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

Water-Related News

As coastal flooding surges, ‘living shorelines’ seen as the answer

On August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene crashed into North Carolina, eviscerating the Outer Banks. The storm dumped rain shin-high and hurled three-meter storm surges against the barrier island shores that faced the mainland, destroying roads and 1,100 homes.

After the storm, a young ecologist then at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill named Rachel K. Gittman decided to survey the affected areas. Gittman had worked as an environmental consultant for the U.S. Navy on a shoreline-stabilization project and had been shocked to discover how little information existed on coastal resilience. “The more I researched, the more I realized that we just don’t know very much,” she explains. “So much policy and management is being made without the underlying science.” She decided to make shorelines her specialty.

What Gittman found was eye-opening. Along the hard-hit shorelines, three quarters of the bulkheads—typically concrete walls about two meters high that are the standard homeowner defense against the sea in many parts of the country—were damaged. Yet none of the natural marsh shorelines were impaired. The marshes, which extended 10 to 40 meters from the shore, had lost no sediment or elevation from Irene. Although the storm initially reduced the density of their vegetation by more than a third, a year later the greenery had bounced back and was as thick as ever in many cases.

Gittman’s study confirmed what many experts had begun to suspect. “Armored” shorelines such as bulkheads offer less protection against big storms than people think. By reflecting wave energy instead of dispersing it, they tend to wear away at the base, which causes them to gradually tilt seaward. Although they still function well in typical storms, they often backfire when high storm surges overtop them, causing them to breach or collapse, releasing an entire backyard into the sea.

FGCU Study: Airborne toxic cyanobacteria can travel more than a mile inland

FGCU research released Friday shows airborne cyanobacteria toxins can travel more than a mile inland, raising questions about health consequences for those exposed to the region’s recent massive blue-green algae blooms last year.

A bloom of Microcystis aeruginosa began in Lake Okeechobee in early June and was carried into the waters of the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River via discharges from the lake directed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The water had to move, the Corps explained, in order to prevent the Herbert Hoover Dike from failing and flooding the farming towns in the dike's shadow.

Scientists' air samplers found two blue-green algae toxins — Microcystin and BAMA — at the university’s Buckingham complex, said lead scientist Mike Parsons, a professor of marine biology. Both have been linked by some scientists to grave health problems, including liver cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

Sewer system woes prompt St. Pete Beach to seek millions in funding

ST PETE BEACH — The city of St. Pete Beach is seeking at least $12 million from county and state governments to help with sewer system upgrades necessary to keep the city and tourism industry functioning at peak capacity.

“Securing that money will keep us on track,” said Mayor Alan Johnson.

The city’s sewer problems started long before Johnson became mayor. In 2016, rain from Tropical Storm Colin overloaded the sewer systems and forced sewage to discharge into the Boca Ciega Bay.

Over the last eight years, the city has invested about $10 million into upgrading and maintaining sewer systems, but $12 million more is still needed.

There’s also concern among the local hospitality industry, as a city resolution in 2016 put a hold on expansion and major renovations for hotels and multifamily dwellings.

After years of inaction, septic tanks once again focus in Florida

Florida has relied on septic tanks to treat sewage and wastewater for decades, but as the state has grown, the question of overuse and contamination has led lawmakers to push for increased oversight and a shift to sewers where possible.

After the toxic algae and red tide outbreak of 2018, that push is back.

“For too many years, politicians have talked about, 'We’ll fix the Indian River Lagoon,' and then nothing is ever done about it,” Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard County) said.

Fine is pushing for up to $50 million in matching funds to help remove septic tanks and connect sewer systems.

The area of the state that Fine represents has been dealing with septic issues for years. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the Indian River Lagoon comes from septic tanks.

In 2018, the Brevard County Commission passed an ordinance requiring all new septic systems on the barrier islands and inland areas within 200 feet of the lagoon to be built with more expensive, low-nitrogen septic systems. In addition, the county is using its half-cent sales tax to upgrade existing systems or connect people to sewer where available.

Florida is home to more than 3 million septic tanks, 600,000 of which are along the Indian River Lagoon. The state recommends owners have septic systems inspected every three years and pumped every three to five years. But that doesn’t always happen, and it is currently estimated that more than 10 percent of the septic systems in the state are failing, causing problems on both coasts.

Will the Tampa Bay area be under water in 100 years? Rising seas tell a frightening story

Both Tampa and St. Petersburg rank in the top 25 U.S. cities susceptible to sea level rise by 2050.

All it takes is one drive around Tampa Bay to see that our glittering waters are one of our biggest assets.

That fact is perhaps best exemplified in the three-mile expanse that is the Howard Frankland Bridge, a low-lying structure close enough to the water that it makes a drive to and from the airport feel almost like you’re floating on the sea.

