Water-Related News

Ian could bring storm surge to Tampa Bay. Here’s what to know.

Florida’s west coast is uniquely vulnerable to storm surge.

As Hurricane Ian snakes toward the Sunshine State over the next few days, officials worry about a potentially dangerous storm surge along Florida’s west coast and panhandle.

Ian is expected to move over the warm waters of the Caribbean today and rapidly intensify before making its way into the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said Monday.

Forecasters said Ian could bring strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the west coast of Florida, including the Tampa Bay area beginning Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center has a hurricane watch and storm surge watch in place from Englewood to the Anclote River, which includes all of Tampa Bay.

As it moves around, Ian will leave many regions feeling its wrath, notably through storm surges. Here’s what you need to know about storm surge and its risks to Florida.

(This coverage is being provided by the Tampa Bay Times without a paywall as a public service.)

Do you know the main hazards caused by hurricanes and tropical weather?

As a potential hurricane looms for Southwest Florida and other places in Florida, the National Weather Service has determined that there are six main hazards caused by tropical weather systems.

According to the NWS: While hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property, tropical storms and depression also can be devastating.

The primary hazards from tropical cyclones (which include tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes) are:

  1. Storm surge
  2. Flooding
  3. Winds
  4. Tornadoes
  5. Waves

Watch Pinellas County’s Sept. 26th hurricane briefing

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Pinellas County officials provided an update on Hurricane Ian on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, at 10 a.m. at the Pinellas County Public Safety Complex, 10750 Ulmerton Rd, Largo, Room 180 B.

Officials present included Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton, Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Board of County Commissioners Chairman Charlie Justice, and St. Petersburg Mayor Kenneth Welch.

The news conference is available on the County’s YouTube channel.

The National Weather Service has issued a Hurricane and Storm Surge Watch for Pinellas County.

 

Researchers will study how to best support Florida mangrove and coral reef ecosystems

At a time when developers are cutting down mangroves and building in such a way that's harming coral reefs, scientists will work with community members on solutions and policy changes.

A team of researchers led by the University of South Florida is getting $20 million from the National Science Foundation to develop solutions to protect and replenish coral reef and mangrove ecosystems.

Coral reefs and mangroves safeguard our coasts by reducing flooding, erosion and wave intensity during storms. They also provide habitat for marine life.

Mangroves serve as fish nurseries, and coral reefs help fish hideout, as well. So, in terms of the benefit to biodiversity, these are two really important ecosystems.

But mangroves are removed for development and coral reefs are threatened by pollution and rising temperatures.

Now, USF is collaborating with University of Miami, Boston University, Stanford University, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Virgin Islands and East Carolina University to combine natural features with artificial infrastructure to help these ecosystems thrive.

The scientists will look into hybrid models for coral reef and mangrove restoration, such as using concrete or cement to assist in mangrove planting so that they are protected and able to grow.

“If they're degraded systems or systems that have been destroyed in the past, are there ways in which one can restore those areas?” asked lead scientist Maya Trotz, a professor at USF’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“What would it cost? Who needs to be at the table to make sure that that intervention is protected and at work? How would you design those interventions so that local communities really have a say in what the design look like?”

She said over the next five years, her team will focus on Biscayne Bay in Miami because they want input from diverse community members.

"The idea of working closer with communities and collecting new information: Are there additional things that we should be considering when we start to talk about equity?" Trotz said.

They’ll also spend time analyzing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Complex in Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Workshops and meetings are planned in each location every year for residents to share their experiences and to add their input into conversations identifying solutions.

Although the research will be based out of South Florida and the Caribbean Sea, Trotz said the findings will translate to Florida's Gulf Coast and beyond.

“In Tampa Bay, we have mangroves, we have concerns about sea level rise, we have concerns about flooding and the risks to our properties,” Trotz said. “The lessons learned should be able to apply to any reef-lined or … mangrove-lined coastal system.”

Trotz so far has a team of about 20 but she’s currently hiring to double that number. The project is expected be completed by the end of August 2027.

