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

Water-Related News

Red tide and algae blooms: Florida waters in crisis

TAMPA — Florida's water pollution crisis is reaching a breaking point, and the race to pass comprehensive legislation to fix our statewide problems is moving as slow as the environmental catastrophe unfolding in our bays, rivers, natural springs, and lagoons every day.

The question concerned citizens, charter boat captains, some politicians, and environmentalists are asking? How many tons of dead fish, how many manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and majestic tarpons do we have to clean up before Florida implements a systemic change from the top down.

Everyone who lives in Florida or visits Florida is part of the problem. No person is less innocent or guilty than the other, and scientists hope that we recognize and fix the problem; before it's too late.

Public meeting scheduled for Oct. 6th on Manatee County Piney Point injection well permit

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP's) Drinking Water and Aquifer Protection Program, announces an open house public meeting to which all persons are invited.

During this public meeting, representatives of both DEP and the applicant (Manatee County) will be available to answer questions and provide information about the draft Underground Injection Control Class I Injection Well System Construction and Testing Permit for the Manatee County Utilities' Piney Point injection well (UIC Permit No. 0322708-002-UC/1I, WACS Facility ID: 101607), located at 3105 Buckeye Road, Palmetto, in Manatee County, Florida.

This draft permit would authorize the construction and operational testing of one non-hazardous Class I injection well (IW-1) and one dual-zone monitor well (DZMW-1) for the disposal of industrial wastewater from the Manatee County Piney Point Facility following an extensive review of plans by DEP, including engineering and geology professionals.

DATE AND TIME:   Oct. 6, 2021, 4–7 p.m. (EDT).
PLACE:   Manatee County Central Library, Auditorium, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd., West Bradenton, Florida.
PURPOSE:   To receive public comments on the above referenced draft UIC permit for the Manatee County Utilities' Piney Point site.

Agenda, permit application and related application information

For more information, you may contact Annette G. Roberts:
Contact Name: Roberts, Annette
Contact Email: annette.g.roberts@floridadep.gov
Contact Phone: 850-245-8336

Fighting red tide with nature: Could clams be the key to fighting red tide?

Red tide is a part of living on the Gulf coast.

While it’s clearing up in Southwest Florida, research is underway to lessen its impact in the future.

After looking at the history and the issue, Florida TaxWatch found the state should consider reintroducing southern hard clams to Southwest Florida estuaries.

“This is just one important tool in the toolkit that should be used. And it could also further, you know, enhance areas like the Tampa Bay region, and help coastal restoration activities,” Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

FGCU Water School’s James Douglass said clams and oysters can help cut down the algae levels in the water.

“If they’re healthy, should be able to do that filtering and we need to take care of our oysters and clams, our natural oysters and clams to make sure they can do their job,” Douglass said.

Red tide gone from Manatee, Sarasota county beaches

Low to medium levels of the harmful algae bloom were still found in Pinellas County waters.

SARASOTA – After months of sitting in the sand next to dead fish or watching the sunset with a tickle in your throat, red tide has finally subsided in some Tampa Bay area beaches.

For the first time in months, red tide has not been detected at beaches in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Karenia brevis, the organism that causes the harmful algal bloom known as red tide, was not found in any of the latest samples pulled Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in those areas.

Though conditions have gotten better for most Tampa Bay area waterways, we're not completely in the clear just yet.

Low to medium levels of the harmful algae bloom were still found in Pinellas County waters, while medium to high levels were detected in the latest Pasco County samples.

Applications now being accepted for 2022 Tampa Bay Mini-Grants

Tarpon Tag

Are you an educator or part of a local community organization with an idea for a restoration or educational project in Tampa Bay? The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is now accepting project applications for the Bay Mini-Grants program! Bay Mini-Grants are competitive awards (up to $5,000) offered to community groups with projects that help improve Tampa Bay. Project proposals must address 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 that expand the use of Green Infrastructure Practices.

The application deadline for Bay Mini-Grants is September 24, 2021.

Information about the Bay Mini-Grants program, including an information packet with links to application resources, an Instructional Webinar and summaries of previously awarded grant projects can be obtained by visiting tbep.org.

Funding for Tampa Bay Mini-Grants is provided from the sale of the TBEP "Tarpon Tag" specialty license plate.

Tampa Bay loses 6,350 acres of seagrass over past two years

The numbers provided to the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission are worse than estimates in April.

The amount of healthy seagrass in Tampa Bay is lower than previously estimated.

