An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

After years of inaction, septic tanks once again focus in Florida

Florida has relied on septic tanks to treat sewage and wastewater for decades, but as the state has grown, the question of overuse and contamination has led lawmakers to push for increased oversight and a shift to sewers where possible.

After the toxic algae and red tide outbreak of 2018, that push is back.

“For too many years, politicians have talked about, 'We’ll fix the Indian River Lagoon,' and then nothing is ever done about it,” Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard County) said.

Fine is pushing for up to $50 million in matching funds to help remove septic tanks and connect sewer systems.

The area of the state that Fine represents has been dealing with septic issues for years. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the Indian River Lagoon comes from septic tanks.

In 2018, the Brevard County Commission passed an ordinance requiring all new septic systems on the barrier islands and inland areas within 200 feet of the lagoon to be built with more expensive, low-nitrogen septic systems. In addition, the county is using its half-cent sales tax to upgrade existing systems or connect people to sewer where available.

Florida is home to more than 3 million septic tanks, 600,000 of which are along the Indian River Lagoon. The state recommends owners have septic systems inspected every three years and pumped every three to five years. But that doesn’t always happen, and it is currently estimated that more than 10 percent of the septic systems in the state are failing, causing problems on both coasts.

Will the Tampa Bay area be under water in 100 years? Rising seas tell a frightening story

Both Tampa and St. Petersburg rank in the top 25 U.S. cities susceptible to sea level rise by 2050.

All it takes is one drive around Tampa Bay to see that our glittering waters are one of our biggest assets.

That fact is perhaps best exemplified in the three-mile expanse that is the Howard Frankland Bridge, a low-lying structure close enough to the water that it makes a drive to and from the airport feel almost like you’re floating on the sea.

But the beauty of the Howard Frankland is tainted by the very thing that makes it special: its proximity to the water. As sea level rise threatens to change our landscape, structures like the Howard Frankland may one day be buried by the ocean.

A look at NOAA’s sea level rise map shows us the image we don’t want to see: The islands and coasts of Tampa Bay slowly fill up with water as the sea level rises foot by foot. Eventually, Treasure Island, St. Petersburg’s bayfront and parts of Tampa’s Riverwalk are all swallowed up.

Florida’s geography puts it at an extreme risk for the effects of sea level rise compared to most U.S. cities. St. Petersburg and Tampa are within the top 25 cities susceptible to coastal flooding due in part to sea level rise in the next 30 years, according to a survey from the nonprofit group Climate Central.

By 2050, about 91,000 people in St. Petersburg and 57,000 in Tampa will live in locations vulnerable to flooding, which will be exacerbated by climate change and rising seas, indicates Climate Central. Residents who live in those areas have at least a 1 percent annual chance of experiencing flooding, based on guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Trump budget falls short on Everglades work, omits new reservoir plan

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget slashes spending by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by 31 percent and fails to include money for an Everglades reservoir aimed at reducing polluted water flushed from Lake Okeechobee to coastal estuaries.

In a Washington press conference on Tuesday, R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for civil works, and Corps commanders said the proposal includes $63 million to help restore Florida’s wetlands and other ecosystems. That includes completing two small reservoirs east and west of Lake Okeechobee, and restoring winding bends in the Kissimmee River. But that’s well short of the $200 million Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers requested for Everglades work.

The budget also omits a vast 17,000-acre reservoir on sugar fields south of the lake to reduce the polluted discharges that last year helped fuel slimy green algae blooms and a red tide that littered the Gulf Coast with dead fish.

Scientist Refutes Red Tide Dogma

BRADENTON — Dr. Larry E. Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, presented his lecture "Red Tide and Blue/Green Algae, Causes, Human Impacts and Health Consequences" at Suncoast Waterkeeper's annual Brunch for the Bay fundraiser, last Sunday at the Bradenton Yacht Club.

