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Water-Related News

Manatee County finalizes purchase for Johnson Preserve at Braden River

MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County Government and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast today announced the permanent protection of a 44.5-acre preserve on the Braden River that will be named the Floyd C. Johnson & Flo Singer Johnson Preserve at Braden River.

Over the past six months volunteers, donors, private foundations and the Manatee County Commissioners worked together to find a way to purchase the land, the majority of which was slated for development.

Located on the Braden River east of I-75, the 44.5-acre oasis of nature is home to an amazing diversity of plants and animals not normally seen in similar suburban areas, with mature live oaks, tall long leaf pines, important wetlands that store water preventing flooding, imperiled swallowtail kites and gopher tortoises. The land’s riverfront and floodplain forests are part of a corridor linking natural habitat along the Braden River, which supplies drinking water for the City of Bradenton.

FISH nets new funding from fundraiser, FWC

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) received another much-needed injection of funding at its June 4 meeting.

Coming off a sub-par Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival fundraiser, FISH board members said they hoped to fill in the revenue shortfall by other means.

And so they did.

FISH raised $30,000 through participation in the Giving Challenge in May.

The next fiscal gain was larger. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced a gift of $116,000 to help FISH remove invasive vegetation and enhance the 95-acre preserve established by the organization to buffer the fishing village from development.

“This was the highest-scoring and most-liked of all projects statewide,” said Corey Anderson of the FWC. “It has lots of support from lots of people.”

The money will pay for clearing exotic trees and tidal channel excavation within the 95-acre FISH Preserve. Invasive Australian pine and Brazilian pepper trees will be removed from 2.4 acres and tidal channels will be excavated on approximately 1 acre.

The only catch: the money, which will be available July 1, must be spent within 12 months of receipt.

“That’s a relatively quick turnaround,” Anderson said.

Anderson emphasized the money is not a grant. It comes from a $300,000 FWC trust fund dedicated to supporting freshwater marine projects.

The FWC is hiring, supervising and paying the contractor.

FISH is responsible for fulfilling the FWC’s scope-of-work document. FISH has secured permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, according to vice president Jane von Hahmann.

The funding puts FISH, the Cortez group dedicated to preserving and enhancing the commercial fishing way of life, back on track.

Founded in 1991, FISH also operates boat-building and repair programs and members lobby against land developments deemed harmful to commercial fishing.

FISH will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, July 2, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4511 124th St. W.

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.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

Mote to host fifth Sarasota Lionfish Derby

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Mote Marine Laboratory and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) are teaming up to help combat invasive lionfish that are taking over the Gulf of Mexico. Get ready for the July 6-8 Sarasota Lionfish Derby hosted by Mote, an environmentally beneficial event that helps divers harvest lionfish and provides public education. Join local chefs for a lionfish tasting competition, tickets available for $15 per person.

Lionfish Derbies are an important way to harvest large numbers of this invasive species that has spread along the eastern Atlantic coast, Columbia to Escambia counties. Derbies help divers harvest lionfish and provide public education.

This year’s event will be based at Mote, with a captain's meeting on July 6, lionfish hunting July 7 in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico — tournament boundaries are defined as Collier County to Escambia County — and the lionfish weigh-in July 8 at Mote Marine Laboratory. Cost to participate in the Derby is $120.00 per team (minimum 2 people per team, maximum 4 people). The public is invited to join Mote scientists and derby participants at the weigh-in for educational dissections and lionfish tastings on Sunday.

Trump's move to redefine water rule threatens wetlands banks

GAINESVILLE — A private firm is making big money selling promises about some gator-infested Florida swampland.

The Panther Island Mitigation Bank isn't another land boondoggle, but part of a federal system designed to restore wetlands across the United States. Panther Island's owners preserved one of the nation's last stands of virgin bald cypress, 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) on the western edge of the Everglades where they cleared away invasive plants and welcomed back wood storks, otters and other native flora and fauna.

Banks like this sell "wetlands mitigation credits" to developers for up to $300,000 apiece, offsetting the destruction of marshes by construction projects elsewhere. It's a billion-dollar industry that has slowed the loss of U.S. wetlands, half of which are already gone.

This uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands, growing a market for mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups.

Now the market is at risk.

Administrator Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency has completed a proposal for implementing President Donald Trump's executive order to replace the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, with a much more limited definition of what constitutes a protected federal waterway.

Study: Anatartica's ice is rapidly melting, threatening coastal communities worldwide

OSLO – An accelerating thaw of Antarctica has pushed up world sea levels by almost a centimeter since the early 1990s in a risk for coasts from Pacific islands to Florida, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

Antarctica has enough ice to raise seas by 190 feet if it ever all melted, dwarfing frozen stores in places from Greenland to the Himalayas and making its future the biggest uncertainty in understanding global warming and ocean levels.

The frozen continent lost almost 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

The thaw, tracked by satellite data and other measurements, contributed 0.3 inches to sea level rise since 1992, they wrote in the journal Nature.

And the ice losses quickened to 219 billion tons a year since 2012, from 76 billion previously. "The sharp increase … is a big surprise," professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds and a leader of the report, told Reuters.

Tampa Bay spill preparation requires constant vigilance and cooperation

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Florida’s stunning Tampa Bay stands out as exactly the kind of place where you have to think about hazardous materials emergencies. It was 25 years ago, on August 10, 1993, that a freighter collided with two barges near the entrance of Tampa Bay, causing a fire and spilling over 32,000 gallons of jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline and about 330,000 gallons of heavy fuel, devastating beaches, wildlife and habitat. Tampa Bay doesn’t want to relive it.

At 400-square miles, Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida. It also boasts more than 80 miles of manmade deepwater shipping channels. The Port of Tampa is also among the nation’s busiest. Every year, more than 4 billion gallons of oil, fertilizer components and other hazardous materials pass through Tampa Bay, all of it transiting the most diverse water bird nesting colonies in North America.

Preparing for and Preventing the Next Big One

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) was established by Congress (in 1991) to assist with Bay protection and improvement efforts. TBEP has a “Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan” to sustain progress in bay restoration through the year 2027. Spill prevention and response gets major attention, which TBEP divides into two broad parts:

•  Technology to improve ship coordination, and
•  A focus on specific environmental priority areas.

For example, Tampa Bay’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) provides information about tides, winds and currents. The Bay is one of a few Coast Guard sites testing virtual, or electronic, navigation aids. On the policy side the Bay has a public-private sector Spill Committee that meets monthly. Readiness includes unannounced drills at industrial facilities. A full-scale test of the Area Contingency Plan is held every four years, at a cost of $100,000.

Tampa Bay is unique, but on the other hand it isn’t. Comprehensive ‘hazmat’ planning occurs everywhere. That’s because, as former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Jim Loy used to say, “If you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port.” Tampa Bay hasn’t had a major spill in 25 years, a record of success largely duplicated across the United States. On the other hand, familiarity breeds contempt in much the same way that complacency tends to distract. In as little as 10 years, autonomous vessels might transit Tampa Bay, or a hundred places in between. Stakeholders find themselves asking, “Does an accident in 1993 properly advise scenario assessments for 2023?”

Photo credit: PORTS

Last call for entries in Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards

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CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay Water, the University of Florida IFAS Extension and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program are accepting final entries for the 2018 Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards. The deadline is quickly approaching and Tampa Bay Water urges all applicants to apply today! The application is available at tampabaywaterwise.org and must be received by June 30.

Residents, businesses, and community organizations in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties are eligible to apply.

Winners receive a custom-made, mosaic landscape stepping stone created by a local artist and the award is presented during a ceremony with county commissioners, city council members or mayors within their local governments.

Each landscape entry is evaluated and scored on-site by a University of Florida IFAS County Extension representative during regular business hours; applicants are not required to be present for this evaluation.

Getting your hands on the award stone requires balancing Florida-friendly plants and landscape elements with attractive design and minimal maintenance, as well as using water-efficient irrigation techniques that reduce water use.

Winning landscapes represent the beauty and resiliency of our natural environment, and awards are given to those who are truly committed to conserving our water resources.

If your yard combines elements of beauty, creativity and water efficiency — don’t wait until the deadline, apply today at tampabaywaterwise.org.

