Water-Related News

Florida wants to control wetlands permitting. Critics say it isn’t equipped to do the job

Florida’s bid to take over wetlands permitting across the state will undergo two virtual federal hearings beginning Wednesday.

The Clean Water Act requires federal permitting to preserve vanishing wetlands, which protect drinking water supplies, blunt damage from storms and hurricanes, and provide habitat for wildlife. Up until now, the permitting job has fallen on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But in August, the state applied to take over, alarming environmentalists who fear Florida’s smaller Department of Environmental Protection won’t be equipped to do the work.

Only two other states oversee their own wetlands permitting, Michigan and New Jersey, said Earthjustice attorney Tania Galloni.

“Those states also spent millions and millions of dollars to create their programs,” she said. “Florida is saying it could do it without asking the legislature for a single penny.”

Environmentalists worry the move will increase the loss of wetlands to development at a moment when Florida, already threatened by sea rise, can least afford it. In addition to recharging the state's aquifers, wetlands suck up huge amounts of carbon — between $2 and $3.4 billion worth just in Everglades National Park mangroves.

“This whole thing is about shortcuts,” Galloni said. “It's about shortcutting the time for consideration and the level of review. We need checks and balances.”

In its application, Florida says it intends to have its existing staff of 229 employees, who now handle environmental permitting across the state, take over the duties. The state says the its own environmental permitting overlaps with wetland permitting, so the additional permitting duties should only generate about 15 percent more work.

Florida also intends to re-assign 18 employees who earn about $35,000 a year to do the permitting, according to an analysis submitted with the application.

45 John’s Pass business owners beg city to fix sand issue, cite safety concerns

Captain Dylan Hubbard says the construction of the John's Pass Bridge in 2006 exacerbated the problem.

MADEIRA BEACH — More than 40 Madeira Beach businesses are worried they'll lose their waterfront property if the city doesn't step up to help with a significant sand blocking and drainage issue.

Business owners along John's Pass say that over the years, the water running through John's Pass has continued to deposit sand clear up to the seawall. They say it's creating a dangerous beach area and eliminating their waterfront property.

"Where I'm standing right now, it should be about maybe 10-12 feet deep," said Captain Dylan Hubbard, Owner of Hubbard's Marina.

But instead, the water around one of Hubbard's Marina's boats is ankle-deep, and their Friendly Fisherman boat is once again stuck in the sand.

"This boat gets stuck here typically between one to two times a year, and it takes us about four to five days to push the sand back," Hubbard said. "Just to be able to run trips, so tomorrow morning we're gonna have to get down here extra early, we're gonna be standing in the water like I am now, trying to push this sand out."

It's just one of a growing list of problems that 45 business owners up and down John's Pass are begging the city to fix.

Study will address how climate disasters impact GOM restoration projects

This summer, the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine started work on a new study that will assess how climate disasters, oil spills, and long-term environmental changes such as sea level rise are affecting environmental restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. The study will help fulfill one of GRP’s top goals — monitoring progress and documenting how the Gulf is changing over time.

Restoration projects can provide a number of community benefits, from improving water quality, to supporting fisheries and recreation areas, to protecting against flooding. However, recent events like Hurricanes Sally and Laura have reminded us that the progress of these projects can be quickly undone.

Holly Greening, co-founder of CoastWise Partners and former executive director and senior scientist of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, is the chair of the committee undertaking the study. She answered several questions about what this study will accomplish.

Seasonal reclaimed water restrictions in effect Oct. 1

Pinellas County seasonal reclaimed water restrictions go into effect on Thursday, Oct. 1, and run through Monday, Nov. 30. Due to supply fluctuation in both the north and south county reclaimed water systems, the restrictions schedule for reclaimed water users will be different for north and south county customers during this period. Enforcement of watering restrictions is currently being intensified to encourage responsible use of reclaimed water.

Effective Thursday, Oct. 1, North County reclaimed water customers may only irrigate two days per week based on property address, according to the schedule below:

  • Addresses ending in an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, or 8) may water on Tuesday and/or Saturday.
  • Addresses ending in an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, or 9) may water on Wednesday and/or Sunday.
  • Parcels with mixed or no address, such as common areas associated with a residential subdivision, may water on Wednesday and/or Sunday.
  • Watering is prohibited between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on all authorized days.

Because irrigation is entirely prohibited on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, the reclaimed water system will be shut down on these days, as needed. The system will also be shut down from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on all days of operation for supply recovery. Customers should monitor the reclaimed water restrictions website for up-to-date information on shutdowns and schedule changes at www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/reclaim-irrigation.htm.

Customer cooperation in following the two-days-per-week watering schedule is critical as excessive demand may require returning to watering one day per week.

South County reclaimed water customers may irrigate three days per week based on property address according to the following schedule:

  • Addresses ending in an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) may water on Tuesday, Thursday and/or Saturday.
  • Addresses ending in an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) may water on Wednesday, Friday and/or Sunday.
  • Parcels with mixed or no address, such as common areas associated with a residential subdivision, may water on Wednesday, Friday and/or Sunday.
  • Lawn irrigation is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on all authorized days.
  • Lawn irrigation is also prohibited on Monday.

Pinellas County Utilities reminds customers that reclaimed water is a limited resource due to water usage, fluctuations in weather and capacity of the system. Conservation is necessary to promote adequate supply that is shared by all customers.

Customers are encouraged to follow these restrictions throughout the year to promote a healthy, sustainable Florida lawn and landscape. Utilities advises customers to learn about and apply Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ practices, including watering only when grass and plants start to wilt and, when needed, watering deeply to encourage deep, drought-tolerant root systems.

Pinellas County Extension offers a multitude of information about creating Florida-appropriate landscapes that are attractive, healthier with less water and are less costly than replacing plants every year. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/extension to view lawn and garden resources and a listing of upcoming classes.

Utilities customers are also reminded that Pinellas County follows year-round conservation measures allowing irrigation using potable, well, lake or pond water two days per week on assigned days based on house address. To verify watering days, visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/water-restrict.htm.

For more information about reclaimed water, visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/reclaim-irrigation.htm, or call Pinellas County Utilities Customer Service at (727) 464-4000. Customers are advised to monitor the website, as additional restrictions may be implemented if seasonal rainfall is lower than anticipated and the reclaimed water supply becomes limited.