An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Private beach owners in Pinellas County should seek permits for any changes

Pinellas County Environmental Management is advising beachfront property owners not to install fences or signage or make any other structural changes seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) without first obtaining state and local approvals.

The new state law does not grant beach property owners unfettered rights to the dry beach behind their properties above the mean water line (MHWL). While the new law limits the ability of local governments to enact ordinances impacting private beaches, beach ownership is complicated, and in many cases portions of the upland are either owned by the State of Florida, protected by environmental regulations, or open to the public by virtue of other rules or agreements. All Pinellas County barrier island municipalities have ordinances that apply to beach activities, and the state has rules governing activities seaward of the CCCL.

Beach property owners should first check with their local barrier island government and then contact the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to learn what is allowed seaward of the CCCL.

For more detailed information including links to the CCCL map and permitting resources, visit the link below.

Manatee County repairs sinkholes at Bradenton shopping plaza

Despite fines, the delinquent property owner has failed to address the issue

BRADENTON – Manatee County has decided to use taxpayer money to fix sinkholes in a Bradenton shopping plaza.

Officials say the depressions formed after the property owner failed to repair underground pipes.

Deon Sarlls has owned Plato's Closet here at Cortez Plaza East for 12 years. Business was good, until two years ago.

"It started in one spot and it slowly migrated to two or three other spots,” Sarlls recalled.

Sinkholes have formed in the parking lot because of broken storm-water pipes.

Manatee County says the pipe system dates to the 1950s. The pipes are corroded from rust and the leaking water caused these holes.

“It's created a deficit in the bottom of the pipe which has led to erosion which has led to the holes that have opened up in the parking lot,” explained Manatee County Field Maintenance Division Manager Myra Prater.

Officials say the property owner, Bradenton Associates, LLC, is responsible for repairs. But despite daily fines, nothing has been done.

Administrative judge to hear Polk and Manasota regional water dispute

Water war heating up as Polk Regional Water Cooperative argues 50-year permit sought by Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority to double water it can withdraw.

BARTOW — The regional water war continues.

In the coming months, a judge from the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings will listen to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s argument that the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority should not be allowed to obtain a 50-year permit that would more than double the amount of water it can withdraw.

On June 25, Chris Tumminia, a lawyer for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), wrote to the chief judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings.

“The District has concerns regarding whether it conclusively appears from the face of the Petitions that the pleadings contain defects that cannot be cured,” Tumminia wrote. “However in an abundance of caution the District requests that you assign this matter to an Administrative Law Judge to conduct all necessary and formal proceedings.”

Ryan Taylor, executive director of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, and George Lindsey, who represents Polk on the PRWC, said they hope the two sides can reach a compromise before the hearing. A date for the hearing has not been set.

The PRWC represents the county and 15 cities, including Lakeland.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida Coast

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Thanks to whale shark sightings reported by the public off the southwest Florida coast in early June, scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory located five of the polka-dotted, filter-feeding giants and tagged two of them with tracking devices on the afternoon of June 14.

All five whale sharks were found offshore of Longboat Key and New Pass, feeding at the surface possibly on fish eggs as well as other forms of plankton.

“It is not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted feeding in the Gulf this time of year, but the duration of their stay is longer than in previous years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote. “Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.”

The first shark, a 16-foot-long male nicknamed “Colt,” was tagged around 12:30 p.m., about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County. As the team was traveling back to shore around 2 p.m., they found and tagged a 22- to 25-foot female nicknamed “Minnie” and photographed her unique spot patterns for later identification. Three more whale sharks were found and photographed in a group closer to shore.

The trip was made possible by Captain Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts, who transported the research team on his large vessel, allowing them to travel far and fast enough to locate the animals.

The tracking tags will store data about the whale sharks’ location, and the depths and temperatures they encounter.

Registration open for Florida Waters Stewardship course

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Become a Water Steward – Working With Water, Working With People

To make a difference concerning the issues surrounding water quality and quantity in our communities, we must understand the various ways in which we interact with water. As Floridians, we are connected to our oceans and bays by our faucets and laundries, to our neighborhood ponds and lakes by our yards and streets, and to our regional and statewide neighbors by our surface and groundwater supplies. Course fee is $125 per person, or $200 for two people registering together.

This new program will use expert presentations, online explorations, experiential learning, field experience in watershed science, and communication skills training to foster a greater understanding of these interactions and provide the tools necessary to become stewards of our water resources.

During the course, participants will travel to locations across Pinellas County to explore the natural beauty, learn about emerging water issues, and meet with local experts.

Participants will also work together to plan and implement a stewardship project that makes a difference in the community, attend a relevant stakeholder meeting and explore online resources to learn more about water between class sessions.

The evening classes will meet on the following dates at various locations: Aug. 23, Sept. 6, Sept. 18, Oct. 2, Oct. 16, Oct. 30, Nov. 13.

In addition to the sessions listed above, the group will meet informally on other dates to discuss a class stewardship project in more detail, tentatively Sept. 15 and Sept. 29.

