Water-Related News

Scientists decry new WOTUS rule

A new federal rule that determines how the Clean Water Act is implemented leaves millions of miles of streams and acres of wetlands unprotected based on selective interpretation of case law and a distortion of scientific evidence, researchers say in a new publication.

In a Policy Forum article published in the Aug. 14 issue of Science, the researchers assert that the Navigable Waters Protection Rule undermines the spirit—if not the letter—of the Clean Water Act by protecting only waters that have a permanent hydrologic surface connection to rivers, lakes and other large "navigable" bodies of water. Also omitted from consideration is maintaining the integrity of the biological and chemical quality of the nation's waters, protections that are explicitly called for in the Clean Water Act.

"It's so important to say, right out of the gates, that the new rule does not protect water in the way that the Clean Water Act was intended to protect water," said lead author Ma┼żeika Sullivan, director of the Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park at The Ohio State University.

The rule went into effect on June 22.

EPA agreement brings Florida a step closer to issuing certain Clean Water Act permits

TALLAHASSEE–U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker and Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) representing the next step, and one of a number of required elements, for Florida to assume responsibility for issuing certain Clean Water Act permits. The state intends to include the MOA in its formal request to EPA for authorization to administer the Clean Water Act Section 404 program.

This action follows a complex rulemaking process at the state level, including years of discussions with EPA and constituency groups during the development process. The Clean Water Act provides for an interested state or tribe to administer its own program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material to certain waters of the United States in lieu of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Florida is most familiar with its state aquatic resources and associated local conditions, issues and needs,” said Mary S. Walker, EPA Region 4 Administrator. “This MOA represents a significant step forward in Florida’s efforts to assume responsibility for issuing permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material to certain waters, and we look forward to working with FDEP as the process continues.”

“We are proud to have reached this next phase in the assumption process,” said FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “State assumption of the 404 Program will enhance the protection of Florida’s wetlands by affording the state greater control in guarding its natural resources while complying with federal law.”

The Agreement sets forth the respective responsibilities of Florida and the EPA to administer and enforce the Clean Water Act Section 404 program and is a required component of any formal request to assume the program. The Agreement signed today is one of only three that has ever been executed by the EPA and a state or tribe, no state or tribe has submitted a request to administer the Clean Water Act 404 program since 1994.

The EPA looks forward to receipt of the formal request from Florida and will work with the applicable government agencies to implement the review process set forth by the Clean Water Act and its implementing regulations.?An assumed program must be consistent with and no less stringent than the requirements of the Clean Water Act and regulations. The EPA Regional Administrator has up to 120 days to review and determine whether the request for authorization meets all federal requirements. During the EPA’s review, an opportunity will be provided for public input.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force: Alert public when algal toxins detected

How much toxicity does it take to make a blue-green algae bloom hazardous?

The World Health Organization says 10 parts per billion of the toxin microcystin is hazardous to touch. The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the threshold at 8 parts per billion.

But the Florida Blue-Green Algae Task Force agreed Wednesday [July 30] people need to be warned when any toxins are in the water.

"A simple detection of toxins is enough to prompt a health alert," Florida Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer, who leads the panel, said during the Zoom meeting.

The task force was discussing whether Florida needs to establish a state threshold for hazardous levels of microcystin such as those used by the WHO and EPA and looking at signs developed by the Florida Department of Health and state Department of Environmental Protection to warn people of toxic algae blooms in water bodies.

"There's no safe exposure to toxins," said task force member James Sullivan, executive director of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce. "If there's a reliable detection (of toxins in the water), the number doesn't mean anything. To be the most cautious for the public, if you detect toxins, you put out an advisory."

Apply now for TBEP Bay Mini-Grants

Tarpon Tag

The deadline to apply is September 25th at 3:00 p.m.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is now accepting project applications for the Bay Mini-Grants program!

Bay Mini-Grants are competitive cash awards (up to $5000) for community groups with projects that help improve Tampa Bay.

Project proposals must incorporate 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 which directly incorporate emerging contaminants or community involvement in bay restoration.

Applications for Bay Mini-Grants must be submitted by 3:00pm September 25, 2020. Funds will be awarded by mid-December. Projects must begin within six months and be completed within one year.

Groups and organizations from Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties may apply. Funds will be dispersed through contracts. Both non-profit and for-profit organizations are eligible.

The online application is available at https://form.jotform.com/81653734215153.

Please contact Public Outreach Specialist Sheila Scolaro (sscolaro@tbep.org) with any questions.

Pinellas County Utilities tracking COVID-19 in wastewater

Researchers are using wastewater epidemiology in hopes of knowing the community prevalence of coronavirus ahead of test results.

PINELLAS COUNTY — It’s a new way to potentially track COVID-19 before you even know you’re sick: testing raw sewage.

Pinellas County is the first in Tampa Bay to begin collecting samples for analysis and the utilities department hopes tracing the virus through untreated wastewater could be the "canary in the coal mine."

The South Cross Bayou Treatment plant in Pinellas County is a 24/7 operation. Located just north of the city of St. Petersburg, it’s one of two treatment plants for the county.

Each day 35 million gallons of raw wastewater are treated to remove everything from pollution to pathogens such as the common cold, E. Coli and viruses like COVID.

“The canary in the coal mine. With wastewater treatment, we can detect potentially levels of the virus and detect its presence in the community possibly even before individuals know they have the virus,” Megan Ross said.

Ross is the director of Pinellas County Utilities. She and the other women behind the scenes of wastewater treatment for Pinellas County spoke with 10 Investigates’ Courtney Robinson.

In June, they embarked on a new COVID-19 research project involving wastewater analytics and epidemiology.

“What we’re flushing down the toilet comes from us. It comes from our bodies, so I still think there’s a lot we can learn and that’s why we do the testing,” said Hillary Weber, assistant director of Pinellas County Utilities.