Water-Related News

Florida senators want federal help on their red tide problem

Algal blooms driven by chemical runoff and a warming climate killed aquatic life, slammed the state's tourism industry

As Florida grapples with so-called red tides of algal blooms along its coasts and waterways, the state’s senators are pushing the federal government to come up with a plan to help control them.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will on Wednesday mark up a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott aiming to find a solution to the toxic algae that cost the state’s tourism industry millions of dollars each year.

The House in September passed a companion bill that was introduced by Rep. Brian Mast, R- Fla.

“I am encouraged by its continued progress in the Senate,” Rubio said in an emailed statement.

A spokeswoman said Scott is “proud to build on” his efforts to mitigate the effects of harmful algal blooms and red tide during his time as governor, and “will continue to work with his colleagues to protect Florida’s environment for generations to come.”

As the governor of Florida before he came to the Senate, Scott received partial blame from critics for the widespread algal blooms that inundated his state’s shores last year, noting his administration cut the state’s water management budget by $700 million.

The bill would direct a federal interagency panel to “develop a plan for reducing, mitigating, and controlling” harmful algal blooms and hypoxia (dangerously low aquatic oxygen levels) in South Florida. It’s similar to one Rubio introduced last year with former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Clean Water Act: Economic analysis could undermine Trump rule repeal

When the Trump administration finalized its repeal of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule last month, it also quietly updated an economic analysis of the repeal's costs and benefits.

The 195-page final analysis is nearly 10 times longer than the one that accompanied the Trump administration's initial proposal in 2017 to repeal the rule and estimates different costs and benefits of repealing the regulation, which clarified which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The updated analysis — which the public did not have the chance to comment on — could leave the repeal vulnerable to legal challenges, experts say.

"The agencies aren't required to do an economic analysis, but once they decide to do it, courts typically want them to do it right," Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau said. "If there are flaws in the analysis, and if the public hasn't had a chance to see it, that could fit into the box of arbitrary and capricious."

Already, a coalition of environmental groups have cited the new analysis in their legal challenge to the repeal filed last week.

Mangroves reduce flood damages during hurricanes, saving $billions

Mangroves significantly reduce annual and catastrophic damages from storms and are a strong first line of defense for coastal communities, according to a new study from researchers at UC Santa Cruz, the Nature Conservancy, and RMS. The study brought together a team of scientists from the engineering, insurance, and conservation sectors to quantify the effectiveness of mangroves in reducing flood risk to people and property.

Their report, Valuing The Flood Risk Reduction Benefits of Florida's Mangroves, concludes that mangroves in Florida prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25% in counties with mangroves. With coastal challenges created by growing populations, burgeoning development, and climate change, risks to people and property from flooding and storm surge are on the rise. Mangroves provide valuable flood protection and risk reduction benefits to these coastal areas, yet they are a threatened species.

The study used the risk insurance industry's latest and most rigorous high-resolution flood and loss catastrophe models and an extensive database of property exposure to estimate property damages from storms with and without mangroves in Florida. The report shows that mangroves significantly reduce flood levels during a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Irma.

Red tide and human health: Researchers study ‘Chronic Exposure’

Toxic red tide algae is starting to bloom along Florida’s west coast again. State wildlife officials say elevated levels have been detected recently from Pinellas to Collier counties, and people in Sarasota County have also been experiencing respiratory irritations.

Now, new research is looking into long-term health effects of the toxins, including neurological issues.

Tampa Bay Water approves new demand management program

On Oct. 21st, Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors took actions to ensure the region has enough drinking water for at least the next 20 years.

As part of the regional supplier’s Long-term Master Water Plan, the board approved a contract for the administration of a regional demand management, or water conservation, program with Electric & Gas Industries Association. This program aims to save up to 11 million gallons per day (mgd) of water by 2030 and delay the need to build new supplies. Regional conservation costs about one-quarter of the cost of the cheapest new water source option.

“Saving water saves money. It delays the need for new supplies, which delays capital costs and new debt,” said Ken Herd, chief science and technical officer for Tampa Bay Water. “We understand that Tampa Bay area residents want us to do everything we can to save water before we develop a costly alternative.”

This rebate program includes eleven incentive opportunities for single-family homes, multi-family homes, commercial and industrial properties and new housing developments. The mix includes indoor and outdoor programs to best fit the needs of the current Tampa Bay area market.

The board also approved contracts to study water supply project options that individually could provide 10-15 mgd of drinking water by 2028 when demand projections currently show the region will need new water. Those projects include:

  • Surface Water Expansion: Expanding the regional surface water treatment plant or adding a second treatment plant in south Hillsborough County to treat additional water from the Tampa Bypass Canal, Alafia River and C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir. The board approved the engineering firm, Hazen and Sawyer, to complete feasibility studies.
  • Desalination Plant Expansion: Expand

Dredging project to restore Lake Seminole gets underway

Pinellas County has begun the most important phase of the Lake Seminole Restoration Project. A county contractor has started a dredge operation that will remove about 900,000 cubic yards of organic sediment from the lake, aiming to bring it to its healthiest state in decades.

