Water-Related News

St. Petersburg has spilled 2 million gallons of wastewater in the last three months

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly 230,000 gallons of wastewater spilled from a tank Monday at one of the city's water treatment plants.

Those are just the latest of nearly 2 million gallons of wastewater to gush from city infrastructure in the last three months.

That includes an incident that stretched from August into September, when workers at another facility discovered that a line that should have sent wastewater used in the reclamation process back to the beginning of the plant for retreatment had instead been connected straight to the stormwater system. Over a period of 50 days, almost 1.7 million gallons of wastewater were inadvertently dumped into a nearby pond before the accident was noticed, according to the city's report to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Between those incidents, records show there were four other spills. The six discharges, which include three over a three-day period in October, are the latest examples of the city struggling to overcome the 2015-16 sewage disaster in which it released up to a billion gallons of waste — 200 million gallons of which ended up in Tampa Bay. They also come amid a change in the city's public notification practices: It no longer notifies the public about spills that don't leave facility grounds.

Mote Marine-led initiative will restore resilient corals across 130 acres

Mote Marine Laboratory and partners will restore 70,000 coral “seeds” across 130 acres of depleted Florida reefs over three years — prioritizing coral genetic varieties resilient to disease and climate change impacts — thanks to a grant of nearly $1.5 million announced today, Nov. 9, by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners. The grant challenges Mote and its supporters to raise matching funds and achieve the greatest possible impact for the Florida Reef Tract and those who depend on it. Florida has the planet’s third-largest shallow-water coral reef system, which underpins the state’s marine ecosystems, supports over 70,000 local jobs, draws $6.3 billion to Florida’s economy and serves as the primary front line of coastal resiliency defense from major storms. Resilient coastlines are the focus of Mote’s grant and 34 others totaling $28.9 million, awarded by National Coastal Resilience Fund (NCRF), a partnership of NFWF, NOAA, Shell Oil Company and TransRe. These grants were made possible when congress provided funding for Title IX of the National Oceans and Coastal Security Act. Together, the grants are expected to generate $38.3 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $67.2 million. With the new grant, Mote will implement a strategic Florida Keys Coral Disease Response & Restoration Initiative with multiple research and restoration partners — a powerful attack against unprecedented threats facing Florida’s reefs, including an outbreak of coral tissue-loss disease spanning more than 96,000 acres.

New national report says climate change threatens U.S. water security

Water infrastructure was not designed for past climate extremes, let alone future changes, report authors say.

Putting human health, life, and jobs at risk, a reliable supply of clean water for cities, farms, industries, and ecosystems in the United States while also managing droughts and floods is “increasingly in jeopardy,” according to an expansive U.S. government report on the consequences of climate change in the country.

The National Climate Assessment, required by an act of Congress and written by more than 300 scientists, half from outside the federal government, is meant to inform U.S. leaders about changes to land, water, and air from a warming planet.

Released the day after Thanksgiving, the report focuses on how those physical changes will dramatically reshape human life and the systems that support it. The report also underscores troubling knowledge gaps about how the projected increase in extreme storms and heat will affect the nation’s water supply.

“We don’t have a very good grasp as a nation what our water-related risks are,” Casey Brown, a co-author on the report’s water chapter, told Circle of Blue. “We seem to keep learning this every time there’s a flood or drought.”

The authors of the water chapter emphasized three elements of the interaction between climate change and man-made systems: water quality and availability will shift; dams, levees, drainage systems, and other components of the nation’s water infrastructure are aging and poorly designed for a topsy-turvy climate; and water managers will need to prepare for a broader set of climate stresses.

“You could talk about a lot of impacts to water,” Upmanu Lall, lead author of the report’s water chapter, told Circle of Blue. “We chose to talk about infrastructure because no one is highlighting that.”

Physical alterations to the country’s water supplies, many of which are already happening, will be far-reaching, the report says. On the coasts and islands, rising seas will drive saltwater farther inland underground, which will worsen flooding and spoil groundwater used for irrigation and drinking water.

It's known as ‘The ABC Plan’. Can it solve red tide?

With many fishermen and shellfish farmers losing their jobs because of Florida red tide, Barry Hurt of Little Gasparilla Island in Charlotte County decided to do something about it.

Hurt, 69, a former entrepreneur who became a clam farmer 13 years ago, proposed restoring native algae-consuming shellfish to filter the water along the state’s southwest coast.

This is what the red tide bacteria look like under a microscope. (Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) Red tide – the toxic algae scientifically known as Karenia brevis – continues to destroy marine life, restaurants and the livelihood of some South Florida communities.

Hurt’s idea is known as A Billion Clams for a Healthier Charlotte Harbor, or ABC plan for short. It has the support of a number of scientists and other local growers along the harbor, which is considered among the best spots to sail in Florida.

According to a website created to promote it, clamrestoration.com, the ABC plan aims to use local clam farmers to restore depleted native clam resources. It also would create permanent clam beds protected from commercial and recreational harvest. The beds would mature and become self-recruiting, leading to an increase in native populations over time, the site states.

Hurt and a team of science advisers would like to begin enacting the plan within the next six months. However, they still must secure what Hurt said would be the funding – between $1.5 million to $2 million per year for 10 years – needed just to replace depleted clam populations.

