Water-Related News

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.,

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.

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.

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.

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.

USF scientists announce initial findings from Piney Point research effort

University of South Florida College of Marine Science researchers today shared their initial findings of how the Tampa Bay ecosystem has responded to the controlled discharges of nutrient-rich wastewater released from the retired Piney Point fertilizer processing plant. The scientists launched their first research cruise on April 7 and have returned to the water several times since.

Key takeaways from the USF research team:

  • Early results indicate that the effects of the wastewater discharge were localized in nature, not widespread.
  • Concentrations of nutrients have declined over time and are now more typical of those in the historical record for this part of Tampa Bay. Model results show that the concentrations of nutrients within the discharged water have been diluted at least 1000-fold since the initial release.
  • A diatom bloom of about 25 square kilometers in size around Port Manatee that formed in response to the discharge has dissipated over time. Diatoms are single-celled microalgae called phytoplankton. Chlorophyll concentrations (a proxy for phytoplankton biomass) are within the range generally observed in Tampa Bay during April and May.

Remaining unanswered questions for researchers:

  • Are longer-term impacts of the discharged water on the Tampa Bay ecosystem likely to be manifested? If so, how?
  • The nutrient chemistry of Tampa Bay is complex. Questions remain about nutrient cycling in response to a rapid influx of wastewater. For example:
  • Were nutrients and heavy metals (e.g., lead, copper, zinc) from the discharge sequestered in the sediments? If so, will storms stimulate phytoplankton blooms?
  • Will there be an impact to seagrasses and other marine life that live on the bottom?
  • What may have been the impact to fish health?

“The area in the immediate vicinity of Port Manatee was subject to a spike in nutrient concentrations and a corresponding increase in phytoplankton abundance,” College of Marine Science Dean Tom Frazer said. “Our initial field sampling efforts and data acquired from remote sensing platforms confirmed high concentrations of chlorophyll, which is a proxy for phytoplankton abundance. Recent data indicate, however, that the response was short lived. Phytoplankton abundance continues to decline and water chemistry values are typical of those reported in the historical record.”

The field team, led by USF chemical oceanographer Kristen Buck collected water and sediment samples from a suite of stations in the vicinity of Port Manatee and locations beyond the affected area. The sampling and subsequent data analyses confirmed that the phytoplankton responded quickly to the nutrient pulse, but the assemblage was dominated by diatoms and not toxic phytoplankton responsible for red tides. The algal bloom has since dissipated. The end of the algae bloom was confirmed in satellite imagery analyzed by physical oceanographer Chuanmin Hu.

The team’s sampling efforts were guided by a model provided by physical oceanographer Bob Weisberg. The model forecasts the movement of discharged water and its constituents based on tides, winds and river input.

Clam Bayou has a new ‘Litter Gitter’

A cage-like device floating in Clam Bayou – dubbed “litter gitter” by scientists – has one job to do: report on the amount and types of waste in Florida waterways.

The Osprey Initiative team, in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, deployed Clam Bayou’s “litter gitter” on Tuesday, May 4 in an effort to eventually reduce the amount of trash in the area.

It’s one of 12 marine debris collectors, roughly $2,500 each, deployed throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties as part of the three-year Trash Free Waters Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program was awarded roughly $500,000 for implementation of trash free water projects and research throughout the area.

“While the primary goal of the device is to collect litter, the type collected raises questions about where the debris is coming from,” said Joe Whalen, communication and outreach coordinator with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Water quality activists push state for toxin-measuring standards

Starting Wednesday [May 19th], Florida will go over its water quality standards. The state currently has no criteria when it comes to measuring the cyanotoxins in our waterways, toxins linked to blue-green algae

Clean water activists will be requesting that the state create standards to measure those toxins, but this isn’t anything new. The state reviews its water quality standards every three years, and this week it will be doing just that. The Environmental Protection Agency already issued a draft of this proposal back in 2016 that water experts like the Calusa Waterkeeper think are protective enough—the state did nothing with it.

“You need to emphasize it’s not just about cleaning up pollution,” said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. “It’s also providing some public health protection through these new standards.”

So how will this benefit you? If we have a baseline for the toxins, this will then allow the state to decide when to alter the releases from Lake O. It will also allow our local health departments to issues alerts more easily. Those alerts are what we have seen recently, making sure you stay out of the water.

Jason Totoiu, a water expert from the Center for Biological Diversity, says he is frustrated with how the state is handling our water crisis.

“The state needs to do a lot better job in addressing the pollution before it even gets into our waters,” Totoiu said. “The reason why those were really protective standards… in part, they recognized that the hazards of cyanotoxins aren’t just limited to ingestion. So say if you are swimming: You can be exposed to cyanotoxins through the air, the skin, through ingestion and those most-protective criteria in 2016 accounted for that.”