“I hope that from this study, we have a better way to build research and action within communities to address issues related to protecting their coasts, that integrate nature-based solutions in a more holistic way than is probably done right now,” Trotz said.

“At a time when we're also seeing a lot of developments and a lot of development that is pretty much cutting these mangroves down, and that are building in such a way that they're harming coral reefs … it's sort of like, how do you amplify that importance to developers, and the persons who are part of that development before it's too late when we still do have some of these ecosystems in existence?”

Pinellas County water system maintenance to start Sept. 25

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The method of water treatment for Pinellas County and its wholesale customers will be temporarily modified between Sunday, Sept. 25, and Saturday, Oct. 15. The second of two short-term changes from chloramine to chlorine disinfection in 2022 is a routine maintenance measure designed to optimize water quality.

Pinellas County Utilities water customers will benefit from this program, as well as customers in the cities of Clearwater, Pinellas Park and Safety Harbor.

The disinfection program is designed to maintain distribution system water quality and minimize the potential for any future problems. There have been no indications of significant bacteriological contamination problems in the system. The water will continue to meet all federal and state standards for safe drinking water.

Kidney dialysis patients should not be impacted but should contact their dialysis care provider for more information about chlorine disinfection and how it affects their treatment. Fish owners should not be affected if they already have a system in place to remove chloramines but should contact local pet suppliers with any questions.

Customers may notice a slight difference in the taste and/or odor of the water during this temporary change in treatment.

Chlorine was used as the primary disinfectant in the water for more than 50 years prior to 2002. Pinellas County switched to chloramine in 2002 to ensure compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards. Many communities using chloramine convert back to chlorine for short periods of time to maintain system water quality.

For more information, please visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities or contact Pinellas County Utilities Business & Customer Services at (727) 464-4000.

The chlorine maintenance program underscores the county’s strategic goal of protecting and improving the quality of our water.

St. Pete to host public meeting on Northeast Water Reclamation Facility Improvements Project

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ST. PETERSBURG – The City of St. Petersburg will host a public meeting on September 27 for the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility (NEWRF) Improvements Project to allow the public to learn about the project and provide feedback to the City. Everyone is encouraged to attend (e.g., residents, business owners/customers, neighbors, stakeholders, schools, citizens, etc.), and City staff will be available to answer questions.

When:

Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at 6-7 p.m.

Where:

Shore Acres Recreation Center Multi-Purpose Room
4230 Shore Acres Blvd., NE.
St. Petersburg, FL 33703

The Northeast Wastewater Reclamation Facility, located at 1160 62nd Ave. NE., provides essential wastewater and reclaimed water services for the City’s Northeast Service Area. The NEWRF was originally constructed in the 1950s and has undergone various expansions and upgrade projects throughout the years with the last major upgrade around 1980. The NEWRF has a permitted capacity of 16 million gallons per day annual average daily flow. The City of St. Petersburg is in the process of designing major infrastructure improvements to the facility.

The improvements at the facility will not only improve safety, maintenance, and operations, but also enhance reliability, resiliency and sustainability for the facility and the community. The key components of the project include:

  • Upgrading the facility’s electrical distribution system with modern equipment due to its age, deteriorated condition and diminishing availability of replacement parts.
  • Renovating the distribution pump system to increase efficiency and reliability of pumping reclaimed water to our customers.
  • Installing a deep injection well to provide additional capacity for treated reclaimed water disposal during wet weather flows (providing operational flexibility and infrastructure redundancy).
  • Widening the sidewalk along 62nd Avenue for safer and easier pedestrian/cyclist usage.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2023 and be completed within 36 months. Additional project details and project map can be found at stpete.org/NEWRF.

Business owners happy to hear about plans to dredge John’s Pass

MADIERA BEACH – Pinellas County's largest tourist destination, you'll find boat tours, shops, and sand. Captain Dylan Hubbard is Majority Owner and Vice President of Hubbard's Marine. Only one of those is an issue for him.