Brand is an expert in the ecology of algae and phytoplankton and holds a Ph.D. from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst./Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His 2007 study on the Karenia brevis algae (red tide) links the long-term increase along the southwest Florida coast to human activity. His research contradicts commonly held theories among other scientists, including the idea that the algal blooms follow a seagrass die-off that occurs after reduced freshwater flow leads to hypersalinity.

Check Your Irrigation Timer When You ‘Spring Forward’ for Daylight Savings Time

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is reminding residents to check the timers on their irrigation system controllers this weekend, which is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.

Saturday night, Mar. 10th, is when we turn our clocks ahead one hour. The time change is also a good time to make sure irrigation system timers are set correctly to ensure that the systems operate consistently with year-round water conservation measures.

All 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries are currently on year-round water conservation measures, with lawn watering limited to twice-per-week unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours. Local governments maintaining once-per-week watering by local ordinance include Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties.

Know and follow your local watering restrictions, but don’t water just because it’s your day. Irrigate your lawn when it shows signs of stress from lack of water. Pay attention to signs of stressed grass:

  • Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
  • Grass blades appear blue-gray.
  • Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

For additional information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

Manatee County to host open house meetings, answer flood map questions

MANATEE COUNTY – FEMA representatives and County officials will hold two meetings in April to answer questions about new FEMA preliminary flood insurance rate maps (FIRM) and elevation requirements that will impact insurance rates for many Manatee County homeowners.

FEMA and County floodplain officials will be on hand to answer questions during open house meetings scheduled for Monday, April 1 from 4 – 7 p.m. and Tuesday, April 2 from 1 – 7 p.m. at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Home and business owners, renters, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, surveyors and insurance agents are encouraged to attend.

Manatee County will send mailer notices to thousands of property owners in the affected areas in unincorporated Manatee County notifying them of the meetings.

Over time, flood risks change due to weather events, environmental changes, erosion, land use and other factors. Maps are updated periodically to reflect these changes. FEMA recently released updated, digital flood hazard maps that show the extent to which areas throughout the county are at risk for flooding.

The new preliminary FIRM is based on updated coastal modeling and Gamble Creek watershed in Parrish. The map shows flood hazards more accurately than older maps. FIRMs indicate whether properties are in areas of high, moderate or low flood risk. After reviewing the new Manatee County FIRM, many property owners may find that their risk is higher or lower than they thought. If the risk level for a property changes, so may the requirement to carry flood insurance.

Residents can find out whether their flood zone has changed at www.mymanatee.org/floodzonechanges

For questions about the maps or the meetings, email flood@mymanatee.org.

Experts testify on algae solutions at Florida Congressional delegation meeting

More funding, more planning, more coordination.

Those were the calls from experts Wednesday morning as the Florida congressional delegation held a hearing on dealing with the state’s algae problem and other water issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of the year for the Florida delegation, co-chaired by Reps. Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan. The bipartisan group also reiterated their opposition to offshore drilling in Florida’s waters.

Secretary Noah Valenstein of the Department of Environmental Protection flew in from Tallahassee to testify at the Wednesday meeting.

Also on hand were Adam Gelber, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Interior; Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium; and Garrett Wallace, the Florida Government Relations Manager of The Nature Conservancy.

One issue that came up during the discussion on freshwater blue-green algae was the review process currently being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers to revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which dictates the water levels of the lake.

Opinion: 5 things Florida must do to protect our waterways

Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, Guest columnists

Bob Graham is a former governor of Florida and U.S. senator. Lee Constantine is a Seminole County commissioner and former state senator and state representative.

Protecting and conserving Florida’s water is an economic as well as environmental issue, not one defined by geography or party lines. Both of us, a Democrat from Miami Lakes and a Republican from Altamonte Springs, have made protecting and restoring Florida’s waters a cornerstone of our public service. Today, we redouble our efforts to safeguard Florida’s most valuable resource.

Spurred by outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae leading to another summer of dramatic loss in revenue and decline of water quality and quantity in Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes, the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), a coalition of over 80 conservation-minded groups, released “A Water Policy for Florida.” This position statement provides an overview of many of the existing threats to our waters and a pathway for their successful conservation, restoration and protection statewide.

