economies and human health. Globally, harmful algal blooms are related to increased nutrient pollution.

The study, led by Florida Atlantic University, in collaboration with the University of South Florida, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Southern Mississippi and Florida State University, was designed to better understand the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus supply on Sargassum. Researchers used a baseline tissue data set of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and their ratios from the 1980s and compared it with samples collected since 2010.

Results show that from the 1980s to the 2010s, the percentage of nitrogen in Sargassum tissue increased 35%, while phosphorus decreased 42%. In addition to the changes in composition were changes in the ratios, the most significant a 111% increase in the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus. Carbon to phosphorous ratios increased by 78%.

Saharan dust moves toward Florida, may fuel red tide

Sunsets across Florida could become more spectacular soon, as clouds of dust from the Sahara Desert are sweeping in across the Atlantic Coast in the coming days.

Similar to the way humans need iron, Saharan dust provides iron to organisms in the water. In turn, it can fuel events such as red tide.

FGCU professor Mike Parsons told us that includes algae.

“So the dust brings the iron that they were lacking, and it helps them grow,” explained Parsons, who is the director of the Vester Field Station and teaches at FGCU’s The Water School.

A photo from 2020 shows Trichodesmium, or sea sawdust, which is an algae in the Gulf. It takes hold of iron from the dust.

“The hypothesis is … when you have these Trichodesmium blooms, they take that nitrogen gas, and they turn it into fertilizer,” Parsons said.

It’s fertilizer that red tide will gobble up, but there’s a catch.

Health advisory issued for some Tampa beaches

High bacteria levels were found at Davis Island Beach and Ben T Davis Beach.

TAMPA — High bacteria levels found Wednesday at two Tampa beaches prompted a health advisory from the Hillsborough County Health Department.

In a release, the DOH said water samples taken Wednesday at Davis Island Beach and Ben T Davis Beach showed "above threshold" levels of enterococci bacteria.

Because of this, the DOH says it does not recommend swimming due to an increased risk of people getting sick.

The beaches will be resampled next week. The advisory will be lifted when water samples are within "satisfactory range," the DOH said.

Enterococci bacteria normally live in the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which can cause disease, infections or rashes, DOH says. The bacteria is caused by fecal pollution, which can come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife and human sewage.

For more information, check the DOH's beach water quality website.

Evacuation zones vs. flood zones: Know the difference

Two different designations for two different purposes

Though they are often mistaken for each other, Flood Zones and Evacuation Zones are two very different things that measure very different conditions. So what's the difference? And when do you use them? Here is what you need to know:

Evacuation Zones

These are the areas that officials may order evacuated during a hurricane. These zones are mapped by the National Hurricane Center and indicate areas that will be affected by storm surge - storm-driven waves that can inundate a community, and threaten lives. Zones in Hillsborough County are identified from A - E, and there are parts of the county that are not in an evacuation zone. Find Evacuation Information.

Flood Zones

These federally identified zones indicate a property's risk for flooding at any time of the year, including as a result of heavy or steady rain. This zone has nothing to do with hurricanes or other emergencies, and everything to do with your property insurance and building requirements. Nationally, these zones are classified as Zones A (Special Flood Hazard Area), B, C, D, V and X. Every property is in a flood zone. Find My Flood Zone.

Interestingly, a home may be in a non-evacuation zone, but still be in a high risk flood zone because of a nearby pond or stream. Alternatively, a home could be in a low risk flood zone, but still in an early evacuation zone because of storm surge projections or high winds.

That's why it's important to know both your Flood Zone and your Evacuation Zone, and the difference between them. Still unsure?

Here's a helpful guide on when to use which map:

  • When to check the Evacuation Zone Map
  • Before hurricane season to make sure your family prepared
  • During a hurricane or major storm, to know if you should evacuate

When to check the Flood Zone Map

  • You own, rent, or are buying a new property and don't know if you need flood insurance
  • You refinance or get a mortgage
  • You need building permits for work on your property
  • You live in a low-lying area or near a stream, pond or body of water

County initiates Red Tide cleanup on beaches

With Red Tide persisting, Pinellas County has initiated cleanup of dead marine life from the county’s beaches. Crews will begin work late today [Jun. 15] or on Wednesday [Jun. 16].