Lake Seminole is the county’s second largest freshwater lake, a critical part of the watershed and a major amenity for recreation and nature enjoyment. But accumulated sediment has contributed to persistent water quality problems and habitat degradation. The three-year dredging operation will remove about 54 tons of phosphorus and 311 tons of nitrogen, reducing nitrogen loads by 56 percent in Long Bayou and Boca Ciega Bay.

“This project will reduce the available nutrients for algae and vegetation growth,” said Pinellas County Senior Environmental Specialist Rob Burnes. “We’ll have cleaner water, a healthier lake bottom, more fish, fewer invasive plants, more native plants and a much nicer lake.”

The Lake Seminole Restoration Project is part of the Lake Seminole Watershed Management Plan, which set forth best practices that have been improving water quality in the lake for several years. One of the most important contributions thus far has been the addition of four “Alum” stations that reduce nutrient inputs into the lake by capturing urban stormwater before it enters the lake and treating it with aluminum sulphate.

Now, Clearwater-based Gator Dredging is using a hydraulic dredge to remove the muck from the bottom of the lake. It’s transported to a Dredge Material Management Area (DMMA) located on County owned land between Lake Seminole Park and the Cross Bayou Little League Fields. Eventually, the DMMA will form a berm that can be used for park land or ball fields.

The $19 million project is scheduled for completion in early 2023. It’s funded by Penny for Pinellas, Southwest Florida Water Management District, a legislative appropriation and the RESTORE act. More information about the project can be found here: http://www.pinellascounty.org/publicworks/projects/lake_seminole_restoration.htm.

New beach re-nourishment in Pinellas may hinge on signed easements

REDINGTON SHORES – They’re drawing a “line in the sand.”

Some property owners in Pinellas County don’t like a new rule when it comes to beach re-nourishment.

They’re worried they are giving up part of their property, forever.

Storms, tides, and currents are all the enemy to pristine, wide-open beaches. So every few years, the Army Corps of Engineers pumps in new sand, called re-nourishment.

With some heated debate in Redington Shores, a Pinellas County Coastal Management expert explained, if tax dollars are spent to improve beaches, then the public is entitled to use the area while the Corps is requiring signed easements.

“People are wondering why they have to give easements now when they haven’t in the past. But the Corps' policy is that wherever they are going to place sand, they need have perpetual public access easements,” said Dr. John Bishop.

That’s fine with many homeowners. “We have some residents, I know of some neighbors of mine, they say, hey, if you’re willing to put sand on my beach for free, have at it,” said St. Pete Beach Mayor, Mayor Al Johnson.

MOTE-FWC red tide initiative announces new applied research grant opportunity

Mote Marine Laboratory announced the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative’s first competitive grant opportunity for scientists working to fight red tide impacts on Nov. 7 during the 10th U.S. Symposium on Harmful Algae in Orange Beach, Alabama.

The Initiative is a partnership between Mote—a 64-year nonprofit leader of independent and entrepreneurial marine science including decades of red tide research and monitoring—and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC’s) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute—the primary state-government entity focused on Florida red tide. Florida red tides are harmful algal blooms caused by higher-than-normal concentrations of Karenia brevis, microscopic algae native to the Gulf of Mexico. Florida red tide toxins can cause widespread mortality of fish and marine wildlife and cause respiratory irritation in people. The Initiative establishes an independent, coordinated effort among public and private research entities to develop prevention, control and mitigation technologies and approaches that will decrease Florida red tide impacts on the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida.

The new Initiative, 379.2273 Florida Statutes, was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in June 2019 and provides a $3-million appropriation for six years ($18-million total). There will be six opportunities for scientists to submit competitive grant proposals from 2019–2025, and applicants have the opportunity to partner with Mote scientists and utilize Mote facilities, infrastructure and technology.

DeSantis rolls out water quality website

With the state of the water a paramount issue in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis was at Lover's Key State Park on Fort Myers Beach Tuesday to tout a new website that folks can check to see the latest news on the safety of their water.

The website is ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov and it is up and running. It provides updates on water quality issues from red tide to algal bloom and health notifications.

The website currently focuses on three bodies of water, the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River. Eventually, it will include all of Florida's waterways, DeSantis said.

Southwest Florida residents can check the red tide along the Caloosahatchee River from here to Sanibel and Boca Grande. Currently, the map on Fort Myers Beach has a caution sign which states, "Red Tide Algae may be in these waters. Avoid this beach if you have chronic respiratory problems. Keep pets away from water and dead fish. Do not swim near or touch dead fish."

Red Tide back but not as bad -- so far

A Red Tide algae bloom that began off Collier County’s beaches in late September has been inching its way up the coast during October, killing fish and choking beachgoers. On Wednesday, state scientists said the algae was detected in “very low concentrations” off of Pinellas County.

The most recent tests show that the higher concentrations that constitute a bloom have reached an area near Venice, south of Sarasota.

“Bloom concentrations ... were observed in five samples from Sarasota County, two samples from Charlotte County, seven samples from and offshore of Lee County and nine samples from and offshore of Collier County,” the latest Red Tide report from the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

Reports of fish kills have come in from Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, and people have reported breathing problems from the beaches in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

SWFWMD awards grants to schools in Pinellas County for water resources education projects

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) awarded $119,000 in grants to 65 schools within the District as part of the Splash! school grant program. The program provides up to $3,000 per school to enhance student knowledge of freshwater resources in grades K-12.

