Water-Related News

Red tide and algae blooms: Florida waters in crisis

TAMPA — Florida's water pollution crisis is reaching a breaking point, and the race to pass comprehensive legislation to fix our statewide problems is moving as slow as the environmental catastrophe unfolding in our bays, rivers, natural springs, and lagoons every day.

The question concerned citizens, charter boat captains, some politicians, and environmentalists are asking? How many tons of dead fish, how many manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and majestic tarpons do we have to clean up before Florida implements a systemic change from the top down.

Everyone who lives in Florida or visits Florida is part of the problem. No person is less innocent or guilty than the other, and scientists hope that we recognize and fix the problem; before it's too late.

Public meeting scheduled for Oct. 6th on Manatee County Piney Point injection well permit

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP's) Drinking Water and Aquifer Protection Program, announces an open house public meeting to which all persons are invited.

During this public meeting, representatives of both DEP and the applicant (Manatee County) will be available to answer questions and provide information about the draft Underground Injection Control Class I Injection Well System Construction and Testing Permit for the Manatee County Utilities' Piney Point injection well (UIC Permit No. 0322708-002-UC/1I, WACS Facility ID: 101607), located at 3105 Buckeye Road, Palmetto, in Manatee County, Florida.

This draft permit would authorize the construction and operational testing of one non-hazardous Class I injection well (IW-1) and one dual-zone monitor well (DZMW-1) for the disposal of industrial wastewater from the Manatee County Piney Point Facility following an extensive review of plans by DEP, including engineering and geology professionals.

DATE AND TIME:   Oct. 6, 2021, 4–7 p.m. (EDT).
PLACE:   Manatee County Central Library, Auditorium, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd., West Bradenton, Florida.
PURPOSE:   To receive public comments on the above referenced draft UIC permit for the Manatee County Utilities' Piney Point site.

Agenda, permit application and related application information

For more information, you may contact Annette G. Roberts:
Contact Name: Roberts, Annette
Contact Email: annette.g.roberts@floridadep.gov
Contact Phone: 850-245-8336

City of St. Petersburg announces adjustments to utility rates

St. Petersburg City Council has approved adjustments to water, wastewater, reclaimed water, stormwater and sanitation utility rates and charges for the upcoming fiscal year, including adjustments to charges for notification of past due accounts.

Changes will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2021. Adjustments to sanitation and stormwater fees will be in October utility bills and adjustments to water and wastewater fees will be in November utility bills. The average utility customer will see an increase to their utility bill. The new rates for each utility service can be found at stpete.org/rates.

City of St. Petersburg utility rates and charges are evaluated during the annual budget process and are adopted annually upon City Council approval. Utility fees support the continued efforts to enhance the reliability of the city’s drinking water, wastewater, reclaimed water, stormwater and sanitation utilities. Fees also support the operations, maintenance and infrastructure of those utilities to meet the current and future needs of our community. Revenues from utility fees are directly tied to the costs of the specific utility they support. For example, stormwater fees directly support the functions that assist with planning, operations and maintenance of the stormwater system, which helps mitigate flooding, enhance water quality and minimize the environmental impact of stormwater pollution.

Utility fees are vitally important in supporting St. Pete’s aging infrastructure, most of which has reached or exceeded its design lifespan. The City continues to work on and incorporate utility master plan projects through the annual rate study program which support the continued resiliency and sustainability of City utility systems. Utility fees will continue to be evaluated every year to support infrastructure projects and master planning programs.

Pinellas County Health Department issues blue-green algae alert for Eagle Lake Park

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (DOH-Pinellas) has issued a health alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in Eagle Lake Park (Lake #2), 1800 Keene Rd, Largo. This is in response to a water sample taken on Sept. 13. The public should exercise caution in and around Eagle Lake Park’s Lake #2. Warning signs will be posted around the lake to alert park visitors.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish well.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that is common in Florida’s freshwater environments. A bloom occurs when rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of individual cells that discolor water and often produce floating mats that emit unpleasant odors.

