Water-Related News

NASA helps warn of harmful algal blooms in lakes, reservoirs

Harmful algal blooms can cause big problems in coastal areas and lakes across the United States. When toxin-containing aquatic organisms multiply and form a bloom, it can sicken people and pets, contaminate drinking water, and force closures at boating and swimming sites.

With limited resources to monitor these often-unpredictable blooms, water managers are turning to new technologies from NASA and its partners to detect and keep track of potential hazards. This is particularly critical in lakes and reservoirs that people use for both recreation and water supply.

A new app for Android mobile devices, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and now available on Google play, will alert officials and members of the public when a harmful algal bloom could be forming, depending on specific changes in the color of the water observed by satellites. The app is a product of the multi-agency Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, or CyAN.

“The interest is to use remote sensing as an eye-in-the-sky, early warning system to get a picture of harmful cyanobacteria in U.S. inland lakes,” said Jeremy Werdell, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center lead for CyAN, which also includes the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Living shoreline replaces old seawall in Safety Harbor

A group of kids, adults and researchers helped plant and put the finishing touches on a living shoreline.

The more than 200-foot-long living shoreline is located at the Safety Harbor Waterfront Park. It replaced a crumbling seawall.

"[The Living Shoreline] is better for the environment, cleaner for the water, and better for the fish and birds. You don't have to replace it," said Ries, Vice President and SE Biological Services and Restoration Director at Environmental Science Associates.

Ries is part of the team that worked with the City of Safety Harbor. He explains the seawall disrupted a natural process that the living shoreline will help bring back.

Gov. DeSantis signs bill giving Sarasota’s Mote $18 million to fight red tide

The laboratory will develop technologies that can fight the toxic algae.

SARASOTA — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday that will put Mote Marine Laboratory at the forefront of efforts to combat red tide in Florida.

The bill, which was championed by Senate President Bill Galvano, allocates $18 million over six years for Mote to develop technologies that can fight red tide blooms.

Lawmakers crafted the measure in response to last year’s devastating bloom that killed sea life in Southwest Florida, fouled the air and water and hurt the region’s tourism industry.

“If we don’t do all that we can to maintain our natural resources, you will see our economy suffer,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis and legislative leaders are touting the measure as a major step toward reducing the harmful effects of red tide, even as some environmental advocates argue lawmakers have not done enough to tackle nutrient pollution that can feed the toxic algae blooms.

Red tide blooms start offshore and are naturally occurring. But when the blooms move near shore they can feed on nutrients that leach into the water from sources such as fertilizer runoff, leaky septic tanks and sewage spills.

Senate Bill 1552 — dubbed the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative — does not address the problem of excessive nutrients in coastal waterways. Instead of trying to cut off the algae’s food source, the legislation - which was sponsored by State Sen. Joe Gruters and state Rep. Michael Grant - seeks to fight the blooms through technology.

June 23-29 is Mosquito Awareness Week

mosquito image

Next week is Mosquito Control Awareness Week! Now that it’s mosquito season, it is the perfect time to look in and around your home for ways to control mosquitoes that can carry viruses like Zika and West Nile.

Here are some simple steps that citizens can take to help control mosquito populations:

  • Empty water from any item that can hold water.
    Examples: flower pots, garbage cans, recycling containers, wheelbarrows, aluminum cans, boat tarps, old tires and buckets.
  • Flush birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
  • Flush ornamental bromeliads or treat with BTI, a biological larvicide available at home stores.
  • Clean roof gutters, which can become clogged and hold water.
  • Change the water in outdoor pet dishes regularly.
  • Keep pools and spas chlorinated and filtered.
  • Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.
  • Cover rain barrels with screening.
  • Check for standing water under houses, near plumbing drains, under air conditioning unit drip areas, around septic tanks and heat pumps.
  • Take steps to eliminate standing water, improve drainage and prevent future puddling.

“It’s important for residents to remember the three Ds of mosquito prevention,” said Brian Lawton, program manager for Pinellas County Vegetation Management and Mosquito Control. “Dress wisely, defend with a good mosquito repellent, and drain standing water.”

Big mission awaits Florida's new Blue Green Algae Task Force

Reducing harmful nutrients in state waters, through moves such as more monitoring and staffing, is an expected short-term goal of a new task force set up by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look at toxic algae fouling Florida waterways.

But with a brief timeline for the five-member Blue Green Algae Task Force to reach its initial findings, don’t expect proposals for massive state rule changes related to farming practices or moving away from septic systems.

Task force member Michael Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station, said rather than replace regulations, as some environmental groups contend is needed, a more realistic approach would focus on “fine-tuning” existing rules.

“In any field, if you make the rules too strong, too stringent, too unfair, they won’t be followed,” Parsons said. “I think there is a compromise between allowing people the flexibility to work within certain frameworks as well as getting the needed results or the intended results within that framework. You can’t force people to do things, but on the other hand, we do have goals we need to meet, so there has to be a compromise between the two.”

This year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone could be one of the biggest ever, NOAA says

A summertime Gulf of Mexico dead zone fueled by pollution flowing out of the Mississippi River watershed could be among the largest on record this year.

