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

Water-Related News

City of St. Petersburg introduces Stormwater Master Plan

ST. PETERSBURG - The City of St. Petersburg is working to improve stormwater, flooding and sea level rise with the development of the Stormwater Master Plan.

The three-year plan is dividing into two phases:

  • Phase 1: Identify areas of concern by collecting data from multiple sources including existing databases, computer models, field surveys and public input
  • Phase 2: Design drainage system improvements to enable effective long-term stormwater management and sea level rise resiliency

St. Pete residents can help inform the plan by identifying regions that are impacted by flooding the most. Input can be submitted at seeclickfix.com/st-petersburg under the Flooding category through May 2020.

Residents are invited to learn more from City staff at the following public meetings:

Wednesday April 15, 6-7:30 p.m.
Lake Vista Recreation Center, 1401 62nd Ave. S.

Thursday April 16, 6-7:30 p.m.
J. W. Cate Recreation Center, 5801 22nd Ave. N.

Wednesday April 22, 6-7:30 p.m.
Roberts Recreation Center, 1246 50th Ave. N.

Thursday April 23, 6-7:30 p.m.
Childs Park Recreation Center, 4301 13th Ave. S.

Find more information at stpete.org/StormwaterMasterPlan or by calling 727-893-7019.

Red Tide toll prompts state to limit some fishing to catch-and-release

The affected area extends from Pasco County to Collier County

For 16 months, a Red Tide algae bloom hammered Florida’s waterways and beaches, killing fish, manatees and other sea life. As a result, last year state wildlife officials required anglers in this region who were going after snook, redfish and sea trout to release what they caught.

That regulation was set to expire on May 31. But on Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed with a staff recommendation to prolong the regulation requiring catch-and-release for another year. That means it would continue through June 1, 2021.

The area where anglers are not allowed to catch and keep those fish runs from the Hernando-Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County, including the entirety of Tampa Bay.

Such a ban is necessary to give those species a chance to recover from the massive losses they suffered during the algae bloom, wildlife biologists said.

Florida moving ahead to take over federal wetlands permitting

Environmental groups cry foul over a developer-backed effort that began under Rick Scott.

For decades Florida’s developers have pushed for the state to take over from the federal government issuing permits for filling wetlands. On Wednesday, the state took a crucial step toward fulfilling that wish — much to the dismay of the state’s environmental groups.

The state Department of Environmental Protection published a pair of legal notices for changes to its regulations that lay the groundwork for the state’s takeover of wetlands permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Only two other states have taken that step.

“This rule is just one step in the process for the state to assume authority to administer the dredge and fill permitting program under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” the state’s notice says. The move is subject to the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental groups ranging from the Florida Wildlife Federation to the Miami Riverkeeper blasted the proposal, which they predict will lead to a weakening of protection for the state’s marshes, bogs, swamps and other wetlands.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the proper capacity to take over the wetlands permitting that has been run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for decades," said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the Florida office of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. "It can’t even manage to enforce the environmental laws already under its purview.”

Florida's chief science officer says we need to reduce carbon emissions

“Ultimately we’re going to have to reduce carbon emissions to reduce warming and its effects,” Florida Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazer said Tuesday before a speech in Sarasota.

Florida’s new chief science officer spoke about the need to reduce nutrient pollution that is contributing to water quality problems and reduce carbon emissions that are warming the planet during a swing through Sarasota Tuesday [Feb. 4th].

Gov. Ron DeSantis created the position of chief science officer shortly after being sworn in, and University of Florida professor Thomas Frazer is the first person to hold the job.

Frazer, who has a PhD in biological sciences, primarily has been tasked with addressing water quality issues, which he described during a speech to The Argus Foundation Tuesday as “probably the most pressing problem in our state.”

But Frazer also made it clear that climate change is a big problem that needs to be addressed, and reducing carbon emissions is critical. That’s a message that has not been heard out of the executive branch in Florida in nearly a decade.

