Water-Related News

Governor Appoints Schleicher and Smith to the SWFWMD’s Governing Board

Governor Rick Scott appointed Joel Schleicher and Rebecca Smith to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board. Schleicher represents Charlotte and Sarasota Counties and Smith represents Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

Schleicher, 65, of Sarasota, is the founder and executive chairman of Focal Point Data Risk, LLC. Schleicher received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. He is appointed for a term beginning May 12, 2017, and ending March 1, 2019.

Smith, 57, of Tampa, is the president and chief executive officer for the A.D. Morgan Corporation. Smith received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida. She is appointed for a term beginning May 12, 2017, and ending March 1, 2021.

Governing Board members are unpaid, citizen volunteers who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The Governing Board sets policy for the District, whose mission is to manage the water and related resources of west central Florida to meet the needs of current and future water users while protecting the environment.

Egmont Key makes historic preservation list because it is threatened by climate change

ST. PETERSBURG — Every year the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation picks 11 properties to highlight as the most threatened historic properties in the state.

This year, three of those sites are in the Tampa Bay area.

And one of them — Egmont Key — made the list because it is threatened by climate change.

"This is the first time a site has made the list due to the threat of sea level rise," said Clay Henderson, the president of the trust's board of trustees. "We see this as a new threat."

The loss of historic properties to a rising sea became a top concern for the trust, Henderson explained, after seeing the damage that Hurricane Matthew inflicted on St. Augustine last year.

As the October storm's eyewall skirted the oldest continuously occupied city in America, it sent a 7-foot storm surge swirling through the streets. Flooding affected all seven of its federally designated historic districts, damaging about half of the 2,000 properties in those areas.

Red Tide linked to pelican deaths, but St. Petersburg still denies any link to sewage dumps

Earlier this spring, a city-funded study concluded that dozens of pelicans found dead in January had been exposed to botulism while feasting on tilapia carcasses.

But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said recently that a toxin from Red Tide was found in some of the birds and may have contributed to their deaths.

Wildlife commission officials would not say if the pelican deaths are part of a criminal inquiry into St. Petersburg's sewage-dumping woes, but Red Tide can be caused by sewage spills.

"As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to speak of any connection that may exist," spokeswoman Kelly Richmond said. The commission is investigating the city's dumping of 200 million gallons of sewage from an overburdened system since August 2015.

A few months ago, interim Water Resources director John Palenchar said the city-sponsored study proved the city's sewage crisis had nothing to do with the dead pelicans.

Tampa Bay has spent millions to keep hurricane season from turning into sewage season again

Tampa Bay utility officials have their collective fingers crossed, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's calamity: Glancing blows from Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine, combined with record rainfall, overwhelmed sewer pipes and plants across the region.

Sewage seeped through manhole covers and flowed over residential streets. St. Petersburg alone sent 161.5 million gallons of waste gushing into the Tampa Bay itself (and a total of 200 million gallons going back to August 2015). Those disastrous spills fouled the bay, left local officials reeling and sparked state and federal investigations.

Seven months later, public works crews have been working hard to get ready for the new storm season, which officially starts June 1. Will it be enough to stave off another sewage crisis?

Sea turtle nesting season underway

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Sea turtle nesting season is underway, and in order to practice superior environmental stewardship, Pinellas County reminds beach residents and visitors in beach communities to keep conditions safe for sea turtles to thrive.

Females generally nest from early May through August with turtle eggs typically taking between 50 and 60 days to hatch.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium monitors nearly 26 miles of coastline and reports on sea turtle nesting activity. The staff engages in early morning patrols to locate new nesting sites and late night patrols to check existing nests for hatchlings. They also watch the nests from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to make sure that hatchlings make it to the water safely. Do not pick up hatchlings heading toward the water, shine lights or use photo equipment with a flash. Hatchlings use starlight and moonlight reflecting off the water to find their way to the ocean, and if they become misled by artificial light, they can become disoriented and die.