Satellite imagery shows a patchy bloom of Red Tide off the Pinellas County coast. Forecasting models show it moving north for the next seven to 10 days. Fish kills have been reported in several locations on the gulf beaches and within the Intracoastal Waterway and Boca Ciega Bay. A new GIS map shows the latest water sample testing data from both the County and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Even when Red Tide is present off the Pinellas County coast, it is not necessarily present at all beaches. Residents and visitors can check beach conditions at www.beachesupdate.com and via the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast Tool.

Red Tide kills marine life by producing a potent toxin that affects the central nervous system of the fish. The toxin can also affect birds, sea turtles, mammals and other marine animals. In humans, Red Tide can also cause respiratory symptoms in people such as eye, nose, and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms. Some individuals with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms. Usually symptoms go away when a person leaves the area or goes indoors.

Proposed Florida constitutional amendment aims to give waterways legal rights

Floridians and organizations within the state could take legal action on behalf of waterways under the amendment.

Florida environmentalists have begun collecting signatures to introduce an amendment to the state's constitution that would recognize a person's legal right to clean water.

The amendment aims to do this by recognizing a waterway's legal right to "exist, flow, be free from pollution, and maintain a healthy ecosystem." Meaning, Floridians and organizations within the state could take legal action on behalf of waterways, according to the proposed amendment.

If the waterway's rights were violated, then the amendment requires the penalty to be paying whatever the cost is to restore the water to its "pre-damaged state."

The petition would need to reach nearly 900,000 signatures by February 1, 2022, in order to be placed on Florida's ballots.

More Red Tide detected as Pinellas issues health warning

Those using the beaches should watch out for respiratory issues and eye, nose and throat irritation as blooms are found further north toward Clearwater Beach.

Health officials in Pinellas warned Friday that respiratory issues could be caused by a Red Tide bloom off the county’s coast.

The state also reported a bloom concentration of Red Tide off Sand Key, further north and closer to Clearwater Beach than had been previously detected.

The county, meanwhile, said its own monitoring on Friday found high levels of Red Tide — greater concentrations than had been announced previously — off Sand Key, Indian Rocks Beach and Madeira Beach, as well as in the Intracoastal Waterway by Isle of Capri in Treasure Island.

Fish kills have been reported off the shore recently, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, including off Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Gulfport and Tierra Verde.

Tampa Bay algae blooms could be fed by Piney Point wastewater

Even though recent water quality tests have not been detecting nutrients of the Piney Point wastewater spill, researchers believe current red tide and cyanobacteria blooms across Tampa Bay are likely being exacerbated by the nutrients which still exist in the bay's ecosystems.

Tampa Bay is experiencing multiple algae blooms. Toxic red tide has made its way north to the Pinellas County coast from Collier County and around Port Manatee. But there are also Lyngbya-like cyanobacteria blooms, which are stringy green mats floating in Joe Bay, Anna Maria Sound, and just north of Port Manatee — near where more than 200 million gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater was dumped from the Piney Point phosphate plant back in March.

Scientists think nutrients, such as nitrogen, from that spill are feeding both types of algae blooms, although results are pending to scientifically confirm this.

When water quality tests stopped measuring nutrients in the water, people began assuming they had just dissipated and were gone. But that’s not the case, said Maya Burke, with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

“Helping people understand this issue of nutrient cycling and how the nitrogen gets transferred from organism to organism and kind of stays within the system is something that I think is really important for the public to understand,” she said.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is part of a large effort to monitor the bay's water quality, including multiple government entities, private sector partners, and universities.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke to Burke about the current state of nutrients and algae in Tampa Bay:

Based on the status reports, it looks like concentrations of the red tide organism Karenia brevis appear to be higher around Port Manatee. Could that be caused by lingering nutrients from the Piney Point discharges?

That's what we think is going on for certain. I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence that you're seeing these algae blooms in the vicinity of the place where we discharged more than 200 tons of nitrogen over the period of 10 days.

That's not to say it's the only thing that's going on, though. I mean, we know Karenia brevis was in the Gulf of Mexico beforehand, and it had been systematically making its way northward, so it's about sort of how that species was interacting with the nutrients. Once it did get in here through these larger oceanographic phenomena, like currents, wind, tides, those sorts of things.

And same with the Lyngbya-like blooms that we're seeing. Those were documented in Manatee County a month before the spill, so they were there already. But are they worse now? Maybe. that's why we're monitoring.

