Water-Related News

Manatee County Commission looks for strategies to protect pelicans on Skyway Fishing Pier

BRADENTON – In a regular meeting Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission heard concerns brought before them by Friends of the Pelicans, Inc. The local nonprofit organization’s mission is the prevention of injury and death to seabirds from fishing line entanglement—the number one cause of death for pelicans and a risk to other seabird species. The organization had requested the commission consider the adoption of a resolution that might help their efforts to save seabirds, especially brown pelicans.

Charlie Hunsicker, Director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department, presented Resolution R-22-001 before the board.

The resolution sought to use the persuasion and influence of local government to urge the state government and its agencies to work closely with local governments and citizens’ groups to find and institute solutions that might protect the seabirds from the hazards of fishing line entanglement at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, while also preserving the public’s continued access to the pier for fishing. The pier is part of the Florida Park Service and is owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

During her presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, Jeanette Edwards, founder of Friends of the Pelicans, Inc., explained to the commission that incidences of injury and death to seabirds in our area have increased over recent years. Edwards provided that her agency alone had tracked the injury and deaths of 146 seabirds in 2018, compared to 1,440 in 2021—with a total of more than 2,600 seabirds having been impacted from 2018 through June of 2021. The South Skyway Fishing Pier is an area of increased concern to the organization, accounting for a higher percentage of the injuries and deaths the group has tracked.

This legislative session, lawmakers to take up water quality, land conservation and seagrass

Florida lawmakers convene Tuesday in Tallahassee for the start of the legislative session.

WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green talked with Pam West of 1000 Friends of Florida about environmental priorities, like whether there is a measure to address an unprecedented manatee die-off.

WEST: No. In fact, there is a bill that proposes to do the exact opposite, and you would never know it by its title. It’s the Seagrass Mitigation Bank bill.

It’s the one bill that we’re looking at this legislative session that could do more to harm the beloved manatee than any other bill out there. Because what it proposes is to take existing, viable healthy seagrass beds and destroy them and try to mitigate for that loss sometime later down the road.

GREEN: The measure authorizes seagrass mitigation banks to offset losses. Pam West, what should lawmakers be doing?

WEST: One of the easiest things that could have happened this legislative session — they tried to make it happen last legislative session — was the implementation of the recommendations from Gov. DeSantis’ own Blue Green Algae Taskforce.

They worked around the state with all these workshops. Hundreds of hours by experts and citizen input. Had some robust recommendations, and yet not one of these recommendations have so far been implemented and codified into law. And we are now unfortunately seeing the consequences of not taking action on Florida’s impaired waters.

Red tide alert: Bloom could impact weekend beach plans in Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County released a statement Friday [Jan. 8th] saying a red tide bloom has been found along the county’s coastal beaches.

Health officials say “some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms.”

People with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, Pinellas County officials ask you stay away from beach areas or go into an air-conditioned space. If your symptoms do not go away, please contact your doctor.

Public meeting Feb. 1st to address odors at St. Pete’s Southwest Water Reclamation Facility

St. Pete residents are invited to learn about efforts the Water Resources Department is making to address odor complaints in the vicinity of the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility (SWWRF) at a public meeting Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 6 p.m., at the Lake Vista Recreation Center (1401 62nd Ave. S.).

The City is investigating odors within a 1.5-mile radius of the facility to determine their source(s), model their possible impacts and provide options for further study or mitigation actions. Please attend the meeting to learn about the project, schedule and technology that we will be using to locate odor sources in the area. City staff and the project consultant will be available to answer questions after a brief presentation

Applications now being accepted for Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund projects

TBERF logo

TBERF-2022 seeks applications for cost-effective projects that will protect, restore or enhance the natural resources of Tampa Bay and its contributing watershed.

This includes projects that address on-the-ground habitat restoration; water quality improvement; applied research and monitoring; and community-based social marketing campaigns.

Preference will be given to proposals that apply open science principles and are aligned with conservation objectives and priorities described in the RFP.

Projects that implement the goals of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law may be given special consideration.

The Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund (TBERF) is a strategic partnership between the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Restore America’s Estuaries. To date, funding for TBERF-2022 has been provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, Publix, Trademark Metals, and the Jollay Family Foundation. TBERF-2022 is designed to provide added value to current and future Tampa Bay conservation initiatives and provides funding through a competitive application process for projects that will protect, restore or enhance the natural resources of Tampa Bay and its contributing watershed. Preference will be given to proposals that apply open science principles and are aligned with the conservation priorities identified here. Examples of previously-funded projects can be reviewed here. Proposals that benefit historically underrepresented or marginalized communities are encouraged to apply. Approximately $1,600,000 may be made available for project support in 2022.

Proposal Deadline

Proposals must be submitted electronically by 5:00 pm EDT, March 11, 2022. Late applications will not be accepted. Email completed proposals to Maya Burke, TBEP Assistant Director (mburke@tbep.org).

Officials are monitoring ‘seepage’ at the Piney Point phosphate plant

They say the leaks are producing about three gallons of water a minute, but are contained.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring what it calls "seepage" at the former Piney Point phosphate plant.

According to a press release Thursday, three small leaks were found along the south wall of the reservoir late Wednesday night, producing about three gallons a minute.

They say the leaks are contained.

"Currently, there is no indication of any concern with the integrity or stability of the stack system, and there will be no offsite discharges at this time," according to the release.

Contractors are working to determine where the leaks are originating. If they worsen, the water could be pumped back into the reservoir, the release said.

In April, about 215 million gallons of wastewater were discharged from the site into Tampa Bay.

Last month, regulators issued a permit to allow hundreds of millions of gallons of the polluted water to be pumped 3,000 feet below the surface.

TBRPC launching new initiative, ‘Resilient Ready: Tampa Bay’

In 2022, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC) will pioneer a new initiative called Resilient Ready: Tampa Bay. The project is led by the TBRPC and made possible by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (FDEP) Resilient Florida Program. The City of Tampa is the FDEP Grant Coordinator on behalf of the TBRPC.

Two local governments in the Tampa Bay region, in addition to the City of Tampa, will be selected to participate in the project and receive technical engineering analysis/design services at no cost. Through an interactive design charrette, local government staff and the Resilient Ready Team will develop flood mitigation designs (see examples) and cost-benefit information that can be used by local governments to apply for State and Federal grants. The project will take place from January through June 2022.

The Study Area Selection Application (download) is now available for local governments to apply with a specific flood area.

The application is due Friday, January 21, 2022, by 4:00 PM.

A Question-and-Answer Session will be held over Zoom on January 7th from 1-2 PM for interested applicants. This session will be recorded and made publicly available. Register here for the Q/A session.

Contact Sarah Vitale, AICP (sarah@tbrpc.org) for more information.

Join the Resiliency Ready: Tampa Bay email list for project updates.

Evaporation is being used to get rid of Piney Point’s nutrient-rich water

Depending on the time of the year, officials say the evaporation system can remove 200,000 gallons of water on a single day.

MANATEE COUNTY – For more than eight months, state and local leaders have been trying to find a way to shut down the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility once and for all.

After a partial tear in one of the facility's gypsum stacks in April caused more than 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater to be released into Tampa Bay, it became clear that a solution had to be found fast.

One of the many ways the state has decided to address the issue is treating the water that sits in the man-made reservoirs in order to store it inside a deep-injection well. Another way is by removing the polluted water, and that's where leaders have gotten creative.

Through the natural power of evaporation, officials tasked with closing Piney Point say they can remove hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater a day. According to Herbert Donica, the decision was made due to the limited window of time outside of Florida's rainy season.

In October, a judge named Donica the court-appointed receiver who would oversee Piney Point's closure. He says most of the efforts have gone to concentrating nutrients out of the water, but all that work is useless if rainfall causes the stacks to overflow.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — For more than eight months, state and local leaders have been trying to find a way to shut down the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility once and for all.

After a partial tear in one of the facility's gypsum stacks in April caused more than 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater to be released into Tampa Bay, it became clear that a solution had to be found fast.

One of the many ways the state has decided to address the issue is treating the water that sits in the man-made reservoirs in order to store it inside a deep-injection well. Another way is by removing the polluted water, and that's where leaders have gotten creative.

Through the natural power of evaporation, officials tasked with closing Piney Point say they can remove hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater a day. According to Herbert Donica, the decision was made due to the limited window of time outside of Florida's rainy season.

In October, a judge named Donica the court-appointed receiver who would

With goal of preventing future sewage spills, St. Pete crews begin work on new pipeline

Crews will begin work on the pipeline Tuesday [Jan. 4th] in southwest St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG – Construction crews in St. Petersburg are ready to break ground on the city’s latest improvement to its sewer system.

Tuesday, crews will begin installing a 16-inch wastewater pipeline in the southwest portion of the city that could prevent future sewage overflows in the area during periods of heavy rain.

The improvement is required under an agreement the city reached with the Florida Department of Environment Protection (FDEP) in 2017 after the city’s sewer system spilled almost 200 million gallons of wastewater into local waterways during 2015 and 2016.

During heavy periods of rain brought by storms like Hurricane Hermine, stormwater flowed into the city’s sewer system and, in turn, pushed wastewater out of it and into places like Clam Bayou in southwest St. Pete.

The new pipeline, once installed, will be able to divert sewage from tanks in the city’s southwest basin to the northwest basin during “peak wet weather events.”

Updated annual demand forecast predicts need for more water

Every year Tampa Bay Water updates its annual demand projections that look 20 to 30 years into the future. These models use a variety of data from different sources: population growth scenarios from the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, member government billing and property appraiser data, Moody’s analytics, Florida Department of Transportation data, the American Community Survey data and other sources.

