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Water-Related News

St. Pete Beach considers how to control flooding amid rising sea levels

The mayor says it's likely to get worse in the future.

ST. PETE BEACH — The mayor and St. Pete Beach officials discussed the impacts of rising sea levels on the area, plus possible ways of mitigating flooding in several neighborhoods.

"You see people walking their dogs on bikes, and they can't get across the street because there's like this much water," Chris Steele told 10News.

Steele says he's lived in the area for about two years and he's seen saltwater flooding the whole time he's lived here, seeing saltwater on the roads on nearly a daily basis.

He's concerned about the bay spilling into the streets in his neighborhood.

"First of all, it can cause damage to all the surrounding areas, the houses -- it causes damage to the streets," Steele said.

At a city commission meeting Wednesday, St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson said they're fighting a losing battle against rising sea levels.

"I think it's, somehow I think it's gonna get us. You might fast forward a couple hundred years, and this place will be gone," Johnson said. "It's unfortunate, but we live on a sandbar."

NASA-funded collaborative project to study South Florida blue-green algae

University scientists team up with water management agency in a NASA-funded project to improve our understanding of cyanobacteria blooms using state-of-the-art remote sensing, models, and field surveys

ST. PETERSBURG – All eyes are on Florida’s waterways, and addressing Florida’s blue-green algae and water quality has caught the attention of Floridians. Significant blooms of blue-green algae were found on Lake Okeechobee and throughout waterways in several south Florida estuaries in the summer of 2018. And less than 48 hours after taking office in January, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping executive order to tackle Florida’s water quality challenges and established the state’s first Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

Building on the momentum, scientists from the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute are partnering with water resource scientists from the South Florida Water Management District in a new initiative to better understand and forecast blue-green algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and three South Florida estuaries: the St. Lucie Estuary on the east coast, Caloosahatchee River Estuary on the west coast, and Florida Bay to the south.

“There is a lot of blame going around, and a lot of assumptions about rainfall, discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and algae blooms,” said Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science (USF CMS). “But at the moment there is no scientific evidence of a connection.”

Hu is leading a team from the USF CMS and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (FAU Harbor Branch) who will work closely with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) on a three-year NASA-funded project to improve understanding and forecasting of blue-green algae blooms—specifically the Microcystis and

Tampa is thirsty for more drinking water

Beginning in January 2020, the Tampa Water Department anticipates purchasing more water from Tampa Bay Water. That could end up increasing fees charged to customers.

The purchase comes after withdrawals from the Hillsborough River reservoirs increased almost to the permitted limit, while Tampa's population booms.

In the past, the city used Tampa Bay Water during drought conditions only, but now, because of the increasing water demand, Tampa officials say they have no choice but to turn to the organization again.

According to a statement from the department, the purchase “will help Tampa continue to meet withdrawal limits included in the City’s permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to withdraw up to 82 million gallons of water daily from the Hillsborough River to meet Tampa’s drinking water demands.”

Holmes Beach moves stormwater tax hike to a vote

The Holmes Beach commission is looking for the most efficient way to combat rising sea levels and flooding.

City engineer Lynn Burnett gave a presentation Nov. 19 on resiliency and sea level rise during a work session at city hall.

She said the city could file an appropriations bill during the state legislative session in Tallahassee in January, asking for $3 million to fund stormwater flooding reduction measures and to bury utilities.

Burnett said state Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, could sponsor the bill.

If approved by the state, the measure would entitle the city to a 100% payoff with no requirements for matching funds.

The commission directed Burnett to proceed with the appropriations request.

Following the presentation, Burnett revisited her request that the commission consider raising the annual stormwater management fee to increase funding for resiliency efforts.

With a show of hands, the commission voted 4-1 to move the measure to first reading to raise the fee from $1.68 per 100 square feet to $4.40, falling in line with Bradenton Beach’s stormwater tax.

Suncoast Waterkeeper wants hearing on Palmetto wastewater permit

PALMETTO — Suncoast Waterkeeper has asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a public meeting on the renewal of the City of Palmetto's permit to operate its existing wastewater treatment facility just east of Snead Island, based on the city's "significant history of non-compliance with its existing and previous permits."

In May, the City of Palmetto applied to the Department of Environmental Protection for a permit renewal to operate an existing 2.4 million gallons per day wastewater treatment facility near the Tropic Isles RV Park. The facility, which is sandwiched between Terra Ceia Bay and the Manatee River, can discharge 1.4 mgd of effluent into Terra Ceia Bay and intermittently discharge from a stormwater storage lake system at Terra Ceia Bay Golf and Tennis Club.

The permit would also authorize the land application of 2.1 mgd of reclaimed water to a public access system and injection of 2.4 million gallons a day of reclaimed wastewater to an underground injection well system, which discharges to groundwater. FDEP has issued a notice of a draft permit for the application (click here to view).