Red tide seemed to flow into the mouth of Tampa Bay along the same lines as the Piney Point discharges flowed out. Could that just be a coincidence, or is there a connection?

That makes sense that that's where we're seeing things because we wouldn't necessarily otherwise be measuring up in the bay like that until you started to get things like a fish kill.

Some of the spatial distribution of the monitoring is an artifact of the monitoring that we're doing for Piney Point. So, there is that kind of thing that is perhaps coincidental, but we don't always see Karenia make its way up into the bay. Sometimes it stays more along the barrier islands in the intercoastal waterways, and sometimes it makes its way up there.

Like I said, there's a few things that are going on: the fact that the bay was really salty because it was so dry made it more hospitable. And so, Karenia is more likely to come inward in those kinds of instances. But once we saw it come inward, it didn't come in at medium concentrations, right? It came in, and we were getting those low to very low hits. Once it's interacting with the nutrients that are in that vicinity of the spill, that's when we started to see the intensification towards those medium levels, which is a bloom threshold. And that's when you start to get things like the fish kills that we're reporting now.

Red tide creeps into Pinellas County, impacting animals and humans

INDIAN SHORES – A red alert about red tide creeping into Pinellas County: The algae is blooming along certain beaches, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife officials.

The first thing many notice the second your toes hit the sand is the smell, then the cough and, finally, the dead fish.

“We walked half a mile and I counted three dozen fish,” said Nancy Dickerson, who was walking along Indian Shores Beach enjoying the day with her husband Ken.

In addition to being an eyesore, the Dickersons said red tide can be uncomfortable.

“You feel a little respiratory distress,” they said. “You just feel a little tickle in your throat.”

Samples recently taken by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicate the red tide algae bloom is at a moderate level on Indian Shores, Redington and Pass-A-Grille beaches.

Fertilizer ingredients contribute to SWFL’s algae crisis

Do you know exactly what you put on your lawn? When fertilizer containing phosphorus and nitrogen ends up in our water, it can feed the toxic algae we’re struggling to reduce.

When we think of algae blooms, a lot of people are quick to blame it all on Lake Okeechobee releases, but part of the blame lies in our own backyard. The chemicals from fertilizers get pushed into waterways and are partly to blame for algae blooms that dissolve oxygen and kill fish. Therefore, do not apply fertilizer within 10 feet of a body of water.

First, look at the ingredients in the fertilizer, then take a look at your WINK News Weather app; you don’t want to apply fertilizer before it rains, because then the runoff from your lawn can get picked up and washed away into the Caloosahatchee.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida says to make sure your fertilizer product contains no less than 50% slow-release nitrogen, as well as 0% phosphorus. A slow-release product will help to ensure that the next time it rains, the nutrients aren’t washed away quickly.

“Just like when we apply fertilizer onto our yard, it’s helping things grow,” said Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of SWFL. “One thing we don’t need in our waterways is [an] excess of nutrients that will help algae grow into sometimes those massive and toxic blooms.”

Here in Florida, a lot of our plants have adapted to the extreme conditions, so most of them do pretty well without fertilizer at all.

Florida officials no longer responsible for Piney Point maintenance after emergency order expiration

The responsibility of making sure the massive reservoir filled with untreated wastewater does not leak again is back in the hands of the property owners.

MANATEE COUNTY – Florida's Department of Environmental Protection will no longer be solely responsible for maintaining the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant.

The state's emergency order expired last week, meaning the responsibility of making sure the massive reservoir containing 200-million gallons of untreated wastewater does not once again leak is back in the hands of the property owners, HRK Holdings.

DEP sent the company a letter last Friday, June 4, explaining that while the state will continue overseeing Piney Point, it's up to HRK Holdings to manage the site and to "ensure the integrity of the stack system, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and the environment."

Environmental officials say crews were able to minimize the chances of a "catastrophic" collapse of the site. However, even they recognize the facility still does not meet the state's code. And with the rainy season underway, DEP is reminding HRK that they will have to make sure the reservoirs do not flood and overflow.

Biden administration initiates legal action to repeal WOTUS

Clean-water safeguards ended by Trump would be restored

The Biden administration began legal action Wednesday to repeal a Trump-era rule that ended federal protections for hundreds of thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways, leaving them more vulnerable to pollution from development, industry and farms.