"Everybody sees the sand, and then what do they do? They come back, and they think it's a beach, and people get out here and treat it like a beach."

Hubbard said it's anything but a beach. One step too far, and you could end up 30 feet below water. That's in addition to strong rip currents.

"Even adults we've seen get swept off this beach, and we countless times have deployed a boat and gone and assisted people. We had those young gentlemen get swept offshore here and one passed away."

Captain Hubbard said his family has fought to dredge John's Pass since 1997.

They finally saw a victory Wednesday night.

At the Madeira Beach City Council meeting, Representative Linda Chaney presented council members with a $1,556,000 check from the state.

Florida scientists will study how homeowners affect the water quality of stormwater ponds

When residents purchase "waterfront properties," many don't realize the function of their nearby stormwater ponds and actually cause them harm by removing plants and mowing the grass too close to the edge.

Florida researchers are tasked with identifying the benefits of stormwater ponds, and how homeowners are interacting with them.

A team of scientists with the University of Florida have been granted $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation to study stormwater ponds and the people living around them for the next four years or so across the state. They’ll document environmental, social and economic benefits, collectively called ecosystem services.

“We want to have an ecosystem in there that can function and … reduce that nitrogen and phosphorus from heading out into these natural bodies of water,” Michelle Atkinson, an extension agent in Manatee County for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said. “Are aesthetic preferences impacting those environmental functions? That's what we don't know for sure. We have suspicions. We have our hypothesis, but we want to prove it.”

According to the UF press release, the researchers will conduct field work, focus groups, surveys and data collection both at the state level and in two communities in Manatee and St. Lucie counties that have a large number of stormwater ponds and where algae blooms have been a recent problem. The results could apply to other parts of the country.

Atkinson said she wants people to view these ponds as amenities and put some value to them.

“That’s what we're going to try to do is quantify some of those ecosystem services that our ponds do. By adding plants or managing a different way, can we put a value on those services, something that homeowners will feel important enough to want to protect? And say, ‘yes, let's do this in our community, because it's the right thing to do.’”

She said she hopes management changes come as a result of this study — whether it's voluntary from homeowners, or enforced by government.

Report: Sea level rise will affect the property lines of Florida’s coastal counties

Rising seas will shift tidal boundaries, leading to the loss of taxable properties, according to a new study. This is expected to impact the tax base of hundreds of U.S. coastal counties, with Florida being the state most affected.

A new analysis released Thursday highlights how sea level rise will change private property boundaries along coastal areas.

Using the latest climate models and current emissions data, researchers with Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that analyzes and reports on climate science, have determined that private property owners across the U.S. will lose an area the size of New Jersey by the year 2050.

“By mid-century, more than 648,000 individual tax parcels, totaling as many as 4.4 million acres, are projected to be at least partly below the relevant tidal boundary level,” according to the report. “Of those, more than 48,000 properties may be entirely below the relevant boundary level. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas have the largest number of affected parcels.”

Don Bain, an engineer and senior advisor for Climate Central, said Florida has the most properties that will be impacted — more than 140,000 by 2050.

His team generated more than 250 individual county reports to identify any potential movements of public-private property boundaries. He said the losses will result in less property tax revenue.

Click here to find analysis results in your county

Study shows fertilizer ordinances improve water quality (but timing matters)

GAINESVILLE – A new University of Florida study has found that local residential fertilizer ordinances help improve water quality in nearby lakes, but the timing of fertilizer restrictions influences how effective they are.

Using 30 years of water quality data gathered by the UF/IFAS LAKEWATCH program from 1987 to 2018, scientists found that lakes in areas with winter fertilizer bans had the most improvement over time in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients found in fertilizers.

These lakes also showed larger increases in water clarity and decreases in chlorophyll since the implementation of fertilizer bans. These measurements can also indicate lower nutrient levels, as excess nutrients can feed algae blooms that lead to turbid waters with higher levels of chlorophyll.

