Water-Related News

Tampa Bay Watch repurposes shucked oyster shells to restore the shore

Shucked shells are helping restore water quality and important oyster reef habitats in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Watch, the nonprofit environmental organization, collaborated with the Gulf Region Oyster Network to launch the “Shells for Shorelines” program last fall. Several local restaurants are taking part.

The program started with one restaurant in a February 2022 pilot phase and now has 14 participating, says Richard Radigan, manager of Tampa Bay Watch’s Oyster Shell Program.

Most of the restaurants are in Pinellas County, but one is in Hillsborough, he says. There are plans to expand to other counties.

“We’re always looking for more restaurants,” Radigan says.

The program is funded by Duke Energy, Neptune Flood and a $1.1 million grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Restore America’s Estuaries. Restaurant operators’ reaction to the shell recycling initiative has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Radigan says.

USF Ocean Circulation Lab braces for a busy hurricane season

There’s never a dull moment in the Ocean Circulation Lab at the USF College of Marine Science. Surface buoys need maintenance. Bottom mounts equipped with ocean monitoring instruments need to be recovered from the seafloor.

When hurricane season rolls around, busy gets a new meaning for the lab, which operates several high-resolution models that forecast currents and water levels along the western coast of Florida.

“Hurricane season can be a very demanding time of year for us,” says Yonggang Liu, associate research professor and director of the Ocean Circulation Lab (OCL). “Our lab has been quick to respond to tropical storms in the past to make sure we can provide the most reliable data possible to people who need them most.”

Above-average ocean temperatures and the influence of La Niña have put Liu and his team on high alert going into the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts 17 to 25 named storms and four to seven major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher).

While hurricanes are categorized by wind speed, water is what often gives them their deadly power.

Storm surge — the sudden rise in water level typically associated with low-pressure weather systems — has been shown to account for nearly half of all fatalities from tropical storms.

OCL researchers are hard at work improving storm surge forecasting capabilities along the west coast of Florida. First developed by the lab more than a decade ago, the West Florida Coastal Ocean Model (WFCOM) and Tampa Bay Coastal Ocean Model (TBCOM) can now be used to forecast water levels days before hurricane landfall.

St. Petersburg seeks $17.7 M in federal funding for flooding, environmental projects

ST PETERSBURG – Two congressional members who represent the Tampa Bay area are requesting more than $17 million to be put into the federal budget for St. Pete-based environmental and infrastructure projects.

The city of St. Pete picked seven projects that Mayor Ken Welch’s administration felt needed federal funding and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and U.S. Rep Anna Paulina Luna are pushing five forward to submit to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration for the 2025 federal budget.

This year’s request tops the FY 2024 budget request by $7.6 million.

Rep. Castor is putting her support behind 3 major environmental and infrastructure projects in St. Pete. She’s requesting $5 million go toward elevating the section of MLK Street, south of Salt Creek, to 32nd Ave S that frequently floods. Another $1.5 million is requested to implement the Seagrass Mitigation Bank and give attention to the bottom of Tampa Bay, near the St. Pete Pier. The financial disclosure letter shows funding would be used specifically to fill a hole near North Shore Park and help restore lost seagrass for better water filtration.

The third project is $1.3 million to be used for water quality improvements at Crescent Lake. To date, the water quality does not meet federal standards.

Florida homebuyers are getting more transparency about flood history

For the first time, Florida home sellers will have to disclose certain aspects of a property’s flood history, under legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law this week.

The measure is seen as an important step toward addressing growth and development in risky areas, an issue that has gained prominence since Hurricane Ian dropped historic amounts of rain here in 2022, causing widespread flooding. Ian was the costliest hurricane in state history and third-costliest on record in the United States, after Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017.

Before this law passed, Florida, uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, precipitation changes and intensifying storms, had been one of 18 states where no flood disclosure was required as part of a home transaction.

By 2045, some $26 billion in residential real estate is poised to face chronic flooding, with Miami, the Florida Keys and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area especially at risk, according to the Union for Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.

“Having the information will help buyers make more informed and better decisions about protecting what is likely to be their single biggest asset, their homes,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union for Concerned Scientists. “It is an important moment for home buyers.”

St. Petersburg fertilizer ban effective June 1

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ST. PETERSBURG – Every year, the City of St. Petersburg requests that residents help protect the local environment by participating in a citywide fertilizer ban from June 1 to September 30.

Increased rainfall in the summer months can cause nutrients from fertilizer to reach bodies of water and lead to environmental issues like algae blooms, fish kills, and water quality problems.