But the beauty of the Howard Frankland is tainted by the very thing that makes it special: its proximity to the water. As sea level rise threatens to change our landscape, structures like the Howard Frankland may one day be buried by the ocean.

A look at NOAA’s sea level rise map shows us the image we don’t want to see: The islands and coasts of Tampa Bay slowly fill up with water as the sea level rises foot by foot. Eventually, Treasure Island, St. Petersburg’s bayfront and parts of Tampa’s Riverwalk are all swallowed up.

Florida’s geography puts it at an extreme risk for the effects of sea level rise compared to most U.S. cities. St. Petersburg and Tampa are within the top 25 cities susceptible to coastal flooding due in part to sea level rise in the next 30 years, according to a survey from the nonprofit group Climate Central.

By 2050, about 91,000 people in St. Petersburg and 57,000 in Tampa will live in locations vulnerable to flooding, which will be exacerbated by climate change and rising seas, indicates Climate Central. Residents who live in those areas have at least a 1 percent annual chance of experiencing flooding, based on guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Trump budget falls short on Everglades work, omits new reservoir plan

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget slashes spending by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by 31 percent and fails to include money for an Everglades reservoir aimed at reducing polluted water flushed from Lake Okeechobee to coastal estuaries.

In a Washington press conference on Tuesday, R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for civil works, and Corps commanders said the proposal includes $63 million to help restore Florida’s wetlands and other ecosystems. That includes completing two small reservoirs east and west of Lake Okeechobee, and restoring winding bends in the Kissimmee River. But that’s well short of the $200 million Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers requested for Everglades work.

The budget also omits a vast 17,000-acre reservoir on sugar fields south of the lake to reduce the polluted discharges that last year helped fuel slimy green algae blooms and a red tide that littered the Gulf Coast with dead fish.

Input needed for Local Mitigation Strategy Workshop March 21

Residents and businesses are invited to a workshop and community open house to provide their observations and concerns about local natural and man-made hazards throughout Pinellas County. The event will be held on Thursday, March 21, from 6 – 8 p.m., at the Lealman Exchange, located at 5175 45th Street N., in St. Petersburg.

Attendees will be able to learn more about the Local Mitigation Strategy (LMS) plan, currently-identified hazards such as storm surge vulnerability, sea level rise and flooding, while sharing their observations about different hazards that may be impacting them.

The workshop is the first step in the federally-mandated five-year update of the LMS plan. The LMS is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order for the county and participating municipalities to remain eligible to receive federal hazard mitigation grant funds for projects that eliminate the risks associated with these hazards. The LMS also serves as the county's floodplain management plan, earning credits towards flood insurance premium discounts for property owners within participating jurisdictions under the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System.

The workshop will also include information booths staffed with experts to evaluate a property owner’s risk for flooding, look up flood zones and hurricane evacuation zones, provide advice about purchasing flood insurance and preparing for hurricanes and other emergencies, and information about sea level rise. In addition, members of the Lealman Community Emergency Response Team and Pinellas County Mosquito Control will be onsite to offer their expertise.

For more information about the Local Mitigation Strategy, visit www.pinellaslms.org.

Scientist Refutes Red Tide Dogma

BRADENTON — Dr. Larry E. Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, presented his lecture "Red Tide and Blue/Green Algae, Causes, Human Impacts and Health Consequences" at Suncoast Waterkeeper's annual Brunch for the Bay fundraiser, last Sunday at the Bradenton Yacht Club.

Brand is an expert in the ecology of algae and phytoplankton and holds a Ph.D. from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst./Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His 2007 study on the Karenia brevis algae (red tide) links the long-term increase along the southwest Florida coast to human activity. His research contradicts commonly held theories among other scientists, including the idea that the algal blooms follow a seagrass die-off that occurs after reduced freshwater flow leads to hypersalinity.

Check Your Irrigation Timer When You ‘Spring Forward’ for Daylight Savings Time

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is reminding residents to check the timers on their irrigation system controllers this weekend, which is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.

Saturday night, Mar. 10th, is when we turn our clocks ahead one hour. The time change is also a good time to make sure irrigation system timers are set correctly to ensure that the systems operate consistently with year-round water conservation measures.

All 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries are currently on year-round water conservation measures, with lawn watering limited to twice-per-week unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours. Local governments maintaining once-per-week watering by local ordinance include Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties.

