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Stormwater fee may be in the offing for Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY – The groundwork was set for a potential stormwater fee by the Board of County Commissioners in 1991, but the charge was never implemented.

Dealing with colossal storms and record rainfall have led today’s board to reconsider and after nearly 30 years, that charge might be right around the corner.

County staff briefed board members during a work session on Tuesday about the basics of stormwater and what the county’s responsibilities are in terms of water drainage and maintenance. It’s a bigger task than it seems, they said.

“Florida has a wonderful thing. We get 56 inches of rain a year,” said Commissioner Priscilla Trace. “Florida has a terrible thing. We get 56 inches of rain a year. You can look at it both ways.”

The county oversees more than 1,300 miles of various runoff systems, 750 acres of stormwater ponds and nearly 15,000 street drainage inlets. It’s plenty to keep his department busy, said Public Works Director Chad Butzow.

The board has been toying with the idea of instituting a stormwater fee for some time. Over the next few months, they’ll hear from staff about what that fee might go toward, what the collection method might be and who would be responsible to pay it.

Trump proposes to roll back decades of water protections

The rollback would go much further than just erasing rules initiated by the Obama administration.

The Trump administration on Tuesday initiated the biggest rollback of Clean Water Act protections since shortly after the statute became law in 1972, proposing to remove federal pollution safeguards for tens of thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands.

The EPA’s proposed rule would overwrite a stricter Obama-era regulation, in yet another attack on the legacy of President Donald Trump’s predecessor. But the rollback would go much further than just erasing Barack Obama's work.

The Trump proposal represents the latest front in a decades-long battle over the scope of the landmark environmental law, whose requirements can impose major costs on energy companies, farmers, ranchers and real estate developers. Reversing Obama’s water regulation was one of Trump’s top environmental priorities — he signed an executive order directing the new rule barely a month after taking office, even as he repeatedly said he wanted "crystal clear water."

Geoff Gisler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the proposal a “sledgehammer to the Clean Water Act.”

“Out of all the anti-environmental attacks we have seen from this administration, this may be the most far-reaching and destructive,” he said in a statement.

The new proposal embraces a view that industry groups have pushed for years: that the law should cover only major rivers, their primary tributaries and wetlands along their banks. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said this will save regulatory costs for industries such as mining and homebuilding, while arguing it will have little impact on the health of the country’s waters.

Mote Marine-led initiative will restore resilient corals across 130 acres

Mote Marine Laboratory and partners will restore 70,000 coral “seeds” across 130 acres of depleted Florida reefs over three years — prioritizing coral genetic varieties resilient to disease and climate change impacts — thanks to a grant of nearly $1.5 million announced today, Nov. 9, by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners. The grant challenges Mote and its supporters to raise matching funds and achieve the greatest possible impact for the Florida Reef Tract and those who depend on it. Florida has the planet’s third-largest shallow-water coral reef system, which underpins the state’s marine ecosystems, supports over 70,000 local jobs, draws $6.3 billion to Florida’s economy and serves as the primary front line of coastal resiliency defense from major storms. Resilient coastlines are the focus of Mote’s grant and 34 others totaling $28.9 million, awarded by National Coastal Resilience Fund (NCRF), a partnership of NFWF, NOAA, Shell Oil Company and TransRe. These grants were made possible when congress provided funding for Title IX of the National Oceans and Coastal Security Act. Together, the grants are expected to generate $38.3 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $67.2 million. With the new grant, Mote will implement a strategic Florida Keys Coral Disease Response & Restoration Initiative with multiple research and restoration partners — a powerful attack against unprecedented threats facing Florida’s reefs, including an outbreak of coral tissue-loss disease spanning more than 96,000 acres.

Evacuation and water quality top Longboat Key's legislative priorities

Longboat also supports state funding for beach nourishment.

Improving evacuation routes for barrier island residents and water quality concerns – with an emphasis on red tide - have been moved up the Longboat Key commissioners 2019 legislative priorities list.

These priorities will be presented later this month to the Sarasota and Manatee county delegations for the upcoming 2019 Legislative session in Tallahassee.

The priorities, developed by Town Manager Tom Harmer, Town Attorney Maggie Mooney and David Ramba, the town’s Tallahassee-based lobbyist, emphasize Longboat Key’s needs, wants and concerns going into the new year.

“These are based on recommendations from our lobbyist,” Harmer said.

It's known as ‘The ABC Plan’. Can it solve red tide?

With many fishermen and shellfish farmers losing their jobs because of Florida red tide, Barry Hurt of Little Gasparilla Island in Charlotte County decided to do something about it.

Hurt, 69, a former entrepreneur who became a clam farmer 13 years ago, proposed restoring native algae-consuming shellfish to filter the water along the state’s southwest coast.

This is what the red tide bacteria look like under a microscope. (Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) Red tide – the toxic algae scientifically known as Karenia brevis – continues to destroy marine life, restaurants and the livelihood of some South Florida communities.

Hurt’s idea is known as A Billion Clams for a Healthier Charlotte Harbor, or ABC plan for short. It has the support of a number of scientists and other local growers along the harbor, which is considered among the best spots to sail in Florida.

According to a website created to promote it, clamrestoration.com, the ABC plan aims to use local clam farmers to restore depleted native clam resources. It also would create permanent clam beds protected from commercial and recreational harvest. The beds would mature and become self-recruiting, leading to an increase in native populations over time, the site states.