Thursday, a Southwest Florida Water Management District official said Tampa Bay had seen a 16 percent decline in seagrass, or more than 6,350 acres, over two years ending in 2020. That’s higher than estimates released in April that measured a 13 percent drop.

“That sends up an alarm that something is going on that we need to pay attention to,” said Chris Anastasiou, chief scientist of the water district’s surface water improvement and management program.

His comments came Thursday during a presentation to the Hillsborough County commissioners sitting as the Environmental Protection Commission.

The numbers released in April were provisional, Susanna Martinez Tarokh, a spokeswoman for the water management district, told the Times. The amount of lost seagrass was revised upward after field verification work in Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay, she said.

The final mapping data showed seagrass acres declined from 40,651 in 2018 to 34,298 in 2020 according to measurements taken from the Manatee River north to Old Tampa Bay.

ManaSota 88 asks Manatee County to withdraw deep well injection application

BRADENTON — MansaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is urging the Manatee County Commission to withdraw its application for an Underground Injection Control Well at Piney Point.

The organization's chairman, Glenn Compton, sent the following letter to commissioners on Monday.

Dear Commissioners:

ManaSota-88 respectfully requests that the Manatee Board of County Commissioners withdraw the application for an Underground Injection Control Well at Piney Point and place this item on the agenda for the next Manatee County Board of County Commission meeting.

ManaSota-88 continues to oppose construction of any deep injection well in the vicinity of the former Piney Point Phosphate Plant.

There are ways to help protect manatees in SWFL

International Manatee Day is a time to focus on important members of our ecosystem in Southwest Florida and how to protect them. Manatee deaths have already passed a record in 2021, and the year isn’t over yet.

There are steps that can be taken in the water and on land to help protect manatees.

By easing up on fertilizers and other yard chemicals, people can help reduce pollutants entering our waterways and killing the food manatees need to survive.

Manatee deaths in Florida are at an all-time high with at least 929 deaths so far this year.

Longboat Key awaits FDEP feedback for pipeline reassessment

Longboat Key leaders are working with state regulators on a series of planned inspections of the town’s sewage link to the mainland following the June 2020 pipeline break and spill of millions of gallons of effluent in Manatee County.

The town is waiting for feedback from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the inspection plans and will proceed with the 10-month project once given the go-ahead.

The town is proposing a two-step inspection, beginning with a remote-controlled device that's inserted into the sewage flow on the Longboat Key side and examines the pipeline on its voyage to the Manatee County treatment plant. Following the examination, data will be compared to a similar inspection done in 2016.

“As it’s traversing the pipeline, it identifies areas where they may be gas pockets or other anomalies,” Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said, adding accumulations of potentially corrosive hydrogen sulfide would be cause for further study.

“It’s important just to note if it’s occurring,” Brownman said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the pipe is corroding in that location.”

The pipeline will also be inspected for external corrosion.

Beyond that, divers could be employed to visually inspect or perform other methods of inspection.

DEP Secretary tours Piney Point, Vows its safety as summer rains threaten

Newly appointed DEP secretary Shawn Hamilton says Piney Point can only handle another 11 inches of rain. But water is being piped out now, and a plan is in place if a hurricane threatens.

Shawn Hamilton has been appointed as the new secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Wednesday, Hamilton toured the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant along Tampa Bay.

There, he met with Tampa bankruptcy attorney Herb Donica, the new court-appointed receiver who will oversee the site's closure.

There are still about 261 million gallons of wastewater held at Piney Point, and summer rains are once again threatening to overflow its banks.

Here's part of his interview with WUSF's Steve Newborn:

HAMILTON: Well, first of all, just going back with being with the agency for over 13 years, being involved for that time and so many different parts of our diverse mission, it's just truly an honor to serve in this capacity. But for our priorities, it's to continue to execute on the governor's vision for the environment in the state of Florida and bring those efforts and projects to the fullest extent possible to completion. That will remain the focus.

One of the focuses is Piney Point. DEP has said that the site can only handle 11 or so more inches of rain. So what's the update, and what's the plan to remove some of that excess water, if we have to do that?

I had a chance to spend some time at the site today, to get a chance to meet with the receiver, but also get a sense for current site conditions. And you know, we're in a better spot than we were a few weeks ago.

But this being Florida, rains are inevitable and we're in the rainy season. Right now, the site's at about that 11-inch mark. But since the last update, we've deployed some intermediate water management systems that actively dispose of water. And so for the most part, we're in a good spot, with a favorable rain pattern and tropics up to this point, it has allowed us more time.