About the Community Water-Wise Awards

The Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards program is designed to recognize attractive, water-conserving landscapes in various water-use sectors (e.g., homes, businesses, industry and government). Moreover, the program seeks to identify actual examples of outstanding Florida-friendly, water-wise landscaping and to promote those principles within the community. To learn more, visit tampabaywaterwise.org

Rainy season fertilizer restrictions now in effect

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Residents and landscapers are reminded that Pinellas County’s fertilizer ordinance prohibits the sale or application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30. Phosphorous cannot be used at any time of the year unless a soil test confirms that it is needed.

The ordinance regulates landscape maintenance practices year-round and the sale and use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous during the rainy season. Homeowners, landscapers and lawn care services must follow the practices described in the ordinance or face fines up to $10,000 per day. All landscapers who apply fertilizer in the county must display a Pinellas County-certified vehicle decal.

The nitrogen/phosphorous ban aims to prevent fertilizer runoff from entering storm drains and lakes, ponds, rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous can cause harmful algae blooms that lower oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Recent data shows that the ordinance is having a positive impact on the aquatic environment.

Pinellas County Environmental Management recommends the following Florida-friendly lawn care best 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, as well as other environmentally friendly landscape products, available at your favorite lawn and garden store.
  • Use compost to enrich soil.
  • Set lawn mower blades between 3½ to 4 inches for St. Augustine turf to encourage deep roots that resist 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 skipping fertilizer can visit, www.befloridian.org. To learn more about Pinellas County’s landscape and fertilizer restrictions, visit the link below.

Mulberry sinkhole filled, trust issues linger for Mosaic

NEW WALES – A massive sinkhole that swallowed millions of gallons of radioactive water and threatened nearby wells in Mulberry is finally filled.

Mosaic says it took nearly two years and 20,000 cubic yards of grout to fill the void at the New Wales fertilizer plant.

The sinkhole cratered beneath a gypsum stack in late August 2016.

It flushed 215 million gallons of slightly radioactive contaminated water used in the fertilizer process into the aquifer.

Mosaic contends it is capturing that water with an aggressive pumping effort.

But after a less than forthcoming beginning, neighbors aren't so sure.

"It sounds good, I reckon, but I don't believe it. Nobody else does either. I don't think they do," said neighbor Eddie Tuten.

Our investigation found that in late August 2016, Mosaic employees saw an alarming dip in the water level in the gypsum stack.

The company alerted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP kept it quiet for nearly three weeks, failing to notify neighbors who were on well water.

See a whale shark in the Gulf? Call Mote Marine Lab immediately!

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Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Mote Marine Laboratory received a report of five whale sharks — Earth’s largest fish species — about 40 miles off Anna Maria Island last weekend, and Mote scientists are asking members of the public to report new sightings off Florida’s Gulf Coast immediately.

“It’s exciting that we are hearing reports of five whale sharks in one area, because it suggests they might be feeding on something in a special spot,” said Dr. Bob Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote.

Whale sharks sporadically visit Southwest Florida’s coastal waters, most likely to filter-feed on localized blooms of plankton or fish eggs. They are easily identified by their massive size, up to about 45 feet, and their polka dot coloration. “It’s important to understand where these sharks migrate, feed and carry out other key parts of their life cycles, so that resource managers can successfully protect them,” Hueter said. “We have placed satellite-linked tracking tags on numerous whale sharks at a major feeding aggregation off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the past decade, but it’s rarer that we can find and tag these huge fish off Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

If others are reported in the Gulf, Hueter and partners want to attach a special type of satellite tag to one or more of these gentle giants, to collect data on their geographic location and the temperatures and depths they encounter over a six-month period.

This tag trails behind the shark’s first dorsal fin on a short tether and, whenever the shark is at the surface, the tag transmits precise location data. Retrieving the tag will yield extensive data, but if it cannot be recovered, the scientists will still receive real-time GPS signals from the tag, revealing where the shark is traveling, along with other summarized data on depth and temperature.

Please report any whale shark sightings in the Gulf of Mexico immediately from your boat or just after disembarking, within 24 hours at most, to Dr. Bob Hueter at Mote’s Center for Shark Research: 941-302-0976. Please note the number of whale sharks spotted, the date, time, location and exact GPS coordinates if possible.