Hurt and a team of science advisers would like to begin enacting the plan within the next six months. However, they still must secure what Hurt said would be the funding – between $1.5 million to $2 million per year for 10 years – needed just to replace depleted clam populations.

New national report says climate change threatens U.S. water security

Water infrastructure was not designed for past climate extremes, let alone future changes, report authors say.

Putting human health, life, and jobs at risk, a reliable supply of clean water for cities, farms, industries, and ecosystems in the United States while also managing droughts and floods is “increasingly in jeopardy,” according to an expansive U.S. government report on the consequences of climate change in the country.

The National Climate Assessment, required by an act of Congress and written by more than 300 scientists, half from outside the federal government, is meant to inform U.S. leaders about changes to land, water, and air from a warming planet.

Released the day after Thanksgiving, the report focuses on how those physical changes will dramatically reshape human life and the systems that support it. The report also underscores troubling knowledge gaps about how the projected increase in extreme storms and heat will affect the nation’s water supply.

“We don’t have a very good grasp as a nation what our water-related risks are,” Casey Brown, a co-author on the report’s water chapter, told Circle of Blue. “We seem to keep learning this every time there’s a flood or drought.”

The authors of the water chapter emphasized three elements of the interaction between climate change and man-made systems: water quality and availability will shift; dams, levees, drainage systems, and other components of the nation’s water infrastructure are aging and poorly designed for a topsy-turvy climate; and water managers will need to prepare for a broader set of climate stresses.

“You could talk about a lot of impacts to water,” Upmanu Lall, lead author of the report’s water chapter, told Circle of Blue. “We chose to talk about infrastructure because no one is highlighting that.”

Physical alterations to the country’s water supplies, many of which are already happening, will be far-reaching, the report says. On the coasts and islands, rising seas will drive saltwater farther inland underground, which will worsen flooding and spoil groundwater used for irrigation and drinking water.

Snook and redfish harvest closed until March due to red tide

Snook harvest seasonal closure in most Gulf waters starts Dec. 1

The recreational harvest season for snook closes Dec. 1 in federal and most state waters of the Gulf, including all of Monroe County and Everglades National Park.

Snook, as well as redfish, remain catch-and-release only in state waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County (includes Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County) through May 10, 2019, in response to the impacts of red tide.

Snook outside of that area will reopen to harvest March 1, 2019. Anglers may continue to catch and release snook during the closed season.

Season closures are designed to help conserve snook during vulnerable times such as cold weather. Atlantic state and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, will close Dec. 15 through Jan. 31, 2019, reopening to harvest Feb. 1, 2019.

Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Snook” for more information on snook. Improve data and report your catch on the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s Angler Action iAngler app, which can be downloaded at SnookFoundation.org.

Regional climate change coalition has one holdout: Pasco County

When officials from 24 cities and counties met in St. Petersburg on Oct. 8 to form a regional coalition dedicated to addressingclimate change and sea level rise, there was one Tampa Bay county government missing.

Pasco did not join the pact with Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus and Manatee counties — but not because the Pasco County Commission voted against it.

Commissioner Jack Mariano is Pasco’s representative on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the organization that began forming the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition earlier this year. But Mariano, a Republican, declined to even pass along the coalition resolution to his commission colleagues for discussion because he said he does not believe in two words central to the document: climate change.

Despite globally embraced evidence that Earth is warming, and that the primary cause is human activity, Mariano said he rejects that science.

“If the earth is getting warmer, it’s a natural cycle of it,” Mariano said, contradicting findings of top federal scientists in the National Climate Assessment report that said natural cycles cannot account for the extent of warming during the past century and that human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is to blame. “I think the overwhelming change of the climate, humans have a minuscule amount of effect.”

Any commissioner can bring a topic up for discussion at a public meeting. But Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said staff recommended only Mariano present the Resiliency Coalition resolution, which he has had since June, because he serves on the Regional Planning Council and has the background information.

Laine said county staff is working with the Regional Planning Council on an alternate resolution for Pasco to consider that does not include the words "climate change" but still represents the Coalition's mission of resiliency.

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.

Still no end to red tide intrusion on Manatee coastline

Joey Dale was on a morning walk Nov. 6 when he stopped in his tracks.

On the sands of Whitney Beach on the northern tip of Longboat Key, Dale came upon a dead goliath grouper measuring about 4 1/2 feet long.

“It was a big one,” Dale told The Islander. “It was strange. There were no other fish around, just this one giant grouper. The first thing I thought was red tide.”

Dale, co-owner of The Feast restaurant in Holmes Beach, said as he strolled the beach he did not experience coughing or burning eyes, the effects of red tide reported by some people on local beaches.

“I don’t think the red tide is nearly as bad as it was before,” he said. “There are no dead eels and mullet on the beaches and no smell.”

However, red tide was blamed for fish kills in Manatee, Sarasota and Pinellas counties the week of Nov. 5-11.

Peace River Water Authority may avert litigation

Polk utilities challenged increased withdrawals from river

A regional utility that wants to withdraw more water from the Peace River and several Polk County governments that filed litigation to block it from getting a permit to do so may settle their differences.

“We’re hopeful,” Patrick Lehman, executive director of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, said Thursday.

Lehman said a tentative agreement enables the Peace River authority to proceed with an expansion plan but perhaps “step down” the amount of additional water it could withdraw from the river.

The authority, the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative and the city of Lakeland intend to finalize the pact within 45 days.