The rule — sometimes referred to as “waters of the United States” or WOTUS — narrowed the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act. It was one of hundreds of rollbacks of environmental and public health regulations under former President Donald Trump, who said the rules imposed unnecessary burdens on business.

The Trump-era rule, finalized last year, was long sought by builders, oil and gas developers, farmers and others who complained about federal overreach that they said stretched into gullies, creeks and ravines on farmland and other private property.

Environmental groups and public-health advocates said the rollback approved under Trump would allow businesses to dump pollutants into unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.

The water rule has been a point of contention for decades. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan has pledged to issue a new rule that protects water quality while not overly burdening small farmers.,

City of Tampa unveils new conservation plan to protect water resources and fight rising sea levels

TAMPA — City of Tampa leaders are taking steps to preserve drinking water for years to come with Mayor Jane Castor's "One Water Plan" through her Resilient Tampa Roadmap.

As the Tampa Bay area deals with the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels, Castor said water security is one of the biggest challenges this area will face in the future.

"Water is going to be the most important resource worldwide in very short order," Castor said.

The One Water Plan lays out her administration's plan to ensure a sustainable water supply for future generations. It works by protecting water resources, developing stronger conservation measures that are easily enforced, and storing purified water for use during periods of drought.

Much of this initiative is already in motion, according to Castor.

Poll: Floridians want federal infrastructure plan to deal with climate change

A new poll shows a majority of Floridians think infrastructure improvements in the $2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan Democrats are calling the "American Jobs Plan" should include measures to deal with the effects of climate change or natural infrastructure investments to build resiliency and lower the costs of climate-driven extreme weather events.

EDF Action, the advocacy partner of the Environmental Defense Fund, commissioned Morning Consult to conduct the survey.

Three-quarters of respondents support funding natural infrastructure as part of the American Jobs Plan, with 66% of independents and 53% of Republicans in favor, as well as 75% of coastal respondents and 76% of inland respondents.

Piney Point update from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (6/4)

Key Observations through the end of May:

  • Minimal rains resulted in increased salinities in Tampa Bay. This was more conducive to the ingress of red tide (Karenia brevis) further into the Bay adjacent to Port Manatee. The bloom has been intensifying into early June.
  • Other floating algal bloom rafts were observed in mid-May along Pinellas and Manatee county beaches (Trichodesmium spp.), and then primarily centered in Anna Maria Sound and upper Sarasota Bay (Lyngbya spp.) at the end of May.
  • Understanding how the initial Piney Point discharges are contributing to these cycles of algal bloom formation and persistence in the Tampa and Sarasota Bay estuaries is still under investigation by researchers.

Additional details are summarized in the report link below:

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program continues to work with regional partners to coordinate comprehensive environmental monitoring and document the effects of the Piney Point discharge. Provisional data, as collected or reported to TBEP, are being shared at the following link:

Our website (tbep.org) continues to direct individuals to baseline data and current monitoring assessments as they become available. Additional information, including links to FDEP's Protecting Florida Together Piney Point Update website and prior TBEP monitoring summary reports are also available at: https://linktr.ee/TBEP.

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

—Ed Sherwood

Tampa Bay shellfish farmers can resume harvesting at sunrise after Red Tide scare

State officials are also investigating whether fish kills reported in Pinellas could be linked to an algal bloom.

Aquaculture farmers in lower Tampa Bay will be allowed to resume harvesting at sunrise Saturday after the state temporarily shut them down because of fears of Red Tide blooming in the area.

Officials are also investigating reported fish kills in Pinellas.

Four water samples this week showed bloom levels of Red Tide offshore, generally around Port Manatee. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has issued a health advisory, warning of the possibility for people to experience respiratory irritation because of Red Tide in lower and middle Tampa Bay.

Fish kills “suspected to be related to Red Tide” were reported in both Pinellas and Manatee counties over the last week, according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission update Friday. Respiratory irritation was reported in Pinellas, the agency said.

Hillsborough health officials send Red Tide warning for Tampa Bay

Be careful around or stay away from waters near the Hillsborough-Manatee line. Samples were taken close to the site of the Piney Point discharge.

Elevated levels of Red Tide were detected in water samples taken from parts of Tampa Bay. Now Hillsborough County health officials are advising people against swimming in certain areas.

