Water-Related News

Moody’s: Unaddressed climate change will hurt Florida bond ratings

Waiting to address climate change could cost taxpayers in coastal cities — particularly in highly vulnerable Florida — in a way that not even the most progressive resiliency planners have considered.

Leaving the growing risk of rising seas unaddressed is going to hurt municipal and government credit scores, says the bond rating agency Moody’s in a new report. That means that cities or states now ignoring the issue could face higher interest rates when they borrow money down the road. And, according to long-term climate projections, they will need to borrow a lot of it — hundreds of millions, maybe billions — for civil works projects that will be needed to keep sea level rise from inundating streets, homes and businesses in Florida in coming decades.

Guess who is going to pick up that extra cost of those bonds? Taxpayers.

So far, some South Florida counties and cities, which have already invested in or are planning projects to adapt to the threat of rising seas, are making moves to offset what amounts to a hidden cost of climate change. Miami Beach has famously invested nearly half a billion dollars in pumps and road raising, and Miami voters just approved the $400 million Miami Forever bond to address issues like sea level rise.

Upham Beach project on hold

The Upham Beach stabilization project has been temporarily suspended due to projected rough winter weather. Two of the four planned rock T-groin structures to slow erosion of the beach have been completed since the project started in August.

The contractor will reassess the weather in late January or early February to determine when they can resume the project. A fenced staging area containing stored materials for constructing the northern two rock groin structures will remain at the site. All other areas of Upham beach will be open to the public until the contractor returns to finish the project.

Once work resumes in 2018, the contractor estimates it will take an additional three to four months to complete the project. Upon resuming work, the project area restricted from public access will largely be isolated to the north end of the beach. Access to the remainder of Upham Beach will be open to the public including unobstructed access to beaches to the south. Construction schedule updates can be viewed by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/environment/coastalMngmt/Upham_Beach_Stabilization_Project.htm.

Pinellas County’s Environmental Management Division—a division of Public Works—is responsible for coastal management projects, including beach nourishment and stabilization projects. These projects align with the County’s strategic goal of practicing superior environmental stewardship by preserving our beaches, and protecting and improving our water quality.

For more information about Pinellas County Public Works and beach stabilization and nourishment projects, visit www.pinellascounty.org/publicworks.

Edwards, Brandes file bills to prevent wastewater discharges

In order to encourage public and private utilities to upgrade the infrastructure supporting their wastewater treatment and pumping systems, two legislators have filed companion bills to offer incentives and create programs to help utilities gain compliance with today's industry standards.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, has filed HB 837 and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes — whose city has been plagued with sewage spills in recent years — has filed SB 244 — legislation that arose principally out of Hurricane Irma's aftermath.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, more than 9 million gallons of wastewater were released throughout Florida post-Irma because of loss of power, resulting in 989 separate spills due to loss of power. The spills necessitated "boil water notices" in almost 40 counties.

In recent years, heavy rains have exposed deficiencies in utilities' wastewater pumping capabilities throughout the state of Florida, Edwards points out in a media statement. Due to aging infrastructure that has highlighted the presence of decaying pipes, outdated pumping stations, septic tanks that are susceptible to overflows during flooding, and a lack of generators necessary to keep stations online during a power outage, millions of gallons of wastewater have spilled into waterways and onto city streets throughout the state.

Gulfport flooding fix in the works

GULFPORT — When Gulfport residents hear rain is in the forecast, they worry! Just one hour of heavy rain can flood streets in the waterfront town, especially during the rainy summer months or hurricane season. The good news is a flooding fix is happening right now!

Construction crews are tearing up portions of Gulfport Boulevard, the main drag through town. The pipes they are adding underground are twice as big as the ones currently being used, which should significantly help take flood water off the street.

The 2017 hurricane season is finally over. Why was it so bad?