In addition to checking the beaches every morning for signs of new nests, aquarium staff mark the nests and rope them off to avoid human disturbance. As an endangered species, loggerhead turtles are protected under federal law and bothering their nests is illegal. To report the disturbance of a sea turtle nest, or report the sightings of turtles or hatchlings lost, stranded or wandering in the street, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-3922 or *FWC from a cell phone. More info »

Most of the Pinellas County beach communities have ordinances in place prohibiting lighting that casts glare onto the beach during turtle nesting season, which ends on Oct. 31.

Pollution notice bill inspired by sinkhole passes Legislature

A bill requiring industry and government to notify the public quickly of any pollution problems has passed both houses of the Legislature and is headed for Gov. Rick Scott. Scott, who called for the change in the law, will definitely sign it.

The bill, SB 532, was inpsired by the sinkhole at Mosaic's Mulberry phosphate plant and St. Petersburg's sewage disaster.

The sinkhole, in particular, drove Scott's desire for the bill. When it opened up in August 2016 and swallowed 215 million gallons of contaminated water, dumping it into the aquifer, neither Mosaic nor Scott's own Department of Environmental Proteciton told the public about it for three weeks. The reason? State law did not require them to do so unless the pollution was detected outside the polluter's property boundaries. Mosaic (but not the DEP) later apologized for the delay.

The delay in St. Petersburg officials reporting the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that the city's aging wastewater system released into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine bothered Scott as well.

Florida drinking water ranks among nation’s worst, study finds

7.5 million: The number of people in Florida served by water treatment plants with safe water violations

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article148112799.html#storylink=cpyMore Floridians are exposed to unsafe drinking water than just about anywhere in the country, according to a new study of violations.

The state ranked second in the number of people impacted by violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act based on the most recent data available from 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council said. Nationally, 77 million people were exposed to unsafe water, with violations including high levels or toxic arsenic, lead and other chemicals, as well as failure to test or report contamination.

The study, a follow-up to an examination of the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., comes as the Trump administration considers drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces the law.

“The problem is two-fold: there’s no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we’re living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure,” Erik Olson, NRDC’s health program director, said in a statement. “We take it for granted that when we turn on our kitchen tap, the water will be safe and healthy, but we have a long way to go before that is reality across our country.”

To compile the data, the nonprofit looked at the most recent, comprehensive data and ranked states based on the number of people exposed to unsafe water. That could skew findings to heavily populated states, but even as a percentage, Florida ranked in the top ten, said NRDC spokesman Alex Frank.

Southwest Florida so dry that canals, wells, pumps, lawn watering are concerns

As Southwest Florida is gripped by a particularly dry season and residents are urged to conserve water, some municipalities are more affected by the relatively sparse rainfall and low water levels than others, officials say.

As of Friday, the Southwest coast area of the South Florida Water Management District — which includes large parts of Collier and Lee County — received only 5.46 inches of rain, said Randy Smith, a district spokesman. That's only 45 percent of what the area usually would receive during an average dry season, which runs from Nov. 1 through May 31, he said.

"It got less than half the rain that you normally would have," Smith said.

To make matters worse, Southwest Florida's dry spell has parched the area's woods, leaving wildfires with plenty of sun-baked brush to fuel their rage. Two large blazes in Collier torched thousands of acres in March and April and razed eight homes. A 400-acre fire in Lehigh Acres last week also destroyed or damaged structures.

‘Big win’: Florida beaches score $50 million in state budget

TALLAHASSEE – Florida's beaches would receive $50 million next year for renourishment projects in the state budget being negotiated by legislative leaders, but a bill to overhaul the way the state manages its coasts faces an uncertain future.

"It's a big win to get $50 million in the budget for beaches, big win," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who made beach funding a top priority this legislative session. Lawmakers often have provided less than the $30 million required in state law each year.

Latvala’s bill to reform the state’s beach management system overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Thursday but has stalled in the House.

The beach funding boost and Senate action on Latvala’s bill come on the heels of the Naples Daily News' four-day "Shrinking Shores" series that showed how state leaders have not delivered for Florida’s beaches, even though they bring in billions of dollars of tourist-related state sales tax revenues.

The House still could take up the beach policy bill sent over from the Senate in these final days of the legislative session, and parts of it could be written into the state’s budget, beach advocates said.

Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association President Debbie Flack celebrated the $50 million included in the budget Thursday.

