Water-Related News

Tampa Bay Estuary Program now accepting 2022 Bay Mini-Grant applications

MiniGrant banner

How to Apply - Deadline is September 16th

Are you involved in a community organization and have an idea for a restoration or education project in Tampa Bay??If you are, then you may be interested to know that the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) is now accepting Bay Mini-Grant project proposals.

The TBEP Bay Mini-Grants are competitive cash awards of up to $5,000 provided to community organizations for projects that address restoration and education priorities in Tampa Bay, empowering participatory science, promoting environmental ethics and stimulating community stewardship.

Projects must address one or more of TBEP’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) priorities: clean waters and sediments, thriving habitats and abundant wildlife as well as an informed, engaged and responsible community.

Each year, TBEP highlights a specific CCMP action to prioritize for Bay Mini-Grant funding.?This year, projects supporting the prevention, eradication and/or management of invasive species in Tampa and its watershed will be prioritized for?funding.

Past Bay Mini-Grant projects have included Florida native plantings at local parks, marine educational workshops for Tampa Bay teachers, bird nesting documentaries and citizen science projects researching endocrine disruptors in seagrass meadows.

The application deadline for Bay Mini-Grants is 5 p.m. on Friday, September 16. Schools, neighborhoods and other nonprofit and for-profit organizations from Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties may apply.

On average, 20 projects are funded each year with about $90,000 in grants. A ‘Golden Mangrove Award’ is given every year to the outstanding Bay Mini-Grant project as determined by the TBEP Community Advisory Committee.

All Bay Mini-Grants awarded to community organizations for education and restoration projects are funded by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program Specialty License Plate, or the ‘Tarpon Tag.’ The Tarpon Tag is one of the least expensive specialty plates at just $17 per year, and all of the revenue goes directly towards protecting and restoring Tampa Bay. To obtain a Tarpon Tag and directly support this grant program for years to come, simply visit your local DMV.

Additional Bay Mini-Grant information, including grant eligibility, application review criteria and grant priorities can be found at?https://tbep.org/our-work/restoration-research/bay-mini-grants/. For questions or assistance with transforming an idea into a competitive proposal, contact Sheila Scolaro, TBEP community programs scientist, sscolaro@tbep.org.

Roundtable event invites public to help solve pressing issues in Florida’s waters

Sign up for this event

This August in St. Pete, some of the state’s most respected and influential voices are coming together to share their vision for saving Florida’s water. “Our Bay, Our Future” is a panel and roundtable discussion hosted by Ocean Conservancy on Wednesday, August 24, from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at the St. Petersburg College STEM Center.

Our Bay, Our Future will feature five speakers with various areas of expertise as it pertains to Tampa Bay and the surrounding waterways. This roundtable discussion with local advocacy, science and policy experts will address the biggest issues facing Florida’s water quality, including red tide, harmful algae blooms, and sea level rise.

During the evening, speakers will discuss the environmental problems facing Tampa Bay, outline key solutions, and encourage everyone to leave with their own individual action plans on how they can contribute to making our bay bountiful and life-sustaining for future generations to come.

The goal of the roundtable is not only to identify problems, but to offer solutions and drive action in the fight to preserve Florida’s waters. Speakers include:

  • J.P. Brooker (Director of Florida Conservation, Ocean Conservancy)
  • Peter Clark (President and Founder of Tampa Bay Watch)
  • Dr. Kate Hubbard (Director of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission center for Red Tide Research)
  • Justin Tramble (Executive Director of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper)
  • Ed Sherwood (Executive Director of Tampa Bay Estuary Program).

Check-in for the event begins at 5:45 p.m. The program will begin at 6 p.m., with the roundtable program and audience Q&A, followed by a meet-and-greet reception at 7:30 pm including food and beverage. The event is open to the public.

Ocean Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization that envisions “a healthier ocean, protected by a more just world.” The organization works with partners all over to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges, creating evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it.

Learn more about the event at oceanconservancy.org.

Charlie Crist calls on Joe Biden to intervene in jeopardized beach renourishment project

“We are spending our time trying to convince the Corps of its unwise decision while stretches of the beach erode away.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is calling on President Joe Biden to protect Pinellas County’s coast against erosion.

In a letter addressed to the President, Crist asks Biden to intervene in a recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that stalls plans to shore up a 9-mile stretch of sand from Clearwater to north Redington Beach — the Sand Key Shore Protection Project.

“For decades, the Army Corps of Engineers has been an important partner in supporting our tourism-based economy and protecting our community from the threats posed by climate change,” Crist said in a statement.

“But this latest decision by the Army Corps puts all of that progress at risk. It is unconscionable that the Corps would even consider cancelling such a critical economic, environmental and public safety project. I am calling upon President Biden to right this wrong and take action to protect the future of the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project.”

The Army Corps recently honed in on a once-brushed-over provision that requires Pinellas County to obtain easements from all private property owners along the shoreline — even if no sand will be placed on the homeowner’s lot.

Resilient Ready initiatives take innovative approach to sea-level rise

Tampa Bay is on the frontline of global sea-level rise, but it’s not just our world-renowned beaches at risk.

Three neighborhoods selected to be part of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s (TBRPC) Resilient Ready Tampa Bay planning project show how differently sea level rise will impact an inland site and a community at the northern tip of the bay, as well as a barrier island.

The Resilient Ready initiative, funded by a $273,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Resilient Florida Program (FY 2021-22), brought a diverse group of national and international experts to meet with community leaders and to determine how their neighborhoods can be protected as sea levels rise an estimated 11 inches by 2050.

The concept actually started in 2019 in New Port Richey when TBRPC Senior Planner and Urban Designer Sarah Vitale spent two weeks in New Port Richey helping the city develop a plan to cope with flooding. “The Pithlachoscotee River runs through downtown, which is an asset but also something to plan and prepare for in terms of drainage and future flood risks,” she said. “The question posed was what if we turn this water problem into an opportunity and design a stormwater system that doubles as a floodable park.”

FSU researcher leads team to study conditions for plant survival in ocean desert

West of St. Petersburg in the Gulf of Mexico is an area called the West Florida Shelf. It’s a marine desert, cut off from many of the elements that are essential for life.

But in this nutrient-deficient region, some forms of phytoplankton — microscopic plants that float through the water — are thriving and supporting other forms of life. But how?

Florida State University Associate Professor Angie Knapp and a team of researchers from around the country have received a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate this oceanographic mystery. Knapp, part of the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, will lead the project to examine how iron and nitrogen released from submarine groundwater discharge potentially serves as a fertilizer for phytoplankton in this area and beyond.

“Plant growth in the ocean plays an important role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which plays an important role in regulating climate,” Knapp said. “However, plant growth in the ocean is often limited by the availability of nitrogen; thus, we’re focusing on the processes that add and remove nitrogen to and from the ocean.”

Submarine groundwater discharge is a ubiquitous hydrological process characterized by the flow of fresh and brackish groundwater from land into the sea. It plays an important role in moving nutrients, trace elements and gases that are often used by phytoplankton throughout ocean waters.

In this project, researchers want to understand exactly how far these elements are moved through the sea and to what degree they are being used by phytoplankton.

NOAA and Saildrone launch seven hurricane-tracking surface drones

Part of an array of marine and air uncrewed tools NOAA is using to improve forecast models

In partnership with NOAA, Saildrone Inc. is deploying seven ocean drones to collect data from hurricanes during the 2022 hurricane season with the goal of improving hurricane forecasting. For the first year, two saildrones will track hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

This week, Saildrone launched two saildrones into the Gulf of Mexico, one from St. Petersburg, Florida, and another from Port Aransas, Texas. Five other saildrones were successfully launched this summer from the coast of Jacksonville, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands to survey the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

NOAA will use several autonomous instruments this hurricane season to collect ocean and atmospheric data during during hurricanes. Credit: NOAA PMEL

One of the biggest challenges to hurricane forecasting is predicting rapid intensification, when hurricane wind speeds increase at least 35 mph over a 24 hour period. To fully understand how storms intensify, scientists collect data on the exchange of energy between the ocean and atmosphere in the forms of heat and momentum. However, gathering data in this dangerous environment is best accomplished by uncrewed systems.

Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force meets after half-year hiatus

It was a day of sharp questions and soul-searching as Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force met Thursday [Aug. 4] for the first time since February.

The official theme was a mouthful (stay with us): “Prioritization of restoration projects within Basin Management Action Plans, Reasonable Assurance Plans, or alternative restoration plans (and) policy and funding program framework for the prioritization of restoration projects.”

Unofficially, it was broader: Why, after three years of task force effort, is Florida’s water still so troubled?

The question was top-of-mind because the day before, a coalition of 12 environmental groups released a stinging progress report. Since the five-member task force issued a set of recommendations in 2019, “Ecological conditions in Florida have not improved and, in many cases, they have worsened. Lack of meaningful water quality protections have resulted in persistent harmful algal blooms, a record number of manatee deaths, and an overall decline in water quality statewide.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Friends of the Everglades executive director Eve Samples noted “Among the 32 metrics we tracked, only four have been implemented.” She heads one of the dozen nonprofits that compiled the report. ”So there’s a lot of progress to be made.”

Samples went through a list of the task force’s priorities, each followed by “not implemented.”

Neither Samples nor others commenting blamed the group members; rather their frustration was with government, the Legislature and the agencies charged with carrying out the mandates of each.

Florida’s algae bloom response called too limited, too slow

'I don’t think legislators are going to really endorse bigger sticks in this situation.'

When it comes to environmental protection and conservation, Florida government can end up on the side that posits it’s better to allow pollution, and try to do something about it on the back end, than prevent that pollution in the first place.

And that’s causing a serious problem getting a handle on the state’s algae bloom affliction.

“I don’t think legislators are going to really endorse bigger sticks in this situation,” said Mike Parsons, a Florida Gulf Coast University professor and state Blue-Green Algae Task Force member, during the Task Force’s latest meeting.

Without political will to hold polluters accountable, people and organizations collaborating on dealing with blue-green algae proliferation — especially and including the state government — have to run through a series of next-best-thing ideas to put into effect.

Task Force members met with experts and the larger public to reframe the conversation on their challenges, and discuss project prioritization policies, at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Video of August 4th Blue-Green Task Force Meeting »

Study: Most rainwater on Earth contains PFAS exceeding safe levels

New research from Stockholm University shows that PFAS in rainwater around the world are exceeding safe levels. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemical pollutants, often called “forever chemicals” present in many everyday items, like food packaging and clothing. The chemicals leach into the environment, affecting everything from the air we breathe to even rainfall.

The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, tested four selected perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs): perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in rainwater, soil, and surface waters in different locations globally.

The researchers concluded that PFOA and PFOS levels in rainwater “greatly exceed” the Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory levels from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study also noted that all four of the tested PFAAs in rainwater were often above the Danish drinking water limits, and PFOS levels were usually higher than the Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water.

Rainwater wasn’t the only problem, either. “Atmospheric deposition also leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated and to be often above proposed Dutch guideline values,” the study said.

As such, the authors said there is really no way to avoid these chemicals on Earth anymore.

NOAA High Tide forecast predicts an increase in coastal flooding

ST. PETERSBURG – George Daoud lives in the Shore Acres area of St. Pete where his home was completely flooded during Tropical Storm Eta in 2020.

"The water came in from this side, this side, and that side so we have flooding coming from the front and the back," said Daoud.

His home is right next to Tampa Bay so he’s installing two sump pumps in his yard to pump out the water fast, and he may soon need it.

NOAA just released their High Tide forecast which predicts the Tampa Bay area will see 1 to 4 days of high tide flooding between now and next Spring.

Scientists said that's more than twice what it was 20 years ago.

NOAA scientists said sea level rise is to blame, which they predict will rise by another foot in the next 20 years. They say by 2050, high tide flooding events will rise to 70 to 100 days a year in the Tampa Bay area.

Shining example: Tampa Bay’s water quality is declining after a half-century of gains

Political will made Tampa Bay one of the nation’s shining examples of how a region could come together — with local, state and federal government working with citizens, NGOs and industry to clean up water pollution. Unprecedented cooperation over decades culminated in Tampa Bay becoming a national model for restoration and the success of the Clean Water Act.

But today, Tampa Bay is again plagued by fecal and industrial pollution and other dangers. Seagrass levels in the Bay peaked in 2016 at more than 42,000 acres. Now that number has dipped to 35,000 acres. Manatees, which had returned to the Bay alongside seagrass, were taken off the endangered species list in 2017. Now they are dying in record numbers. Algae blooms over the last five years have led to some of the worst fish kills in Tampa Bay since the 1970s.

On the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act of 1972, Tampa Bay is still a model for what political will, cooperation and regulation can achieve. It is also an example of the limitations of the half-century-old law amid weak state pollution control; intense population growth; and climate change.

Another research study implicates nutrient pollution in exacerbating red tides

New research finds that human pollution influences the severity of red tides more directly than scientists previously understood. The connection sheds light on the need for better water-quality monitoring statewide — and ultimately, to reduce the nutrient pollution flowing into Florida’s waterways.

While red tides occur naturally, scientists have long debated the degree to which they are worsened by high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen from human sources agricultural and urban. Scientists had previously found correlation between so-called nutrient loads and red tide. But the new research offers some of the strongest evidence yet that humans directly influence the severity of the toxic blooms.

The study focuses on the Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida, which carries water and pollutants from Lake Okeechobee as it flows west to the Gulf of Mexico.

In the past, scientists looked for a direct relationship between nitrogen and red tide. But excess nitrogen doesn’t cause red tide — it exacerbates it, an effect that can take weeks. Looking for a short-term correlation did not implicate pollutants.

Millions of gallons of Piney Point stormwater will be released into Tampa Bay

Officials say the water has accumulated during the rainy season and is not contaminated, but environmental groups are not convinced the discharge won't impact the health of the bay.

Manatee County commissioners this week gave a green light to the design and service agreement of a new facility that will treat contaminated water from Piney Point before it’s injected into a deep well that is under construction.

But before that work begins, officials must contend with current issues at the site.

Since the beginning of the year, 27 inches of rain have accumulated in one of the gypsum stacks at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant, and the plan is to pump that stormwater into Tampa Bay.

Last year, 215 million gallons of wastewater were discharged from the site into Tampa Bay because a leak at one of the plant's reservoirs threatened to cause a catastrophic breach.

"It would not be nearly as problematic as last year," said David Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

"What came out last year was liquid fertilizer, basically. That being said, it's still roughly equivalent to adding about a hundred bags of lawn fertilizer to Tampa Bay and we're not really in a healthy place right now in lots of lower Tampa Bay."

A recent study shows that release likely made a subsequent outbreak of red tide much worse.

Tomasko says despite the disaster, Tampa Bay is still healthier than it was in the 1970s.

"But if we don't get our act together and completely shut down Piney Point and do a better job with stormwater and do a better job with our wastewater infrastructure, what we suffered last year could become more common," Tomasko said. "We don't want to become the next Indian River Lagoon."

The stormwater that has accumulated sits on top of a layer of mud and silt that originally came from the dredging of Port Manatee.

EPA Announces $132 Million for National Estuary Programs from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

EPA logo

EPA releases guidance on how the agency will administer the program

WASHINGTON – On Jul. 26, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an unprecedented investment of $132 million from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law over the next five years for important work to protect and restore estuaries of national significance, funding projects to address climate resilience, prioritize equity, and manage other key water quality and habitat challenges across 28 estuaries along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan highlighted the historic investment during a visit to Caño Martín Peña tidal channel in the San Juan Bay Estuary system as part of his Journey to Justice tour visit to Puerto Rico.

The announcement includes guidance for NEPs on how EPA will administer program funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The guidance provides key information, including equity strategies, reporting requirements, and flexibility to the NEPs to address the priorities in their watersheds that are defined by local, city, state, federal, private and non-profit stakeholders. EPA expects NEPs to accelerate Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan implementation, develop strategies and practices that enable these program areas to be resilient and adapt to changing climate conditions, and make investments that ensure water quality and habitat benefits of this program are realized by disadvantaged communities.

New law requires the state to hit certain cleanup levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’

Lawmakers warn that “these are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster."

The use of PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are a possible carcinogen, has spread to a variety of products that touch daily life: non-stick coatings, food products, air particles and foams.

Researchers continue to discover new ways that PFAS enter our environment and bodies.

HB 1475 and companion bill SB 7012 now legally require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set state rules for target cleanup levels of PFAS. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 20. It took effect immediately.

There are currently over 12,000 known variants, with PFOA and PHOS being the two most commonly tested chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Stuart, cosponsored this bill alongside Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, and said that a set of mandated rules from the state’s DEP would ensure municipalities cooperated with, at least, state regulations in managing levels of PFAS.

“These are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster … If we do not deal with those things now, then we really face some big issues in the future,” Overdorf said.

He stated that while the bill was waiting for the governor’s signature, the federal government came out with temporary, updated advisories of PFAS in drinking water, which he said came in great timing for HB 1475.

Florida’s fertilizer use is affecting beach water quality

If clean water is Florida’s ‘No. 1 issue,’ here’s why keeping grass green isn’t helping

While sources of pollution are many, and the vast majority come from commercial and industrial sources, experts say there’s one piece of the puzzle that many Floridians can help solve.

Some fertilizer that keeps lawns green contains contain high levels of nitrogen or phosphorous — two nutrients known to influence harmful algae blooms. Through careless application or heavy rainfall, those nutrients can eventually make their way into local waters. There, they act as a food source that help fuel the blooms. The state and local governments have taken steps to try to prevent that from happening, like enacting controversial bans during the summer rainy season.

But a Bradenton Herald analysis shows Florida’s tracking system does not provide an accurate picture how much fertilizer is used in the state, and by whom. A request for data on the breakdown of commercial versus residential use of fertilizer raised more questions than it answered.

You can help track Tampa Bay terrapins – with your phone

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program wants people to keep an eye out for diamondback terrapins

The diamondback terrapin is an elusive turtle to spot, but avid explorers in Tampa Bay may see them often.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is asking anyone in the Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg areas to record terrapin sightings and send them to Heinrich Ecological Services. Along with photo or video evidence of the tiny turtles, the program asks that turtle trackers send GPS coordinates of their find.

“GPS coordinates can be captured by using your preferred navigation app and placing a pin at the location of the sighting. Be sure that the pin is saved so you can reference the coordinates in your email to the folks at Heinrich Ecological Services,” TBEP wrote in a press release.

According to the National Park Service, these yellow-spottted terrapins are the only turtle species that naturally live in costal estuaries. You may spot one while kayaking, or exploring a mangrove.

TBEP Executive Director Ed Sherwood said interested tracking participants can look for turtles anywhere in the Tampa Bay watershed. That includes areas such as Weedon Island Preserve, Clam Bayou, and Indian Rocks Nature Preserve.

“The diamondbacks are important because they are unique to the estuary ecosystem and they are under threat,” Sherwood said.

Contact Heinrich Ecological Services at 727-599-1843 or email george@heinrichecologicalservices.com.

Sign up now for the Great Bay Scallop Search

TBW logo

Tampa Bay Watch is recruiting volunteers to participate in the Great Bay Scallop Search by snorkeling selected sites within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bay for elusive bay scallops.The goal of the event is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. The Great Bay Scallop Search will take place on August 20th.

Read more about the Scallop Search

Tampa Bay Watch mainly recruits volunteers with shallow draft boats, but has limited spots for canoes and kayaks. Also accepted are registrations from snorkelers without boats, but participation depends on a boater having room for you aboard their vessel.

Sign up fast for this popular event and help Tampa Bay Watch tally up the bay scallop population in Tampa Bay!

FAU study assesses climate warming, water management impacts on West Florida's continental shelf

Scientists conducted a study that provides an assessment of the potential effects of climate warming and water management of the West Florida Shelf dynamics during two particular events that affect its hydrology through the lens of a very high-resolution model.

The continental shelf is the submerged extension of a continent and as such it is at the crossroad of terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric influences. This confluence is the lead driver of the high biological productivity that often characterizes the continental shelf regions. Their productivity is not only critical to the ecosystems that it sustains but also to the livelihood of coastal communities such as tourism, fishing, aquaculture and more.

Anthropogenic climate change is expected to have profound implications on shelf dynamics as changes in local atmospheric circulation, heat, and evaporative fluxes can significantly affect the balance between surface fluxes, horizontal transports and vertical mixing. In addition, changes to freshwater discharge from the continent whether by land management, climate driven rainfall or human-made modified freshwater discharge, have large impacts on shelf dynamics and may mitigate or exacerbate changes associated with climate.

One region where these changes are particularly evident is the Gulf of Mexico. The west Florida coast is under the influence of a significant number of freshwater inputs. They drain fresh water from precipitation (direct or delayed, local or regional) from rivers, streams, lakes, and canals into the near shore, majorly contributing to the estuarine properties of West Florida Shelf waters. This fresh water usually expands westward and southward over the shelf, and contributes to the riverine properties of the inner shelf waters.

Florida’s vanishing beaches: The fight against coastal erosion

FDEP: More than half of Florida beaches surveyed are critically eroded

Released in June 2022, a study titled "Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida" from the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection Florida Department of Environmental Protection found hundreds of miles of critically eroded beaches.

The report said, "This critical erosion report provides an inventory of Florida's erosion areas on the 825 miles of sandy beaches fronting the Atlantic Ocean, Straits of Florida, Gulf of Mexico, and the roughly 66 coastal barrier tidal inlets."

According to the report, out of those 825 miles, 426.3 miles are considered critically eroded.

Some areas of the state could face severe issues if erosion is not mitigated.

The report states, "a 4.7-mile segment along Kennedy Space Center (V365 – V390) is critically eroded, threatening manned spacecraft facilities, launch pads, Phillips Parkway, and buried infrastructure. Beach and dune restoration is being investigated."

Brown patches along Gulf beaches are likely algae, scientist says

A state scientist says patches of brownish water turning up on Gulf of Mexico beaches from time to time this summer likely isn't sewage or red tide, but rather a form of algae that comes and goes with the tide.

Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission research scientist Celia Villac said she’s seen and the agency has received other reports of “red drift algae” along the beaches.

“These can be a mix of different red and brown seaweeds, some of them very fine filaments,” Villac said. “These patches can move around quite a bit with the surf and winds.”

The algae forms, and as soon as the nutrients are used up, it decays and sinks to the sea floor. But a storm can stir it back to the surface in a form that can look initially like a sewage spill.

There have been no reports of sewage spills, said Brian Humphreys of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. A sample taken by the state, following a call by nearby residents, was clear of harmful algal blooms and showed no signs of being sewage.

Florida restaurants now facing stronger regulations for grease disposal

Tampa logo

New law prohibits use of ?"pump and return" by grease haulers statewide

Florida’s food service businesses are now facing stronger regulations regarding grease disposal, in an effort to prevent clogs, blockages and significant damage to sewer systems. Starting today, restaurants and commercial kitchens across the City of Tampa will begin receiving mailers explaining the change in state law.

Effective July 1, 2022, Senate Bill 1110 is a state law forbidding the use of "pump and return" by grease waste haulers. This bill created Section 403.742, Florida Statutes, making it illegal to return grease waste and graywater to grease interceptors or grease traps. Additionally, the law prohibits disposing of grease waste at locations other than disposal facilities.

Blockages caused by grease can obstruct the flow of water, leading to costly repairs for the City of Tampa. These blockages can cause fatbergs, which are masses made of materials like oil, grease, or "flushable" wipes that collect, grow and eventually block a sewage system or septic tank system.

“Fatbergs pose a big risk to sewers and the people who work in them,” said Eric Weiss, director of the City of Tampa’s Wastewater Department. “When we have a blockage, waste can back up through pipes, causing major flooding in businesses and homes. That’s why the changes in the state law are so important to maintaining our infrastructure and keeping wastewater services running smoothly.”

This new law also requires grease waste haulers to maintain a service manifest, documenting that the grease waste they collect is disposed of at a permitted or certified waste management facility that is authorized to receive grease waste.

How to clean up Tampa Bay and keep it that way

TBW logo

The decades-long effort to improve Tampa Bay’s water quality could be reversed if we quit paying attention.

From Tampa Bay Watch president and founder Peter A. Clark:

Tampa Bay has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in water quality over the last 30 years, and yet our fragile ecosystem needs our attention more than ever.

There are reports indicating that algae mats, or macroalgae accumulations, have appeared to be more prevalent than usual around many parts of Tampa Bay. The estuary faced overlapping crises last year: first, the massive industrial wastewater release from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant site and later a Red Tide algal bloom that killed many tons of fish.

Those troubles drew a spotlight to the bay, revealing a handful of research gaps that have frustrated efforts to track the complete impact of the polluted discharge from Piney Point. Filter feeding oysters are retaining pollutants that move up the food chain, also raising health concerns for people, fish and other wildlife.

As our communities have greatly reduced wastewater and industrial discharges, limited widespread coastal wetland losses, and treated stormwater runoff from our neighborhoods into our rivers and bays, water quality has improved substantially. Thousands of community and student volunteers support Tampa Bay Watch hands-on habitat restoration initiatives every year. Tampa Bay is a national example of how a community can join together to restore our coastal waters.

And you can see the difference each and every day. As you drive over our bridges the water is often clear blue, bay and gulf beaches are open year-round, fisheries, birds and other wildlife are returning. The economic engine of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are driving record tourism and real estate markets — it seems that everyone wants to live or vacation here.

But it is a cautionary tale. Critical seagrass communities responded to water quality improvements and recovered to 1950 levels, the restoration target set for Tampa Bay by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Unfortunately, the renaissance of seagrass was short lived as Tampa Bay experienced declines of more than 5,000 acres of seagrass in the last five years.

New hurricane sirens ready to alert Pinellas County Coastline when it’s time to evacuate

INDIAN SHORES – Hear the roar, hit the door. Indian Shores leaders are sounding the alarm when it comes to mandatory hurricane evacuations.

New hurricane sirens are now in place in the beach community and are ready to warn people on Pinellas County’s coastline when it’s time to leave their homes and businesses.

Indian Shores leaders spent Friday afternoon testing out the new sirens. Come a major hurricane, they hope the sirens will save lives.

“It is extremely important that when you’re told to leave the island, you leave the island,” explained Indian Shores Police Chief Richard Swann.

Chief Swann said the new hurricane sirens will only sound when a mandatory evacuation is called and when you hear them, it’s time to get up and go.

“They are to make sure there is no doubt that when an evacuation is ordered, you hear these sirens, it’s time to leave,” he added.

FWC approves derelict Vessel Turn-In Program

FWC logo

Commissioners approved a final rule establishing a Vessel Turn-In Program as part of derelict vessel prevention efforts

At its July meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved the final rule establishing a statewide Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) as part of the Derelict Vessel Prevention Program. The new rule will create a voluntary program to remove at-risk vessels before they become derelict, which helps Florida’s environment and public safety.

The Division of Law Enforcement’s Boating and Waterways Section is spearheading a multi-year effort to dramatically reduce the backlog of derelict vessels currently on Florida’s waters. These vessels cause the destruction of valuable seagrass resources and endanger marine life. They also threaten human life, safety and property as they drift on or beneath the surface of the water or block navigable waterways, posing a navigational hazard to the boating public.

Recent legislation enables the FWC to create a Derelict Vessel Prevention Program, and the VTIP is one component of the FWC’s approach to derelict vessel prevention.

“Commissioners receive numerous contacts from the public about derelict vessels and I know the establishment of this new program will really make a difference,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Thanks to the efforts of Senator Ben Albritton, Representative Josie Tomkow, Representative Jay Trumbull and Senator Kelli Stargel, we’ve received the resources and the legislative support to make this program a reality.”

Derelict vessels are more costly and complicated to remove than at-risk vessels. A VTIP will prevent vessels from becoming derelict by removing them from the state’s waters when they are at risk of becoming derelict, which will result in cost savings for taxpayers and ultimately fewer DVs appearing on Florida waters. The VTIP is designed to allow owners of vessels at risk of becoming derelict the ability to voluntarily turn the at-risk vessel over to the state for removal and destruction.

“Derelict vessels are a priority for the FWC. Establishing the Vessel Turn-In Program provides a voluntary pathway for owners to remove at-risk vessels from the water before becoming derelict, thereby reducing future costs of removal. Removing at-risk vessels from Florida’s waterways before they become derelict is not only a win for the environment but also for public safety, taxpayers and the vessel owners,” said Col. Roger Young, director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement.

View the Commission meeting agenda and documents at MyFWC.com/Commission by clicking on “Commission Meetings” and the agenda under “July 13-14, 2022.”

UF research: Norms, not knowledge, drive irrigation habits

Norms beat knowledge when it comes to irrigating homeowners’ lawns, new University of Florida research shows.

For example, science tells us that if you replace at least one-third of the irrigated area of your yard or landscape with non-irrigated beds, you could save an average of 50,000 gallons of water per year.

But homeowners take their irrigation cues from their own personal norms and those of their neighbors, the new research shows.

Laura Warner surveyed 315 Florida homeowners to see what motivates them to replace highly irrigated areas of residential landscapes. In this survey, she specifically wanted to know what would compel homeowners to remove high water-using plants from their landscapes and replace them with conservation in mind.

“People can save an incredible amount of water by changing a portion of their yard, so it no longer needs to be irrigated,” said Warner, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural education and communication. “But some homeowners either don’t know or aren’t swayed by the benefits of reducing water use. Instead, they’re motivated to make these types of changes when they either feel like others around them would approve or have a personal commitment to doing so.”

Here’s one sample question from the survey to measure personal norms: “Tell us on a scale of 1 to 5 how strongly you agree or disagree with this statement: “I feel a personal obligation to eliminate at least one-third of the irrigated area in my yard/landscape in the next 12 months.”

Based on responses, most homeowners said they feel obligated to remove plants and grass that are high-water users.

To coax people into getting rid of water-needy vegetation, people like UF/IFAS Extension agents and government officials should focus on personal norms and social pressure, she said.

Now that researchers have found social and personal norms trigger irrigation habits, what does Warner suggest we do to encourage homeowners to conserve more?

“Based on our findings, we should be using tactics to build social pressure and/or personal obligation,” she said. “Some UF/IFAS Extension agents use innovative methods to do this — like social campaigns to communicate approval for engaging in these types of practices and mindfulness activities to develop more internal connections to water.”

TBEP now accepting 2022 Bay Mini-Grant applications

TBEP logo

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is now accepting 2022 Bay Mini-Grant applications from community organizations for projects that implement water quality, habitat restoration, invasive species, fish and wildlife, and public education priorities outlined in the TBEP Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for Tampa Bay.

Funded by revenues from the Tarpon Tag plate sales, Bay Mini-Grants are competitive, cash awards (up to $5,000) provided to community organizations in the Tampa Bay Watershed for projects that protect and restore Tampa Bay.

Priority will be given to cost-effective projects that focus on the priorities outlined below:

  1. Support prevention, eradication, or management of invasive species (IS-2)
  2. Promote public involvement in bay restoration and protection (PE-1)
  3. Promote public education about key issues affecting Tampa Bay (PE-2)

THE DEADLINE FOR ALL APPLICATIONS IS 5:00PM ON SEPTEMBER 16, 2022.

Applications must include the following documents to be considered for funding:

  1. a detailed scope of work
  2. a project budget

For more information, visit: https://tbep.org/our-work/restoration-research/bay-mini-grants/

Questions? Contact Sheila Scolaro: SScolaro@tbep.org or 727-893-2765

Is more algae mucking up Tampa Bay? Scientists need to track it first

Long-term macroalgae monitoring is another gap in research revealed in the year since the Piney Point release.

TIERRA VERDE – Tangled, brown mats of algae drift around Shell Key Preserve.

Cormorants dive past dark clumps to chase bait fish. The algae swallow seagrass beds, looking like wet hair in a shower drain.

Kayakers who drift too close feel the heaps tug at their paddles.

To Peter Clark, the algae mats seem worse than he’s seen in about 20 years. As president of Tampa Bay Watch, a conservation nonprofit headquartered at the edge of Shell Key Preserve, he has watched the muck float ashore in smelly piles.

Macroalgae have appeared to be more prevalent than usual around some parts of Tampa Bay this year, according to reports from captains and environmental advocates. Scientists cannot say for certain whether that’s a sign of trouble for the ecosystem.