Some environmental factors that contribute to blue-green algae blooms are sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions and excess nutrients. Blooms can appear year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall. Many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.

Is it harmful?

Blue-green algae blooms can impact human health and ecosystems, including fish and other aquatic animals.

For additional information on potential health effects of algal blooms, visit floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins.

Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov. Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide statewide water quality information to prioritize environmental transparency and commitment to action.

What do I do if I see an algal bloom?

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection collects and analyzes algal bloom samples. To report a bloom to DEP, call the toll-free hotline at 855-305-3903 or report online.

To report fish kills, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at 1-800-636-0511.

Report symptoms from exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist immediately.

Contact your veterinarian if you believe your pet has become ill after consuming or having contact with blue-green algae contaminated water.

If you have other health questions or concerns about blue-green algae blooms, call DOH-Pinellas at (727) 507-4336.

Fighting red tide with nature: Could clams be the key to fighting red tide?

Red tide is a part of living on the Gulf coast.

While it’s clearing up in Southwest Florida, research is underway to lessen its impact in the future.

After looking at the history and the issue, Florida TaxWatch found the state should consider reintroducing southern hard clams to Southwest Florida estuaries.

“This is just one important tool in the toolkit that should be used. And it could also further, you know, enhance areas like the Tampa Bay region, and help coastal restoration activities,” Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

FGCU Water School’s James Douglass said clams and oysters can help cut down the algae levels in the water.

“If they’re healthy, should be able to do that filtering and we need to take care of our oysters and clams, our natural oysters and clams to make sure they can do their job,” Douglass said.

Applications now being accepted for 2022 Tampa Bay Mini-Grants

Tarpon Tag

Are you an educator or part of a local community organization with an idea for a restoration or educational project in Tampa Bay? The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is now accepting project applications for the Bay Mini-Grants program! Bay Mini-Grants are competitive awards (up to $5,000) offered to community groups with projects that help improve Tampa Bay. Project proposals must address at least one of Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s goals: water quality, habitat restoration, invasive species, public education, fish and wildlife enhancement. This year, priority will be given to proposals that expand the use of Green Infrastructure Practices.

The application deadline for Bay Mini-Grants is September 24, 2021.

Information about the Bay Mini-Grants program, including an information packet with links to application resources, an Instructional Webinar and summaries of previously awarded grant projects can be obtained by visiting tbep.org.

Funding for Tampa Bay Mini-Grants is provided from the sale of the TBEP "Tarpon Tag" specialty license plate.

Tampa Bay loses 6,350 acres of seagrass over past two years

The numbers provided to the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission are worse than estimates in April.

The amount of healthy seagrass in Tampa Bay is lower than previously estimated.

Thursday, a Southwest Florida Water Management District official said Tampa Bay had seen a 16 percent decline in seagrass, or more than 6,350 acres, over two years ending in 2020. That’s higher than estimates released in April that measured a 13 percent drop.

“That sends up an alarm that something is going on that we need to pay attention to,” said Chris Anastasiou, chief scientist of the water district’s surface water improvement and management program.

His comments came Thursday during a presentation to the Hillsborough County commissioners sitting as the Environmental Protection Commission.

The numbers released in April were provisional, Susanna Martinez Tarokh, a spokeswoman for the water management district, told the Times. The amount of lost seagrass was revised upward after field verification work in Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay, she said.

The final mapping data showed seagrass acres declined from 40,651 in 2018 to 34,298 in 2020 according to measurements taken from the Manatee River north to Old Tampa Bay.

Pinellas Sand Key beach renourishment project in peril

A once-brushed-over provision of the project is now putting the Sand Key Beach Renourishment Project in doubt.

