Water-Related News

Blue-Green Algae Task Force approves 1st recommendations

Task Force comes to consensus on first set of water quality improvement recommendations

TALLAHASSEE – This week, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force met and approved its first set of recommendations to address water quality and harmful algal blooms.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force is an advisory body, appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis, to aid the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in fulfilling its mission to protect, conserve and manage the state’s natural resources and enforce its environmental laws. The task force, through its discussion and deliberations, provides guidance and specific, science-based recommendations with the goal of expediting improvements and restoration of Florida’s water bodies that have been adversely affected by blue-green algae blooms.

“I appreciate the time the task force members and the public have invested in these important discussions. This commitment is a testament to the passion these leading scientists and residents of our state have for the protection of our natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. ”I look forward to utilizing these recommendations to identify regulatory and management strategies to expedite water quality improvements.”

“The recommendations released by the task force are the result of a deliberative and transparent process and reflect DEP’s commitment as a state agency to science-based decision making. These recommendations will undoubtedly be used to inform viable and effective policy,” said Chief Science Officer Dr. Thomas Frazer. “The task force will continue to meet and will delve even more deeply into a broader suite of issues related to water quality and algal blooms moving forward.”

A copy of the consensus document can be found on the Blue-Green Algae Task Force website.

St. Pete to residents: Fix your broken sewer pipes

The city is considering an ordinance that would require property owners repair or replace broken sewer lines if the city discovers a problem. City officials are working on a rebate program to help with costs.

ST. PETERSBURG — Recovering from the sewage crisis has taken the city years and cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now, officials say, it’s time for property owners to do their part.

The City Council is considering an ordinance that would force property owners to repair or replace broken sewer lines — the ones that connect homes or businesses to the street — if the city discovers a problem with them. Those pipes are private property.

The ordinance doesn’t yet have a lot of teeth, and though replacing the pipes could cost a homeowner thousands, city officials say it won’t force many property owners to incur major costs, at least any time soon. They hope to eventually establish a rebate program to encourage property owners to willingly inspect and repair their sewer lines.

“This provides an opportunity for us to team up with the private property owners to solve this problem together,” said St. Petersburg Water Resources Director John Palenchar.

But, he said, it stops short of requiring inspections across the board.

“So rather than put an unfunded mandate on homeowners, we’re trying to work on a funding mechanism,” he said.

Passing an ordinance that addresses private sewer laterals — the lines are called laterals because they run sideways from the street to structures — by June 2020 is a requirement of the consent order the city signed with the state after the 2015-16 sewage crisis. The city released up to a billion gallons of sewage, of which up to 200 million gallons made it to Tampa Bay.

Too much rainwater? Learn to harvest it

This time of year, June through November, Tampa Bay residents receive a large amount of rainfall. With an average annual rainfall of approximately 50 inches, each household could save more than 31,000 gallons a year with sufficient rainwater storage capacity.

Did you know that one inch of rain on a 1,000 square foot roof will yield 623 gallons of water?

Most University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences county Extension offices offer rainwater harvesting workshops, and there is an Extension office in each of our 67 counties.

At these workshops, residents learn about the benefits of capturing rainwater, which include reducing potable water use in the landscape, erosion and stormwater runoff. These reductions are environmentally and financially impactful.

Report: Florida’s water supplies under extreme pressure

State, water management districts and local utilities promote conservation, reclaimed water and new sources in response and preparation of the state’s expanding population.

Given its birth and death rates and constant influx of newcomers, Florida’s population is increasing by more than 900 people daily.

That expanding population requires water — water to drink, cook, bathe, grow food, even operate power plants.

The Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research says the statewide daily demand for water, 6.4 billion gallons as of 2015, is projected to increase by 17% in the next 20 years to more than 7.5 billion gallons as the population climbs to 25.2 million. That demand could be higher and the availability of that water lessened if climate change increases the frequency of droughts.

Not one of Florida’s five water management districts, which oversee permits for water supplies, “can meet its future demand solely with existing source capacity,” the agency stated in a recent report.

Congressional committee presses EPA over WOTUS rollback

A congressional subcommittee questioned the Trump administration on Wednesday over its rollback of Obama-era Clean Water Act protections.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency repealed a 2015 rule that expanded the definition of "waters of the United States," or WOTUS, a definition intended to clarify which waterways and wetlands are federally regulated.

In prepared testimony delivered Wednesday, David Ross, an administrator in the EPA's water office, said the Obama-era rules "failed to adequately recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of states to manage their own land and water resources."

Congressional Democrats criticized the repeal, contending it will lead to more pollution and threaten drinking water. Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio said industry "can dump whatever they want in [the water] because it's an economic value to them. And then it just flows over the border to another state. If their people want to drink it, that's their problem."

Septic tanks eyed in efforts to combat algae

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection should be teamed with health officials who permit septic tanks as the state tries to ensure cleaner waterways, members of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force agreed Wednesday.