Non-native fish are found throughout Florida’s freshwaters

Usually, when there’s news about escapees from medical research facilities, freshwater fish are not the obvious fugitives.

But that was the case with the pike killifish when researchers released about 50 of the fish into agricultural canals in the late 1950s.

Now, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has identified up to 22 non-native fish in Florida's fresh waters.

The agency in May added new rules that will "help proactively protect Florida from invasive species becoming established in the state," according to a news release.

While no freshwater fish made the list this year, the agency is "currently examining fish that are on the federal Lacey Act but not regulated by the state to see if they pose a risk to the state," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

The act, established in 1900, bans illegal wildlife trafficking in the U.S.

The state is a hotbed for the tropical freshwater fish trade. The subtropical climate is optimal for raising hundreds of varieties of nonnative fish, and sometimes those fish establish populations in state waterways.

Noah Valenstein highlights ‘huge issue’ of sea level rise during Florida Taxwatch talk

Valenstein spoke on water issues alongside Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer and Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein highlighted the importance of addressing sea level rise during a panel discussion at the Florida TaxWatch 40th annual meeting.

Valenstein was joined on stage by Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer and Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg to discuss water issues in the state.

“Sea level rise is a huge, huge issue,” Valenstein said.

“Public health issues and major disrupters are the things we don’t want to see as an agency.”

He noted that in Southeast Florida, the issue of sea level rise is viewed as a potential major disrupter.

And it’s more than just an environmental or public safety issue. Valenstein said the state’s handling of the problem is coming up in discussions with bond rating agencies.

Those agencies don’t expect Florida to stop off the issue alone. “Sea level rise is not going to be eliminated,” Valenstein conceded. But the Secretary said those agencies want to see the state attempting to address the problem.

City of Largo shuts down reclaimed water system

As of November 22 at 2pm, Environmental Services is continuing to make operational changes to identify solutions. The reclaimed water system will remain offline for an undetermined amount of time.

Effective immediately, the City of Largo urges residents to discontinue the use of any reclaimed water. The City of Largo Environmental Services Department has notified City Leaders that reclaimed water is not meeting the disinfection criteria in place to protect the public and natural environment. This issue does not affect drinking water or any water coming into your home through faucets in your kitchen or bathroom.

As of November 21, at 4pm, the system will be shut down for an undefined duration. Environmental Services staff is currently working to develop solutions that can resolve the issue and get the system back online for residential and commercial customers. The community is asked to shut down reclaimed water irrigation systems until further notice. As inconvenient as this disruption may be, public health and safety is the main priority of City Leadership and we will work hard to ensure everything is back to normal as soon as the reclaimed water is in compliance. Updates will be posted to Largo.com every 12 hours or when they are made available. Questions can be directed to Environmental Service between 8am and 5pm by calling 727-507-4460.

Toilet-to-tap proposal sent back to Florida House for reconsideration

Florida is known for its freshwater springs, yet a House bill would bring water of a different type to taps.

HB 715, filed Tuesday [Nov. 19] by Zephyrhills Rep. Randy Maggard, creates statute for “water recycling for public water supply.”

The bill would compel the Department of Environmental Protection, with technical working groups, to adopt specified rules for using reclaimed water, contemplated as a statewide source for potable water.

“Developing water sources as an alternative to continued reliance on the Floridan Aquifer and surface waters will benefit existing and future water users and natural systems within the state,” the bill contends.

Given that half of “reclaimed water” is used efficiently, Maggard’s bill sees room for and necessity for improvement given Florida’s “current and future water needs.”

“Water recycling projects require significantly more planning and financial investment than nonpotable water supply projects and these projects need incentives to be implemented,” the bill asserts.

What incentives those are remain to be determined.

Manatee County considers ban on horseback surfing

Manatee County will study whether it should follow Pinellas County's lead and ban horses from Palma Sola Bay

“We don’t have a problem with regulation, but, of course, we don’t want the horses banned.”

Carmen Hanson, who owns Cponies, a horseback-riding business that operates tours in Palma Sola Bay on the north side of Manatee Avenue, said blaming the bay’s environmental problems on horses is misguided.

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 7 to direct their attorney and staff to research and report about options to regulate horseback riding in sensitive waters.

In supporting the directive, commissioners pointed to seagrass loss and recent no-swim advisories in the bay.

In business for eight years, Hanson disputes that horses are responsible for the fecal matter in the water or that their presence leads to the advisories.

She said the horses aren’t treading on the seagrass beds, where it’s “soft and mucky.”

Microplastics omnipresent in Tampa Bay

At less than an eighth of an inch, microplastics are practically invisible to the naked eye – but have been found in every water sample analyzed for microplastics in Tampa Bay over the last two years.