Here’s what you can do to help maintain the health of our waterways and marine life:

  • Use a slow-release fertilizer in the spring or fertilizer-free micronutrients in the summer
  • Clean debris or vegetation near storm drains
  • Do not mow within six feet of any body of water
  • Ensure all lawn maintenance/landscapers you use are certified through Pinellas County
  • Replace some or all of your lawn with Florida-friendly natives

Environmental groups ask the feds to set Florida water quality standards for algae bloom toxins

Arguing that Florida has not adequately addressed the issue, a coalition Thursday asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set water-quality standards for toxins from to algae blooms.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition at the EPA that was joined by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Calusa Waterkeeper, Friends of the Everglades, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the city of Stuart.

It seeks standards for what are known as “cyanotoxins” and says such standards are needed to meet requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.

“Federal standards are necessary because existing state standards and protocols are inadequate to protect public health from these pollutants,” the petition said. “EPA must move swiftly amid state inaction, and public policy counsels in favor of EPA exercising its authority when the state does not uphold its end of the bargain under the act’s framework of ‘cooperative federalism.’”

In recent years, Florida has faced a series of algae blooms in areas such as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

Mote and partners receive $3.2 million from DEP to combat harmful algal blooms

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Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, in collaboration with commercial and academic partners, were awarded $3.2 million in grants from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to fund three projects focused on preventing blue-green algal blooms and testing water quality technologies that reduce nutrient pollution levels.

The grants are part of the Innovative Technology Grant Program in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which funds projects that evaluate and implement innovative technologies and solutions to combat algal blooms and nutrient enrichment, restore and preserve Florida water bodies, and implement water quality treatment technologies.

“We know first-hand how devastating Harmful Algae Blooms can be,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote President & CEO. “We’re thrilled DEP recognized the important role that Mote plays in the development of new technologies and science-based approaches for mitigating the impacts of HABs to the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida communities and around the world. We’re thankful that the state has remained steadfast in its commitment to utilizing best available science for enhancing water quality in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. Florida has led the U.S. with its continued strategic investments in innovative technologies to detect, prevent, and mitigate harmful algal blooms in the most effective, efficient and environmentally sensitive manner possible.”

Florida’s beaches and waterways have been severely impacted by toxic algae. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when algae — simple organisms that live in the sea and freshwater — grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. There are many kinds of HABs, caused by a variety of algal and cyanobacterial groups with different toxins.

Florida red tide is one of the most commonly known HABs. However, the three projects funded under the Innovative Technology Grant Program look at mitigation and prevention techniques of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, which are another type of HABs affecting Florida’s waterways that is known to be directly influenced by excess nutrients entering waterways.

Blue-green algae are microscopic organisms found naturally in fresh, brackish (combined salt and freshwater), and marine water. Blue green algae blooms are characterized by blue, bright green, brown or red paint-like streaks on the surface of the water, dense scum, or foam that can emit unpleasant odors.

In warm, nutrient-rich (high in phosphorus and nitrogen) environments, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly, creating blooms that spread across the water’s surface. Similar to other HABs like Florida red tide, blue-green algae can produce toxins that harm fish, mammals and people.

Deadline for 2024 Community Water Wise Awards is June 30th... enter today!

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If your landscape is located in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas counties, Tampa Bay Water encourages you to submit your landscape for consideration. All entries will be reviewed, and finalists will receive an on-site evaluation by a local Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ agent, along with local water utility representatives.

Win or not, you’ll receive feedback and tips from a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ expert!

Simply complete an online application and submit a few photos showing the property from the front, back and side. All entries need to be received by midnight on June 30 for this year’s program.

The Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Awards Program recognizes individuals and businesses committed to water conservation and environmental protection. Participants use the best, most attractive, Florida-Friendly landscaping as well as irrigation systems or techniques that minimize water waste.

The program is designed to recognize attractive, water-conserving landscapes in homes and businesses. The program seeks to recognize outstanding examples of water wise landscaping and promote Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles within the Tampa Bay area.

SWFWMD upgrading structure protecting Lake Tarpon

PALM HARBOR – Hurricane season is just days away, and preparations on many levels are being made just in case a storm heads toward Tampa Bay area counties.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is updating a water control structure, S-551, on Lake Tarpon's outfall canal.

The structure, which was built in the 1970s, protects saltwater intrusion into Lake Tarpon and flooding during high water events.

“It prevents salt water intrusion, it maintains the fresh water ecology and maintains water levels in Lake Tarpon," said Sammy Huey, a senior professional engineer with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The engineers and construction crews are making repairs to the structure through a method called cathodic protection.

The method works to protect the concrete and rebar, which holds this structure up, from saltwater and corrosion.

“These are the bulk anodes that are going to be installed on the outside of the structure," Huey said. "These are made out of zinc anode metal material."

The metal anodes are installed and they attract the corrosive element in the water, which then corrode the anode and not the rebar.