Rainy season fertilizer restrictions now in effect

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Residents and landscapers are reminded that Pinellas County’s fertilizer ordinance prohibits the sale or application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30. Phosphorous cannot be used at any time of the year unless a soil test confirms that it is needed.

The ordinance regulates landscape maintenance practices year-round and the sale and use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous during the rainy season. Homeowners, landscapers and lawn care services must follow the practices described in the ordinance or face fines up to $10,000 per day. All landscapers who apply fertilizer in the county must display a Pinellas County-certified vehicle decal.

The nitrogen/phosphorous ban aims to prevent fertilizer runoff from entering storm drains and lakes, ponds, rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous can cause harmful algae blooms that lower oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Recent data shows that the ordinance is having a positive impact on the aquatic environment.

Pinellas County Environmental Management recommends the following Florida-friendly lawn care best 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, as well as other environmentally friendly landscape products, available at your favorite lawn and garden store.
  • Use compost to enrich soil.
  • Set lawn mower blades between 3½ to 4 inches for St. Augustine turf to encourage deep roots that resist 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 skipping fertilizer can visit the Be Floridian website.

Public's help solicited in locating marine debris hot spots

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A new map funded by a Tampa Bay Estuary Program Mini-Grant is designed to use crowdsourced data to help determine what areas around Tampa Bay have the highest concentrations of marine debris. The tides and currents can carry debris from the land and deposit it anywhere along shore, but frequently it collects in specific locations. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission created the interactive map to get information from the public about where they commonly find trash accumulating, so that cleanup organizations can focus on these spots and allocate more resources to keeping them clean!

Users can visit the map to see details about high-trash areas already identified: type of debris, estimated quantity (# of pieces), weight of the items (lbs.), and photos of the area. Using the map's tools, they can add their own information to these pre-identified spots or add new locations where they see garbage collecting.

Because many areas are not be accessible by car, information from boaters, kayakers, and paddle-boarders is especially valuable. If you have any difficulty using the new map or need help to add information, please email Ryan.Druyor@myfwc.com. Please include any information that you would like to share and attach images you have of the site.

Tampa Bay Mini-Grants are funded by sales of TBEP's "tarpon tag". To help support projects, like this, get a Tampa Bay Estuary license plate for your vehicle!

Crews from St. Pete help Bradenton clean up sewage spill

ST. PETERSBURG — When Bradenton public works crews found themselves overwhelmed by a sewage spill Friday, the city's public works department joined with other nearby crews to help clean up the spill.

It all started Thursday when a contractor mistakenly broke a sanitary sewer force main — the pipeline that conveys wastewater.

City of Bradenton crews mobilized to suck up the spills and convey the wastewater to its treatment plant. However, by Friday morning, it was clear the job was too big for the city crews, said Jim Martin with Bradenton Public Works. So they put out the call for help.

Martin said they received assistance from about half a dozen counties, including Manatee, Charlotte and Hillsborough.

The city of St. Petersburg sent a pair of vactor truck crews to assist, said public works spokesman Bill Logan. These trucks have pumps and tanks that are designed to suck up liquids, sludge and sewage.

"We're in this together," St. Petersburg Water Resources Director John Palenchar said. "We're all there to help."

Crews vacuumed waste water and transferred the sewage to non-damaged pipes. Some sewage seeped into storm drains, but it's not clear at this point how much.

Despite the consequences of the spill, Martin said Friday was an example of how cleanups should work — a group of teams coming together to clear the scene as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"We all work for the same people, the public," Martin said. "That's the way it should be."

St. Pete in talks with TECO to discuss biogas project

ST. PETERSBURG — City officials have had two meetings with representatives from TECO Peoples Gas this month to determine whether its possible to use natural gas to power its sanitation trucks.

The renewable energy would come from a $93.6 million biosolids project that the city has been working on for seven years. Now set to be completed in June 2019, the project is designed to convert wastewater byproducts into methane gas at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility next to Eckerd College.

The goal is for that biogas to then integrated into the natural gas distribution system for TECO Peoples Gas.