Bi-monthly samples of water at seven locations have been taken over the past two years. All photos courtesy Eckerd College.

The most recent data (not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal) also shows that nine of 10 manatees who died in Tampa Bay had either plastic or microplastics in their digestive tracts. Additionally one of every 82 copepods – tiny filter-feeding crustaceans near the bottom of the food web – had microplastics in their guts.

The study by Eckerd College professors and students is the first step in what bay managers hope will become a long-term monitoring process. The goal is to document when and where microplastics are found by collecting samples from various sites.

Florida senators want federal help on their red tide problem

Algal blooms driven by chemical runoff and a warming climate killed aquatic life, slammed the state's tourism industry

As Florida grapples with so-called red tides of algal blooms along its coasts and waterways, the state’s senators are pushing the federal government to come up with a plan to help control them.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will on Wednesday mark up a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott aiming to find a solution to the toxic algae that cost the state’s tourism industry millions of dollars each year.

The House in September passed a companion bill that was introduced by Rep. Brian Mast, R- Fla.

“I am encouraged by its continued progress in the Senate,” Rubio said in an emailed statement.

A spokeswoman said Scott is “proud to build on” his efforts to mitigate the effects of harmful algal blooms and red tide during his time as governor, and “will continue to work with his colleagues to protect Florida’s environment for generations to come.”

As the governor of Florida before he came to the Senate, Scott received partial blame from critics for the widespread algal blooms that inundated his state’s shores last year, noting his administration cut the state’s water management budget by $700 million.

The bill would direct a federal interagency panel to “develop a plan for reducing, mitigating, and controlling” harmful algal blooms and hypoxia (dangerously low aquatic oxygen levels) in South Florida. It’s similar to one Rubio introduced last year with former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Clean Water Act: Economic analysis could undermine Trump rule repeal

When the Trump administration finalized its repeal of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule last month, it also quietly updated an economic analysis of the repeal's costs and benefits.

The 195-page final analysis is nearly 10 times longer than the one that accompanied the Trump administration's initial proposal in 2017 to repeal the rule and estimates different costs and benefits of repealing the regulation, which clarified which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The updated analysis — which the public did not have the chance to comment on — could leave the repeal vulnerable to legal challenges, experts say.

"The agencies aren't required to do an economic analysis, but once they decide to do it, courts typically want them to do it right," Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau said. "If there are flaws in the analysis, and if the public hasn't had a chance to see it, that could fit into the box of arbitrary and capricious."

Already, a coalition of environmental groups have cited the new analysis in their legal challenge to the repeal filed last week.

Mangroves reduce flood damages during hurricanes, saving $billions

Mangroves significantly reduce annual and catastrophic damages from storms and are a strong first line of defense for coastal communities, according to a new study from researchers at UC Santa Cruz, the Nature Conservancy, and RMS. The study brought together a team of scientists from the engineering, insurance, and conservation sectors to quantify the effectiveness of mangroves in reducing flood risk to people and property.

Their report, Valuing The Flood Risk Reduction Benefits of Florida's Mangroves, concludes that mangroves in Florida prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25% in counties with mangroves. With coastal challenges created by growing populations, burgeoning development, and climate change, risks to people and property from flooding and storm surge are on the rise. Mangroves provide valuable flood protection and risk reduction benefits to these coastal areas, yet they are a threatened species.

The study used the risk insurance industry's latest and most rigorous high-resolution flood and loss catastrophe models and an extensive database of property exposure to estimate property damages from storms with and without mangroves in Florida. The report shows that mangroves significantly reduce flood levels during a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Irma.

Red tide and human health: Researchers study ‘Chronic Exposure’

Toxic red tide algae is starting to bloom along Florida’s west coast again. State wildlife officials say elevated levels have been detected recently from Pinellas to Collier counties, and people in Sarasota County have also been experiencing respiratory irritations.

Now, new research is looking into long-term health effects of the toxins, including neurological issues.

Sarasota civil engineer close to a biochar breakthrough in treating reclaimed water

Cleaner waters ahead for Manatee County as pilot program begins in Lakewood Ranch?

Sarasota’s Steve Suau, a civil engineer whose specialty is watershed management planning and water resources, is enjoying the newfound interest the public has for his job.

Red tide has a way of piquing the public’s interest.

“People now actually are interested in nitrogen and phosphorous,” Suau said from his Progressive Water Resources office. “I never thought I would see the day. Since we have had red tide outbreaks, everyone is interested in nutrients.”

Increased interest or not, Suau has for years been investigating ways to produce cleaner waters in Florida. Now in partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the University of Florida and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Suau is about to embark on a pilot program that could have worldwide implications when it comes to cleaner waterways.