Along a 9-mile stretch of Pinellas County, the federal Sand Key Shore Protection Project provides a lifeline for the shrinking beaches from just south of the Clearwater Pass to the northern tip of Redington Beach. Every five to seven years the Army Corps of Engineers hires a contractor to pump in sand to replace what has eroded away.

But a once-brushed-over provision of the project that the Army Corps is now emphasizing puts the Sand Key project in doubt. If Pinellas County does not get perpetual easements from 100 percent of the private properties that border the project, the Army Corps will skip each cycle until all 461 easements are signed. For years, the county only collected easements for areas where sand would be replaced — which varies based on need.

ManaSota 88 asks Manatee County to withdraw deep well injection application

BRADENTON — MansaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is urging the Manatee County Commission to withdraw its application for an Underground Injection Control Well at Piney Point.

The organization's chairman, Glenn Compton, sent the following letter to commissioners on Monday.

Dear Commissioners:

ManaSota-88 respectfully requests that the Manatee Board of County Commissioners withdraw the application for an Underground Injection Control Well at Piney Point and place this item on the agenda for the next Manatee County Board of County Commission meeting.

ManaSota-88 continues to oppose construction of any deep injection well in the vicinity of the former Piney Point Phosphate Plant.

There are ways to help protect manatees in SWFL

International Manatee Day is a time to focus on important members of our ecosystem in Southwest Florida and how to protect them. Manatee deaths have already passed a record in 2021, and the year isn’t over yet.

There are steps that can be taken in the water and on land to help protect manatees.

By easing up on fertilizers and other yard chemicals, people can help reduce pollutants entering our waterways and killing the food manatees need to survive.

Manatee deaths in Florida are at an all-time high with at least 929 deaths so far this year.

DEP Secretary tours Piney Point, Vows its safety as summer rains threaten

Newly appointed DEP secretary Shawn Hamilton says Piney Point can only handle another 11 inches of rain. But water is being piped out now, and a plan is in place if a hurricane threatens.

Shawn Hamilton has been appointed as the new secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Wednesday, Hamilton toured the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant along Tampa Bay.

There, he met with Tampa bankruptcy attorney Herb Donica, the new court-appointed receiver who will oversee the site's closure.

There are still about 261 million gallons of wastewater held at Piney Point, and summer rains are once again threatening to overflow its banks.

Here's part of his interview with WUSF's Steve Newborn:

HAMILTON: Well, first of all, just going back with being with the agency for over 13 years, being involved for that time and so many different parts of our diverse mission, it's just truly an honor to serve in this capacity. But for our priorities, it's to continue to execute on the governor's vision for the environment in the state of Florida and bring those efforts and projects to the fullest extent possible to completion. That will remain the focus.

One of the focuses is Piney Point. DEP has said that the site can only handle 11 or so more inches of rain. So what's the update, and what's the plan to remove some of that excess water, if we have to do that?

I had a chance to spend some time at the site today, to get a chance to meet with the receiver, but also get a sense for current site conditions. And you know, we're in a better spot than we were a few weeks ago.

But this being Florida, rains are inevitable and we're in the rainy season. Right now, the site's at about that 11-inch mark. But since the last update, we've deployed some intermediate water management systems that actively dispose of water. And so for the most part, we're in a good spot, with a favorable rain pattern and tropics up to this point, it has allowed us more time.

City of St. Petersburg seeking federal funding from HUD for two resiliency projects

The City of St. Petersburg is currently seeking funding through the Department of Economic Opportunities Rebuild Florida Program to fund flood mitigation projects within the Bartlett Park Neighborhood. The City is seeking roughly $2 million in funding dredge years of built up sediment within Bartlett Lake. The Bartlett Park neighborhood is a local community historically inundated with extreme flooding during severe weather. The goal of this project is to reduce flood risk and increase resilience to sea level rise and climate change. More information regarding this project can be found within this public notice.