Splash! grants encourage hands-on student learning through STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities as well as engagement of the greater school community through awareness campaigns. Each school district allocates a portion of their annual youth education funding provided by the District to support the Splash! grants in their county.

The District awarded grants to the following schools/teachers in Pinellas County:

  • Azalea Elementary - Heather Williamson
  • Madeira Beach Fundamental - Natasha Coles
  • Skyview Elementary - Diana Colwell
  • Walsingham Elementary - Tiffany Livingston

Grants are available for freshwater resources field studies, water-conserving garden projects, community or school awareness campaigns and on-site workshops. Last year’s Splash! grants brought water resources education to nearly 10,487 students throughout the District. For more information, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/SchoolGrants.      

St. Petersburg ordinance could require homeowners to replace leaky sewage pipes

St. Petersburg has been plagued by sewage spills since 2015, and now, part of the solution has some residents nervous that they might have to spend thousands to fix sewer pipes on their property.

The major spills -- in St. Petersburg's case, in 2015 and 2016 -- occur when heavy rains flow into cracked and leaking sewer pipes, a process called infiltration and intrusion. The problem peaked after the city shut down one of its sewage processing plants, leaving it with less capacity to process waste.

The city has since budgeted $300 million to repair its public pipes to comply with a state environmental consent order. Now it is turning to property owners, another requirement of the consent order.

“We're asking people to understand that not only is this required of us, what it's really hoping to do is make folks aware of this issue,” said Ben Kirby, the city's spokesman. “Now it's time to determine how much of that infiltration and intrusion problem rests with the citizens and work with them to get that problem fixed.”

St. Pete Beach leaders working on fix for high tide flooding in low lying neighborhoods

Flooding relief is on the way for people living in the Boca Ciega Isle neighborhood of St. Pete Beach.

Jodi McLean moved to the neighborhood nearly 10 years ago.

"You look around and you're in paradise," she said. "I live a mile and a half from The Gulf of Mexico, and there's water right across the street."

But there is one big issue that is costing McLean and her neighbors.

"The flooding is beyond annoying and aggravating," she said.

Boca Ciega is one of the low lying neighborhoods in St. Pete Beach. This means it floods when it rains, and during tidal surges, like "King Tide."

Mote launches stone crab research, education project with new grant

Mote Marine Laboratory is launching a new research and education project aimed at examining which coastal habitats might help stone crabs—a $30-million seafood staple in Florida—survive the growing threat of ocean acidification, thanks to a new grant from Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund.

The $70,000 grant will be matched by Mote and support the latest of several Mote studies to shed light on the 30% decrease in Florida’s yearly stone crab catch since 2000. So far, Mote’s controlled lab studies point out that ocean acidification and high levels of Florida red tide can each have significant impacts on stone crabs throughout different stages of their life cycle.

Female stone crabs brood their eggs—carry them until hatching—in coastal environments vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA), a worldwide decrease in ocean water pH driven by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH estimated to be three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century due to nutrient-rich runoff, a potential threat for sensitive coastal species.

Pinellas County votes to ban horseback riding in waters around Skyway Bridge

CLEARWATER — The sight of horses swimming through the waters near the Skyway Bridge will soon be a thing of the past. Pinellas County Commissioners voted Tuesday, passing an ordinance to protect the waters of Tampa Bay.

“We are a very pristine county,” said Commissioner Janet Long speaking at Tuesday night’s meeting. “It is very, very fragile. We only have one body of water to protect.”

County commissioners said they're worried horseback riding through Tampa Bay was contributing to higher than normal bacterial levels from horses pooping in the water, which could lead to human health risks and environmental damage. There were other concerns as well.

“They’re breaking up those seagrass beds and we need every bit that we have,” said one member of the public who stood up to speak at the meeting.

But, not everyone agreed. Many people said they feel like the county was overreacting and singling out a small number of horses when commissioners should be cracking down on much bigger offenders.

“To me, it’s kind of silly to worry about a little bit of horse poop when the city of St. Pete is pumping millions of gallons of sewage into the Bay,” said another public speaker.

In the end, commissioners approved the ordinance 5-1 for banning horseback riding in the water.

SWFWMD seeking volunteers for seagrass/water clarity observations

At the most recent meeting of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program's Technical Advisory Committee, Dr. Chris Anastasiou announced that the Southwest Florida Water Management District will begin conducting aerial seagrass surveys for the gulf coast (Levy to Charlotte counties) beginning this November.

Volunteer observers are needed to provide water clarity observations. Observers must be available on potential flight days to take a photo and report on water clarity conditions (>2m necessary) using a secchi disk or visual estimate. Observations should be taken every day and shared with the SWFWMD via web upload by 0830AM.

Please share within your networks and contact Chris with any questions if you are interested in helping with this important effort:

Cell: (813) 310-6809
Office: (813) 985-7481 x2029
Chris.anastasiou@swfwmd.state.fl