Water-Related News

Flood insurance rates are spiking for many, to account for climate risk

FEMA says its new rates better reflect the risk from more intense and frequent rain and floods. The increase could make housing unaffordable for some in the most flood-prone areas.

The cost of federal flood insurance is rising for millions of homeowners, threatening to make homes in coastal areas unaffordable for many. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says its new rates better reflect flood risk in a warming climate.

There may be few places affected more by the new risk rating system than the Florida Keys, where the average elevation on the chain of islands off Florida's peninsula is just over 3 feet above sea level. Almost all homeowners are required to carry flood insurance if they have a mortgage.

On Big Pine Key, after years of looking for a house she could afford, Amy Tripp and her husband were finally able to buy a home recently. "It was damaged in [Hurricane] Irma," Tripp says. "It was totally gutted and has a new roof."

The high cost of housing has long been a major problem in the Florida Keys, and the couple purchased the home through the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.

FWC asks lawmakers for $7M to save Florida’s beloved manatees

VOLUSIA COUNTY – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking state lawmakers for more money to help manatees.

Manatee are among Florida's most popular sea creatures. There are tourist parks dedicated to the gentle giants but a lack of food is now challenging an already threatened population.

“We've had 957 manatee deaths this calendar year and due to that east coast event, this is a record level of mortality,” Gil McRae said.

McRae is director of FWC's research institute and spoke this week before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources appropriations subcommittee.

At the meeting, McRae asked for $7 million in 2022.

Here’s why red tide could continue to affect Gulf Coast beaches for months

Red tide has persisted for months in what has been an unusually long season for the algae bloom. But we may not even be close to the end of the season.

This has been one of the worst outbreaks of red tide on the Gulf Coast in years.

Scientists say it's hard to pin down the reason, but onshore winds, tides and human activity such as runoff of nutrient-rich stormwater from fertilizers has made the problem worse.

Kate Hubbard, a research scientist at the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, says that last fall, we didn't see major blooms until late November.

But red tide got an early start this summer, with dead fish being found throughout Tampa Bay and along the Gulf beaches.

"I think what's atypical this year is that we saw the bloom continue throughout the summer," Hubbard said. "So that doesn't typically happen. Usually, the blooms start in late summer and fall and then they wrap up in winter, spring."

Hubbard doesn't have a prediction on when this latest outbreak might end.

"Fingers crossed, this will follow our typical bloom cycle, that will start to wind down as we descend more into the winter months," she said. "But it's very hard to say with any degree of certainty whether or not that's going to happen and when that's going to happen."

The toxins are not only deadly for marine life, but can affect the respiratory systems of people who go to the beach or live near the water.

St. Pete Beach to receive $2 million from State of Florida for wastewater upgrades

The city will match the grant to finish up its wastewater overhaul.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday the state will award St. Pete Beach a $2 million grant for wastewater infrastructure improvements — funding the Governor anticipates will allow the city to finalize its system.

The grant, which comes from the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund, is expected to create 1,300 jobs and generate $13 million annually, the Governor said. The funds, which the city will match, will be used to continue and finish the wastewater system overhaul.

“It was rated the number one beach in the U.S. and fifth best in the world, and we have a lot of people that want to come here,” DeSantis said of St. Pete Beach. “As you can see, it’s a pretty nice place to be, at this time of year especially, but this infrastructure is needed to allow the city to be able to expand its economic footprint.”

The wastewater system overhaul will provide greater hotel capacity, the Governor said, in turn helping local businesses. The Governor added that hotel room revenue in Florida during August 2021 was up 11% compared to pre-pandemic rates in August 2019.

Dunedin asks residents to conserve water for restoration of water treatment plant

DUNEDIN, Fla (WFLA) – The City of Dunedin is asking residents to conserve water as they work to repair the damage caused at the Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant last week due to a fire.

Earlier this week, Dunedin City Commissioners were updated on the damages from the Director of Public Works, Paul Stanek.

β€œThe intense heat from the fire caused severe damage to the equipment I the building. It also caused smoke damage to the administration portion of the building,” said Paul Stanek Director of Public Works.

Plans to dispose of Piney Point wastewater underground gain momentum

BRADENTON – Plans to build an injection well to dispose of wastewater at Piney Point continue to progress, and crews are ready to begin construction once the state issues a permit.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County officials discussed the proposal with residents at a public meeting Wednesday evening at the Manatee County Central Library. Although many residents cited objections to the plan, the meeting was one of the last steps before DEP can issue final approval.

FWC: Patchy bloom of red tide continues to persist along Florida Gulf Coast

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Tampa Bay area has been experiencing a resurgence of the red tide organism across beaches, and recent findings show the patchy blooms are not slowing down.

At the beginning of September, there were no reports of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). However, recent samples collected showed concentrations in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

This week, red tide showed background to high concentrations in 24 samples collected in and offshore of Pinellas County, background to low concentrations in four samples collected in Hillsborough County, background to medium concentrations in 24 samples in Manatee County and background to high concentrations in 27 samples collected in Sarasota County.

