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Water-Related News

Estuary Program scientists blame Piney Point for during red tide forum

Almost everyone agrees that the discharge of more than 200 million gallons of polluted water from Piney Point in April was necessary to save lives and property after a leak in one of the phosphate plant’s gypsum stack led to a warning of an imminent collapse.

But not everyone agrees that months later, the discharge has led to one of the worse bouts of red tide seen in the waters of Tampa Bay.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, at a news conference on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, downplayed the effects of the discharge while addressing red tide concerns in the St. Pete communities. DeSantis blamed Hurricane Elsa for moving red tide farther north into the bay.

On Friday, scientists from Tampa Bay Estuary and Sarasota Bay Estuary disputed those claims during a community discussion about red tide and water quality in the bays.

Dave Tomasko, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program said the governor is likely being advised by scientists “we don’t necessarily agree with. Elsa didn’t kill those fish. They were already dead as of the July Fourth weekend and Elsa blew those dead fish toward the shore.”

Ed Sherwood, director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Tomasko, also pointed out that Tampa Bay waters east of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge rarely experience the effects of red tide. But they are now, and it’s not likely coincidence.

Red Tide may recede in Tampa Bay but worsen off Pinellas beaches

Toxic algae have devastated local waters, killing immense numbers of fish and other sea life. Some manatees have been found dead, too.

ST. PETERSBURG — The latest Red Tide monitoring shows some improvement within Tampa Bay, officials say, but conditions are worsening for several gulf beaches.

“Our aerial imagery is showing that the bloom has kind of transported out of the mouth over the last few days. Within the bay ... it’s night and day from a week ago,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton. “However the bloom has now moved, it’s off the coast, and it’s expanded, and we’ve seen high bloom concentrations from Longboat Key up essentially to Dunedin and that area.”

Red Tide is “pretty extensive” off the beaches, Sutton told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. It is atypical for a toxic bloom to reach as far into the bay as it did this month, but more common in the gulf. In some spots on the western shore, Sutton said, the Red Tide has reached all the way up to the beach, while in other places it may be drifting a mile or so offshore. The bloom is not one unbroken block of algae but pockets that move according to winds, tides and other environmental factors.

Mote scientists use drones to study red tide

SARASOTA — A view from the sky may help form a better picture for those on the ground when it comes to toxic algae.

Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium are studying how drones might help form a more complete, real-time view of red tide.

“This is essentially the same data the satellites give you just on a much finer scale, much more real-time and faster,” said Cody Cole, a staff biologist who is involved in marine operations and red tide research.

Cole explains drones equipped with special sensors first capture pictures, able to cover a large swath in a short time period.

“A satellite might make that one thing a whole pixel whereas I have 212 images within there,” he said showing pictures from a recent flight.

Mote recently launched the drones near Lido Key, flying them for the first time over a red tide bloom, Cole said. Researchers are looking at light wavelengths reflecting out of the water.

State environmental officials tour Tampa Bay, pledge help in fighting Red Tide

They say the state is directing resources for the cleanup, including money and spotter planes. But they maintain that a state of emergency declaration — which some have called for — won't change anything.

The state has been ramping up efforts to combat the unprecedented red tide bloom that is killing untold numbers of fish in Tampa Bay.

This week, the heads of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection met with local officials and toured Tampa Bay. They say the state is directing resources for the cleanup, including money and spotter planes, and no state of emergency declaration — like some have called for — would change anything.

Health News Florida's Steve Newborn talks with Eric Sutton, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Shawn Hamilton, interim director of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Researchers testing new strategy to battle red tide in Sarasota

By mixing clay with seawater and spraying it onto the surface of the water, the particles in the mixture sink and combine with red tide cells.

SARASOTA – As the Tampa Bay area is reeling with the impacts red tide is having on sea life and the environment, researchers are testing a new method to combat the harmful algae bloom.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium scientists are trying to use clay dispersal to remove red tide in parts of Sarasota where its been detected. It's a strategy they say has been used to control other types of harmful algae.

By mixing clay with seawater and spraying it onto the surface of the water, the particles in the mixture sink and combine with red tide cells. The process can kill and bury the cells in the sediment on the seafloor, the aquarium says.

"This is just the first of what we hope will be several upcoming trials of clay flocculation on active blooms in the wild," said Dr. Don Anderson, Senior Scientist at WHOI and Principal Investigator for this Initiative project. “What we learn here will help us better understand how conditions in Florida affect its success and how clay flocculation might be tailored to blooms of Karenia brevis, as well as other species of algae, here and elsewhere in the world.”

The process of clay dispersal is common in drinking water and sewage treatment. Researchers hope to also find out how much clay is needed and whether it not only kills the red tide cells but the toxins they release as well.

Waterkeepers hosting scientific forum on Harmful Algae Blooms

The presenters will be Dr. Dave Tomasko and Ed Sherwood, directors of the Sarasota and Tampa Bay Estuary Programs

On Friday, July 23rd, the Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper organizations will provide the community with a Scientific Forum on Red Tide and Lyngbya, focusing on the causes, effects, and solutions.

The Waterkeepers have invited government officials, their staff and other stakeholders. The event is open to the public but reservations are required for in-person attendance. The forum will also be virtual and recorded.

Suncoast Waterkeeper chairman Joe McClash said, “The question we keep getting from our community is “what can we do?”, what is the cause and how do we prevent this in the future? This forum will help answer those questions.”

Tampa Bay Waterkeeper chairman Megan Eakins stated, “Our Tampa Bay area has been impacted by an epic red tide event. Our members, some who are charter fishing captains, have lost their business overnight. Our organization will work hard to educate our community and elected officials on the science surrounding these issues, which is the focus of this forum.”

WHEN: 8 AM FRIDAY JULY 23
RESERVATIONS are required for in-person attendance (link below)
WHERE: Bradenton Yacht Club, 4307 13th Street West Palmetto, FL 34221
SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS: COVID-vaccinated persons need not wear masks; unvaccinated persons must wear masks. Please do not attend in person if you have any Covid-related symptoms.
COST: $10 (includes coffee, tea, juice, fruit, bagels) Media may attend at no charge

Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m., Presentation at 8:00 a.m., Q&A at 9:30 a.m., Adjourn at 11:30 a.m.

ISSUE: Our region has been impacted by a Lyngbya algae bloom that sucked the oxygen out of our marine environment, caused a nauseating stench, harmed wildlife, followed by an epic event of red tide in Tampa Bay, killing massive amount of fish and dolphins, stinking up our waterfronts, and causing respiratory and other health issues. Both of these issues have devastating impacts on our economy, putting at risk the livelihoods of fishing captains, tour operators, aquaculture businesses and tourist related businesses. Both of these events occurred after massive dumping of nutrient rich water from Piney Point; a closed phosphogypsum stack, increased development and continued discharge of treated sewage.

Directors Tomasko and Sherwood will offer scientific information on the Red Tide and Lyngbya situation, some historical perspective, gains we have made, and the impacts from the current blooms. They will also focus on the causes, effects and solutions so that we as a community can gain valuable knowledge to assist in a path forward that reduces the economic, health and environmental impacts associated with these blooms.

Information for Virtual Attendance:
Join with Google Meet: meet.google.com/osq-ogec-uuf
Join by phone: (US) +1 662-912-6165 PIN: 753 903 269#

Boats are available for media and government by reservation:
The Waterkeepers will have volunteers to take media and government staff or elected officials for a boat ride if requested in advance.

CONTACT INFO: Justin Bloom - Suncoast Waterkeeper
Phone (Call or Text): (941) 202-3182
Email: jbloom@suncoastwaterkeeper.org

Florida DEP launches ‘One Water Florida’ campaign promoting recycled water

TALLAHASSEE – On July 16th the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the launch of the One Water Florida Campaign to inform Floridians on the use of recycled water in the state to meet the growing demand for water. This campaign was designed in coordination with the state’s five water management districts, WateReuse Florida, the Potable Reuse Commission, the American Water Works Association Florida Section, the Florida Water Environment Association, The Nature Conservancy and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

“Our water supply in Florida is not endless, and reusing water relieves pressure on Florida’s water resources and ecosystems,” said DEP Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “This is one component of the state’s water supply planning to safely and sustainably diversify our water resources while protecting our precious environment.”

Florida is growing at a record pace with nearly 1,000 people moving to the state daily as well as an average of 350,000 people visiting the state each day. It is estimated that 1 billion gallons per day of additional water will be needed by 2040. Florida’s aquifers, lakes and springs cannot sustain the demand for water, and expanding the use of recycled water is an essential way to safely ensure there is plenty of water to meet the demand.

Potable reuse is highly treated recycled water from various sources that can be used for drinking, cooking and bathing. Purification uses proven technology to ensure the water is safe, with recycled water meeting all stringent state and federal drinking water standards. A variety of recycled water projects have been safely and successfully implemented throughout the United States, around the globe and even in outer space.

As part of the campaign, a new webpage has been launched to inform Floridians on recycled water as a future water source in the state. The website features:

  • Fact sheets and frequently asked questions.
  • Information on experts working with recycled water.
  • An interactive map highlighting recycled water projects around the state, country and world.
  • Additional resources such as research, presentations, videos and online publications.

Learn more about recycled water at OneWaterFlorida.org.

FWC and DEP host Red Tide roundtable

ST. PETERSBURG – Today, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Eric Sutton and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton joined affected stakeholders to discuss Florida’s multifaceted efforts to combat red tide.

During the roundtable, hosted at the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, DEP highlighted funding it is allocating to bolster local response efforts mitigating the impacts of red tide in the greater Tampa Bay area.

In response to this red tide event, the state has been engaged with stakeholders and is in the process of executing grant agreements with Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Longboat Key response to Red Tide outbreak

The red tide organism Karenia brevis is present on the Florida Gulf Coast. On Longboat Key, there have recently been reports of minor respiratory irritation, some odor, and some areas along the Gulf (beachside) with discoloration within the water, and minor fish kills beachside. The Town will continue to monitor conditions for our area. For further updates and details, please visit https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/

Preventative Measures

Preventative measures can be taken to avoid dead sea life, sea grass/weed accumulations from entering boat basins and canals with the use of floating barriers.

There are also no rules against burying dead sea life on the beaches. However, property owners must do so in front of their own property and must ensure proper depth to avoid re-exposure.

Town Deployment of Resources

Town deployment of resources is based on the following criteria:

  • Town assessments of dead sea life concentrated volumes and lack of movement
  • Weather conditions, including tidal action wind speed and direction
  • Bloom Conditions

Note: The safety of staff and equipment is top priority. We seek favorable tidal conditions and weather patterns prior to engaging in any bay or Gulfside clearing.

General Areas Not Cleared by the Town:

  • Commercial Marinas and Private Boat Basins
  • Large bodies of water, such as large bayous, the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay
  • Longshore parallel areas
  • Mangrove and mangrove fringe areas
  • Low draft areas.
  • Under and around docks, boat lifts, boats, etc.
  • Configuration of basin not conducive to allow safe Town boat navigation and efficient clearing efforts without damage to public or private property, and ensuring safety of employees.

Please note, the Town does not collect sea grasses nor seaweed.

Additional Resources

Commercial / private boat basins may opt to use private in-house/contracted manual labor or beach raker services, hire Major Debris Management Contractors, local fishermen, and/or use volunteers.

Should you have questions, please call (941)316-1988.

‘Sunny day’ high-tide flooding may soon affect much of Florida’s coast

St. Petersburg faces the highest long-term projection of flooding days of any of the 15 cities in Florida cited by the report.

A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows coastal communities across the country saw record-setting high-tide flooding last year.

Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA's National Ocean Service, said the eastern Gulf of Mexico — including Florida — saw nine flood days last year. That's a 600% increase since the year 2000.

LeBouef says it's only going to get worse.

"For the first time in human history, the infrastructure we build must be designed and constructed with future conditions in mind," she said. "And along the coast, that means high-tide flooding conditions in mind."

Here are some of the report's findings:

  • St. Petersburg faces the highest long-term projection of flooding days of any of the 15 cities in Florida cited by the report. St. Petersburg saw two to three days of high-tide flooding in 2020. That number is projected to increase to 15 to 85 days in 2050.
  • Clearwater saw four to six high-tide flood days in 2020. That is projected to increase to 10 to 55 days in 2050.
  • Miami saw three to six days in 2020, and is projected to jump to between 10 to 55 days in 2050.
  • Cape Canaveral saw seven to 12 days in 2020, and is expected to increase to between 20 to 65 days in 2050.

"As sea level rise continues, damaging floods that decades ago happened only during a storm are now happening more regularly, even without severe weather such as during a full moon, tide or with a change in wind and currents," LeBouef said.

Expert: Elsa did not wash away red tide in Tampa Bay, could have made it worse

Parts of St. Petersburg are seeing some of the highest concentrations of red tide. More than 110 tons of dead sea life have been picked up so far there.

ST. PETERSBURG — Many people in the Tampa Bay area were hoping Hurricane Elsa would help churn up the pockets of red tide and push the dead fish and algae blooms offshore.

Now, almost one week later it appears the storm was no help at all.

"It certainly doesn’t seem like, as we had all had our fingers crossed, that Tropical Storm Elsa helped the red tide situation, it certainly didn’t flush it out of Tampa Bay," said Dr. Lisa Krimsky, a Regional Water Resources Extension Agent with the University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Although Krimsky says we don't have official confirmation of what the exact impact was from Elsa, she suspects it might have gotten worse in some areas.

"It’s possible in certain areas, it did make it worse but recognizing that it’s very patchy within Tampa Bay," added Krimsky who underscored the tendency red tide has to be concentrated in one area and nonexistent not too far away.

Red tide creeping south, high levels impacting Sarasota and Manatee counties

LONGBOAT KEY – Red tide has been plaguing Tampa Bay and parts of Pinellas County for weeks. Now, the harmful algal bloom is making its way south.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s latest red tide sample map shows high concentrations of red tide from Anna Maria Island down to Turtle Beach on Siesta Key.

Officials with the Department of Health in Sarasota County posted red tide warning signs at all 16 beaches in the county.

“Red tide causes respiratory irritation, so as soon as we see the cell counts going up, we become worried and we want to make sure that the community understands that it can cause cold-like symptoms or even flu-like symptoms,” said Steve Huard with DOH Sarasota. “The great thing about it is, if you just remove yourself from the area, those symptoms typically go away very quickly,” he continued.

Elsa takes out sea turtle nests on Anna Maria Island

Elsa took a toll on Anna Maria Island’s sea turtle nests as the storm passed July 6-7 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Turtle nests on AMI faced destructive waves, according to the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch (AMITW) and Shorebird Monitoring team.

AMITW is a nonprofit that collects data on sea turtle and shorebird nesting habits.

After the storm — which moved up the Gulf of Mexico as a category 1 hurricane but was downgraded to a tropical storm as it passed the island overnight July 7— AMITW volunteer Pete Gross reported 53 nests were washed away by waves and 131 nests were washed over by waves.

Gross said nests that were washed over likely would hatch.

A fraction of the nests that were washed away also will hatch.

Additionally, some sea turtle eggs were found rolling in the surf, said executive director of AMITW Suzi Fox.

The eggs found in the surf will not hatch, as they are water permeable.

“Once they roll to the water, the likelihood of them hatching is zero,” Fox said.

NASA: Moon ‘wobble’ will cause dramatic increases in coastal flooding

A "wobble" in the moon's orbit will combine with rising sea levels due to the Earth's warming to bring "a decade of dramatic increases" in high-tide coastal floods across the U.S. in the 2030s, NASA warns in a new study.

Why it matters: Low-lying areas near sea level already increasingly at risk from flooding will see their situation "only get worse," per a statement from NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

"The combination of the Moon's gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world."
— Nelson

Of note: Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of the study, published this month in Nature Climate Change, said high-tide floods involve less water than hurricane storm surges.

But "if it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can't keep operating with its parking lot under water," Thompson said.

"People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work," he added "Seeping cesspools become a public health issue."

The big picture: Scientists have known about wobbles in the orbit of the moon, which takes 18.6 years to complete, since 1728.

Two sawfish tagged in Tampa Bay area!

There’s an extremely exciting update to the 2018 Bay Soundings article titled “Endangered Sawfish Slowly Return to Tampa Bay.” That article highlighted the five endangered smalltooth sawfish (an endangered species) reported near Tampa Bay in locations ranging from Anna Maria and the Manatee River to Honeymoon Island. They were mostly young adults or larger juveniles, indicating that the bay was not yet supporting a breeding population of smalltooth sawfish.

Well, now we have newborn sawfish in the area too!

TBRPC receives Resilient Coastline Program grant

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has received a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to develop coordinated shoreline planning across the region. The project will convene local governments and municipalities and business and environmental stakeholders to create a policy guide for installation, permitting, maintenance of shoreline protection strategies as storm intensity and future sea level rise are projected to increase.

The project is part of the Resilient Coastlines Initiative created by Gov. Ron DeSantis through the new Resilient Florida Program. With this initiative, local communities can join together in planning efforts and share technical assistance for a coordinated approach to Florida’s coastal and inland resiliency.

“Florida Resilient Coastlines Program is excited to support the Tampa Bay shoreline project that brings local stakeholders together to develop recommendations that increase resilience, especially those that emphasize nature-based features” said Whitney Gray, Florida Resilient Coastlines Administrator. “DEP supports regional collaborations which encourage consistency and coordination across jurisdictions to improve community resilience. The project also aligns well with the directives of the new legislation to improve Florida’s coastal and inland resiliency signed by Governor DeSantis last month.”

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council will convene the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition members and partners to discuss priorities and develop the policy guide, which will support local plans and updates.

“This project will help develop regionally consistent rules and more efficient permitting on these complex shoreline improvement projects,” said Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano. “We see a need for consistent code and uniform recommendations on seawall heights and other factors that support resilient shorelines.”

The guide will include policy recommendations and model language for private and public shorelines along rivers and coastal areas that are influenced by tides. The recommended language will define a hierarchy of shoreline policies and principles to support resilient adaptation and habitat preservation and restoration.

Elsa adds 9 million gallons of stormwater to Piney Point pools

MANATEE COUNTY — With Tuesday night's heavy storm, the Piney Point phosphate facility gained over over 9 million gallons of stormwater in its pools.

“Leading up to hurricane season, we were working to get enough water out to accommodate the rainfall,” said Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes.

Hopes says Piney Point has been continually pumping the facility's stormwater into the county's stormwater system, in an effort to prevent another leak.

“We are continually testing to make sure the only water in our stormwater system is just stormwater, not Piney Point processed water,” said Hopes.

Even though stormwater is cleaner than the water that was dumped out back in April, environmentalists say it still causes issues for the Bay.

Local experts: TS Elsa may or may not impact red tide

PINELLAS COUNTY — Now that tropical storm Elsa has come and gone, the big question for many in the Bay area is what that means for Red Tide.

“A lot of us are asking the very same question that you all are asking,” said Maya Burke.

Burke is the Assistant Director of the Tampa Bay Estuary program. She said one of two things could happen due to Elsa.

“Rainfall from [storms] oftentimes contains lots of nutrients that can further fuel algae blooms,” she said. “Then there’s also the possibility that this sort of breaks things up pushing red tide out.”

TS Elsa causes minor flooding in Manatee, Sarasota counties

Teams from Manatee County surveying damage found minor flooding along the Myakka River and the barrier islands, where some turtle nests were affected.

Minimal damage was reported in Manatee and Sarasota counties from Elsa. The tropical storm — which was briefly upgraded to a hurricane overnight Tuesday — caused flooding on barrier islands. Heavy flooding was reported in North Port.

Wind gusts reached 54 miles per hour at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport overnight Tuesday.

Sarasota Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said the county was lucky that Elsa started weakening offshore.

"Fortunately, Sarasota County was spared most of the impact," McCrane said during a Zoom meeting Wednesday. "It was a concerning storm — a lot of rainfall, a lot of wind, but this morning when the sun came up, we were able to see that very, very minimal damage in the county, a few downed trees, some flooded roads.

"North Port got the worst of it, as far as rains go."

Teams from Manatee County surveying damage found minor flooding along the Myakka River and the barrier islands, where some turtle nests were affected.