Course requirements:

  • Attend at least five of the seven sessions, two of which MUST be the first and last ones (Session #1 and Session #7)
  • Attend and briefly describe a stakeholder gathering
  • Complete online mini-sessions
  • Participate in the online forum discussions
  • Be actively involved in our class stewardship project

This course has limited seating/availability. Register early to reserve your spot. Youth (under 18) are eligible to register as long as an accompanying adult is also registered for the program)

For more information about this course, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County Natural Resources Agent, Lara Milligan at or 727-453-6905.

Will sargassum be the next algae problem in Florida?

The Gulf Coast of Florida is already dealing with two different algae blooms: a red tide on many beaches south of Manatee County and blue-green algae spilling into the Gulf from Lake Okeechobee; but now outbreaks of a larger species of seaweed have even reached Florida. Beginning about seven years ago, beaches throughout the Caribbean Sea have been swamped by feet-thick blooms of Sargassum.

Amy Siuda is an assistant professor of marine science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and is trying to figure out if this Sargassum is a different species than is commonly found in the Caribbean.

“Sargassum is a brown algae, a type of seaweed, that is common throughout the tropics and temperate region. There are hundreds of species of Sargassum and most are attached to the bottom like normal seaweeds. But there are two species that are known right now — of Sargassum — that live their entire lives not attached to the bottom. So those two species have been associated with the Sargasso Sea out in the center of the North Atlantic [Ocean].”

And oftentimes critters live right among these floating algae.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program: to improve water quality, breach causeways

Old Tampa Bay: it’s the most northerly section of the Bay and furthest from the mouth – where the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is located – so that leads to the water there being the most stagnant. The executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program told a St. Petersburg City Council committee this month that means there’s poor water quality, inconsistent seagrass recovery and summertime algae blooms by a genus called Pyrodinium, which is different from the red tide alga. But Ed Sherwood says there’s a way to improve the water quality in Old Tampa Bay – by constructing more pathways for water by breaching bridge causeways, thereby restoring water flow.

“These causeways are impeding circulation and could be contributing to the poor water quality conditions in Old Tampa Bay. And we’ve been working with the Florida Department of Transportation [DOT] since about 2015 to get them to think about breaching these causeways as they’re doing these bridge replacement projects.

“And in fact, there’s one going on right now. If you’ve passed over the Courtney Campbell Causeway on the Rocky Point side — the Tampa side — there’s actually being a breach constructed in the Courtney Campbell Causeway to improve water circulation north of the causeway on the Tampa side.

“So what we’re asking DOT to consider is doing that again when they look at replacing the Howard Frankland Bridge. And what we’re asking them to consider is on that western causeway approach, on the St. Pete side this time.

“And what we’re trying to achieve is basically that picture of what the Bay looked like prior to a lot of these bridges being constructed. Recreating the circulation patterns of the tide coming in and going out and not being obstructed by these causeways. Part of the reason why that particular algal species blooms in this portion of Old Tampa Bay is because the tidal circulation pattern goes up and creates a gyre. And the water just sits there and provides nutrient sources to that particular algal species and that persists through the summertime, until we get flushing rains and the Bay turns over, so to speak.

“What we’re trying to get DOT to consider is reestablishing some of those circulation patterns through those causeway breaches.”

Tampa City Council kills controversial plan to fill in open waters in Tampa Bay

The Tampa City Council has buried a plan to fill in part of Tampa Bay to create land for expensive homes.

Now they're taking action to fill in gaps in the city's comprehensive plan so no one can revive a form of development that went out of style with bell bottoms and smoking in airplanes: dredge and fill.

The unanimous vote on a project that had riled the Rocky Point neighborhood near the Courtney Campbell Causeway came after nearly three hours of discussion late Thursday. Dozens of residents pleaded with council members not to allow a developer to fill in open water off North Rocky Point Drive, where they often see manatees and dolphins, to build town homes. A few hundred residents showed up, overflowing council chambers and crowding into the hallway.

"When I think about this filling, this outdated policy that was essentially outlawed in the 1970s, why are we going backwards? This is 2018," said council member Guido Maniscalco, who represents the area.

Immediately after the vote, council member Charlie Miranda made a motion to ask the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission to bring back an amendment that would explicitly ban dredge and fill projects for residential development. The city's comprehensive plan currently lacks that language.

Commission Planner David Hey said the change could be ready for council consideration in about six months.

Most of the meeting was dominated by Rocky Point residents, who lined up to register their concerns.

Red tide still lingering at Sarasota, Manatee County beaches

SARASOTA — Sarasota and Manatee County beachgoers could feel some respiratory irritation from red tide at Lido Beach, South Lido Park, Siesta Key and Turtle Beach, where the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County reported low red tide cell counts. The effects will be more prevalent farther south at Nokomis Beach, North Jetty, Venice Beach, Service Club Park, Venice Fishing Pier, Brohard (dog) Beach, Caspersen Beach and Blind Pass, where red tide levels are high.

High concentrations of red tide and discolored water have also been reported at Manasota Beach.