“To date, this is the most comprehensive study of fertilizer ordinances’ impact on water quality, not just in Florida but also nationally, and it would not have been possible without the efforts of our LAKEWATCH community scientists,” said Sam Smidt, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of soil, water and ecosystem sciences and the senior author of the study.

TBRPC awards $90,000 in Stormwater Outreach and Education Grants

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Congratulations to the 2023 Stormwater Outreach and Education Funding Recipients!

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have selected the recipients of the FY2023 Stormwater Outreach and Education funding. This funding from FDOT aims to further public involvement, education, and outreach efforts to improve the quality of stormwater runoff in the Tampa Bay Region. Projects develop and implement creative public outreach programs and a variety of educational materials, such as door hangers, stormdrain murals, and hands-on activities for children.

This year, funds were distributed across 14 projects, totaling $90,000. Awardees included City of Dunedin, City of Madeira Beach, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, MOSI, Pasco County, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, and others. Many projects were tailored to this year’s target audiences: 1) frontline communities; 2) construction and development industry; 3) lawn care and landscaping companies; and 4) tourism and hospitality. Notable projects include hospitality educational programs through both Keep Pinellas Beautiful and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, expansion of the City of Largo’s rain barrel program, development of an augmented reality filter for social media by the City of Clearwater, and the creation and distribution of educational materials for Tampa Bay businesses by Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

See the full list of FY2023 funding recipients.

Visit the Stormwater Outreach & Education Funding page to learn more.

Human link to Red Tide highlights need for better water monitoring

Scientists have long tried to understand the connection between nitrogen pollution and the infamous toxic algal blooms.

When the ominous rust-colored cloud of Red Tide begins to saturate coastal waters in Southwest Florida, it means beach closures. Asthma attacks. Itchy skin and watery eyes. Dead fish and a wretched smell that can spoil the salty breeze.

Now, scientists know it means pollution made the scourge worse.

New research from University of Florida scientists is “providing clarity in what was previously a muddied landscape,” said environmental engineer Christine Angelini, a co-author of the study.

While Red Tides occur naturally, scientists have long debated the degree to which they are worsened by high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen from human sources agricultural and urban. Scientists previously had found a correlation between so-called nutrient loads and Red Tide. But the new research offers some of the strongest evidence yet that humans directly influence the severity of the toxic blooms.

Oyster shells used to create more than two miles of reefs in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Watch project not only replenishes the bay's oyster reefs but restores the ecosystem and prevents beach erosion.

PINELLAS COUNTY – The shucked oyster shells left over from tasty dishes at Tampa Bay seafood restaurants are helping to restore the shoreline ecosystem and protect shorelines from coastal erosion throughout Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary.

For the past 30 years, the nonprofit organization Tampa Bay Watch has used oyster shells to create more than 2 miles of oyster shell reefs at 30 sites along the shores of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties.

Prior to the 1940s, the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) was abundant in Tampa Bay with estimates as high as 2,000 acres of oyster reefs throughout the estuary. Over-harvesting, disease and environmental impacts, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have resulted in an 85 percent loss of oyster reefs along shorelines, according to Tampa Bay Watch.

An estimated 171 acres of oyster habitat is all that remains of the 2,000 acres along the shorelines in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

To help restore Tampa Bay's lost oyster habitat, Tampa Bay Watch developed the Community Oyster Reef Enhancement (CORE) program in the early 2000s. Through CORE, Tampa Bay Watch has used more than 2,500 tons of oyster shells to restore reefs.

Red tide projections indicate no toxic blooms in the near future, but that could change

In the next few months, scientists will be monitoring the current, temperature and tropical storm activity, as these factors can shift red tide blooms.

The Gulf of Mexico has been spared from red tide so far this year. The typical season for these toxic algae blooms is from late summer into fall.

"When we typically see the most blooms, just looking back historically, that would typically be in September, October, November,” said Kate Hubbard, who leads the red tide program at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. She’s also the director for the FWC Center for Red Tide Research.

Hubbard said her team, along with the University of South Florida and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is trying to forecast this year's situation.