Volunteers needed for Tidy Island planting project Sept. 25th

New College of Florida and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program seek volunteers to help plant native plants on Tidy Island, a large mangrove peninsula in upper Sarasota Bay.

The Project

The most extensive mangrove swamp in Sarasota Bay, located at Tidy Island, is deeded to New College for teaching and research. Until 2021, much of the uplands areas were carpeted with invasive exotic plants that reduced the area's habitat value for wildlife. With a grant from the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program, New College of Florida and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program removed 12 acres of exotic vegetation. Now, we need volunteer help to replant the area with native plants.

Access

The planting site is not accessible by land and there is no motorized boat parking available, so we will shuttle volunteers from the Coquina South Boat Ramp. Shuttle spots are limited. Paddlers may pull boats ashore on Tidy Island. Please make sure to choose the correct ticket type when you register.

What to Expect

Volunteers should be prepared for a hot, sunny, and buggy day of shoveling and planting.

Court vacates NWPR, is still weighing WOTUS restoration

A federal judge on Monday tossed out a Trump-era rule that rolled back water pollution protections, but is still weighing whether to restore Obama-era protections or simply undo the Trump rollback to return to pre-Obama regulations. In a court order, Judge Rosemary Márquez, an Obama appointee, vacated the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which governed which bodies of water get protection from pollution. Márquez remanded the rule for reconsideration to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Trump administration in 2019 repealed an Obama-era rule known as the Waters of the United States Rule, which expanded federal protections for smaller waterways.

And last year, the former administration put forward an additional rule, the NWPR, that reversed some protections, including for wetlands, that had been in place for decades.

The 2020 rule is the one that Márquez tossed and gave parties to a lawsuit challenging it 30 days to file proposals about what to do about the repeal rule.

The decision comes as the Biden administration seeks to revise the rule and asked the court to send the Trump rule back to it for reconsideration.

University of Florida study aims to reduce nutrients in Manatee County ponds

Researchers with the University of Florida are using stormwater ponds in Manatee County to see if plants can help control nitrogen and phosphorus.

The university's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is using a four-year, $197,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund the research. If the results find plants beneficial, researchers hope to educate residents and businesses statewide to install plant buffers along stormwater ponds as best practice.

As stormwater flows into these ponds, it can bring excess nutrients that are harmful to the environment. The pollutants stem from fertilizer, yard debris and pet waste.

Basil Iannone, an assistant professor of urban landscape ecology and lead researcher on the project, said in a press release that if successful, the project could serve as a model to improve stormwater ponds across the state.

Longboat Key limiting public parking for beach renourishment

The town of Longboat Key is limiting public parking starting Monday [Aug. 30] at Broadway Street and North Shore Road for beach renourishment.

Town Projects Manager Charlie Mopps said the limited parking would last three to five weeks.

“The dredge was on its way to us from Louisiana and had to pull in to Mobile, Alabama, to sea conditions related to Hurricane Ida,” Mopps wrote in an email. “So, they’re expecting the dredge to arrive a week later.”

Public Works Director Isaac Brownman explained the need to limit public parking. 

“Our primary contractor, which is Weeks Marine, will be coming back to pump sand onto the beaches between the new (rock groin) structures,” Brownman said. “The contractor is going to need those areas on North Shore Road to stage earth-moving equipment because once they pump sand onto the beach, they need to move it around with large pieces of equipment and place it properly.”

The town also limited public beach parking on North Shore Road between late July and Aug. 9 for beach renourishment.

Anyone wanting to track the town’s beach renourishment project can visit Olsen Associates’ website.

Registration open for 2021 Sarasota Bay Water Quality Restoration Workshop

SBEP logo

On October 5 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) will host a virtual workshop to accelerate water quality recovery in Sarasota Bay with presentations from local governments & community innovators.

This virtual workshop will feature presentations from local government representatives and community innovators. We'll hear about projects that aim to reduce pollution entering the bay through infrastructure and nature-based solutions. Q&A sessions and interactive polling will engage the virtual audience.

Registration for the event is open now (link below). In the weeks leading up to the event, SBEP will send participants a final agenda and a link to join the meeting.

Questions? Contact us at (941) 955-8085 or info@sarasotabay.org.

Manatee County Commission okays water bill hike for maintenance, improvements

BRADENTON — Following a presentation by Manatee County Utilities Director Mike Gore and staff at Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting, commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of a water and wastewater rate increase in order to fund needed maintenance and improvements to the county's water treatment services.