Officials reported no significant damage from the storm as of Wednesday morning, but there was enough of a storm surge for some possible minor beach erosion.

FDEP accepts Longboat Key's environmental projects

The town is required to complete the environmental projects within 180 days of approval.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the town’s proposed environmental projects to fulfill its consent order connected to the June 2020 sewage break.

A June 25 letter from FDEP Southwest District Director Kelley Boatwright to Town Manager Tom Harmer shows the state has approved town plans to install an upgraded flow meter and three pre-eminent bypass pumps at lift stations in the wastewater collection system.

“There’s clear closure on the in-kind portion,” Harmer said. “We’ve now both agreed of what makes sense to do as in-kind projects, and our priority was to do something that was a local benefit instead of sending the money to Tallahassee.”

Months ago, the state had already accepted the town’s plan to replace an existing 2006 reserve portable generator at Master Lift Station D.

Post-Elsa Piney Point update from Florida DEP

Piney Point Update – July 7, 2021

The Piney Point site received approximately 2.5 inches of rain overnight due to Tropical Storm Elsa. Today, DEP inspectors were onsite to assess the conditions at the site. Water levels in the containment areas remain within safe operational levels and the stormwater system at the site continues to operate properly as designed. There were no spills or overflows of the containment areas as a result of the storm.

Approximately 249 million gallons are currently held within the NGS-South compartment. The increase in volume since yesterday’s report is due to rainfall from Tropical Storm Elsa. The temporary repair in the NGS-South compartment continues to function as designed.

DEP will continue its oversight of HRK's onsite water management activities to safely control water levels, respond to rainfall events and support water treatment. The department remains prepared to adjust water management strategies as needed through continuous monitoring of current and future weather conditions.

Key status updates and response activities:

  • DEP continues to monitor and sample surrounding waterways following previous discharges. DEP's interactive water quality dashboard details sampling locations and corresponding results to evaluate any environmental impact. Results will continue to be posted as soon as they are available.
  • DEP is also working collaboratively with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) and local governments to cover more area and collect more data. For a comprehensive view of all sampling in Tampa Bay related to Piney Point, visit TBEP's interactive water quality dashboard.
  • DEP continues working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Department of Health to monitor algal blooms and water quality. FWC continues to receive reports of fish kills in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. FWC is the lead agency on red tide and will continue to update conditions on their website. For more information on red tide, please visit ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov.

Residents can find the latest information on the status of the site and response activities at ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov/PineyPointUpdate.

EPA revokes use of phosphate waste products in road beds

Several environmental advocacy groups sued last year to overturn the waiver, which would have allowed the use of the slightly radioactive waste in road construction.

The Biden administration has withdrawn a previous approval of the use of phosphogypsum - the toxic byproduct of phosphate mining - in road beds.

This means the mountains of phosphate waste peppering Florida's landscape will remain.

The decision overturns a Trump-era move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow use of the byproducts of fertilizer production. It was the first and only proposed alternative use of the slightly radioactive waste, now stored in two dozen mountainous "gypstacks" around the Tampa Bay region that can reach 50 stories high.

"The idea that we could possibly keep people and the environment safe from radioactive material, which then could become dispersed throughout the environment - as opposed to being kept in stacks - there's no foundation for that assumption," said Jaclyn Lopez with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Hers is one of the environmental advocacy groups that sued last year to overturn the waiver, which meant that it never went into effect. That lawsuit is now moot.

"Our preference would be that the industry stops making this radioactive waste," Lopez said, "and in the meantime we keep it in the stacks, so at least we know where it is, and we can keep the companies that create the waste financially responsible for them, and continue to better regulate this industry that seems to have a pretty poor track record of protecting the environment from its activities."

Industry advocates have said use in road beds would be one way to whittle down gypstacks, which have caused several environmental catastrophes in recent years. One, at Piney Point in Manatee County, allowed more than 200 million gallons of wastewater stored there to flow into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

Florida has one billion tons of radioactive phosphogypsum in two dozen stacks, including Piney Point. That nutrient-rich water has been blamed for algae blooms, and possibly exacerbating the affects of red tide.

The waiver had been requested by the Fertilizer Institute, which represents manufacturers and suppliers, including phosphate miners. But since only the miners construct gypstacks, the institute couldn't give the EPA enough information that the use in road base would be safe.

Here's an excerpt from the ruling:

Under Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations, EPA may approve a request for a specific use of phosphogypsum if it is determined that the proposed use is at least as protective of human health as placement in a stack. Upon review, EPA found that The Fertilizer Institute’s request did not provide all the information required for a complete request under these regulations. The EPA withdrew the approval for this reason. The decision was effective immediately, and phosphogypsum remains prohibited from use in road construction.

Piney Point being prepared for gusty winds, rain from Tropical Storm Elsa

Additional pumps and generators are being brought in to safeguard against potential power outages.

MANATEE COUNTY — As Tropical Storm Elsa heads toward Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is keeping a close eye on storm preparations at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant.

DEP officials are overseeing operations at the site that drew national attention after millions of gallons of wastewater were discharged into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

HRK Holdings, the owner of the since-abandoned phosphogypsum stack, has staff working to secure heavy equipment and adjusting water management levels in the ponds to ensure the site can endure strong winds and heavy rainfall, according to a news release.

Additional pumps and generators are also being incorporated to safeguard against potential power outages.

Approximately 215 million gallons are still held within the NGS-South compartment, according to DEP. State inspectors say pond level readings are expected to fluctuate due to a host of factors, including rainfall, water management activities and wind/associated waves in the pond.

Video of June 23rd Blue-Green Algae Task Force meeting available

The State Blue-Green Algae Task Force met on June 23rd at the headquarters of the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach.

Information at the meeting included a presentation on Innovative Technology from the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and a presentation on Lake Okeechobee Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Monitoring and Management Strategies by the South Florida Water Management District.

For more information about the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, visit https://protectingfloridatogether.gov/state-action/blue-green-algae-task-force.

Longboat Key businesses bank on a healthy bay

Business owners and residents explain why a healthy Sarasota Bay is important for the quality of life in Longboat Key.

Shane Catts can recall what Sarasota Bay looked like decades ago.

The 40-year-old owner of Happy Paddler Kayak Tours remembers visiting his grandparents, who used to live right behind his current business in Bayfront Park.

“They no longer live there, but so I grew up playing up here, and so I can see the changes that have occurred in the last 40 years,” Catts said. “I mean, it’s very apparent. It has me gravely concerned for the long-term future of the bay.”

In a recent report to the town, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Executive Director David Tomasko said his organization has found higher values of nitrogen and chlorophyll in recent years in the Sarasota Bay waters, leading to his organization's concerns about algae blooms. He also mentioned how Sarasota Bay has seen a significant reduction in seagrass coverage.

In 2019, Sarasota Bay received from the organization a 2.25 score out of 4. The Bay got a 1.75 in 2018. The two scores measuring the bay’s health were the lowest recorded by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program’s report card system, which dates back to 2006.

Tomasko says the scores are attributed to the 2018 red tide outbreak and potential effects from the Piney Point leak.

“In 2018 when you had the red tide, when you had fish kills and smelly water and flies everywhere, the economy sucked, and it did in part because no one wanted to be by the bay,” Tomasko said. “The point I guess is, it doesn’t have to be just red tide.''

Conservation groups sue over Piney Point pollution

Conservation groups went to federal court in Tampa June 24 to file their lawsuit over the release of 215 million gallons of pollutants from the defunct Piney Point phosphorus plant into Tampa Bay and Manatee County groundwater.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88 and Our Children’s Earth Foundation sued Gov. Ron DeSantis, the acting secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings LLC and the Manatee County Port Authority in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida.

The lawsuit alleges that Piney Point is an ongoing threat to public health and the environment due to:

  • The discharge of 215 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay, which is now experiencing harmful algae blooms and fish kills;
  • The threat of catastrophic failure of its impoundments and/or stack system;
  • The site’s failing liners;
  • Violations of groundwater-quality standards and evidence that dangerous levels of pollution have migrated into the aquifer;
  • The choice of a high-risk wastewater disposal method called deep-well injection to store hazardous waste.