The FCC lays out five critical steps that must be undertaken immediately by our policymakers to safeguard our waters:

Red tide killed tons of fish. Part of the comeback starts at Robinson Preserve

Some took off like a rocket, others meandered a bit and one or two even tried to get back into their release bags, but more than 2,000 juvenile redfish and 31 adults all made it safely into the waters of Robinson Preserve on Tuesday morning.

Robinson Preserve was the fourth of several release points affected by red tide during the past 18 months along Florida’s Gulf Coast. In all, more than 16,000 redfish will be released.

A few dozen people came out to Robinson Preserve in Northwest Bradenton to watch as the adults were released one by one and most of the juveniles — between 4-6 inches long — were delivered into the water from their tank via a tube. All of the fish were certified healthy by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the adults were tagged so if caught, anglers can help the state track their movement.

America uses 322 billion gallons of water each day. Here’s where it goes.

As climate change, urban development, irrigation and other factors are altering the availability of water, it’s important to understand how we use water on a daily basis in the U.S. — and where the opportunities are for using it more wisely.

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides an overview of water withdrawals across the country.

The report includes a few surprises. For example, did you know Idaho withdraws the most water nationwide for aquaculture? That Arkansas — the 33rd most-populous state — withdraws the fifth most water, mainly for crop irrigation? Or that power plants are the largest users of water in the country?

Wildlife officials want more mechanical harvesting, fewer chemicals applied to lakes, rivers

Wildlife managers are trying to find ways around spraying chemicals in freshwater systems to control invasive plants, but in some cases that may be impossible.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met this week in Gainesville and discussed a current spraying moratorium the agency enacted earlier this month.

"It’s the biggest part of our program and the reason is it works the best," said Kip Frohlich, a senior staffer for FWC. "We’ve gotten the best control over hyacinth and water lettuce (by spraying chemicals)."  

Florida’s legislators expected to focus heavily on water this session

Florida water advocates have hoped for several years that lawmakers will address water quality issues plaguing the state. For years, environmentalists deemed each annual legislative session to be "the year of water."

Lawmakers promised to clean Florida’s polluted waters by securing funding, finishing restoration projects and addressing pollution sources. Yet — aside from the EAA reservoir in 2017 — each session has ended with few major changes.

2018 saw one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever — dueling toxic red tide and toxic blue-green algae on both coasts and in Indian River County's Blue Cypress Lake.

Now environmentalists across the state wonder if this will be the year that the Legislature heavily focuses on improving the state's water quality.

Legislators in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle are proposing wide-ranging bills that focus on funding water quality and treatment projects, but few bills have been filed that address pollution or nutrient runoff.

Can we address climate change without sacrificing water quality?

Strategies for limiting climate change must take into account their potential impact on water quality through nutrient overload, according to a new study from Carnegie’s Eva Sinha and Anna Michalak published by Nature Communications. Some efforts at reducing carbon emissions could actually increase the risk of water quality impairments, they found.

Rainfall and other precipitation wash nutrients from human activities like agriculture into waterways. When waterways get overloaded with nutrients, a dangerous phenomenon called eutrophication can occur, which can sometime lead to toxin-producing algal blooms or low-oxygen dead zones called hypoxia.

For several years, Sinha and Michalak have been studying the effects of nitrogen runoff and the ways that expected changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change could lead to severe water quality impairments.

In this latest work, they analyzed how an array of different societal decisions about land use, development, agriculture, and climate mitigation could affect the already complex equation of projecting future risks to water quality throughout the continental U.S. They then factored in how climate change-related differences in precipitation patterns would additionally contribute to this overall water quality risk.  

Florida delegation focuses on water quality issues

Members of the Florida congressional delegation will be focusing on water quality in the coming days.

On Friday, the two chairs of the Florida delegation–Democrat U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan–announced they would hold a meeting on “some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State” which will include “red tide, harmful algal blooms, offshore drilling and other water quality issues.”

Buchanan weighed in on Friday morning as to why the meeting was being held.