Medium concentrations of Red Tide were detected in four samples from June 1 and June 2 pulled around Port Manatee in lower Tampa Bay, according to a map from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That area, near the Hillsborough-Manatee border, is where more than 200 million gallons of wastewater were discharged in early April from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property.

“It’s sort of a worst-case scenario for us right now going into the rainy season,” said Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Runoff from storms typically washes pollution into the water. But the Piney Point release makes this season different.

“It’s basically been seeded or fertilized already,” Sherwood said.

Restoring urban streams benefits habitat, water quality

Urban stream: Not always an oxymoron

The concept of an “urban stream” might seem like an oxymoron, but restoration efforts across the state are proving that naturalized streams provide significant benefits even in densely populated settings.

For example, at Joe’s Creek in St. Petersburg and Phillipe Creek in Sarasota steep ditches are being restored to recreate meandering streams that improve both habitat and water quality, says John Kiefer, a water resources engineer at Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions.

“The trick is finding sufficient rights-of-way to allow the stream to spread out,” he said. “In many cases, even in urban cores, there is enough room.”

And those narrow ditches with steep sides aren’t just bad for fish and water quality, they’re expensive to maintain, Kiefer said. Rather than allowing rainwater to slowly flow through a more natural system, they cause flashes of freshwater that erode shorelines, move pollution quickly, destroy critical low-salinity habitat and require high levels of maintenance.

Restoring those deep channels to naturalized streams – typically within existing rights of way – allows the systems to process nutrients before they reach larger bodies of water like rivers, lakes and bays. Sediment has time to settle rather than increasing as soil washes away from eroding stream banks. Fish, including juvenile snook that need low-salinity habitat to thrive, respond quickly to the restored streams.

‘Water Wars’ end with victory for regional ecosystems

As the sun rises on another hot, bright day in the midst of our annual dry season, Tampa Bay residents can look at water differently than we did just 25 years ago. In 1976, the region was in the midst of “water wars” that pitted cities and counties against each other. Most of our water came from the shrinking Floridan Aquifer. The region’s growing population, combined with a years-long drought, caused lakes to shrivel, wetlands to waste away, and sinkholes to form in places where they had never been seen before.

“Something had to be done,” says Brian Armstrong, a hydrologist and executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “We knew it was going to take a large initiative to restore those ecosystems and also make sure that residents have a sustainable water source.”

More than 25 years and $2 billion later, groundwater withdrawals from the Northern Tampa Bay Water Use Caution Area, which includes Pinellas, Pasco and most of Hillsborough counties, have been cut by more than 50%. More than 1,300 lakes, wetlands and waterbodies have largely recovered, and the aquifer is at its highest level in decades. The recovery assessment plan – the first of its kind in the nation – shows that 85% of the monitored lakes and wetlands have fully recovered or were never impacted by wellfield pumping.

“If you look out now, you’ll see healthy flora and fauna, birds and plant species,” Armstrong said. “Even the water levels in the dry season are amazing.”

State tightens rules for sewage sludge used as fertilizer but leaves a loophole in place

As damaging algae blooms continue to afflict Florida, the state is taking steps to crack down on and track pollution from biosolids, the waste from sewage plants loaded with nutrients that can fuel blooms.

But the new rules, conservationists warn, continue to ignore a loophole for about 40% of the state’s waste.

At a final hearing last week, state environmental regulators said the new rules address two classes of sludge largely used in agriculture. Class AA, a third class, gets more highly treated to remove pathogens and heavy metals and is classified as a fertilizer not covered by the rules.

But environmentalists warn Class AA still contains phosphorus and nitrogen that feed blooms. Not including the class, they say, creates a gap in tackling worsening blooms that have increasingly fouled Florida waters and fueled saltwater blooms moving inshore.

Man arrested for illegally dumping oil into Plant City wetlands

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Plant City man after he allegedly illegally dumped oil, causing thousands of dollars in damages to wetlands in Plant City.

The sheriff’s office, with the help of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), investigated the incident, which happened over a period of time in April on the 4000 block of Cooper Road. DEP units tested the substance and confirmed it was oil.

Deputies say the large dumping measured approximately 80 feet long and 12 feet wide. Due to the spill, fish, vegetation, and wildlife had all been affected in the immediate area.

Following their investigation, deputies within HCSO’s Environmental Enforcement Unit identified and arrested 33-year-old Omar Hernandez.