The increase, which does not include solid waste, will amount to around $2 per month and begin in October. The county contracted with an outside consultant to perform a study and the result was a recommendation for the increase to fund such items as a new microfiltration system and repairs to the county's reservoir at Lake Manatee.

County administrator Scott Hopes urged board members to strongly consider adopting the recommended ordinance, explaining that these were enterprise funds and not a general budget item paid for by property taxes.

Judge appoints third party receiver to oversee Piney Point closure

Florida called for an emergency hearing over concerns of the facility's reservoir overflowing due to continued rainfall.

MANATEE COUNTY – A judge appointed a receiver to oversee the management and eventual closure of the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility, the Department of Environmental Protection says.

The decision is part of a larger lawsuit the state filed against Piney Point's property owners, HRK Holdings. Earlier this month, FDEP called for an emergency hearing of its lawsuit due to concerns that continued rainfall would cause the wastewater that sits inside the facility's reservoirs to overflow.

As of Wednesday, Piney Point has received 24.4 inches of rain, and the state expects another 9 inches by the end of September. DEP says the facility can only hold 11 more inches of rainfall.

If crews are not able to lower water levels in time, then FDEP says another wastewater release would have to happen.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force talks stormwater at virtual meeting

Stormwater headlined Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task force meeting Monday, with more than 250 tuning in to hear the online discussion.

Gov. Ron DeSantis mandated the five-member group in 2019, shortly after he took office, as part of a sweeping executive order designed to improve Florida’s water quality. His order included $2.5 billion for Everglades restoration and water protections — the highest level of such funding in the state’s history — and created the algae task force as well as the new position that oversees the group’s workings, the state’s chief science officer, currently University of South Florida Professor Mark Rains.

Rains kicked off Monday’s meeting by recapping its key accomplishments so far, before moving to the topic at hand.

“This task force under my predecessor, Dr. Tom Frazer, produced a consensus document that had a number of recommendations about what were the causes of water quality degradation,” he said. “Many of those recommendations went directly into SB 712, the Clean Waterways Act, and I think there’s a role for the Blue-Green Algae task force to play – kind of re-inserting themselves in that conversation along the way – as policies and practices change, and making sure that what was said in the consensus document is tracking all the way through to the actual changes of policy and practice.”

Water quality concerns stir up citrus BMP and phosphorus questions

As blue-green algae makes headlines again this summer, fertilizer from farms and urban sources are again under scrutiny. Last year, the state legislature passed the Clean Waterways Act to address continuing challenges with water quality.

The 111-page bill addresses agriculture, using biosolids as fertilizer, regulation of septic tanks, wastewater treatment systems, enhanced penalties, and other rules. It is part of the governor’s multibillion-dollar plan to improve the state’s water quality.

The BMP (Best Management Practices) Program for agriculture also saw some enhancements. The law requires that BMP manuals be updated more regularly to include current science. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) will now be required to collect and keep growers’ nutrient program records, with a particular focus on nitrogen and phosphorus. In the past, records of growers who are enrolled in the BMP Program were reviewed but not collected. Under the new law, growers have to fill out a Nutrient Application Report Form. These forms can be turned over to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The law also instructs FDACS to have on-site verification visits to farms at least every two years to confirm BMPs are being followed.

Trash-Free Waters Program builds partnerships to curb marine waste

It is one thing to try to educate restaurants, shops and consumers about why litter is a bad idea for the environment. But, it is a giant leap forward to show them the data -- documentation of the types of trash that end up in canals, rivers, and Tampa Bay.

The Environmental Protection Agency designed the Trash-Free Waters Program to do just that. Cities and counties participating receive a grant to set out trash traps that collect litter from waterways, which is then documented in a detailed database to determine what is getting tossed and what materials are involved.

The next important step is to establish partnerships with those in the community whose businesses or neighborhoods contribute to the mess and get them to agree to be part of the solution, says Joe Whalen, who heads the program for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP).

According to the EPA, the number one way to prevent trash pollution is to reduce the amount of trash created in the first place.

TBEP received a $500,000 grant from the EPA in late 2020 and is working with its partners -- Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Keep Manatee Beautiful, and the Osprey Initiative -- to deploy Litter Gitters and other trash traps to assist in this data collection. The devices float on top of the water and collect surface litter as it flows past.

“The thing that separates this effort is the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol, the EPA tool to collect and track amounts of trash to create a litter profile that looks at the condition of trash, type of trash being collected and the brand of trash or how long it has been sitting in the watershed,” Whalen says. “It helps create a more comprehensive profile of the litter in the region.”