Know and follow your local watering restrictions, but don’t water just because it’s your day. Irrigate your lawn when it shows signs of stress from lack of water. Pay attention to signs of stressed grass:

  • Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
  • Grass blades appear blue-gray.
  • Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

For additional information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

Manatee County to host open house meetings, answer flood map questions

MANATEE COUNTY – FEMA representatives and County officials will hold two meetings in April to answer questions about new FEMA preliminary flood insurance rate maps (FIRM) and elevation requirements that will impact insurance rates for many Manatee County homeowners.

FEMA and County floodplain officials will be on hand to answer questions during open house meetings scheduled for Monday, April 1 from 4 – 7 p.m. and Tuesday, April 2 from 1 – 7 p.m. at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Home and business owners, renters, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, surveyors and insurance agents are encouraged to attend.

Manatee County will send mailer notices to thousands of property owners in the affected areas in unincorporated Manatee County notifying them of the meetings.

Over time, flood risks change due to weather events, environmental changes, erosion, land use and other factors. Maps are updated periodically to reflect these changes. FEMA recently released updated, digital flood hazard maps that show the extent to which areas throughout the county are at risk for flooding.

The new preliminary FIRM is based on updated coastal modeling and Gamble Creek watershed in Parrish. The map shows flood hazards more accurately than older maps. FIRMs indicate whether properties are in areas of high, moderate or low flood risk. After reviewing the new Manatee County FIRM, many property owners may find that their risk is higher or lower than they thought. If the risk level for a property changes, so may the requirement to carry flood insurance.

Residents can find out whether their flood zone has changed at www.mymanatee.org/floodzonechanges

For questions about the maps or the meetings, email flood@mymanatee.org.

Experts testify on algae solutions at Florida Congressional delegation meeting

More funding, more planning, more coordination.

Those were the calls from experts Wednesday morning as the Florida congressional delegation held a hearing on dealing with the state’s algae problem and other water issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of the year for the Florida delegation, co-chaired by Reps. Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan. The bipartisan group also reiterated their opposition to offshore drilling in Florida’s waters.

Secretary Noah Valenstein of the Department of Environmental Protection flew in from Tallahassee to testify at the Wednesday meeting.

Also on hand were Adam Gelber, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Interior; Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium; and Garrett Wallace, the Florida Government Relations Manager of The Nature Conservancy.

One issue that came up during the discussion on freshwater blue-green algae was the review process currently being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers to revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which dictates the water levels of the lake.

Opinion: 5 things Florida must do to protect our waterways

Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, Guest columnists

Bob Graham is a former governor of Florida and U.S. senator. Lee Constantine is a Seminole County commissioner and former state senator and state representative.

Protecting and conserving Florida’s water is an economic as well as environmental issue, not one defined by geography or party lines. Both of us, a Democrat from Miami Lakes and a Republican from Altamonte Springs, have made protecting and restoring Florida’s waters a cornerstone of our public service. Today, we redouble our efforts to safeguard Florida’s most valuable resource.

Spurred by outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae leading to another summer of dramatic loss in revenue and decline of water quality and quantity in Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes, the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), a coalition of over 80 conservation-minded groups, released “A Water Policy for Florida.” This position statement provides an overview of many of the existing threats to our waters and a pathway for their successful conservation, restoration and protection statewide.

The FCC lays out five critical steps that must be undertaken immediately by our policymakers to safeguard our waters:

Red tide killed tons of fish. Part of the comeback starts at Robinson Preserve

Some took off like a rocket, others meandered a bit and one or two even tried to get back into their release bags, but more than 2,000 juvenile redfish and 31 adults all made it safely into the waters of Robinson Preserve on Tuesday morning.

Robinson Preserve was the fourth of several release points affected by red tide during the past 18 months along Florida’s Gulf Coast. In all, more than 16,000 redfish will be released.

A few dozen people came out to Robinson Preserve in Northwest Bradenton to watch as the adults were released one by one and most of the juveniles — between 4-6 inches long — were delivered into the water from their tank via a tube. All of the fish were certified healthy by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the adults were tagged so if caught, anglers can help the state track their movement.

America uses 322 billion gallons of water each day. Here’s where it goes.

As climate change, urban development, irrigation and other factors are altering the availability of water, it’s important to understand how we use water on a daily basis in the U.S. — and where the opportunities are for using it more wisely.

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides an overview of water withdrawals across the country.

The report includes a few surprises. For example, did you know Idaho withdraws the most water nationwide for aquaculture? That Arkansas — the 33rd most-populous state — withdraws the fifth most water, mainly for crop irrigation? Or that power plants are the largest users of water in the country?

Wildlife officials want more mechanical harvesting, fewer chemicals applied to lakes, rivers

Wildlife managers are trying to find ways around spraying chemicals in freshwater systems to control invasive plants, but in some cases that may be impossible.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met this week in Gainesville and discussed a current spraying moratorium the agency enacted earlier this month.