Beach nourishment to begin June 3 at Pass-a-Grille

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The initial phase of the project to nourish Pass-a-Grille beach is scheduled to begin June 3 following the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners allocating an additional $4.4 million Tuesday to fund the full nourishment.

The two-phase project will include the placement of about 10,000 cubic yards of sand from the current Grand Canal Dredging project and the placement of about another 140,000 cubic yards of sand from Pass-a-Grille inlet. The latter still awaits permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Pass-a-Grille businesses will remain open and accessible throughout the project area. However, access to sections of beach and parking areas will be impacted.

It is important that beachgoers stay clear of active construction zones. Up-to-date closures and additional project information can be found at https://pinellas.gov/projects/pass-a-grille-beach-nourishment/

As a reminder, sea turtle nesting season is ongoing through October. Pinellas County and our contractor will work closely with our partners to minimize disruptions to nests within the project area. More information on sea turtle nesting season can be found at https://pinellas.gov/sea-turtle-protection/.

Boaters are advised to use caution around the dredging area and follow all local notices to mariners.

Dr. John Bishop, Pinellas County Coastal Management Coordinator, described the benefits of the project: “Once it’s done, the beach is going to have a total width of about 165 feet. We need to replace the sand every 10 years or so or it’ll continue to erode back, which will impact infrastructure in the community.”

“Last year, we received over $98 million in bed tax collections from visitors coming down here, and our visitors had a total economic impact of almost $11 billion.” said Brian Lowack, President and CEO of Visit St. Pete Clearwater,

“So this money is truly well spent when we reinvest it into these beaches, not only for our visitors, but also for our residents.”

 

St. Petersburg mayor leads countywide request for increased federal funding of resilience programs

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ST. PETERSBURG – In coordination with other mayors across Pinellas County, St. Petersburg Mayor Kenneth T. Welch is leading a request to federal appropriators for additional funding and support for environmental resilience programs that support raising homes, hardening infrastructure, and developing long-term strategies to mitigate disasters.

The request emphasizes the need for increased funding for key discretionary grants administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) including the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program (HMGP), Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA).

"I am grateful to my fellow mayors for joining me in this vital request that will benefit Pinellas County residents," said Mayor Welch. "This proposed increase in federal funding would allow St. Petersburg to help more residents make their homes more resilient during seasonal and storm flooding and sea level rise."

The text of the letter can be found HERE. Joining Mayor Welch in this request are: Mayor Ayoub of Safety Harbor, Mayor Brown of Largo, Mayor Gattis of Belleair Beach, Mayor Hendrickson of Redington Shores, Mayor Houseberg of Indian Rocks Beach, Mayor Payne of Treasure Island, Mayor Rector of Clearwater, Mayor Rostek of Madeira Beach, Mayor Saracki of Oldsmar, Mayor Bujalski of Dunedin, Mayor Wilkinson of Belleair, and Mayor Zemaitis of Kenneth City.

Applications now being accepted for FY25 stormwater education funding

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Deadline: 5 p.m., July 16th, 2024

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is now accepting applications for the FY 2025 Stormwater Outreach and Education Funding opportunity. With financial support from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), this program 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 stormwater outreach initiatives and a variety of educational materials to garner public support and stewardship.

This year’s program funding totals $90,000 with individual award ceilings set at $15,000. To review the FY 2025 Notice of Funding, visit: Stormwater Outreach & Education Funding for Tampa Bay Region – TBRPC. Projects must be located in Pinellas, Hillsborough, or Pasco Counties. Complete project applications must be submitted electronically to alana@tbrpc.org by 5pm on July 16, 2024. Applicants will also be required to present their proposals to the Stormwater Public Education and Outreach Committee on July 23, 2024, at 9:30 AM. The awards will be announced in August 2024.

US Circuit Court of Appeals nixes Florida’s request for a stay in a wetlands permitting fight

Rejecting arguments by Florida and business groups, an appeals court Monday refused to put on hold a U.S. district judge’s ruling in a battle about permitting authority for projects that affect wetlands.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an order that said Florida “has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay” while an appeal of U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss’ ruling plays out. The order did not provide further explanation.

The case, which is closely watched by business and environmental groups, stems from a 2020 decision by the federal government to shift permitting authority to the state for projects that affect wetlands. Moss in February ruled that actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in approving the shift violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

Caloosahatchee River discharges and the duration of red tide events

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From Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director Dave Tomasko:

Earlier this week, I received notification that a manuscript my co-authors and I produced was accepted for publication in the upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Florida Scientist”. The title of the paper is “An evaluation of the relationships between the duration of red tide (Karenia brevis) blooms and watershed nitrogen loads in Southwest Florida (USA)”. My four co-authors include Lenny Landau and Steve Suau (both highly talented and creative local engineers), Dr. Miles Medina (a brilliant statistician) and Jennifer Hecker, the Director of the Coastal and Heartland Estuary Program.