The City is also seeking funding from the Community Development Block Grant Program for the Resilient Water Reclamation Facilities Project. The City of St. Petersburg Water Resources Department (WRD) has budgeted $21,300,000.00 to design and construct new, hardened Operations and Maintenance Buildings at the three Water Reclamation Facilities (WRF). The three (3) buildings will house WRF operations and maintenance staff while servings as Sub Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs)to ensure continuity of wastewater treatment service to local residents during tropical events up to Category 4 hurricanes. Per City Code the buildings will strive to achieve a LEED Gold certification. The City requested grant amount is $10,600,000, approximately 50% of the total project budget. More information regarding this project can be found within this public notice.

Funding for both projects is specifically focused on mitigation efforts and is provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through the newly created Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBGMIT).

Court vacates NWPR, is still weighing WOTUS restoration

A federal judge on Monday tossed out a Trump-era rule that rolled back water pollution protections, but is still weighing whether to restore Obama-era protections or simply undo the Trump rollback to return to pre-Obama regulations. In a court order, Judge Rosemary Márquez, an Obama appointee, vacated the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which governed which bodies of water get protection from pollution. Márquez remanded the rule for reconsideration to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Trump administration in 2019 repealed an Obama-era rule known as the Waters of the United States Rule, which expanded federal protections for smaller waterways.

And last year, the former administration put forward an additional rule, the NWPR, that reversed some protections, including for wetlands, that had been in place for decades.

The 2020 rule is the one that Márquez tossed and gave parties to a lawsuit challenging it 30 days to file proposals about what to do about the repeal rule.

The decision comes as the Biden administration seeks to revise the rule and asked the court to send the Trump rule back to it for reconsideration.

Red Tide is still floating out there and could return. But when?

The fish kills have receded, but toxic algal blooms are still floating off the Pinellas shore.

The fish kills and murky air are no longer problems for the Pinellas coastline, but that doesn’t mean Red Tide is gone.

The patchy blooms are still floating miles off the county’s western coastline. They don’t currently pose a threat to Pinellas County, but experts say that could change if the currents and winds bring it back to shore.

They just don’t know if that could happen now — or in the fall.

“I was actually quite shocked at how close the Red Tide is,” said Pinellas County Public Works Director Kelli Hammer Levy during a Wednesday meeting with the mayors of Pinellas’ beach cities. “It’s actually sitting right off of our coast right now, so it’s still there.”

Tampa Bay Water on liquid oxygen, shortages, and the pandemic

Tampa Bay Water's acting chief operating officer discusses the impact of COVID-19 to the local water supply, and what part part liquid oxygen plays in that.

Liquid oxygen — often used to treat tap water — is in short supply because it's needed for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

WUSF's Daylina Miller spoke with Tampa Bay Water Acting Chief Operating Officer Jack Thornburgh about what that means for the area's water supply.

Daylina Miller: Cities like Tampa and Orlando are asking residents to cut down on unnecessary water use because the hospitals need liquid oxygen for COVID-19 patients. What is liquid oxygen and how's it used for treating water?

Jack Thornburgh: "Liquid oxygen is used in our plant to generate ozone. And ozone is a very powerful disinfectant that has a very short lifespan. So it can be used in places where normally chlorine would be used or some people call, you know, bleach, sodium hypochlorite. But the benefit of it is it has such a short lifespan and it's very powerful, and it doesn't combine with other compounds that make it not good for human consumption. So it is a preferable disinfectant."

Miller: Tampa Bay water announced recently that liquid oxygen would be replaced temporarily by bleach for treatment. But drinking water would still be meeting local, state and federal regulations. Can you tell us more about that?

Judge appoints third party receiver to oversee Piney Point closure

Florida called for an emergency hearing over concerns of the facility's reservoir overflowing due to continued rainfall.

MANATEE COUNTY – A judge appointed a receiver to oversee the management and eventual closure of the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility, the Department of Environmental Protection says.