FSU researchers find most nitrogen in Gulf of Mexico comes from coastal waters

Almost all of the nitrogen that fertilizes life in the open ocean of the Gulf of Mexico is carried into the gulf from shallower coastal areas, researchers from Florida State University found.

The work, published in Nature Communications, is crucial to understanding the food web of that ecosystem, which is a spawning ground for several commercially valuable species of fish, including the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which was a focus of the research.

“The open-ocean Gulf of Mexico is important for a lot of reasons,” said Michael Stukel, an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and a co-author of the paper. “It’s a sort of ocean desert, with very few predators to threaten larvae, which is part of what makes it a good spawning ground for several species of tuna and mahi-mahi. There are all kinds of other organisms that live out in the open ocean as well.”

The food web in the Gulf of Mexico that supports newly born larvae and other organisms starts with phytoplankton. Like plants on land, phytoplankton need sunlight and nutrients, including nitrogen, to grow. The researchers wanted to understand how the nitrogen they need was entering the gulf.

Rising sea levels, high tides will lead to more floods, researchers warn

St. Petersburg currently sees about seven high-tide flood events per year. But in a decade, researchers expect that number to soar to 67 per year.

According to a new study, high-tide flooding events are projected to increase rapidly beginning in 2033.

That will affect Florida communities along the Gulf of Mexico, including low-lying St. Petersburg neighborhoods like Shore Acres.

The study, published in the June 21 issue of the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, forecasts approximately seven days of high-tide flooding in St. Petersburg in 2023, but predicts almost 70 such days in 2033.

“It's going to get to the point where in some months, we’ll have a flood event almost every day,” said Gary Mitchum, associate dean of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.

Mitchum worked with colleagues from the University of Hawaii to forecast how rising sea levels interact with tidal cycles.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force meets for first time since November

FORT MYERS – The Blue-Green Algae Task Force met Thursday for the first time since November to discuss innovative technologies being used around the state to combat the toxic blooms.

State officials showed the scientist-led task force several blue-green algae fighting projects that have been launched around the state already, many through the Department of Environmental Protection grant funding.

Although green streaks lined the surface of the Caloosahatchee by the Franklin Lock Thursday, BGA Task Force member and Florida Gulf Coast University scientist Dr. Mike Parsons said the algae situation has been better in southwest Florida than they feared this year so far.

“Everybody’s trying to prepare though, so if and when we do get larger blooms, what are some of the treatments we can do?” Parsons said. “[The innovative technologies] won’t 100% get rid of it, but if you can knock it back a lot, that’ll be very helpful.”

Coast Guard planning to reinstall Longboat Pass navigational markers

U.S. Coast Guard plans to replace navigation markers removed during beach work dredging.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer confirmed the U.S. Coast Guard plans to reinstall the navigational markers once dredging finishes up and a new survey of the bottom conditions can be completed. Olsen Associates’ website shows the dredging on the northern end of the island is set to complete the week of Aug. 23. The dredging is part of the town’s beach renourishment project.

The town and its contractors are not responsible for the removal of channel markers, according to Olsen Associates vice president Al Browder.

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for marking federally maintained waterways, according to U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Officer Tony Sciullo, who works at the Coast Guard's St. Petersburg station.

Fishing and aquaculture affected by Piney Point spill

Business owners in Manatee County took their concerns to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Many fishermen, and clam and oyster farmers, continue to get hammered by red tide in and around Tampa Bay. On Wednesday, business owners in Manatee County took their concerns to the state's Agriculture Commissioner.

Livelihoods dependent on aquaculture have been devastated since red tide was reported in the waters of Tampa Bay in recent weeks.

A group gathered at the home of Curtis Hemmel in Terra Ceia to say the condition has been aggravated by several hundred millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water that poured from the shuttered Piney Point phosphate plant in March.

Hemmel owns Bay Shellfish Company, Florida's largest clam hatchery. He started the hatchery 25 years ago, after the net fishing ban was enacted in 1996.

"There are other factors that could cause that, so, do we think that was the cause, based on the timing?" he asked. "Absolutely. But it's a difficult thing to pinpoint, right?"

Hemmel and others asked Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to include clam and oyster seeding in Tampa Bay as "mitigation" for the spill, meaning they would get financial help for their losses. That's not now required of the plant's operator.