Expanding oversight of the state’s millions of septic tanks was among a list of general recommendations that received some support Wednesday from the five-member task force as part of a draft report.

The report, based on topics reviewed so far, is expected to provide guidance for lawmakers as they approach the 2020 legislative session.

But task force members, who met this week in Naples, made clear they still intend to tackle issues about wastewater reuse or recycled water and agriculture and urban uses of herbicides and fertilizers, topics they have not fully addressed.

Water Management District board vacancies concern some conservationists

The Southwest Florida Water Management Board met this week. At last.

The board had to cancel a meeting recently because it lacked enough members present to have a quorum. Only seven of its 13 seats were filled at the time, and one member did not attend. The other vacant seats were awaiting appointments from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

And while the water management district has now approved its $202 million budget and its tax rate for homeowners in the 16 counties it covers, some conservationists are looking at water district board vacancies with concern. Is DeSantis living up to his environmental agenda announced in January, or is he dragging his feet?

“He has made some bold promises to improving water quality, and we're going to continue to advocate for that and hold them accountable for those promises,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“And we know that there are a lot of things going on that should be concluding, you know, right around now at the end of summer, beginning of fall,” Lopez said. “So we'll start to see if the administration is able to put his money where his mouth is and really deliver on some of the promises of improving Florida's water quality.”

Lopez added it is crucial that the water districts address red tide and blue-green algae blooms statewide. A task force on blue-green algae held its last meeting Wednesday, but its recommendations have not yet been sent to the water districts to be implemented.

Other water districts have received speedier attention. In South Florida, where the sugar industry and Everglades restoration are high-profile issues, DeSantis quickly moved to replace the entire South Florida Water Management District Board in January after it refused to put off a November 2018 vote on a new sugar farming lease that he wanted to review.

EPA considering first fish farm in Gulf of Mexico

Environmental & fishing groups oppose the Hawaii-based company’s plan.

A Hawaii-based company wants to open the first offshore fish farm in the Gulf of Mexico about 45 miles west of Sarasota. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which approved a draft permit in August, is seeking public comment on issuing a final permit on the project through Sunday.

Fishing and environmental groups have already raised objections to the proposal by Kampachi Farms to anchor a chain-link mesh pen offshore to raise 20,000 Almaco jack fish – a relative of the popular amberjack – for human consumption. The company plans to hatch the fish from eggs in tanks on shore, then when they become fingerlings move them to the open ocean pen.

The farm, a pilot project, would not only be a first for the gulf, but would also be the first in the federal waters of the continental United States. If it works, then look for others to follow, both here and elsewhere, said Kampachi co-founder Neil Anthony Sims.

“We think the gulf coast of Florida around Tampa offers the most advantageous location, given the criteria we’re looking at,” Sims said. Other companies are eyeing potential fish farm locations off of California and Long Island, he said.

That’s the main reason the Kampachi proposal is drawing opposition from environmental groups and commercial fishing operations: They don’t want offshore fish farms to start popping up all around the country, because they view them as a threat to clean water and a thriving fishing industry.

Questions remain over long-term health effects of blue-green algae

Coughing, wheezing, and rashes. Those are just some of the health problems readers are telling us about when it comes to previous bouts of blue-green algae in Southwest Florida. “It’s hurting our tourism. It’s killing dogs and livestock and fish,” said David Spiers, who works for a company that’s working to kill blue-green algae blooms as we saw in 2018. The state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force is talking about the issue in Naples. And it’s so serious, Florida’s surgeon general Scott Rivkees made an appearance.

He says, “Health effects for blue-green algae toxins have been recognized for almost 1,000 years.”

The big question remains: What are the long-term health effects of the algae?

Florida’s state toxicologist Dr. Kendra Goff says, “We still don’t have a lot of information about what is going on with the longer-term impacts.”

Which also makes it hard to predict when harmful algae will show up.

Florida's Blue-Green Algae Task Force focuses on DOH response, future actions

The state needs a better way to tell the public whether there's a blue-green algae bloom on popular waterways during the summer.

Those were some of the sentiments from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Blue-Green Algae Task Force, which met Wednesday in Naples.

"In the short term we have some real shortcomings," said task force chair and Florida's top scientist Tom Frazer. "We’re limited by technology to quickly assess the toxins."

The task force was formed earlier this year as part of an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Aimed at addressing growing blue-green algae blooms in fresh water systems, the task force met for the fourth time and focused on the Florida Department of Health and how the agency can better inform the public about blue-green blooms.

DOH's public perception took a hit last summer as the agency was slow to respond to media, the public and conditions at the time.

Seasonal reclaimed water restrictions run Oct. 1 - Nov. 30

Pinellas County seasonal reclaimed water restrictions go into effect on Tuesday, Oct. 1, and run through Saturday, 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. Property owners in violation of restrictions can face a $193 fine.

Effective Tuesday, 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: