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

Water-Related News

Longboat Key looks to advance redundant pipe project

After June's sewage break, the town is waiting to hear back from the state about a potential fine and corrective action.

The town of Longboat Key and its independent contractor Environmental Science Associates are continuing to test the Sarasota Bay waters after June’s sewage pipe break.

ESA principal associate Dr. David Tomasko wrote in a July 24 email to Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman that he believes crews should conduct one more round of testing at the water-sampling sites near the sewage break.

“As you can see, the samples along the transect show the lowest values recorded, on average, over the past sampling events,” Tomasko wrote.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said the town will consult with ESA on whether further testing is needed based on results showing the “lowest bacteriological results to date.”

“We are going to rely on our environmental consultant,” Harmer said. “They are indicating that they think that the testing has been productive and based on the results, that we can start to transition from the ongoing testing.”

Manatee County conservation referendum headed to November ballot

The referendum will ask voters whether they support the county taking out up to $50 million in bonds and levying a 0.15 mill property tax to support conservation and parks.

Manatee County voters in November will be asked whether they support a slight increase in property taxes to fund conservation efforts and parks in the county.

The board of county commissioners on Tuesday [July 27th] unanimously referred the referendum titled “Water Quality Protection, Fish and Wildlife Habitat Preservation, and Park Ad Valorem Tax and Bonds” to November’s ballot.

District 1 Commissioner Priscilla Trace abstained from the vote because of previously being approached about the possibility of selling some of her family’s land for preservation.

If approved, the referendum would authorize the county to take out up to $50 million in general obligation bonds to acquire land for parks and conservation. It would also levy a 0.15 mill ad-valorem property tax.

The referendum says the money would fund “the acquisition, improvement and management of land to protect drinking water sources and water quality, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, prevent stormwater runoff pollution and provide parks.”

Blue-Green Algae Task Force: Alert public when algal toxins detected

How much toxicity does it take to make a blue-green algae bloom hazardous?

The World Health Organization says 10 parts per billion of the toxin microcystin is hazardous to touch. The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the threshold at 8 parts per billion.

But the Florida Blue-Green Algae Task Force agreed Wednesday [July 30] people need to be warned when any toxins are in the water.

"A simple detection of toxins is enough to prompt a health alert," Florida Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer, who leads the panel, said during the Zoom meeting.

The task force was discussing whether Florida needs to establish a state threshold for hazardous levels of microcystin such as those used by the WHO and EPA and looking at signs developed by the Florida Department of Health and state Department of Environmental Protection to warn people of toxic algae blooms in water bodies.

"There's no safe exposure to toxins," said task force member James Sullivan, executive director of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce. "If there's a reliable detection (of toxins in the water), the number doesn't mean anything. To be the most cautious for the public, if you detect toxins, you put out an advisory."

Public invited to help identify flood-prone areas in Pearce Drain/Gap Creek area

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is gathering information to improve identification of flood prone areas in Manatee County. The District will provide virtual outreach now through Sept. 20 at WaterMatters.org/Floodplain for the public to view preliminary data for flood prone areas within the Pearce Drain/Gap Creek Watershed. The website will present preliminary data for flood prone areas and the public will have the opportunity to submit comments.

After addressing the public comments, information will be finalized and presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval to use the data for regulatory purposes. This information is not currently being incorporated into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs); however, it may be used in future DFIRM updates.

The information which identifies areas prone to flooding can be used by local governments for land use and zoning decisions, to help manage development in and around floodplains and wetlands, to reduce flood risks, to preserve land and water resources, and for emergency planning. It will also provide valuable information to the public for decisions about purchasing and protecting property.

For more information or to find out which watershed you live in, please visit WaterMatters.org/Floodplain or call the District at (352) 796-7211, ext. 4297.

Timeline of the recent Longboat Key sewage spill

LONGBOAT KEY — The 20-inch diameter iron sewer line, submerged beneath the Sarasota Bay, was supposed to be delivering thousands of gallons of wastewater every 15 minutes from the Town of Longboat Key to a Manatee County water treatment facility on the mainland.

On June 18, Jeff Blosser, the lead operator at Manatee County’s Southwest Water Reclamation Facility in Bradenton, sent an urgent email to his utility counterparts on the barrier island: “Yesterday at 5:30 p.m. our flow reading from LBK dropped to zero and has stayed there.”

Blosser checked the meter and other equipment. He asked: Was there something wrong on Longboat Key’s end that would account for the sudden change?

There was.

At 8:45 a.m., just hours before Blosser sent the email, flow readings on Longboat Key plunged from 990 gallons per 15 minutes to zero.

But Longboat Key and Manatee County officials did not begin to decipher the problem until June 29, nearly two weeks after those flow readings, according to records obtained by the Herald-Tribune.

That’s when they discovered that the main sewer transmission line between Longboat and Manatee had ruptured, spilling an estimated 26 million gallons of sewage where the pipe heads ashore from Sarasota Bay.

Apply now for TBEP Bay Mini-Grants

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The deadline to apply is September 25th at 3:00 p.m.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is now accepting project applications for the Bay Mini-Grants program!

Bay Mini-Grants are competitive cash awards (up to $5000) for community groups with projects that help improve Tampa Bay.

Project proposals must incorporate at least one of Tampa Bay Estuary Program's goals: water quality, habitat restoration, invasive species, public education, fish and wildlife enhancement.

This year, priority will be given to proposals which directly incorporate emerging contaminants or community involvement in bay restoration.

Applications for Bay Mini-Grants must be submitted by 3:00pm September 25, 2020. Funds will be awarded by mid-December. Projects must begin within six months and be completed within one year.

Groups and organizations from Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties may apply. Funds will be dispersed through contracts. Both non-profit and for-profit organizations are eligible.

The online application is available at https://form.jotform.com/81653734215153.

Please contact Public Outreach Specialist Sheila Scolaro (sscolaro@tbep.org) with any questions.

Pinellas County Utilities tracking COVID-19 in wastewater

Researchers are using wastewater epidemiology in hopes of knowing the community prevalence of coronavirus ahead of test results.

PINELLAS COUNTY — It’s a new way to potentially track COVID-19 before you even know you’re sick: testing raw sewage.

Pinellas County is the first in Tampa Bay to begin collecting samples for analysis and the utilities department hopes tracing the virus through untreated wastewater could be the "canary in the coal mine."

The South Cross Bayou Treatment plant in Pinellas County is a 24/7 operation. Located just north of the city of St. Petersburg, it’s one of two treatment plants for the county.

Each day 35 million gallons of raw wastewater are treated to remove everything from pollution to pathogens such as the common cold, E. Coli and viruses like COVID.

“The canary in the coal mine. With wastewater treatment, we can detect potentially levels of the virus and detect its presence in the community possibly even before individuals know they have the virus,” Megan Ross said.

Ross is the director of Pinellas County Utilities. She and the other women behind the scenes of wastewater treatment for Pinellas County spoke with 10 Investigates’ Courtney Robinson.

In June, they embarked on a new COVID-19 research project involving wastewater analytics and epidemiology.

“What we’re flushing down the toilet comes from us. It comes from our bodies, so I still think there’s a lot we can learn and that’s why we do the testing,” said Hillary Weber, assistant director of Pinellas County Utilities.

Downtown resident leads ongoing effort to clean up Hillsborough River

Back on July 2, 2019, Scott Harris paused along The Tampa Riverwalk on his daily bicycle ride in downtown Tampa to peek over the white railing into the Hillsborough River. What he saw mortified him.

Cups, empty motor oil bottles discarded from boats, syringes, cans, plastic bottles, styrofoam chunks - and lots of weird stuff - had washed up into the mangroves.

Harris, a financial planner and Channelside resident, immediately started picking up pieces from the heaps of garbage that had washed up.

He hasn't stopped since.

Along with his partner, Marjorie Sandler, Principal at Gorrie Elementary, and volunteers coordinated through social media, Harris' efforts have grown to include about 2,000 environmentally conscious people.

Weekly and monthly, they now show up to help clean Tampa's waterways.

The result? Thousands of pounds of garbage have since been removed from the river and prevented from drifting into Hillsborough Bay and Tampa Bay.

EPA limits states’ power to review projects that affect water quality

SAN FRANCISCO — For almost 50 years, states and tribal governments have played an outsized role in deciding whether projects that can harm water quality should receive federal permits — a role that is about to change under a new rule finalized by the Trump administration Monday.

The “Clean Water Act 401 Certification Rule” narrows what issues state and tribal governments may consider when determining if a project, such as one that involves discharging pollution into a river or stream, will comply with state water quality standards. State or tribal approval is a prerequisite for obtaining a federal permit under the Clean Water Act.

The new rule curtailing states’ review power is intended to advance President Donald Trump’s goal of promoting “efficient permitting” and reducing “regulatory uncertainties” as outlined in his April 2019 executive order on “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth.” This rule is one of the first major overhauls of the water quality certification process established by the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Tampa Bay Scallop Search registration open

Attention boaters, registration is open for the Scallop Search

It's time to wear a different kind of mask!

Tampa Bay Watch aims to recruit volunteer boaters to snorkel selected sites within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bay for the elusive bay scallops. This year’s Scallop Search will be do-it-yourself from August 15 -23 due to COVID-19.

The goal of the Great Bay Scallop Search is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Read more about the Scallop Search. We mainly recruit volunteers with shallow draft boats, but have limited spots for canoes and kayaks. This year we will not register volunteer snorkelers who do not have boats due to the pandemic. At each site, a weighted transect line 50 meters in length is laid along seagrass beds. Snorkelers count scallops along each side of the transect line, within one meter of each side, creating a 100 square meter survey area.

Sign up fast for this free event, and help us tally up the bay scallop population in Tampa Bay!

Register your boat | Register your canoe or kayak

Environmental groups say latest water bill bad for Florida

Environmental groups across the state are challenging the bill recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that is supposed to help clean up Florida's ailing waterways.

Proponents of Senate Bill 712, also called the Clean Waterways Act, say it will help the state better deal with blue-green algae blooms that have popped up across the Sunshine State in recent years.

Critics, however, say the bill fails to advance Florida's water quality standards and regulations and is actually worse than having no new water laws at all.

"It started out with good intentions, taking the Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations and trying to convert them into law," said Chuck O'Neal, with Speak Up Wekiva, one of several groups that have filed a legal challenge to the bill. "But as always happens it goes to Tallahassee and gets picked apart until what comes out is worse than the status quo."

Hundreds of sea turtle nests relocated for Anna Maria Island beach renourishment

Nearly 270 nests relocated

ANNA MARIA — Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers have been working for months to move sea turtle nests that are in the beach replenishment area on Anna Maria Island. The sand pumping project starts this week.

AMITW director Suzi Fox says the small group has been moving four to 15 nests a day since April. They are relocated to a protected area designated by Florida Fish and Wildlife.

"We are permitted to do so with Florida Fish and Wildlife and nests are just starting to hatch, so these guys would’ve had to stop pumping," said Fox.

North County reclaimed water system unavailable Mondays, Thursdays & Fridays

Due to a reduced supply, increased demand, and lack of seasonal rainfall, reclaimed water in north Pinellas County will continue to be unavailable on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays until further notice while the system is shut down for storage level recovery. Pinellas County Utilities customers north of Curlew Road are asked to continue limiting their reclaimed water use and to follow the reduced reclaimed water availability irrigation schedule to help with this resource recovery initiative.

These restrictions limit reclaimed water irrigation to authorized hours:

North County Reclaimed Water Schedule

  • Two Days a Week, One Time Per Day
  • Mornings between 12:01 AM and 8 AM or evenings between 4 PM and 11:59 PM
  • Addresses ending in even numbers water on Tuesday and Saturday
  • Addresses ending in odd numbers water on Wednesday and Sunday
  • Mixed* or no address areas water on Wednesday and Sunday

During the past several weeks, storage levels of reclaimed water have declined to the point of exhausting the water in storage. As the return of seasonal rainfall helps stabilize reclaimed water supplies, the reclaimed water storage capacity will be re-evaluated. In order to protect reclaimed water infrastructure, the restricted schedule will remain in effect until storage levels recover. Utilities customers should monitor the Pinellas County Utilities website for updates and the possible extension of this initiative.

Residents are urged to take additional steps to conserve water, including:

SWFWMD receives FDEP funding for new monitoring well

Today [July 8th] the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) announced the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will provide $638,550 to a new, 880-foot deep monitoring well in the District’s Most Impacted Area (MIA) of the Southern Water Use Caution Area (SWUCA) in Hillsborough County. District scientists will use data collected from the new well to better assess aquifer system dynamics, enhance groundwater modeling and determine potential water withdrawal-related impacts to the SWUCA and MIA.

DEP Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock stated, “The District continues to be a trusted partner in our mission to protect Florida’s water quality and preserve our state’s natural resources. Today’s announcement is indicative of the Department’s valued partnership with the District and the importance of fostering a proactive approach to identifying critical infrastructure to bolster our combined environmental enhancement efforts.”

The SWUCA is an eight-county, 5,000 square mile area extending from Hillsborough and Polk counties in the north to Charlotte County in the south. It was established in response to District studies which indicated that overuse and the resulting saltwater intrusion threatened groundwater resources there.

The well is a valuable addition to the Coastal Groundwater Quality Monitoring Network that the District has maintained and sampled as a groundwater resource monitoring initiative since 1991. The network currently includes over 400 wells and monitors all aquifers used for water supply purposes in the District.