According to HCSO, it is estimated that the dumping caused more than $10,000 in damages. Based on the size of the dumping, the DEP requested an emergency clean-up and contracted Hull’s Environmental Services in Tampa to rehabilitate the area.

Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership highlights progress

The Pinellas County Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership met last Thursday at the St. Petersburg College Seminole campus and provided progress updates on the group’s efforts to identify wastewater and stormwater solutions for the county.

Among the countywide accomplishments cited:

  • A study performed by the City of St. Pete Beach revealed the need to increase the capacity of its wastewater system with a new sewer force main for the island. As a result, the city recently completed The North Beach Project, which focused on an area where sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) happen more frequently. They are confident the upgrade will reduce SSOs in the future.
  • The City of Clearwater introduced an innovative system reducing treatment system bottlenecks by preventing blockages from building up in the sewer system. The integrated technology includes a manhole cover-mounted level sensor and data unit that transmits evaluations of water levels, allowing maintenance crews to respond and prevent SSOs. Since its installation in April, the system has generated nine automated alerts allowing clearance of blockages that could have resulted in SSOs or sewer backups into customers’ homes.

Formed in October 2016, the Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership is a joint initiative of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, County municipalities and other agencies. It is composed of state and county officials, municipal leaders and three private utility systems, as well as staff representatives who serve on a Technical Working Group.

“Out of the original action plan developed in January of 2017, the Partnership identified three primary goals for our wastewater and stormwater infrastructure,” said Commissioner Charlie Justice, chair of the Partnership’s Steering Committee. “Those are avoiding and mitigating spills, increasing treatment capacity and system resiliency, and seeking opportunities to address the drainage issues that affect the sanitary sewer system.”

Among the Partnership’s goals: Driving awareness about how damaged private lateral pipes that connect private homes and businesses to the wastewater system can lead to increased inflow and infiltration. To assist with the expense of replacing or repairing private laterals, the Partnership has proposed options for a Private Sewer Lateral Policy that, if approved by the County and participating municipalities, would allow for rebates to customers who initiate inspections for replacement or repair of the private sewer laterals.

“Wastewater and stormwater infrastructure are a foundation on which our County thrives. These systems allow us to live in harmony with our environment,” said Megan Ross, director of Pinellas County Utilities. “The work we do is truly a shared priority for all of us in Pinellas County. We take great pride in fulfilling this role.”

To view the meeting video, or for more information about the Wastewater/Stormwater Partnership, visit www.pinellascounty.org/partnership. The video can be accessed directly here.

Fertilizer bans begin June 1st in Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — If you live in the Tampa Bay area, it's important to pay attention to the fertilizer restrictions that are designed to keep Florida's frequent afternoon showers and storms from washing potentially harmful nitrogen or phosphorous into the state's waterways.

Those harmful nutrients can cause algae blooms and kill fish.

That's why during the rainy season, some local governments ask people to use more environmentally-friendly fertilizers that contain zero nitrogen and zero phosphorus.

Between June 1 and Sept. 30, fertilizer bans are in place in Pinellas, Manatee, and Sarasota counties, along with the city of Tampa.

Rainy season fertilizer restrictions begin June 1

Pinellas County’s rainy season fertilizer restrictions will take effect Tuesday, June 1, and last through Sept. 30.

Residents and landscapers are reminded that the County’s Fertilizer Ordinance prohibits the sale or application of lawn and landscape fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorus during that timeframe. Phosphorus cannot be used at any time of the year unless a soil test confirms it is needed. Also, fertilizer can never be applied within 10 feet from the top of a slope leading to a seawall, wetland or waterbody.

The County regulates landscape maintenance practices all year. Homeowners, landscapers and lawn care services must follow the practices outlined in the ordinance to protect water quality. All landscapers and fertilizer applicators who provide services within the county are required to display a Pinellas County-certification vehicle decal and carry a wallet card.

The nitrogen/phosphorus ban helps prevent fertilizer runoff from negatively affecting lakes, ponds, rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and from leaching into groundwater. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can cause harmful algae blooms that lower oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Water quality testing by Pinellas County Environmental Management has shown significant reductions in total nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients in our waterbodies since the ordinance was enacted.