"For this year, we would hope that it would be a short bloom — that's what we always hope. No bloom would be welcome," Hubbard said. "But in terms of where we're at what conditions are doing, we're still in the window where we might see something pop up pretty much at any time."

In the next few months, the scientists will be monitoring the Gulf of Mexico loop current, which can upwell nutrients from the continental shelf to nearshore waters. Nutrients feed the red tide microorganism Karenia brevis, which can lead to high concentrations considered bloom levels.

They’ll also be on the lookout for any changes in the water caused by drops in temperature through the fall, along with any tropical activity. These factors and more can either feed or suppress blooms.

Seagrass meadows in Tampa Bay see ‘significant’ decline over last four years

TAMPA – Over the last four years, the seagrass meadows that blanket Tampa Bay have been shrinking. Since 2018, at least 6,300 acres of the plants have been lost with the majority of the decline happening in Old Tampa Bay.

Thriving seagrass is critical to the foundation of a healthy bay and good water quality. In 2018, Tampa Bay had about 41,000 acres of seagrasses.

"Unfortunately, over the past four years or so, we've seen significant declines in seagrass meadows, particularly in one part of the bay; we call it Old Tampa Bay," explained Maya Burke, the assistant director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Old Tampa Bay is 84-square-miles of open water that you see when driving on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, Howard Frankland Bridge and Gandy Bridge. In that area, more than 4,000 acres have been lost.

"Seagrasses can be vulnerable to a variety of different stressors," Burke said. "And when those stressors interact, it can make it harder for us to maintain the amount of seagrass that we'd like to see in our bay."

USF study: Oyster reefs threatened by changes to Florida’s climate

Cold weather freezes and extremes are decreasing in Florida and may be an indicator of the state's climate changing from subtropical to tropical, researchers say.

TAMPA – Researchers with the University of South Florida say oyster reefs in Tampa Bay and along the Gulf Coast are facing a serious threat from changes to Florida's climate.

Temperatures are increasing globally, and cold weather freezes and extremes in Florida are diminishing, which is a strong indicator that the state's climate is shifting from subtropical to tropical, experts say.

In the water, researchers say they have noticed that mangroves were overtaking most oyster reefs in Tampa Bay and threaten the lives of other animals depending on oyster reef habitats. For example, the American oystercatcher, a type of bird, is classified as threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission due to the mangroves issue, the USF study says.

Shallow coast waters and remnant shorelines supported typical subtropical marine habitats for centuries in Tampa Bay, such as oyster reefs, seagrass beds, mud flats and salt marshes. However, a decrease in freezes allowed mangrove islands to replace previously dominant salt marsh vegetation and now have taken over oyster reef habitats that existed for centuries, researchers say.

FWC releases new red tide video to educate visitors and residents

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As part of an ongoing education effort on red tide research, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) recently created an animated video on red tide in Florida’s marine and estuarine waters. This video is intended for residents and visitors and covers three main topics:

Available as a single video or as three shorter stand-alone videos focused on each topic, these easy-to-access resources can be readily shared to help provide critical education leading up to and during red tide events.

The video is intended for a variety of audiences, from vacationers with little knowledge of red tide to long-time residents who wish to know more about the phenomenon and how it’s tracked.

“Historically, red tide shows up during summer or fall on the Gulf Coast of Florida, so it’s important for citizens to stay aware and educated," said Dr. Katherine Hubbard, FWC Director, Center for Red Tide Research.

In 2020, the reactivated Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Task Force identified a need in their first consensus document for communication efforts to better educate the public about red tide and other HABs. In response, the FWC HAB Grants program funded the “Developing a Communications Strategy for Red Tide in Florida” study conducted by Florida Sea Grant and a HAB communication working group was formed. This video was created, in part, to address some of the group’s recommendations.

All the videos are available on the Water Atlas video gallery page.

For more information on red tide in Florida: MyFWC.com/redtide. To see the current status of red tide in Florida, visit the link above and click on “Red Tide Current Status.”