Hurricane season just ended. Looking back on devastating storms like Harvey, Irma, and Maria, you may wonder if climate change played a role. Carl Parker, hurricane specialist with The Weather Channel, says there’s little room for doubt that climate change is making hurricanes more intense. Parker: “Yes, the atmosphere is changing, we are seeing storms that are different from anything we’ve seen in the past, and yes, the warming of the climate system does play a significant role in this.” 'There's little room for doubt that #climate change is making hurricanes more intense.' CLICK TO TWEET He says the main reason is warmer ocean waters. Parker: “It takes a lot of different things to make a hurricane, but all of those things being equal, if there’s more warmth in the oceans then there’s going to be more fuel, more power, for the hurricanes.” As the world warms, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor, so a single storm can produce more rainfall. And, he says, warming may cause changes to the jet stream that can slow weather systems down, so a storm may stay longer in one place, increasing the damage. Parker says it can be hard to believe that something as powerful and unpredictable as a hurricane can be influenced by human activity. But … Parker: “As people have more experience with these things … I think that is going to really change their minds.” Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Learn about crowdsourcing water level data at Dec. 19th webinar

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with the University of North Carolina, Institute of Marine Sciences, has developed a water level reporting application. The application collects and aggregates reports of observed water levels submitted through citizen scientists. These contributions are photographs with locations and a few simple details that will help weather predictors, scientists, and the public to better visualize and understand changing water levels. This application can be used globally to document high water levels at the coast, such as king tide events, but also far inland, such as snow melt or heavy rainfall events.

Various state and federal partners are currently using water level reports and photographs as communication and model validation tools. Explore the web-based application: What’s your water level? Or log a report from your mobile device.​

Date: Tuesday – December 19, 2017
Time: 12:00 – 1:00 PM ET

About the Presenter

Christine Buckel has been a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science since 2001. She is an ecologist and examines geospatial relationships of species and habitats in the marine environment. Most recently she has been examining these relationships and human interactions under future conditions with sea level rise. She has degrees from University of Nebraska (BS) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (MS).

The webinar is being sponsored by the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA).

Reserve your spot »

DEP secretary rejects judge's recommendation, denies Everglades oil drilling permit

A state agency chief on Monday issued an order denying a permit for oil drilling in western Broward County, despite an administrative law judge's recommendation that the permit be issued.

Judge Gary Early in October said evidence from a hearing in May showed the risk to the Everglades and regional water supplies from oil drilling was insignificant. He recommended the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reverse itself and issue a permit to the Kanter family for an exploratory well west of Miramar.

But DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein wrote Monday that his department had not issued a permit for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades since 1967. And he noted the Legislature, in adopting the Everglades Forever Act in 1991, designated the drilling site as being within the boundaries of Everglades restoration.

"The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is committed to protecting Florida’s one-of-a-kind natural resources, including the environmentally sensitive Everglades, and administering Florida’s environmental laws," DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said. "After careful review and consideration, DEP today executed a final order denying Kanter Real Estate’s application for a drilling permit in the Everglades."

Study to determine number of red snapper in Gulf of Mexico

A team of 21 scientists will conduct a study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The panel of researchers from universities and state and federal agencies was convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and awarded $9.5 million in federal funds, The Sun Herald reported. The project will receive another $2.5 million from the universities.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross highlighted the important of access to and long-term sustainability of red snapped to Gulf communities.

"American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the longterm sustainability of, red snapper," Ross said in a statement announcing the formation of the team. "I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource."

Sick birds this time of year could mean undetected algal blooms

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At the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or C.R.O.W., on Sanibel, some birds were reacquainted with the outdoors in a wired enclosure last week.

Veterinarian Julia Hill was checking up on them.

“We have pelicans and cormorants out here right now," said Hill. "It has an in-ground pool with filtered water that we can give them as they recover and it lets them start to fly again and socialize prior to releasing.”

These are birds that naturally don’t often make a lot of noise. However, these silent birds act as an alarm, signaling that something isn’t right in the environment.

Last month, the rehab center got an influx of sick pelicans and cormorants.

“They couldn’t move around very well," Hill said. "They looked like they were drunk.”

The birds had gastrointestinal problems, trouble breathing. Some were coughing up blood.

Hill said those are symptoms of exposure to red tide. But when these birds started coming in back in October, there were no indications of red tide from satellites or from instruments used to detect it.

Scientists monitor red tide increase off southwest Florida

The public can enhance monitoring using Mote’s smartphone app

Researchers are monitoring elevated levels of the naturally occurring Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis, along southwest Florida. The public can follow online updates from multiple monitoring partners and even report coastal conditions using Mote Marine Laboratory’s new smartphone app.

Red tide monitoring and prediction in Florida is accomplished through a unique collaboration between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC’s) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the Florida Department of Health, Mote Marine Laboratory, the University of South Florida, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), county agencies, other private non-profit agencies, and citizen volunteers. The FWC-Mote Red Tide Cooperative Program leads joint research, monitoring and public education efforts focused on K. brevis red tide.

The single-celled K. brevis alga occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico and is observed throughout the year at concentrations considered to be “background.” Higher-than-normal concentrations of K. brevis can include “very low,” “low,” “medium,” and “high” levels. (Below is a table describing these concentrations and their possible effects.*)

During the past two weeks, water samples confirmed a bloom of K. brevis along Lee County, with several samples observed to contain high concentrations of K. brevis. Also during the past two weeks, background to low concentrations were observed in Charlotte County, background to very low concentrations in Sarasota County, and background concentrations in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, according weekly reports issued Nov. 18 and 22 by FWC, which gathers and analyzes red tide data and compiles data from partners statewide, including Mote in Sarasota County.

DEP invests more than $90M in water quality improvement projects

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has provided more than $90 million toward the recent completion of seven water quality improvement projects in Central and South Florida. The funding was awarded through DEP’s Division of Water Restoration Assistance's various funding resources and programs.

The recently completed projects include:

Apopka: The Orange Blossom KOA septic to sewer project, funded in part by a $34,425 Florida Springs Grant to the St. Johns River Water Management District, connected the park to Apopka's existing central sewer system, improving water quality in Lake Apopka and the Wekiva springshed.

Gasparilla Island: The Gasparilla Island reverse osmosis water treatment plant expansion project, funded in part by a $5 million Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) loan, expanded the capacity of the existing facility from 1.073 to 1.267 million gallons per day. Also included are two new brackish water supply wells and a raw water main to transport water from the new wells to the facility, which supplies potable water to its service area on Gasparilla Island in Lee County.

Largo: The Largo Wet Weather project, funded in part by a $73.2 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) loan, upgraded and expanded the city's sewer and reuse systems. These much-needed improvements have helped reduce sewer overflows and ensure that treated wastewater effluent meets water quality standards.

Martin and St. Lucie counties: The Caulkins Water Farm project was funded in part by a total of $1.5 million in Environmental Protection Agency's Section 319 nonpoint source pollution grants to the South Florida Water Management District for the original pilot project, which turned former citrus groves into a reservoir. With the pilot project's success, the reservoir was recently expanded, providing much need storage for excess stormwater from the C-44 Canal, which is linked to Lake Okeechobee. The completed project provides both water storage and a reduction in nutrient loading into the St. Lucie River and estuary.

Sebring: The Spring Lake Improvement District's Stormwater Treatment Area project, funded in part by a total of $4.3 million in a CWSRF loan, an Environmental Protection Agency's Section 319 nonpoint source pollution grant and a legislative appropriation, constructed a lake-wetland marsh system and expanded storage capacity for stormwater treatment. The stormwater treatment area provides additional water quality treatment benefits prior to discharge into Arbuckle Creek, a tributary of Lake Istokpoga. This water is then transported to Lake Okeechobee and ultimately, the Everglades and Florida's sensitive Atlantic estuaries.

Stuart: The distribution system and water meter upgrade project, funded in part by a $5.8 million DWSRF loan, replaced more than 11 miles of distribution piping, converted approximately 2,500 meters and installed an emergency interconnect with the Martin County water supply system. This will improve reliability of water supply to Stuart residents.

Also in Stuart, the East Heart of Haney Creek wetlands restoration project, funded in part by $181,000 in Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Water Quality Restoration grants, re-graded approximately 6 acres of an exotic-cleared area, created berms and weirs, and restored the eastern third of Heart of Haney Creek to native wetlands. Waters from the 395-acre Eastern Haney Creek watershed will now be directed through the restored wetlands before discharge to tidal Haney Creek, and ultimately the St. Lucie estuary.

For more information about the State Revolving Fund, Nonpoint Source water quality restoration grants, Florida Springs Grant Program and other funding opportunities, please visit the Division of Water Restoration Assistance.

EPA, Army propose to delay WOTUS implementation

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) are proposing to amend the effective date of the 2015 rule defining “waters of the United States.” The agencies are proposing that the 2015 rule would not go into effect until two years after today’s action is finalized and published in the Federal Register. This amendment would give the agencies the time needed to reconsider the definition of “waters of the United States.”

“Today’s proposal shows our commitment to our state and tribal partners and to providing regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and businesses,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This step will allow us to minimize confusion as we continue to receive input from across the country on how we should revise the definition of the ‘waters of the United States.’”