In a seasonal forecast issued this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said heavy spring rain over the watershed, which drains 37 states - or about 41 percent of the U.S. - was expected to flush large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the northern Gulf. That could create a dead zone covering more than 7,800 square miles.

It's too early to tell what influence the zone might have on seasonal red tides that form off the Florida shelf. Following a 2017 record-setting dead zone, a toxic red tide started in October that lasted for more than a year, littering southwest Florida beaches with dead marine life and eventually sweeping up the Atlantic coast.

"This is an atypical year given the really high discharges, so it would be something to keep an eye on," said NOAA oceanographer David Schuerer. 

2019 TBERF grants announced

The Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund (TBERF) is a competitive grants program with the goal of funding projects which restore and protect Tampa Bay and its watershed. It is managed through a strategic partnership between the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) and Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE), who work together to encourage local and national contributions from the public and private sectors and achieve measurable conservation outcomes. The founding partners of TBERF are the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Restore America’s Estuaries, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and The Mosaic Company.

The 2019 grantees have been announced. Learn more about their projects here »

The goal of the TBERF is to establish the habitat, species, and nutrient reduction priorities that have been developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and its partners, and outlined in the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) Charting the Course. Eligible projects will advance the following priorities:

  • Recover an additional 5,103 acres of seagrass over 2010 levels, while preserving the bay’s existing grass beds and reducing propeller scarring of seagrasses.
  • Prevent increases in nitrogen entering the bay and assist in maintaining nitrogen loading at 2003-2007 levels by implementing innovative stormwater management projects and programs.
  • “Restore the historic balance” of coastal wetland habitats by restoring an additional 1,918 acres of salt marsh, including low-salinity tidal marsh, as approved in the TBEP 2010 Habitat Master Plan Update.
  • Restore an additional 840 acres of salt barren (saltern) habitat in Tampa

Flood insurance rate map changes public meetings June 11, 25

County property owners have until July 31 to contest proposed changes in Pinellas County’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) with updated scientific and technical data. Preferred-risk flood insurance policies should be purchased before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issues Letters of Final Determination and the updated FIRM becomes effective. To help explain the changes and what actions property owners may need to take, Pinellas County is holding three open house-style meetings in June.

The first two meetings will be held on Tuesday, June 11, at the Lealman Exchange, located at 5175 45th St. N., in St. Petersburg. An afternoon meeting is scheduled from 2 until 4 p.m., and an evening meeting will be held from 6 until 8 p.m.

The third meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 25, in the Oldsmar City Council Chambers, located at 101 State St. W., in Oldsmar. The meeting will take place from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The meetings will provide valuable information to property owners that may be affected by proposed changes to Pinellas County’s FIRM. Home and business owners, renters, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, surveyors and insurance agents are encouraged to attend. The same information will be provided at all three meetings. There will be no formal presentation.

The community meetings will be held in an open house format to allow citizens to talk to insurance specialists and technical specialists about the preliminary maps. Representatives from Pinellas County, several cities and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) will also be in attendance. A customer service representative will be available to answer basic questions in Spanish.

Property owners can view their current flood zone and potential map change at www.pinellascounty.org/flooding/fema_firm.htm.

Although it is not required, property owners are advised to bring their elevation certificates if

Vertical oyster garden workshop will help to clean Gulfport waters

Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), a non-profit located in Tierra Verde, is teaming up with a grassroots group of concerned citizens in Gulfport, which means free vertical oyster gardens, or VOGs, will soon be installed on docks at the Municipal Marina and at private residences.
Each VOG encourages 50 to 100 juvenile oysters to attach where they can grow to adulthood. When each oyster matures to a maximum of about 70 to 80 millimeters in size, it can filter from one to five gallons of salt water per hour, said Eric Plage, an environmental specialist with TBW.

Oysters are filter feeders, he said. While filtering water for their food like algae, they also filter out contaminants such as storm drain runoff along with pesticides, fertilizers, nutrients and the algae that feed red tide blooms.

“They are incredibly hardy,” he said. “The filtering they do to clean the water doesn’t kill them or make them sick. They can actually improve water quality in an area.”

A $5,000 mini grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program is funding the local VOG project.

The workshop’s main goals are to raise community awareness about the environment among participants to make them “stewards of the bay” and to create about 1,000 VOGs that will help to contribute to cleaner water that borders Gulfport, said Plage.

During hurricane season, a storm surges could cause most devastation

With hurricane season in full swing, new reports are supporting evidence that wind isn't the biggest threat during a hurricane, but water is.

A new report from data analysis company CoreLogic, analyzed 19 states along 3,700 miles of coastline between Texas and Maine to show that 7.3 million homes are at risk of being destroyed during a hurricane storm surge.

With 2.9 million residences at risk of coastal flooding during a storm surge, Florida topped the list of number of homes at risk. Tampa's 12,103 homes at risk earned the city its No. 5 ranking out of 15 coastal, metropolitan areas surveyed

“Damage from storm surge and inland flooding has proven to be far more destructive than wind in recent years, so we cannot rely on the hurricane category alone to give us a sense of the potential loss," said senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic, Tom Jeffery, in a press release. "A Category 5 hurricane in an area with few structures may be far less devastating than a Category 1 hurricane in a densely populated area.” 