Pinellas County recommends using summer-safe lawn care products and landscaping best management practices to keep a healthy landscape during the summer:

  • Look for products with “0-0” as the first two numbers on the fertilizer label.
  • Apply iron to keep lawns green during the summer without increasing growth.
  • Use compost to enrich soil.
  • Set lawn mower blade heights between 3½ to 4 inches for St. Augustinegrass and Bahia turf to encourage deep roots that resist drought, fungus and pests.
  • Buy plants adapted to Florida’s hot and humid climate and plant them in places that suit their sun and water needs.

Pinellas County is one of more than 90 Florida communities that have summertime fertilizer restrictions.

Landscapers and residents looking for more tips on landscape practices, reclaimed water, and fertilizer application can visit www.pinellascounty.org/fertilizer.

Hurricane season begins June 1st. Be flood-ready.

June is Flood Control Awareness Month, and your local Water Management District encourages you to learn more about flood control.

Did you know? Flood control is a shared responsibility between Water Management Districts, local governments, drainage districts, homeowner associations and you.

Five things you can do to prepare for the wet season:

  1. Make sure drainage grates, ditches and swales in your neighborhood are clear of debris.
  2. Trim your trees and remove dead vegetation in your yard. DO NOT trim trees if a major storm is in the forecast.
  3. Check your community retention pond or lake for obstructed pipes and contact the appropriate authority for removal (could be your HOA, city, county, or local drainage district). ?
  4. Find out who is responsible for drainage in your community at www.sfwmd.gov/stormupdate.
  5. Make a personal plan for hurricane preparedness. Learn more at www.floridadisaster.org.

For more information, make sure to check out these resources:

Water restrictions in place across Tampa Bay as dry conditions persist

Counties across the greater Tampa Bay region have issued warnings or placed limits on water usage due to a lack of measurable rain.

The restrictions were issued as the entire region is under at least moderate drought conditions, with Sarasota County under more severe drought conditions.

On Wednesday, Sarasota officials issued a state of emergency for at least a week.

County officials are asking people to refrain from “unnecessary use” of such water, and have banned lawn irrigation until further notice.

Officials said they saw record demand of more than 31 million gallons of potable water on Tuesday.

Manatee County also is experiencing supply and demand issues, with the county keeping potable water at its minimum water pressure. They’re also asking customers to conserve water for the time being.

And Pinellas County officials are reminding customers to follow reclaimed water restrictions as well due to high demand. Those seasonal restrictions will be in effect through June 30.

The city of St. Petersburg on Thursday announced that it will be lowering the pressure on reclaimed water during the hottest hours of the day. That way, they said, will mean the “quantity of water will be sufficient for irrigating overnight and in the morning.”

In addition, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is prohibiting campfires on all District campgrounds until further notice because of the dry weather conditions and high wildfire danger.

The Keetch-Byram drought index, which measures soil dryness, shows Southwest Florida is feeling the strongest effects of the lack of rain.

UF research aims to help reduce nitrogen flow into Tampa Bay

Not all algal blooms are harmful, but Amanda Muni-Morgan hopes to eventually mitigate the impacts of nutrients going into Tampa Bay. Those nutrients – often brought to the estuary by stormwater runoff -- can fuel a harmful algal bloom.

As part of her research, Muni-Morgan will use a high-resolution spectrometer to zoom in on nitrogen compounds in runoff, down to the molecular level.

Muni-Morgan, an interdisciplinary ecology doctoral student in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, starts her Ph.D. research on harmful algal blooms this summer.

For her research, Muni-Morgan will take a close look at Karenia brevis, a harmful algal bloom species that blooms every year along Florida’s Southwest coast. Karenia brevis is responsible for Florida’s red tides. It poses danger because it can release toxins into the water and in the air through sea spray. Toxins can kill fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and birds.

Even humans can be exposed to toxins by eating contaminated shellfish and by breathing toxic aerosols that result from a bloom at the beach. This can result in digestive issues and respiratory irritation.

Manatee County Utilities reminds customers to conserve water, especially during current dry period

MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County Utilities Department (MCUD) is reminding customers of local watering conservation efforts during the dry weeks leading up to the rainy summer months. Avoiding unnecessary water use, Utilities officials say, will help avoid stressing water supplies.

"Although there is more than an adequate supply of our water sources, and because the rainy season has not yet started, we're asking MCUD customers to adhere to our year-round watering restrictions," said Mike Gore, Manatee County Utilities Director. "May is one of the drier months of the year with conditions this year even drier than usual."