Researchers release playbook for combating red tide, other deadly algae

Seventy-five researchers from Florida and around the country met in St. Petersburg in August to build a consensus document regarding harmful algal blooms.

SARASOTA — A symposium of the nation’s top experts in harmful algal blooms has created a playbook for addressing deadly algae in Florida.

The consensus findings of 75 researchers, titled “State of the Science for Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida,” notes that there is a dire need for better public communication and data gaps in research with the two most common harmful algal blooms, or “HABs” — the red-tide organism, Karenia brevis, and blue-green algae also called cyanobacteria.

Researchers met Aug. 20-21 at the United States Geological Survey in St. Petersburg.

Among the topics is confusion in the use of bloom terms, such as “red tide,” “blue-green algae” and “cyanobacteria,” which the public does not readily understand, the report states. It also said there are mixed messages regarding human health concerns, aerosol exposure and seafood safety, the causes of blooms, bloom interrelatedness, as well as bloom response and control measures.

“The goal was to make sure we are all on the same page,” said Betty Staugler, a Florida Sea Grant agent for UF/IFAS Extension-Charlotte County. “Consistency is super important. There’s enough misinformation out there, and we really wanted to come to have a more unified voice.”

The consensus document focuses on five primary topics: how blooms begin, develop and end; bloom prediction and modeling; how blooms are detected and monitored; how blooms might be controlled or reduced; and how blooms affect public health.

SBEP study contributes to regional understanding of tidal creeks

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) recently completed its second regional study on tidal creek nutrient dynamics. Both studies were funded through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Wetlands Program Development Grant program. The first study resulted in the development of a nutrient management framework for southwest Florida tidal creeks. This follow-up study focused on:

  • validating outcomes of the initial study,
  • refining the nutrient management framework and
  • identifying additional indicators of tidal creek condition to refine nutrient targets and thresholds that protect the biological integrity of these critical natural resources.

The current study also produced additional indicators to help managers pinpoint potential causes of nutrient imbalance. These indicators include:

  • A chlorophyll to nitrogen threshold ratio no greater than 15, above which indicates creeks that may be physically altered or have their hydrologic connection to the estuary cut off.
  • A trophic state index score less than 60, which places a creek in the “fair” category for estuarine waters. A macrophye index (similar to Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s rapid periphyton index) based a frequency of occurrence of less than 50% of samples with macrophytes present.
  • A total nitrogen annual geometric average concentration of 1.1 mg/l, based on a weight-of-evidence that higher concentrations are associated with an increased frequency of creeks in the “caution” category.
  • A nitrate ratio less than one between source (fresh) and estuarine water. This indicates that dissolved inorganic nitrogen should be assimilated quickly within the tidal p

Will experimental fish farm pave the way for privatizing federal waters?

The United States imports 90 percent of its seafood, most of it farmed and mostly from China.

By nearly any accounting, the United States has lagged in fish production even as demand has grown. In the early 1990s, the United States and Norway had similar marine aquaculture output. Now, the Scandinavian nation, with only 1.6 percent of the American population, raises about seven times as much fish. Worldwide demand for high-quality farmed seafood is rapidly increasing.

Experts predict two-thirds of edible fish will be farmed by 2030, but they frequently disagree on the best means for doing so.

This debate will come to a head Tuesday at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., the upshot of which may have significant implications for federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public permit hearing at 5:30 p.m. to consider final approval of the proposed Velella Epsilon aquaculture project.

If approved, it would be the first finfish aquaculture project in the gulf, capable of raising 20,000 almaco jack (a species similar to an amberjack) each year. It also would be the first in federal waters in the contiguous United States.

The prospective demonstration farm from Hawaii-based Ocean Era has engendered strong opposition from local residents and environmental groups, who worry that setting a chain-link mesh pen in open water 45 miles southwest of Sarasota would upset the ecosystem and establish a precedent of privatizing federal waters, paving the way for more farms.