With biosolids bills failing in Florida Legislature, DEP to develop own rules

With bills to regulate biosolids failing this year in the Florida Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to come up with a set of rules to keep the sewage sludge dumped on farmland from polluting the state's water.

Several people concerned with pollution caused by biosolids told TCPalm they hope DEP will develop regulations with teeth.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," said Bob Solari, chairman of the Indian River County Commission, which has twice enacted moratoriums on biosolids use in the wake of pollution at Blue Cypress Lake tied to sludge spread on nearby pastures.

Commissioners said they would have banned Class B biosolids outright but lacked the authority. Instead they looked to the state Legislature for help.

"It will take some work to make sure DEP gets things right," Solari said. "We'll be following them very closely."

Of the 340,000 dry tons of sewage sludge Florida produces each year, about:

  • 100,000 tons goes to landfills
  • 100,000 tons is partially treated and spread on land as Class B biosolids
  • 140,000 tons is combined with composted landscape material and chemically treated to produce 200,000 dry tons of Class AA biosolids, which is classified as "fertilizer" and can be used without regulation

Both Class B and Class AA contain about 5.5% nitrogen and 2.2% phosphorus. Combined, the two produce about 4 million pounds of nitrogen and about 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus, nutrients that feed toxic algae blooms.

The ill-fated bills — a Senate version by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and a House version by state Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican — called for statewide regulations on the use of Class B biosolids along the lines of

St. Pete continues sewer work to prepare for hurricane season

Neighbors in flood-prone areas said they hope the city’s plans are effective.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With just a couple of days left before the official start of hurricane season, St. Petersburg officials said they are continuing work to improve the city’s sewer systems to prevent sewage overflows.

"I want people to feel confident that we have a stronger, better system with a lot more capacity that's able to handle more of those heavy rains like we saw in 2015-2016,” said city spokesman Ben Kirby.

Neighbors in flood-prone areas like the Shore Acres said they hope the city’s plans are effective.

"While we understand it's a small price to pay to live in paradise, I'm expecting and hoping that St. Petersburg is constantly working toward building out their infrastructure."

Since overwhelmed sewer systems dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into Tampa Bay after storms like Hurricane Hermine, the city has committed $300 million dollars to sewer upgrades.

This includes crews working to re-line hundreds of lines of pipe, reinforcement of manhole covers and adding additional capacity at wastewater treatment plants.

Additional capacity became a key issue for the city after it closed the Albert Whitted wastewater treatment plant in 2015. This happened despite a consultant report that suggested it stay open for more treatment capacity. Reports suggested the large sewage spills in 2016 could have been reduced or prevented had the plant remained open.

Trash found in wastewater treatment facility in Pinellas County

Wastewater treatment facility workers are urging citizens to be mindful of where they throw their trash away.

The Pinellas County Government said facilities, like South Cross in St. Petersburg, treat as much as 33 million gallons of wastewater each day. But, trash like flushable wipes, feminine hygiene products and wrappers can slow down the treatment process.

Trash that is flushed down a toilet can reduce the facilities' efficiency by clogging filters. 

Rainy season fertilizer restrictions begin June 1st

OCAlerts logo

Residents and landscapers are reminded that Pinellas County’s fertilizer ordinance prohibits the sale or application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30.

Phosphorous cannot be used at any time of the year unless a soil test confirms that it is needed. Also, fertilizer can never be applied within 10 feet from the top of a slope leading to a seawall, wetland or waterbody.

The ordinance regulates landscape maintenance practices year-round and the sale and use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous during the rainy season. Homeowners, landscapers and lawn care services must follow the practices outlined in the ordinance or face fines up to $10,000 per day. All landscapers and fertilizer applicators in the county must display a Pinellas County-certification vehicle decal.

The nitrogen/phosphorous ban helps prevent fertilizer runoff from reaching lakes, ponds, rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and from leaching into groundwater. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous can cause harmful algae blooms that lower oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Water quality testing by Pinellas County Environmental Management has shown significant reductions in both total nitrogen and phosphorous nutrients in our waterbodies since the ordinance was enacted.

Pinellas County recommends using summer-safe products and landscaping best management practices to keep a healthy landscape during the summer:

  • Look for products with “0-0” as the first two numbers on the fertilizer label.
  • Apply iron to keep lawns green during the summer without increasing growth.
  • Use compost to enrich soil.
  • Set lawn mower blade heights between 3½ to 4 inches for St. Augustine and Bahia turf to encourage deep roots that resist drought, fungus and pests.
  • Buy plants adapted to Florida’s hot and humid climate and plant them in places that suit their sun and water needs.

Pinellas County is one of more than 90 Florida communities that have summertime fertilizer restrictions.

Landscapers and residents looking for more tips on landscape practices, reclaimed water, and fertilizer application can visit www.pinellascounty.org/fertilizer.

VIDEO CLIP: Want to help protect our waterways? Don’t feed the beast