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Water-Related News

Innovative Red Tide bad air forecast tool working well, but info can be hard to find

An experimental program to offer beachgoers a forecast of how bad the air will be from Red Tide algae toxins has been up and running in Pinellas County for a month now.

Known as the Experimental Red Tide Respiratory Tool, the program seems to be working well so far, according to the county's top environmental official.

The tool "predicts risk levels for respiratory irritation from Red Tide along Pinellas County beaches," the county's web site says. "It is available Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Click on your favorite beach and you will see a forecast every 3 hours."

However, some users are still having problems with it.

The most serious problem: locating the program, which is available from a link on the county's web site.

"When people find it, they love it," Kelli Hammer Levy, Pinellas County's environmental management director, said Monday.

Link to Tool:

Mote hires experienced red tide researcher for new institute

SARASOTA — Mote Marine has hired a researcher to direct its new Red Tide Institute who has decades of laboratory and field experience under her belt studying red tide and other harmful algae.

Cynthia Heil comes from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, where she developed an independent research program focused on water quality, harmful algal blooms and ecosystem management.

She will join Mote on Jan. 1 at the institute, which focuses on studying and testing Florida red tide mitigation and control technologies to improve quality of life for coastal communities affected by the blooms. It was launched in October through a $1 million investment from its founding donor, the Andrew and Judith Economos Charitable Foundation.

By accepting the new position, Heil renews her long-term focus on Karenia brevis (red tide) research in Florida, where she previously served as senior research scientist and administrator and Harmful Algal Bloom Group Leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Earlier, she performed algal bloom research at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.

South Florida company addressing algal blooms with plastic beads

A South Florida environmental technology company has a plan to fight the state's blue-green algae problems with microscopic plastic beads.

Green Water Solution is one of four finalists for the George Barley Water Prize, a $10 million award started by the Everglades Foundation to address toxic algae blooms through new technologies. The prize is intended to fund a technology that can be used around the globe to reduce phosphorus contamination in water.

The CEO of the company, Frank Jochem, has been studying marine sciences and algal blooms for 25 years. He and the director of the George Barley Water Prize, Loren Parra, joined Sundial to talk about the technology.

SWFWMD aims to reduce risk of wildfires by performing prescribed fires

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency last year. That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) will be conducting prescribed burns in November and December in Manatee County.

  • The Southfork Tract is located north of State Road 62, 3 miles east of Saffold Road.
  • Myakka River-Flatford Swamp Preserve is located west of Wachula-Myakka Road, 2 miles north of State Road 70.
  • Gilley Creek is located between State Road 62 and 64, east of County Road 675 and Coker Prairie is located south of State Road 64. Both the Gilley Creek and Cocker Prairie properties are southeast of Parrish.

Approximately 400 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat
  • Maintaining access for public recreation

The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year. Click here to learn more about why igniting prescribed burns now prepares lands for the next wildfire season.

Coastal development, sea rise sent Hurricane Irma storm surge to more homes, study shows

MIAMI — Sea rise and development have put more Florida property at risk to hurricane storm surge flooding — about 43 percent more — according to a recent study that looked at Hurricane Irma’s effect with different sea levels.

NOAA Tidal gauges in Key West show that South Florida has seen about seven inches of sea level rise since the 1970s, which is part of the reason sunny day flooding has worsened in recent decades.

New tool predicts red tide irritation level at Pinellas beaches

By Jorja Roman, Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY — A first of its kind tool is being used in Pinellas County to help beach goers decide which beaches are best to visit while the red tide bloom continues to impact the area.

The county is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, and The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to provide the tool, called the Experimental Red Tide Respiratory Forecast.

The tool shows a prediction of risk level of irritation on certain beaches throughout Pinellas County. The predictions are provided in three hour increments for 24 hours.

“Everyone is unique, but this is a much better picture of what you might experience when you go out there,” said Kelli Levy, the Division Director of Pinellas County Environmental Management.

In map form, the tool has a key showing that red means you could expect strong irritation and blue means barely any will be present. People can click on each beach location on the map to see the predictions.

The agencies use water samples, satellite images, wind conditions, and other factors to provide the prediction.

It’s exciting news for many beach goers, including Stephanie Al-Asrnasi, a Sarasota resident who was visiting Clearwater this weekend.

“I think a lot of people have avoided coming all together because they didn’t think they could even stomach it,” said Al-Arnasi.

The predictions are just that but on Sunday, the prediction for Sand Key beach was accurate with no irritation.