Manatee County officials say a Piney Point deep well injection is the least offensive option

Manatee County officials are pushing for approval of a plan to pump hundred of millions of gallons of polluted water from the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed from the Piney Point phosphate plant into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

Despite pending legal challenges from several environmental groups, Manatee County officials say they're ready to start pumping the remaining water underground.

Some people say that could eventually pollute the source of the area's drinking water.

But on Wednesday night in Bradenton, County Administrator Scott Hopes said during an informational meeting on the plan that he doubts that will happen. WUSF's Steve Newborn asked Hopes if this is the only plan they are contemplating.

Pinellas County seeks input on first Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan

Pinellas County would like to hear residents’ bright ideas and top concerns for the development of the County’s first Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan.

The first of two public input surveys about sustainability and resiliency is open at sustainability.pinellas.gov/survey. The survey runs through Oct. 26, and the County is asking for feedback from residents of all backgrounds.

The Pinellas County Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan will address the unique environmental, social and economic challenges of Pinellas County. The plan will guide internal government policies and programs, as well as the services it offers.

As the County develops the action plan, community feedback will play a key role in identifying strategies to meet current and future needs of the county’s diverse communities, natural habitats, businesses, institutions and visitors.

Pinellas County will host more community engagement events as it continues to develop the Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan.

To hear about future opportunities to share feedback, residents can sign up for updates at pinellascounty.org/sustainability/updates.htm.

Seasonal reclaimed water restrictions in effect until Nov. 30 in Pinellas County

Pinellas County seasonal reclaimed water restrictions go into effect on Friday, Oct. 1, and run through Tuesday, 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.

North County Reclaimed Water Schedule

Effective Friday, 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 Schedule

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 an 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 Pinellas County UF/IFAS 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.

Environmental Groups suing Manatee County over Piney Point wastewater injection

They intend to prevent the injection of hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted wastewater from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

A coalition of environmental groups said Wednesday they will sue Manatee County over its plans to inject polluted water from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

The notice comes after county officials said that injecting the water into the lower Floridan aquifer was the best method to remove about 273 million gallons of wastewater remaining in the gypsum stack.

“This risky, shortsighted plan would be a dangerous experiment and set a troubling precedent for how we handle failing phosphogypsum stacks,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed into Tampa Bay beginning in late March, after a tear was discovered in one of the stack's liners.

Manatee County commissioners had been scheduled to discuss the injection well at their Tuesday meeting, but the meeting was cancelled.

The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft permit on Sept. 1 to Manatee County for the deep well’s construction.

Five environmental advocacy groups are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Fire damages Dunedin water plant; Residents asked to conserve water

UPDATE – Sept. 30 4:40 p.m.

An early morning fire damaged the Dunedin Water Plant on CR 1 shortly after 4 a.m., Thursday, September 30, 2021. City Officials want to assure the public of a safe and adequate water supply and provide an update on short-term and long-term plans for the City Water Facility.

Director of Public Works Paul Stanek says the system is partially operational and able to produce adequate supplies of safe, quality drinking water. The City is working with adjacent municipalities for an emergency supply, if necessary.

Stanek said long-term the City is assessing the restoration efforts necessary to reconstruct the damaged portions of the reverse osmosis water plant.

“We want to assure our residents and businesses they will have a safe and adequate water supply,” said Stanek. “But we strongly encourage people to continue to conserve water (refrain from watering lawns but this does not affect reclaimed water irrigation systems).”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Officials say there is no evidence of arson or cyber-attack.

Fire Damages Dunedin Water Plant

An early morning fire was detected at the Dunedin Water Plant on CR 1 shortly after 4 a.m., on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Fire and emergency responders from the cities of Dunedin, Clearwater, Palm Harbor and Safety Harbor responded to the scene containing the fire inside the water plant at 4:24 a.m.

Dunedin Fire & Rescue Chief Jeff Parks confirmed it was an electrical fire with no injuries, no suspected arson and no hazardous material risk to the environment.

Director of Public Works Paul Stanek says there is a safe and adequate water supply from water stored in the City’s potable storage tanks, but the City strongly encourages residents to conserve water (no watering of lawns) until the City can assess the situation.

Tampa Bay Red Tide Study focused on nutrients gets financial backing

Scientists studying how to reduce nutrients that fuel algae blooms in Tampa Bay will soon begin collecting data, and they now have funding to help finance their research.

Members of University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have been partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory for months to prepare their study on nitrogen in rainwater, storm water and wastewater effluent. The goal is to eventually determine which sources are feeding toxic red tide algae blooms in Tampa Bay over the span of two dry seasons and two wet seasons.

Mary Lusk, assistant professor in the Soil and Water Sciences Department at UF, said she thinks this study will help to mitigate harmful algae blooms in the bay.

“Anything that gives us more information about where these nutrients, primarily nitrogen, is coming from, anything that gives us more information about Karenia brevis physiology and growth and how it responds to different sources of nutrients in the urban environment, anything that gives us more knowledge and understanding on that is one step closer,” she said.