A few years ago, there was a bit more controversy regarding what role – if any – humans have on red tides. While that may have been an appropriate view a few years ago, anyone who currently thinks that humans don’t play a role in red tide events either isn’t familiar with recent studies or is just being stubborn for some reason. Ten or twenty years ago, it was appropriate to be skeptical of such a link, but not over the past few years.

For example, the SBEP’s Technical Library includes this paper, which showed a relationship between the intensification of red tide events and Caloosahatchee River loads, as well as evidence that a substantial amount of nitrogen loads out of the Caloosahatchee can be traced back to nitrogen loads coming into Lake O from the north.

Also in our technical library is this paper, which showed a link between the red tide event in middle Tampa Bay in 2021 and nitrogen loads associated with the releases from the Piney Point facility back in 2021.

So what was unusual about this recent study? Well, we wanted to see if we could develop a robust, predictable and quantifiable relationship between human activities and the duration of red tide events.

Annual Update of Pinellas County Local Mitigation Strategy plan complete

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Pinellas County and most of its municipal partners participate in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS). Submittal of this annual report to the Board of County Commissioners is a program requirement.

Pinellas County, its municipal partners and other stakeholders have updated this year’s Pinellas County Local Mitigation Strategy (LMS). The LMS is updated annually according to criteria set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM). County governments and municipalities are required to participate to be eligible for federal hazard mitigation grants.

The purpose of the LMS is to identify and reduce the impact of hazards such as flooding, sea level rise and storm surge in the community. The LMS establishes a process to identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities. It sets goals and establishes specific actions or remedies to reduce the risk and impact of natural or manmade hazards to people, buildings, infrastructure and the environment. The LMS also serves as the County and many municipalities’ floodplain management plan.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management has previously recognized Pinellas County’s LMS as among those in the top tier of the state.

The County’s hazard mitigation efforts underscore a component of its strategic plan, ensuring public health, safety and welfare by providing planning, coordination, prevention and protective services to ensure a safe and secure community. The public can learn more about the LMS plan, annual reports and provide feedback by visiting www.pinellaslms.org.

Pinellas County opens new self-serve sandbag site at Solid Waste Complex

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Pinellas County opened its first self-service sandbag pickup site for residents of the unincorporated county today in north St. Petersburg.

The site is centrally located next door to the Pinellas County Household Hazardous Waste facility at 2855 109th Ave N., St. Petersburg, and will be open year-round Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The self-service site allows residents to pick up free, prefilled sandbags well before a storm threat and without having to wait in a long line. The County encourages residents to prepare for storms early as sandbag sites may not be available right before a storm.

In addition to the self-service site, the County and municipal partners are hosting five free emergency preparedness events leading up to Hurricane Season where residents can pick up sandbags and learn about other critical activities to focus on right before a storm. The event schedule and other information about sandbags and other flood barriers can be found at pinellas.gov/sandbags.

Pinellas County reminds residents that sandbags are only recommended for protection from up to 15 inches of flooding. Sandbags won’t stop water completely, but they can reduce the amount of water entering your home. They will not protect against waves or storm surge associated with larger storms.

Residents can pick up 10 sandbags at the new self-service site and/or at any of the free sandbag events. It takes about 10 sandbags to protect one doorway.

Florida's outdated urban drainage systems cause more flooding, but there is a natural solution

In the 1900s, swamps and low-lying areas were drained to create more space for development and farming.

Florida has a lot of altered drainage networks, like ditches and canals, but at a recent resiliency summit in Clearwater, it became clear that these are increasingly becoming obsolete and can actually make flooding worse.

There are 80,000 linear miles of stream channels in Florida, and almost two-thirds of those are ditches and canals.

These water systems were originally put in to drain parts of the state for development.

But John Kiefer, an environmental engineer with Black & Veatch who moderated a panel discussion on the subject at the Regional Resiliency Summit, said these are not stable.

"They require perennial maintenance, otherwise they erode — sometimes catastrophically, sometimes chronically," Kiefer told the audience in one of the breakout rooms at the Hilton Clearwater Beach.

He said the eroding sediment could plug up openings, compounding the flooding that's already increasing from climate change.

Along with sea level rise, warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the land and oceans, creating more frequent and heavier rain events.

Kiefer also said altering the landscape causes problems for wildlife, so some fish don't have access to proper water bodies, for instance.

"So, what is the cure? Well, the cure can follow a gradient from near to natural solutions to highly engineered ones," Kiefer said.

These systems can be re-patterned so they process water and sediment more naturally.

Take Sarasota County's Phillippi Creek Watershed, for example.

Kiefer said 95 of the 100 miles of canals there are eligible for this kind of restoration, but a project like this could cost $2 million per mile.