Although filtration systems using biochar (made from heating carbon-based materials such as wood, crop residue or animal manure in the absense of oxygen), sawdust and wood chips have been tested for years, Suau believes he has found a way to engineer biochar that would maximize its effectiveness to absorb contaminants.

Bradenton mayor wants Green Bridge to show its namesake color

MANATEE COUNTY — When people see the Green Bridge spanning the Manatee River, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston wants them to actually see the color green.

“I’d like to really make the Green Bridge green,” Poston recently told the City Council.

He did not refer to a new paint job but to a computerized light show similar to what the Florida Department of Transportation recently installed on the Sunshine Skyway on Tampa Bay and the John Ringling Causeway across Sarasota Bay. The city of Tampa illuminated bridges on the Hillsborough River, as have jurisdictions elsewhere in what is becoming a global trend.

Computer controlled LED lights beneath the bridges create splashes of color on the piers and columns that can be seen by drivers approaching the crossings and, in some cases, from miles away.

Tampa Bay Water approves new demand management program

On Oct. 21st, Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors took actions to ensure the region has enough drinking water for at least the next 20 years.

As part of the regional supplier’s Long-term Master Water Plan, the board approved a contract for the administration of a regional demand management, or water conservation, program with Electric & Gas Industries Association. This program aims to save up to 11 million gallons per day (mgd) of water by 2030 and delay the need to build new supplies. Regional conservation costs about one-quarter of the cost of the cheapest new water source option.

“Saving water saves money. It delays the need for new supplies, which delays capital costs and new debt,” said Ken Herd, chief science and technical officer for Tampa Bay Water. “We understand that Tampa Bay area residents want us to do everything we can to save water before we develop a costly alternative.”

This rebate program includes eleven incentive opportunities for single-family homes, multi-family homes, commercial and industrial properties and new housing developments. The mix includes indoor and outdoor programs to best fit the needs of the current Tampa Bay area market.

The board also approved contracts to study water supply project options that individually could provide 10-15 mgd of drinking water by 2028 when demand projections currently show the region will need new water. Those projects include:

  • Surface Water Expansion: Expanding the regional surface water treatment plant or adding a second treatment plant in south Hillsborough County to treat additional water from the Tampa Bypass Canal, Alafia River and C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir. The board approved the engineering firm, Hazen and Sawyer, to complete feasibility studies.
  • Desalination Plant Expansion: Expanding the existing desalination plant to treat additional seawater. The board approved engineering firm, Black & Veatch, to complete feasibility studies.
  • New Groundwater Wellfield: New groundwater via aquifer recharge credits (this project would include a new groundwater wellfield in southern Hillsborough County by purchasing aquifer recharge credits from Hillsborough County via its South Hillsborough Aquifer Recharge Project). The board approved HSW Engineering to complete design of a test well for the project.

The utility is investigating potential new supplies now because it can take 10 years or more to investigate, design, permit, fund, build and startup a new water supply project. A board decision on which supply to build to meet 2028 demands is expected in December of 2022.

Dredging project to restore Lake Seminole gets underway

Pinellas County has begun the most important phase of the Lake Seminole Restoration Project. A county contractor has started a dredge operation that will remove about 900,000 cubic yards of organic sediment from the lake, aiming to bring it to its healthiest state in decades.

Lake Seminole is the county’s second largest freshwater lake, a critical part of the watershed and a major amenity for recreation and nature enjoyment. But accumulated sediment has contributed to persistent water quality problems and habitat degradation. The three-year dredging operation will remove about 54 tons of phosphorus and 311 tons of nitrogen, reducing nitrogen loads by 56 percent in Long Bayou and Boca Ciega Bay.

“This project will reduce the available nutrients for algae and vegetation growth,” said Pinellas County Senior Environmental Specialist Rob Burnes. “We’ll have cleaner water, a healthier lake bottom, more fish, fewer invasive plants, more native plants and a much nicer lake.”

The Lake Seminole Restoration Project is part of the Lake Seminole Watershed Management Plan, which set forth best practices that have been improving water quality in the lake for several years. One of the most important contributions thus far has been the addition of four “Alum” stations that reduce nutrient inputs into the lake by capturing urban stormwater before it enters the lake and treating it with aluminum sulphate.

Now, Clearwater-based Gator Dredging is using a hydraulic dredge to remove the muck from the bottom of the lake. It’s transported to a Dredge Material Management Area (DMMA) located on County owned land between Lake Seminole Park and the Cross Bayou Little League Fields. Eventually, the DMMA will form a berm that can be used for park land or ball fields.

The $19 million project is scheduled for completion in early 2023. It’s funded by Penny for Pinellas, Southwest Florida Water Management District, a legislative appropriation and the RESTORE act. More information about the project can be found here: http://www.pinellascounty.org/publicworks/projects/lake_seminole_restoration.htm.