The UF team, including PhD student Amanda Muni-Morgan — who's also behind this initiative — will have the responsibility of monitoring storm activity to collect rainfall and storm-water runoff from the streets and sidewalks to analyze at a lab for nitrogen and phosphorous.

Mote will then use those samples to examine nearshore nutrient sources, and the role that they're playing in expanding summer blooms, like the super bloom in Tampa Bay this summer.

“Mary's group are the storm chasers. We're kind of the bloom chasers,” said Cynthia Heil, senior researcher at Mote and director of the Red Tide Institute.

“From a prior study, we know that there's over 13, possibly 14 now if you add Piney Point, nutrient sources for red tides,” she said. “These near-shore inputs are one of them. This is the next step in starting to look a little more closely focus on these near-shore nutrients and start to pull them apart.”

A recent grant of $80,000 from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will expand the project in three ways, Lusk said.

Red tide experts: latest bloom an example of longer-lasting, stronger blooms

An intense and widespread red tide, that seemed to go away after Hurricane Ida, now stretches from the Panhandle to Charlotte County; and with red tide blooms being stronger than they were just 50 years ago, summer blooms may become more common.

Although red tide (Karenia brevis) season is October to February, blooms are possible during the hotter summer months.

Some scientists say although red tide naturally occurs in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, modern blooms are not natural as they're fed by man-made nutrient sources like farming and urban development.

"They’re more prevalent in the late summer and fall but we’ve had red tide for any month of the year," said Larry Brand, a professor and researcher at the University of Miami. "Some years we get essentially no red tide, although it’s getting more and more rare. And we don’t really understand that."

Red tide returning to Tampa Bay area beaches

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — It has been months since red tide blooms ravaged the Tampa Bay area. And, while the worst seems to be behind us, the harmful algae bloom still is not letting go of some beaches.

Two weeks ago, reports from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) showed zero blooms of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, in samples collected in Manatee and Sarasota County.

Fast forward seven days and traces of red tide returned to both areas. Pinellas County, which saw more than 3.6 million pounds of dead sea life wash along its shores during July's wave of blooms, is also still dealing with the persistent algae bloom. Very low to medium concentrations were found in two samples in Manatee County. Background to medium concentrations were found in three samples in Sarasota County.

Pinellas County seeks input on first Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan

Pinellas County would like to hear residents’ bright ideas and top concerns for the development of the County’s first Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan.

The first of two public input surveys about sustainability and resiliency is open at sustainability.pinellas.gov/survey. The survey runs through Oct. 26, and the County is asking for feedback from residents of all backgrounds.

The Pinellas County Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan will address the unique environmental, social and economic challenges of Pinellas County. The plan will guide internal government policies and programs, as well as the services it offers.

As the County develops the action plan, community feedback will play a key role in identifying strategies to meet current and future needs of the county’s diverse communities, natural habitats, businesses, institutions and visitors.

Pinellas County will host more community engagement events as it continues to develop the Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan. To hear about future opportunities to share feedback, residents can sign up for updates at pinellascounty.org/sustainability/updates.htm.

Pinellas earns improved Class 3 CRS rating from National Flood Insurance Program

Pinellas County Government has earned an improved Community Rating System (CRS) rating from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The new Class 3 rating will provide unincorporated Pinellas County property owners and renters up to a 35 percent discount on flood insurance premiums beginning Oct. 1, 2021.

At the time of the announcement, a CRS Class 3 is the highest rating a Florida community has ever achieved. The new rating will make Pinellas County one of two communities in Florida to be rated a Class 3, with the County now in the top one percent of CRS communities nationwide. The new Class 3 rating—up from a 25 percent discount and a Class 5 rating—is projected to provide more than $7.9 million per year in annual savings on flood insurance premiums for unincorporated areas of the county.

In communities that participate in the CRS program, flood insurance premiums are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from the community’s floodplain best management efforts.

Pinellas County’s floodplain management efforts include:

  • Preservation of floodplains, like Brooker Creek Preserve
  • Improving flood risk mapping and floodplain development standards that address local flood risk and conditions
  • Drainage system maintenance, including checking hot spot areas before and after significant storms to ensure conveyances are clear and perform as designed
  • Expansion of the Program for Public Information membership across municipalities in the county and development of activities, such as the online Flood Map Service and the Real Estate Flood Disclosure Program.

FEMA is also rolling out a new rating methodology, called Risk Rating 2.0, that will affect all new flood insurance policies in Pinellas County and may affect renewals of existing policies. Existing policy holders that will renew their policies between Oct. 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 should contact their flood insurance agent for a rating comparison to ensure they receive the best premium.

Pinellas County continues to encourage property owners to know their risk for flooding and to contact their insurance agent to purchase flood insurance and understand what is covered. For more information, call the National Flood Insurance Program Help Center at 1-800-427-4661 or visit the FEMA Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate (OFIA) at www.fema.gov/flood-insurance/advocate. Pinellas County residents can also contact a Flood Insurance Advocate by visiting bit.ly/PinellasFloodAdvocates for more information. To learn more about flooding, visit www.pinellascounty.org/flooding.