These projections are used in annual budgeting, as they help manage rates and provide a basis for expected delivery and source allocation for the coming six years. The projections are based on a realistic range of future scenarios that are also used to support long-range planning and reliability analysis of the Tampa Bay Water system. Models are developed for three major sectors: single family homes, multi-family homes and non-residential water consumption. Demand is forecast out to 2050.

For Water Year 2023, Tampa Bay Water anticipates a regional demand of 274.1 million gallons per day (mgd) of water.

Growth in housing units within the Tampa Bay area are driving increased demand. Highest growth in demand is projected for south-central Hillsborough County, Pasco County and the City of Tampa.

Modifications at TECO’s Big Bend plant affect desal plant operations

Tampa Bay Water has been studying the feasibility of expanding its desalination operations to provide an additional 10-15 million gallons per day (mgd) of drinking water to the region. However, changes at Tampa Electric’s (TECO) Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach, where the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Facility is co-located, are impacting not only expansion plans for the Tampa Bay Water’s desalination facility, but also its current water production capacity.

TECO is modernizing its Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach to minimize the use of coal for electricity production. Modifications include retiring two of four cooling water tunnels. While these modifications will benefit the environment by improving land, water and air emissions at the Big Bend Power Plant, they will impair Tampa Bay Water’s desalination operations if the water utility does not also make modifications.

Tampa Bay Water uses TECO’s cooling water tunnels for the desal plant’s intake and discharge. The tunnels provide the desalination plant’s seawater supply in addition to diluting the concentrated seawater leftover from the desalination process. Concentrated saltwater must be diluted before it can be returned to the bay.

Tampa Bay Water has been working to restore a reliable supply of seawater to the plant. This $16 million project scheduled to be completed by late 2023 will create a new intake connection and extend the current intake connection to our facility and include a pump station and a pipeline. However, this project does not solve the issue of reduced blending water for diluting the concentrated discharge. Without a solution to the reduction in blending water, the desalination plant could be limited to 16 mgd on a consistent basis.

Additionally, TECO’s changes may also limit when the desalination plant can operate throughout the year. Tampa Bay Water typically relies more on water from the desal plant during the fall and spring dry seasons. TECO’s changes will result in less cooling water being available during those months, which are also when TECO has lower power demands.

Tampa Bay Water and its consultants are looking at several potential options to regain production capacity at the desalination plant by addressing the concentrate discharge limitations. Tampa Bay Water will present those options to the Board later in 2022, along with options to expand this important regional water supply facility.

Florida scientists are finding new income sources for shellfish aquafarmers in case of shutdowns

While a $100,000 grant is funding researchers to help Florida's shellfish aquaculture industry after the pandemic, it could also potentially give a financial boost through periods of toxic red tide blooms.

A new research project is expected to help Florida's shellfish aquaculture industry, which has taken a hit due to COVID-19 and algae blooms. The data collected will be the first of its kind in this state.

There are 720 shellfish leases spread across 16 coastal Florida counties, which were all affected when the eateries they sold to were closed during the pandemic lockdown. They were also hit by red tide recently.

Angela Collins, a Florida Sea Grant agent based in Manatee County, said when algae blooms are present, the clams and oysters are not impacted, although, production gets shut down. The bivalves actually help to filter the water during these events, but businesses take a hit when the shellfish are not harvested.

"They do keep growing, and they can actually grow outside of marketable size. Then when the lease opens back up and the farmer is able to harvest the product, it's grown larger than the market size really is economically feasible for them," said Collins.

Now, thanks to a $100,000 grant from The Nature Conservancy, the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is partnering with Florida Sea Grant to find new revenue streams. One of them is called a nutrient credit trading program.

"That would be a way for the shellfish growers to get paid then for these ecosystem benefits that their shellfish provide, particularly in their ability to remove nitrogen,” said Ashley Smyth, with UF.

Scientists will find out how much nitrogen is being removed by Florida's shellfish aquaculture industry, according to Smyth. The only numbers available are out of Virginia, North Carolina and New England. Then they can calculate how much farmers should be paid for that service.

They'll also conduct a survey of growers around the state, and sample water at four farms along the Gulf Coast.

The project is expected to start in January and last two years.

In the meantime, Angela Collins said people need to buy and eat more local seafood.

"This is a big deal in the state of Florida because we do have so much coastal development and a lot of our seafood producers really do depend on viable working waterfront spaces to bring their products in and out. So, supporting the existence of these working waterfronts is really important," she said.

Five environmental stories that affected Tampa Bay in 2021 and what’s ahead in 2022

Piney Point, Red Tide and dying manatees were some of the environmental crises of 2021.

The environment dominated headlines this spring and summer in Tampa Bay, despite the enduring coronavirus pandemic, as back-to-back crises threatened the region’s namesake waterway.

Some headlines felt like they had been written before, as old problems resurfaced this year.

Heading into 2022, here’s a reminder of what happened and a cheat sheet for what to look out for next year.