“If nothing else happens, that’s a major hurdle,” Flack said.

SWFWMD declares Phase I Water Shortage throughout 16-county region

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (District) Governing Board voted today to declare a Phase I Water Shortage for all 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries. Included in the order are Charlotte, Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Sumter counties.

The primary purpose for a Phase I water shortage is to alert the public that watering restrictions could be forthcoming. The order also requires local utilities to review and implement procedures for enforcing year-round water conservation measures and water shortage restrictions, including reporting enforcement activity to the District.

A Phase I water shortage order does not change allowable watering schedules, however it does prohibit “wasteful and unnecessary” water use.

The District considers both natural water resource conditions and the viability of public supply when deciding to declare a water shortage order – that means, restricting the amount of water the public can use. For the past 20 years, the District has worked diligently with our partners to develop alternative water supplies. Even though we are experiencing drought conditions, there is adequate water supply available to the public.

Florida’s dry season runs October through May and April is historically one of the driest months of the year. The District encourages water conservation year-round, and offers many tips to reduce water use and additional information on our website WaterMatters.org/conservation.

New primer to “living shorelines” published

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A synthesis of recent thinking and results from practitioners and researchers of Living Shorelines just hit the stands. “Living Shorelines: The Science and Management of Nature-Based Coastal Protection,” details many aspects of the shoreline stabilization approach, and specifically includes: (1) background: history and evolution; (2) management, policy, and design; (3) synthesis of Living Shoreline science: physical and biological aspects; and (4) summary and future guidance. Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science participated in the project.

Carolyn Currin, Jenny Davis, and Amit Malhotra contributed a chapter entitled "Response of Salt Marshes to Wave Energy Provides Guidance for Successful Living Shoreline Implementation". The multi-faceted chapter provides information pertaining to the: energetic determinants of marsh habitat distribution; relationship between shoreline wave energy and marsh erosion rates; and the ability of fringing marshes to attenuate waves and trap sediments. The chapter also describes the results of a case study of natural and stabilized fringing salt marsh from central North Carolina and combines these results with those from the literature review to provide guidance on the physical settings in which fringing marsh and hybrid living shorelines can be considered.

Coastal ecosystem functions have diminished as estuarine and coastal shorelines have been managed mostly to support human infrastructure and economic benefits. Coastal management has evolved to include the use of nature-based shoreline erosion control approaches. Living Shorelines are intended to restore natural shoreline functions in estuarine, marine, and aquatic systems.

Florida Senate unanimously supports pollution notification rules change

The Florida Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to inform the public within 24 hours after a spill occurs.

Senators passed SB 532 on its third and final reading.

Sponsored by Manatee County Republican Bill Galvano, the bill was filed in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for new public notification rules and legislation to ensure the public is kept informed of incidents of pollution that may cause a threat to public health and Florida’s air and water resources. The push came after a sewage spill last fall in St. Petersburg and Mosaic’s sinkhole in Mulberry that sent toxins in the drinking water supply.

The DEP filed suit, issuing an emergency rule requiring those responsible to notify the public within 24 hours. After business groups had challenged the rule, an administrative law judge rejected the rule, saying the department exceeded its rule-making authority.

SB 532 also requires DEP to develop and publish a list of substances that “pose a substantial risk to public health, safety or welfare.” If any company fails to notify the Department of an incident involving one of the published substances, it could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day.

“People have a right to know, and it’s at the heart of public safety,” Galvano said.

All eyes are now focused on the legislation is being carried in the House (HB 1065) by Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters. If it passes there, it goes to Scott’s desk.

Warning from SWFWMD: Additional water restrictions are possible

A water shortage order could be in the future for 16 Florida counties due to the ongoing drought.

The governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, will discuss a vote on a staff-recommended phase 1 water shortage order for their 16 counties, including Manatee and Sarasota.

The order won’t be final until the board votes to approve it at their next meeting on April 25 in Haines City.

If approved, this phase won’t change current watering conservation schedules. It only would be a first step to warn residents that stricter water restrictions could be coming, said Swiftmud public information officer Susanna Martinez Tarokh.