There were no observed effects at Longboat Key or Bird Key Park, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County says.

The algae is not expected to move much over the next three days, according to the University of South Florida-Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Collarboration for Prediction of Red Tide, which forecasts harmful algal blooms in Florida.

Experts began monitoring the current red tide bloom that has killed thousands of fish, sea turtles, a duck and a manatee in Southwest Florida, beginning last October, according to FWC Research Division spokeswoman Michelle Kerr.

Kerr said sea turtles and manatees are infected by ingesting sea grass blades and shellfish. She said the FWC has documented more than 200 reports through the Fish Kill Hotline.

Mote scientists studying possible remedy for red tide

What if organisms in Sarasota Bay could help tame the effects of red tide? That's what researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory are hoping to find out.

This week, Mote is starting a lab study on whether certain organisms have any effect on Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for toxic algal blooms called red tide. When the naturally-occurring organism gathers in dangerous amounts, it can lead to respiratory irritation in humans and often causes fish kills.

The study will use six ladder-like structures that have had time to accumulate filamentous green algae — the stringy, matted plant that typically is the first to attach to underwater structures — and filter feeders like barnacles, tunicates and oysters in Sarasota Bay.

Tampa city council to consider townhome project that would fill part of Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Opposition is mounting to a plan for filling in three acres of a Rocky Point cove to build luxury townhomes, but proponents say they’re confident of approval.

A measure paving the way for the project met with approval a month ago from the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, but since then, environmental groups have been lobbying City Hall and a nearby neighborhood has launched an online campaign to hire an attorney.

City staff has recommended that Tampa City Council members reject the measure, a land-use amendment, when it comes before them June 28. Mayor Bob Buckhorn also said he opposes the project.

"It’s a horrendous precedent to be filling in part of our bay, that we’re trying to clean up and maintain," said Mary Keith, president of the Tampa Chapter of the Audubon Society. In a letter to the city, Audubon’s state advocacy director warned the move would create a "destructive" precedent that would "spawn copy cat" dredge and fill projects around the state.

No private developer has filled in the waters around Tampa Bay for at least 20 years, planning officials said. The practice created neighborhoods like Snell Isles in St. Petersburg and Tampa’s Davis Islands but had largely ended by the 1970s after state and federal laws cracked down on the practice.


Unique wetlands research project earns Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council recognition

TAMPA – The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPC), in partnership with Dr. Aaron Brown representing the University of South Florida (USF) and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), and Dr. Kim Haag of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), received the prestigious Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s (TBRPC) Future of the Region Award for Natural Environment at an awards luncheon held on May 18, 2018.

The TBRPC awards are among the highest honors presented in the Tampa Bay area and they highlight “projects and programs that exemplify regionalism, and recognize[] outstanding achievements and contributions that benefit the regional community.” Award categories include Built Environment; Community Preparedness; Community Service; Economy and Energy; Natural Environment; and Transportation and Mobility.

The Natural Environment recognition was presented to the EPC and its research partners for a first-of-a-kind wetlands study conducted in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded the $227K study which assessed the effectiveness of permitting, monitoring, and compliance activities involving freshwater wetland mitigation projects in Hillsborough County. It also identified environmental factors that may improve mitigation design, evaluation, and long-term success over time. Such factors include diverse planting plans which utilize native species identified during the wetlands survey process; encouraging designs that maximize wetland areas; and establishing control structures that do not require maintenance, such as earthen berms and weirs.

Since the inception of the EPC’s Wetlands program, there has been no net loss of wetlands in the County. The EPC is utilizing the research results and recommendations to continue improving the quality and success of the wetland mitigation projects it regulates.

The fate of Florida's wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Red tide largely spares Manatee County, but plagues beaches to the south

MANATEE COUNTY – The shores of Manatee County have lately been relatively free of the effects of red tide. But as beachgoers venture farther south along the Gulf of Mexico, it's a different story.

On Monday afternoon, beaches from Lido Key to Venice North Jetty reported some dead fish, some respiratory irritation or a little bit of both. This is according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab, or SO COOL for short, which gathers the conditions of 29 beaches from Caladesi Island to Marco Island.

The Karenia brevis organism is naturally occurring but when it accumulates in toxic amounts, it becomes red tide. It's obvious to tell when red tide is on a beach when itchy, watery eyes or scratchy throats become unbearable, or if dead fish litter the shore.

Vince Lovko, phytoplankton ecology scientist with Mote Marine, said this particular bloom is "unusual, not remarkable." By this, he means that although red tide is typically known to appear between late summer and early fall, this particular instance in Manatee and Sarasota waters isn't that strange. The first day of summer is Thursday.

"Certainly we are aware that red tide ... can happen any time of the year," Lovko said.

The trouble is knowing enough about K. brevis to predict when it's going to happen, or to stop it from happening altogether. He compared it to predicting the weather.

"We don't try to change the weather, but we do try to get better at predicting it," he said.

He suspects that the recent harmful algal bloom is actually part of a bloom that has persisted since November 2017.