The 2015 rule, which redefined the scope of where the Clean Water Act applies, had an effective date of August 28, 2015. Implementation of the 2015 rule is currently on hold as a result of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the rule, but that stay may be affected by a pending Supreme Court case. The 2015 rule is also stayed in 13 states due to a North Dakota district court ruling. EPA and the Army are taking this action to provide certainty and consistency to the regulated community.

"The Army, together with the Army Corps of Engineers, propose this rule with EPA to help continue to provide clarity and predictability to the regulated public during the rule making process. We are committed to implementing the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparently as possible for the regulated public," said Mr. Ryan Fisher, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).

This action follows the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on "Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the 'Waters of the United States' Rule." The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution.

The agencies’ proposal is separate from the two-step process the agencies propose to take to reconsider the 2015 rule. The comment period for the Step 1 rule closed in September and the agencies are currently working to review the comments received from the public. The agencies are also in the process of holding listening sessions with stakeholders as we work to develop a proposed Step 2 rule that would revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”

The agencies will be collecting public comment on this proposal for 21 days after publication in the Federal Register and plan to move quickly to take final action in early 2018.

(Source: EPA)

Green sea turtle nest numbers hit record

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Today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced a record year for the number of green sea turtle nests in Florida. FWC staff documented approximately 39,000 green sea turtle nests, based on 27 Florida index beaches used to assess nesting trends.

The final 2017 sea turtle nesting numbers from the FWC’s more comprehensive Statewide Nesting Beach Survey, covering 800 miles of Florida coastline, will be available in early 2018. Preliminary data, based on the recently completed Index Nesting Beach Survey, indicates the trend for green sea turtle nesting has experienced significant increases over the past 27 years.

“The success of our green sea turtles is a victory for conservation,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “After years of many people and agencies working to conserve this species and its marine habitats, numbers of green sea turtles in our coastal waters and nesting on our beaches have increased substantially. Last year, the green sea turtles that nest on Florida beaches were reclassified from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Nearly 30 years ago, only 464 green sea turtle nests were recorded on the 200 miles of beaches that are part of the Index Nesting Beach Survey. By 2011, the count was up to 10,701 green sea turtle nests; in 2013, it was 25,553 nests; and in 2015, it was about 28,000. The counts on index beaches represent about 68 percent of green sea turtle nests statewide. Green sea turtles nest more abundantly every other year, which contributes to the two-year spikes in their nesting numbers in Florida.

For more information about trends in sea turtle nest counts on Florida beaches, visit MyFWC.com/Research.

Photo source: FWC

Snails invade beach at Fort De Soto County Park

Millions of snails have completely taken over a Florida beach for some reason

A popular Florida beach is now covered in a slimy legion of tiny gastropods.

At Fort De Soto Beach, just south of St. Petersburg, huge numbers of cerith snails have washed up on the once pristine shoreline.

A video of the never-ending swath of snails was posted last weekend by See Through Canoe's Michael McCarthy. At this point it isn't clear exactly what these snails want, or what they're doing here, but they love this beach.

In an interview with FOX 13 News, McCarthy said "I grew up in Florida and have spent most of my life on the water. I have never seen or heard of an invasion of these snails before."

Cerith Snails are small, 1/2 inch - 1 & 1/2 inch creatures known for their big appetite and ability to oxygenate aquarium soils. According to Live Aquaria, their temperament is "peaceful".

Let's hope it stays that way.

DEP to St. Pete: Spend money on sewer lines, not other suggested fixes

ST. PETERSBURG — Forget that street sweeper. Take a rain check for the aerators to spruce up Lake Maggiore. And, while you’re at it, find some other source of cash to make those city recreation centers more energy efficient.

That was the message from state environmental officials this month on how St. Petersburg should satisfy a $810,000 civil penalty imposed by the agency as part of a $326 million consent decree in July.

Instead, Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials offered some guidance: Focus on the sewers, especially those leaky private sewer lines that tax the system by allowing storm and groundwater into municipal wastewater pipes.

When the city agreed to the consent decree, it signed on to a plan to either pay the fine or fund an equivalent amount in pollution prevention projects.

Not surprisingly, the city opted to spend the money on projects instead of forking it over to the state. In September, City Council members held a brainstorming session to come up with projects that could meet DEP requirements. Hence, the project list that included spending $200,000 on a new street sweeper.

Earlier this month, DEP officials delivered the verdict on that wish list, rejecting the street sweeper, pond aerators and energy-efficiency programs as insufficiently focused on repairing the city’s aging, leaky sewers.