"It’s the biggest part of our program and the reason is it works the best," said Kip Frohlich, a senior staffer for FWC. "We’ve gotten the best control over hyacinth and water lettuce (by spraying chemicals)."  

Florida’s legislators expected to focus heavily on water this session

Florida water advocates have hoped for several years that lawmakers will address water quality issues plaguing the state. For years, environmentalists deemed each annual legislative session to be "the year of water."

Lawmakers promised to clean Florida’s polluted waters by securing funding, finishing restoration projects and addressing pollution sources. Yet — aside from the EAA reservoir in 2017 — each session has ended with few major changes.

2018 saw one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever — dueling toxic red tide and toxic blue-green algae on both coasts and in Indian River County's Blue Cypress Lake.

Now environmentalists across the state wonder if this will be the year that the Legislature heavily focuses on improving the state's water quality.

Legislators in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle are proposing wide-ranging bills that focus on funding water quality and treatment projects, but few bills have been filed that address pollution or nutrient runoff.

Can we address climate change without sacrificing water quality?

Strategies for limiting climate change must take into account their potential impact on water quality through nutrient overload, according to a new study from Carnegie’s Eva Sinha and Anna Michalak published by Nature Communications. Some efforts at reducing carbon emissions could actually increase the risk of water quality impairments, they found.

Rainfall and other precipitation wash nutrients from human activities like agriculture into waterways. When waterways get overloaded with nutrients, a dangerous phenomenon called eutrophication can occur, which can sometime lead to toxin-producing algal blooms or low-oxygen dead zones called hypoxia.

For several years, Sinha and Michalak have been studying the effects of nitrogen runoff and the ways that expected changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change could lead to severe water quality impairments.

In this latest work, they analyzed how an array of different societal decisions about land use, development, agriculture, and climate mitigation could affect the already complex equation of projecting future risks to water quality throughout the continental U.S. They then factored in how climate change-related differences in precipitation patterns would additionally contribute to this overall water quality risk.  

Florida delegation focuses on water quality issues

Members of the Florida congressional delegation will be focusing on water quality in the coming days.

On Friday, the two chairs of the Florida delegation–Democrat U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan–announced they would hold a meeting on “some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State” which will include “red tide, harmful algal blooms, offshore drilling and other water quality issues.”

Buchanan weighed in on Friday morning as to why the meeting was being held.

“Florida’s pristine beaches and rivers are what attract countless visitors to our state each year,” Buchanan said. “It is critical that our bipartisan delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans, waterways, beaches are clean and healthy.

Bay area legislative delegation meets at mote emphasizes red tide responses

Florida legislators in the Bay Area Legislative Delegation (BALD) convened at Mote Marine Laboratory this morning, Feb. 26, to discuss multiple important priorities, including Florida red tide and the critical role of marine science and technology in addressing it.

Mote has led innovative red tide research and technology development for decades in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In addition, Mote scientists served as vital red-tide responders and trusted, independent advisors to all levels of government regarding the unusually persistent Florida red tide bloom from late 2017 to early 2019. The Bay Area Legislative Delegation comprises 38 state legislators representing Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties — more than 25 percent of the Florida legislature.

Today’s meeting included BALD’s state legislators, scientists from Mote (an independent, nonprofit, marine research and science education institution), leaders of FWC, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and Tampa Bay Partnership for discussions of local transportation projects, the Regional Competitiveness Report, and Florida red tide and other harmful algal blooms.

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide

A team of scientists led by Christopher Free, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has published an investigation of how warming waters may affect the productivity of fisheries. The results appear in the journal Science.

The study looked at historical abundance data for 124 species in 38 regions, which represents roughly one-third of the reported global catch. The researchers compared this data to records of ocean temperature and found that 8 percent of populations were significantly negatively impacted by warming, while 4 percent saw positive impacts. Overall, though, the losses outweigh the gains.

"We were surprised how strongly fish populations around the world have already been affected by warming," said Free, "and that, among the populations we studied, the climate 'losers' outweigh the climate 'winners.'"

Region had the greatest influence on how fish responded to rising temperatures, according to the study. Species in the same region tended to respond in similar ways. Fishes in the same families also showed similarities in how they responded to changes. The researchers reasoned that related species would have similar traits and lifecycles, giving them similar strengths and vulnerabilities.

When examining how the availability of fish for food has changed from 1930 to 2010, the researchers saw the greatest losses in productivity in the Sea of Japan, North Sea, Iberian Coastal, Kuroshio Current and Celtic-Biscay Shelf ecoregions. On the other hand, the greatest gains occurred in the Labrador-Newfoundland region, Baltic Sea, Indian Ocean and Northeastern United States.