“There’s nothing worse than driving hours or flying in from out of state to have a bad experience and hopefully this tool will allow them to still come here and have great experience,” said Levy.

Residents and tourists are encouraged to use the tool, and provide the agencies conducting the research with feedback if a beach they visit has an accurate or inaccurate prediction.

Watershed groups have a positive impact on local water quality, study finds

Economists have found that in the United States, watershed groups have had a positive impact on their local water quality.

A new published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides the first empirical evidence that nonprofit organizations can provide public goods, said Christian Langpap, an Oregon State University economist and study co-author with Laura Grant, an assistant professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College.

In economics, a public good is a commodity or service that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from using, and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others. For these reasons, public goods can't be provided for profit and nonprofits can play an important role.

"Environmental nonprofit groups are assumed to provide public goods," said Langpap, an associate professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "But until now that assumption has never been tested empirically. We determined that the presence of water groups in a watershed resulted in improved water quality and higher proportions of swimmable and fishable water bodies."

The presence and activity of watershed groups can impact water quality in various ways, including oversight and monitoring, direct actions such as organizing volunteers for cleanups or restoration, and indirect actions like advocacy and education.

The researchers' analysis combined data on water quality and watershed groups for 2,150 watersheds in the continental United States from 1996 to 2008. The number of watershed groups across the lower 48 tripled during this period, from 500 to 1,500.

Cross-Bay Ferry returns to Tampa Bay

The CrossBay Ferry, a seasonal service connecting Tampa and Saint Petersburg, will return November 1 with new hours of operation and cheaper fares.

Operated by Seattle-based HMS Ferry, the ferry will run from Tuesday through Sunday and offer later hours, including 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday; and 4:30 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday.

“It's going to provide better access to events, recreation, and hospitality in both cities,” Ed Turanchik, an HMS Ferry attorney and Tampa mayoral candidate, says. “[It will be] much better for people going from Tampa to dine in Saint Petersburg and better for people in Saint Petersburg to come over and go to events at Amelie Arena, for example.”

One-way adult fares will cost $8 per person, compared to $10 charged in its pilot season. Fares for kids aged 5 to 18 will cost $3, while seniors, college students, and military members will cost $5.

Cooler weather won't help with red tide, but season change could

SUNSET BEACH — It’s late October and the water is still that dark red tide color at some southern Pinellas County beaches.

Like many vacationers this year, Angie Smith and her family were concerned about the red tide.

"I can’t imagine that it would last that much longer just because it's been going on for so long," said daughter Ally Smith.

Luckily it wasn’t as bad as they thought and they’ve been able to enjoy their vacation at Treasure Island Beach.

But everyone can agree that this red tide has lasted a long time. Oceanographers from NOAA say that this algae bloom actually started last October in the Gulf before making its way to shore.

So what will make this toxic algae bloom disappear? NOAA says cold weather really has no impact, but season changes do.

Prevent red tide? Start with more wetlands, experts say

Three Democratic federal lawmakers will work toward increasing water quality monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico and creating more wetlands to clean water flowing into the Gulf and other waterways.

U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson crafted a preliminary action plan Wednesday after meeting with local scientists and business leaders about the ongoing impacts of red tide.

“Even though the tourism numbers have been up … boy, this could really set us back unless we work together to address the red tide,” Castor said during a roundtable discussion in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Three scientists with varying areas of expertise all agreed: Red tide is a naturally occurring environmental phenomenon, but large blooms are likely fueled by warmer Gulf temperatures as the result of climate change and, possibly, by nutrient runoff from agriculture.

McIntosh Park makeover will benefit water quality

The park's 100-acre prairie wetland area has the capability of removing up to 50% of the pollutants that seep into the Hillsborough River from that section of the county.

A hidden gem found along Paul S. Buchman Highway in Plant City is getting some upgrades thanks to a grant agreement from the State Legislature. McIntosh Regional Park opened in 2015 as a passive park, allowing the public to enjoy its approximately 363 acres, the eastern 100 of which are wetlands.

The large section of land was purchased in 1998 for $1.1 million by the Florida Communities Trust and the Hillsborough County Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program. In May of 2015, the park opened with man-made walking, hiking and mountain-bike trails and a few secluded areas for the public to bask in the beauty of the largely untouched park.

The natural preserve will be using $300,000 from the 2018 State Legislature as well as $300,000 from the city to establish a more than two mile walking trail, a much-needed parking lot, a wildlife viewing platform, informational kiosk and trail educational signage.