The project was first conceived in 2011 but all these years later still faces unanswered questions such as: Is Peoples Gas willing to provide a pipeline to get the gas from the new facility to the trucks?

City Council members expressed concern at a May 3 meeting that they still don't know whether Peoples Gas will actually commit to the project. Using biogas to fuel the city's garbage truck fleet is a key part of the city's plan to earn money back from the project.

Hurricane season has anxiety running high. How much is development to blame?

MANATEE – Most agree that a major storm packing fast and furious rain events can't stop flooding from taking place across Manatee County. A lot of factors go into it, including the amount of rain, how fast it drops, tides, stormwater pipe capacity, and yes, development.

While new developments come with the bells and whistles of modern stormwater infrastructure and retention ponds, no one is building a new Ware's Creek or a new Cedar Hammock drainage canal. New drainage pipes can whisk away the water from that particular project, but the water still has only so many places to go.

With hurricane season once again upon us, anxiety levels are running high in those neighborhood that have historical flooding issues, as well as areas that have recently been prone to flooding due to surrounding new development.

Tampa Bay still vulnerable to flooding despite major upgrades

Hundreds of millions have been spent on upgrades, but a major storm is still a threat.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ask anyone who drives in South Tampa. When it comes to flooding, they all know the usual suspects.

The city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods were exposed when record rainfall fell in August 2015, leaving cars stranded and homes and businesses flooded.

Since then, Tampa had passed a new set of taxes and fees allowing it to implement a 10-year plan – a total of $251 million for cleanup and construction.

Several projects are already underway, expanding capacity.

In addition to construction, maintenance projects will keep water moving.

“We have cleaned out outfalls to the tune of about 600 tons of material,” said Tampa Public Works Administrator Brad Baird. “We cleaned out ponds of almost 400 tons of material. All to make the system function better.”

Aside from construction, Tampa improvements in just the first year and a half include:

  • 18.8 miles of stormwater ditch grading
  • 136.8 miles of stormwater pipe inspections and cleaning
  • 20,473 curb miles swept
  • 6,944 tons of debris swept up

In St. Petersburg, the same floodwaters overwhelmed the city's sewers.

Areas that typically flood, like Shore Acres on the city’s west side, were isolated for days.

Since then, St. Pete has also spent millions to expand capacity.

Longboat Key group pushes for sea level rise solutions

The Revitalization Task Force sent a letter to island leaders asking for an infrastructure analysis plan about what parts of the island could be impacted by sea level rise.

The Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force has called for local action on sea level rise, saying recent storms and floods portend more drastic conditions in the future.

In a letter to the Town Commission this week, Revitalization Task Force Chairman Tom Freiwald warned island leaders of the potential adverse impacts of rising sea levels, including more intense storms, higher tides and storm surges and a potential decline in property values.

“LBK needs a well thought-out master plan, combined with a timeline of action, in order to counter all the negativities that will soon cloud our reputation as a reliable long-term investment and desirable place to live,” Freiwald wrote.

Global sea level has been rising over the past century, a rate that has increased in recent decades, which the National Ocean Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributes to continued atmospheric and ocean warming.

The average annual rise in sea levels is one-eighth of an inch, according to NOAA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration estimates that by 2100, sea levels could rise anywhere from just over half a foot to six-and-a-half feet. Most of the island would be underwater if sea levels were to rise six feet, according to NOAA projections.

Landowner hopes mitigation bank will save Parrish property from development

MANATEE – The decades upon decades of cattle farming, citrus cultivation and pine production — then the lifeblood of East Manatee — have slashed and stripped the natural features of a plot of land just southeast of Lake Parrish. In an effort to turn back the clock, the latest effort to set aside land for preservation rather than development can be found in the proposed Manatee Mitigation Bank. A mitigation bank is a piece of disturbed wetlands that, once permitted, is cleaned up by the landowner and assessed for "credits." Local developers who unavoidably destroy similar wetlands with their own projects can buy these "credits" from the "banker," or landowner, to offset their impacts. Each credit can be tens of thousands of dollars, and more valuable depending on the type of wetland. Tampa-based Mitchell Family LLC, headed by George Mitchell, filed their plans earlier this year with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal agency is now taking comments for the proposal.