The order will require more frequent and detailed reporting to Swiftmud on the utilities’ ends, said Manatee County water division manager Mark Simpson. The county will also have to review its enforcement policies.

Since April 2017 was proclaimed Water Conservation Month by the board of county commissioners, Simpson said residents will get notifications about ways to conserve water. But even with the potential of a water shortage order, he said Manatee County’s water supply is still safe, with current levels at Lake Manatee Reservoir able to fuel water needs through September.

Residents should be mindful of year-long county water restrictions set Swiftmud and try to find ways to save water where they can.

As the drought is expected to continue until rains begin in June, the prevalence of wildfires across the state is on the rise. According to the Florida Forest Service’s fire danger index, Manatee County continues to have a very high fire risk. The Myakka River District is still restricting burns to citrus piles only.

Desal plant, reservoir easing effects of Tampa Bay’s drought

Florida's drought has become so dire that the Southwest Florida Water Management District is about to alert homeowners to watch for watering restrictions.

The board, also known as Swiftmud, is expected next week to declare a phase one water order. That means it will alert the residents of the 16 counties it oversees that they should get ready to scale back their water use.

In the Tampa Bay area, a drought such as this one used to mean pumping more water from the aquifer to replace the lack of rain. The result would be dried up lakes and wetlands, sometimes causing permanent damage.

No more, though. Now that Tampa Bay Water has built a desalination plant and a 15 billion gallon reservoir, the region can handle a drought without damaging the environment, according to chief technical officer Alison Adams.

Having those facilities "does impact how we can manage our way through a drought now," Adams said. "We can continue meeting the demand for water and not have the kind of environmental damage we had."

Those controversial and, at times, trouble-prone facilities give the Tampa Bay region an advantage over most of Florida in responding to the prolonged drought and resulting wildfires. Only the Peace River Water Supply Authority, which supplies water to Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties, is similarly equipped for a drought.

New Mote app analyzes microscopic red tide data

SARASOTA — The future of red tide data collection is here — in cellphone application form.

Scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System have teamed up to create a NASA-funded cellphone microscope app, the “HABscope,” that can, within minutes, analyze the concentration of cells of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, in any given water sample extracted from the shore.

Volunteers place drops of the water sample from a pipette onto a microscope slide and take a video of the sample. Once they file the video of the sample, the app calculates the cells per liter, which in turn determines the level of red tide in the water. The app has an algorithm that can identify Karenia brevis based on its swimming pattern.

Congresswoman, Others Decry Proposed EPA Budget Cuts

On a hot spring afternoon, with the waters of Tampa Bay lapping the shores of Tampa's Picnic Island in the background, Rep. Kathy Castor and representatives from environmental groups such as the Tampa Audubon Society, The Sierra Club and Environment Florida spoke out against the Trump Administration's plans to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Castor distinctly remembers growing up in the Tampa Bay region when it didn't look at all like it does now.

"The air quality was very poor, you could smell it, you could taste it, and the Clean Air Act has improved the air we breathe, clearly, in the Tampa Bay area," she said.

She also said when she was a girl, people were warned against swimming in Tampa Bay, because water conditions were so bad.

The gathering was on the seventh anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the effects of which she said the state is still dealing with. Castor said cuts to the EPA, which could eliminate 31 percent of its funding, would harm not only Florida's environment, but also its economy.

Castor said, "We intend to fight to protect what makes Florida special and drives our economy: clean and healthy beaches and a beautiful Tampa Bay." She said she plans to introduce legislation to restore initiatives like the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and initiatives that protect Florida's water and air.

University of South Florida St. Petersburg Oceanographer David Hollander said people in power need to take the long view when it comes to the environment. He says it took years to decades to develop and refine programs like the Clean Water Act through the EPA.

“The fact that you can dismantle these programs within a one-to-two-year time scale doesn't take into account if things were to change, how long does it take to come back from the loss of the Clean Water Act and the regulations associated with this,” Hollander said.

Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen says the water his city discharges into the bay is "drinking quality." But he says the city can't do it alone.

“We are spending $250 million improving our storm water system. And the bottom line is that if the Trump Administration policies undercut our local efforts, it's all going to come for naught, because we need the strength of the federal government behind us to keep this bay clean,” Cohen said.