Snook and redfish harvest closed until March due to red tide

Snook harvest seasonal closure in most Gulf waters starts Dec. 1

The recreational harvest season for snook closes Dec. 1 in federal and most state waters of the Gulf, including all of Monroe County and Everglades National Park.

Snook, as well as redfish, remain catch-and-release only in state waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County (includes Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County) through May 10, 2019, in response to the impacts of red tide.

Snook outside of that area will reopen to harvest March 1, 2019. Anglers may continue to catch and release snook during the closed season.

Season closures are designed to help conserve snook during vulnerable times such as cold weather. Atlantic state and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, will close Dec. 15 through Jan. 31, 2019, reopening to harvest Feb. 1, 2019.

Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Snook” for more information on snook. Improve data and report your catch on the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s Angler Action iAngler app, which can be downloaded at SnookFoundation.org.

Tempers mount in St. Pete over Tampa's plan to turn wastewater into drinking water

ST. PETERSBURG — Distrust and frustration are mounting on both sides of the bay over plans by the city of Tampa to produce up to 50 million gallons a day of drinking water from treated wastewater by pumping it into the Floridan aquifer.

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice said a push by Mayor Bob Buckhorn to get the project approved has more to do with the departing mayor’s legacy than it does with the best interests of her city.

Tampa is seeking approval to proceed with the $350 million project from the regional water authority, Tampa Bay Water.

“We’re getting the shaft,” Rice said Tuesday during an editorial board meeting at the Tampa Bay Times. She said Tampa isn’t sharing all the possible costs and risks associated with converting wastewater to drinking water and that more time is needed to vet the project.

In October, the Tampa Bay Water board — made up of three elected officials each from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — voted to delay approval of a project sometimes referred to as toilet to tap.

Buckhorn said Tuesday that Rice, a member of the Tampa Bay Water board, is “wrong on all counts.”

“For somebody who is known as being an environmentalist, we’re all a little surprised at her unreasonableness on this,” Buckhorn said. “We’ve been at this since 2013. It’s been fleshed out. It’s going to allow the partners to have even more water, it will drought-proof the city of Tampa permanently and it’s the wave of the future."

Tampa has provided its studies and documents to anyone who has asked, said Tampa Water Director Chuck Weber. Further delays might risk millions of dollars in Southwest Florida Water Management District funds to help build the necessary infrastructure.

The 50 million gallons of highly treated wastewater now is dumped into Tampa Bay.

Regional climate change coalition has one holdout: Pasco County

When officials from 24 cities and counties met in St. Petersburg on Oct. 8 to form a regional coalition dedicated to addressingclimate change and sea level rise, there was one Tampa Bay county government missing.

Pasco did not join the pact with Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus and Manatee counties — but not because the Pasco County Commission voted against it.

Commissioner Jack Mariano is Pasco’s representative on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the organization that began forming the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition earlier this year. But Mariano, a Republican, declined to even pass along the coalition resolution to his commission colleagues for discussion because he said he does not believe in two words central to the document: climate change.

Despite globally embraced evidence that Earth is warming, and that the primary cause is human activity, Mariano said he rejects that science.

“If the earth is getting warmer, it’s a natural cycle of it,” Mariano said, contradicting findings of top federal scientists in the National Climate Assessment report that said natural cycles cannot account for the extent of warming during the past century and that human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is to blame. “I think the overwhelming change of the climate, humans have a minuscule amount of effect.”

Any commissioner can bring a topic up for discussion at a public meeting. But Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said staff recommended only Mariano present the Resiliency Coalition resolution, which he has had since June, because he serves on the Regional Planning Council and has the background information.

Laine said county staff is working with the Regional Planning Council on an alternate resolution for Pasco to consider that does not include the words "climate change" but still represents the Coalition's mission of resiliency.

Innovative Red Tide bad air forecast tool working well, but info can be hard to find

An experimental program to offer beachgoers a forecast of how bad the air will be from Red Tide algae toxins has been up and running in Pinellas County for a month now.

Known as the Experimental Red Tide Respiratory Tool, the program seems to be working well so far, according to the county's top environmental official.

The tool "predicts risk levels for respiratory irritation from Red Tide along Pinellas County beaches," the county's web site says. "It is available Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Click on your favorite beach and you will see a forecast every 3 hours."

However, some users are still having problems with it.

The most serious problem: locating the program, which is available from a link on the county's web site.

"When people find it, they love it," Kelli Hammer Levy, Pinellas County's environmental management director, said Monday.

Link to Tool: https://habscope.gcoos.org/forecasts

Mote hires experienced red tide researcher for new institute

SARASOTA — Mote Marine has hired a researcher to direct its new Red Tide Institute who has decades of laboratory and field experience under her belt studying red tide and other harmful algae.

Cynthia Heil comes from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, where she developed an independent research program focused on water quality, harmful algal blooms and ecosystem management.

She will join Mote on Jan. 1 at the institute, which focuses on studying and testing Florida red tide mitigation and control technologies to improve quality of life for coastal communities affected by the blooms. It was launched in October through a $1 million investment from its founding donor, the Andrew and Judith Economos Charitable Foundation.

By accepting the new position, Heil renews her long-term focus on Karenia brevis (red tide) research in Florida, where she previously served as senior research scientist and administrator and Harmful Algal Bloom Group Leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Earlier, she performed algal bloom research at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.