“Florida’s pristine beaches and rivers are what attract countless visitors to our state each year,” Buchanan said. “It is critical that our bipartisan delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans, waterways, beaches are clean and healthy.

Bay area legislative delegation meets at mote emphasizes red tide responses

Florida legislators in the Bay Area Legislative Delegation (BALD) convened at Mote Marine Laboratory this morning, Feb. 26, to discuss multiple important priorities, including Florida red tide and the critical role of marine science and technology in addressing it.

Mote has led innovative red tide research and technology development for decades in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In addition, Mote scientists served as vital red-tide responders and trusted, independent advisors to all levels of government regarding the unusually persistent Florida red tide bloom from late 2017 to early 2019. The Bay Area Legislative Delegation comprises 38 state legislators representing Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties — more than 25 percent of the Florida legislature.

Today’s meeting included BALD’s state legislators, scientists from Mote (an independent, nonprofit, marine research and science education institution), leaders of FWC, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and Tampa Bay Partnership for discussions of local transportation projects, the Regional Competitiveness Report, and Florida red tide and other harmful algal blooms.

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide

A team of scientists led by Christopher Free, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has published an investigation of how warming waters may affect the productivity of fisheries. The results appear in the journal Science.

The study looked at historical abundance data for 124 species in 38 regions, which represents roughly one-third of the reported global catch. The researchers compared this data to records of ocean temperature and found that 8 percent of populations were significantly negatively impacted by warming, while 4 percent saw positive impacts. Overall, though, the losses outweigh the gains.

"We were surprised how strongly fish populations around the world have already been affected by warming," said Free, "and that, among the populations we studied, the climate 'losers' outweigh the climate 'winners.'"

Region had the greatest influence on how fish responded to rising temperatures, according to the study. Species in the same region tended to respond in similar ways. Fishes in the same families also showed similarities in how they responded to changes. The researchers reasoned that related species would have similar traits and lifecycles, giving them similar strengths and vulnerabilities.

When examining how the availability of fish for food has changed from 1930 to 2010, the researchers saw the greatest losses in productivity in the Sea of Japan, North Sea, Iberian Coastal, Kuroshio Current and Celtic-Biscay Shelf ecoregions. On the other hand, the greatest gains occurred in the Labrador-Newfoundland region, Baltic Sea, Indian Ocean and Northeastern United States.

Manatee Commissioners ponder how to fairly impose a stormwater fee

Charge could be included on utility or property tax bills

MANATEE COUNTY — As it struggles with the concept of how to fairly charge property owners for stormwater management, the Manatee County Commission still has more questions than answers.

Flooding woes in several neighborhoods in recent years prompted the commission to raise the issue of whether it should levy a fee on monthly utility bills or annual property tax bills specifically for stormwater work, as other communities do.

On Thursday [Feb. 28], the commissioners conferred with Public Works officials and consultants about how to pay for canal, pond and roadside ditch maintenance and other work related to drainage.

“No matter how we do this, it’s going to come across as a tax increase,” Commission Chairman Stephen Jonsson said.

Commissioner Misty Servia compared the analysis with what the county must do to assess impact fees on new homes and other construction to pay for roads and other amenities used by newcomers. “It’s got to be defensible so the program is protected,” Servia said, emphasizing the need to withstand any legal challenge.

“The level of service will drive your cost,” Public Works Director Chad Butzow said.

FWC Commissioners direct staff to move forward with improvements to Aquatic Plant Management Program

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today heard a staff update regarding the agency’s longstanding Aquatic Plant Management Program.

Commissioners directed staff to move forward with significant changes informed by stakeholder input. These enhancements include:

  • Expanding the creation of habitat management plans for individual lakes.
  • Forming a Technical Assistance Group consisting of staff, partners and stakeholders.
  • Improving timing of herbicide-based invasive aquatic plant removal treatments.
  • Increasing coordination with manual invasive aquatic plant harvesting companies.
  • Exploring new methods and technologies to oversee invasive plant herbicide application contractors.
  • Developing pilot projects to explore better integrated plant management tools.