The decision is part of a larger lawsuit the state filed against Piney Point's property owners, HRK Holdings. Earlier this month, FDEP called for an emergency hearing of its lawsuit due to concerns that continued rainfall would cause the wastewater that sits inside the facility's reservoirs to overflow.

As of Wednesday, Piney Point has received 24.4 inches of rain, and the state expects another 9 inches by the end of September. DEP says the facility can only hold 11 more inches of rainfall.

If crews are not able to lower water levels in time, then FDEP says another wastewater release would have to happen.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force talks stormwater at virtual meeting

Stormwater headlined Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task force meeting Monday, with more than 250 tuning in to hear the online discussion.

Gov. Ron DeSantis mandated the five-member group in 2019, shortly after he took office, as part of a sweeping executive order designed to improve Florida’s water quality. His order included $2.5 billion for Everglades restoration and water protections — the highest level of such funding in the state’s history — and created the algae task force as well as the new position that oversees the group’s workings, the state’s chief science officer, currently University of South Florida Professor Mark Rains.

Rains kicked off Monday’s meeting by recapping its key accomplishments so far, before moving to the topic at hand.

“This task force under my predecessor, Dr. Tom Frazer, produced a consensus document that had a number of recommendations about what were the causes of water quality degradation,” he said. “Many of those recommendations went directly into SB 712, the Clean Waterways Act, and I think there’s a role for the Blue-Green Algae task force to play – kind of re-inserting themselves in that conversation along the way – as policies and practices change, and making sure that what was said in the consensus document is tracking all the way through to the actual changes of policy and practice.”

Water quality concerns stir up citrus BMP and phosphorus questions

As blue-green algae makes headlines again this summer, fertilizer from farms and urban sources are again under scrutiny. Last year, the state legislature passed the Clean Waterways Act to address continuing challenges with water quality.

The 111-page bill addresses agriculture, using biosolids as fertilizer, regulation of septic tanks, wastewater treatment systems, enhanced penalties, and other rules. It is part of the governor’s multibillion-dollar plan to improve the state’s water quality.

The BMP (Best Management Practices) Program for agriculture also saw some enhancements. The law requires that BMP manuals be updated more regularly to include current science. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) will now be required to collect and keep growers’ nutrient program records, with a particular focus on nitrogen and phosphorus. In the past, records of growers who are enrolled in the BMP Program were reviewed but not collected. Under the new law, growers have to fill out a Nutrient Application Report Form. These forms can be turned over to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The law also instructs FDACS to have on-site verification visits to farms at least every two years to confirm BMPs are being followed.

New flood maps In Pinellas County could affect insurance rates

The updated Pinellas County maps are the result of a coastal flood risk study started in 2012 and under review since 2018.

Updated federal flood zone maps in Pinellas County went into effect Tuesday [Aug. 24th].

The maps are used to identify who with federally-backed mortgages are required to buy policies. And they help set minimum development requirements – for instance, how high new homes should be built above flood stage.

And then they're used to set flood insurance rates. That's something the Federal Emergency Management Agency is changing in October under a new pricing methodology it calls "Risk Rating 2.0".

Lisa Foster is the floodplain administrator for Pinellas County.

"It's really important that folks are talking to their flood insurance agents now," she said. "When Risk Rating 2.0 goes into effect in October, it could really impact the rates."

FEMA says the new national pricing approach is trying to make insurance rates more equitable by incorporating more variables into its calculations. That includes factors like flood frequency, flood types and the cost to rebuild.

The Pinellas maps are the result of a coastal flood risk study started in 2012 and under review since 2018.

"The new methodology is going to be looking at the distance to the water whether or not you're on a barrier island, what kind of foundation you have, meaning are you on a slab," Foster said. "Or are you on piles or piers? What the first floor elevation is. There are a number of parameters to determine the actuary risk that will be used."

Foster said people who have a federal flood insurance policy could see their rates raised gradually, instead of all at once.

Anyone wanting to see if their home or business is in a flood zone can click on www.floodmaps.pinellascounty.org