Water systems all over the state are being stressed by the increased demand for water caused by the dry conditions. For Manatee County, the increased demand is contributing to a system already stressed by important upgrades underway at the Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant.

Manatee County watering restrictions include:

  • Irrigating lawns and landscaping once a day before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., no more than two times per week
  • Addresses ending in an even number may water on Thursday and/or Sunday
  • Addresses ending in an odd number may water on Wednesday and/or Saturday
  • Properties without an address may water on Tuesday and/or Friday

Lawn watering days and times may be different if a resident's homeowners association (HOA) operates under a variance issued by the Southwest Water Management District. Those residents should check with their HOA to determine whether the community has an alternative watering schedule.

Utilities is also asking customers to observe restrictions on drinking water which apply not only to potable water but also irrigation water that comes from wells, surface water sources including retention ponds, rivers, lakes, etc. Utilities asks that customers do not:

  • Allow water to flow from an unattended hose
  • Hand water a lawn on an otherwise restricted day or more than once a day
  • Hose down a driveway or other impervious surface to remove grass clippings or other debris that can be removed with a broom or other dry methods
  • Hose down a building or other structure to remove cobwebs or other material that can be removed with a broom or other dry methods

Find other water conservation tips online at www.mymanatee.org/water

Pinellas County Utilities encouraging customers to follow watering restrictions

Pinellas County Utilities is experiencing high demand for reclaimed water. Pinellas County Utilities reclaimed water customers are reminded to adhere to the County’s reclaimed water restrictions. Failure to comply may result in enforcement actions.

For more information about reclaimed water usage and schedules, visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/water-rules.htm or call Pinellas County Utilities Customer Service at (727) 464-4000. Customers should reference the website for information about schedule changes and additional restrictions that may be implemented if seasonal rainfall is lower than anticipated. Thank you for your cooperation.

Pinellas: Seasonal reclaimed water restrictions in effect April 1

Pinellas County seasonal reclaimed water restrictions are in effect through Wednesday, June 30. Due to supply fluctuation in both the north and south County reclaimed water systems, the restrictions schedule for reclaimed water users will be different for north and south County customers during this period. Enforcement of watering restrictions encourages responsible use of reclaimed water.

North County reclaimed water schedule

Effective Thursday, April 1, north County reclaimed water customers may only irrigate two days per week based on the property address, according to the schedule below:

  • Addresses ending in an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, or 8) may water on Tuesday and/or Saturday.
  • Addresses ending in an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, or 9) may water on Wednesday and/or Sunday.
  • Parcels with mixed or no address, such as common areas associated with a residential subdivision, may water on Wednesday and/or Sunday.
  • Watering is prohibited between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on all authorized days.

Because irrigation is entirely prohibited on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, the reclaimed water system will be shut down on these days, as needed. The system will also be shut down from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on all days of operation for supply recovery. Customers should monitor the reclaimed water restrictions website for up-to-date information on shutdowns and schedule changes at www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/reclaim-irrigation.htm.

Customer cooperation in following the two-days-per-week watering schedule is critical, as excessive demand may require returning to watering one day per week.

South County reclaimed water schedule

South County reclaimed water customers may irrigate three days per week based on property address according to the following schedule:

  • Addresses ending in an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) may water on Tuesday, Thursday and/or Saturday.
  • Addresses ending in an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) may water on Wednesday, Friday and/or Sunday.
  • Parcels with mixed or no address, such as common areas associated with a residential subdivision, may water on Wednesday, Friday and/or Sunday.
  • Lawn irrigation is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on all authorized days.
  • Lawn irrigation is also prohibited on Monday.

Customers are encouraged to follow these restrictions throughout the year to promote a healthy, sustainable Florida lawn and landscape. Utilities advises customers to learn about and apply Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ practices, including watering only when grass and plants start to wilt and, when needed, watering deeply to encourage deep, drought-tolerant root systems.

Pinellas County Extension offers a multitude of information about creating Florida-appropriate landscapes that are attractive, healthier with less water and are less costly than replacing plants every year. Visit www.sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu to view lawn and garden resources and a listing of upcoming classes.

Utilities customers are also reminded that Pinellas County follows year-round conservation measures allowing irrigation using potable, well, lake or pond water two days per week on assigned days based on house address. To verify watering days, visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/water-restrict.htm.