“Invasive plants are a serious threat to Florida’s waterbodies, and we know from history that they can cause considerable harm in a short amount of time. We are resuming our management program with a commitment to these enhancements,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton, “and will solicit alternative methods, working with research partners and others - especially in south and south central Florida.”

Survey: 71 percent of Southwest Florida residents concerned about climate change

A majority of Southwest Florida residents believe that climate change will personally affect their health and homes, and they want the government to do something about it.

Those are the results of the first-ever Southwest Florida Climate Metrics Survey revealed Wednesday morning by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, EcoAmerica, and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

In September, they conducted a survey of 401 residents in Southwest Florida to gauge the public's current attitudes about climate change, as part of a national survey of 800 people.

"Sometimes you hear anecdotal stories that people are doubting it's happening or some people think it's real or not real. This is the first thing that sort of objectively quantifies what people's beliefs are around climate change," said Rob Moher, CEO of the Conservancy.

Jennifer Roberts, director of EcoAmerica's Path to Positive Communities program, said the main takeaway from the survey is that 7 in 10 Southwest Florida residents are concerned about climate change.

‘Fatbergs’ are clogging up cities’ pipes. Here’s what one Florida town is doing about it

With people flushing personal hygiene items down the toilet doing damage to sewer lines — most recently in Bradenton — the city of Jacksonville has come up with a creative way to warn residents about the danger they are causing.

The globs clogging and breaking sewer lines are nicknamed “fatbergs” a large accumulation of baby wipes and other personal hygiene items ,mixed with greases and cooking fats. The city of Jacksonville spends up to $800,000 annually to address the globs of mess.

In an effort to inform the public in Jacksonville and elsewhere, JEA Utilities, the largest community-owned electric and utility company in the United States, released a horror movie trailer spoof titled, “What goes down, might just come back up.”

Tampa Bay Water awards nearly $30,000 to protect the region’s drinking water sources

Tampa Bay Water awarded nearly $30,000 in source water protection mini-grants to local organizations at its February board meeting to help Tampa Bay area non-profits, schools and community groups protect the aquifer, rivers and bay that the region uses for its drinking water. Receiving the mini-grants for 2019 are Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, the Pasco Education Foundation and Anthony Leotta, a teacher at Sickles High School.

“For 10 years now, Tampa Bay Water has been offering grants that support organizations and groups that help people in the Tampa Bay area get involved in protecting the sources of their drinking water,” said General Manager Matt Jordan. “As the regional wholesale drinking water utility, we remain committed to meeting the drinking water needs of our growing region in an environmentally sustainable fashion.”

This year, Tampa Bay Water received six mini-grant applications and was able to fully fund four of the applications. They include:

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful will receive $10,000 to support education initiatives and presentations to school groups and community groups through its Environmental Education Program. The program teaches students the importance of putting waste in its place and how their actions can directly affect the Tampa Bay watershed.

Keep Pinellas Beautiful will receive $10,000 to increase its K-12 educational curriculum on watershed health, water quality, source water health and habitat improvement. It also will expand its Annual Student Summer Workshops to include watershed stewardship education across Pinellas County and grow its Youth Advisory Council.

Pasco Education Foundation will receive $5,000 to help launch Wendell Krinn Technical High School’s aquaponics farming system. Named in honor of Ridgewood High School’s first principal, the school provides students the opportunity to graduate high school while

Climate change is here. Will Tampa Bay be ready?

In a nondescript office building in Pinellas Park, a group of officials came together Feb. 11 to start figuring out how the 3.1 million people who live in the coastal plain that is the Tampa Bay area should grapple with a global crisis.

It was the sixth meeting of the recently formed Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition’s Steering Committee. Officials call it the first time local governments have come together in a meaningful way to identify, address and plan for climate change.

It quickly became clear that the group has a lot of work to do.

Just a few minutes into the meeting, Gulfport City Council member Michael Fridovich voiced concern about $1 billion in waterfront residential construction and road improvements slated for the Tampa end of the Gandy Bridge.