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Water-Related News

Development growth driving need for wastewater treatment expansion

BRADENTON — Manatee County's Southwest Water Reclamation Facility is on its way to receiving a revised general development plan to include upgrades and an eventual expansion in order to deal with population growth. The revisions moved through the planning commission on Thursday and now head to the BOCC at their August 2 meeting.

The initial upgrades will include the replacement of old equipment like headworks, which reduce pollutants from wastewater to a level that is considered safe be discharged into waterways. The revised general development plan will also include the means to increase capacity to deal with upcoming growth.

Around 14,000 units will be added to the facility's duties because of already approved planned developments, mostly at Aqua by the Bay and Lake Flores. Two 40,000+ gallon flow equalization tanks, a 10,500-gallon anoxic basin, two 18,000+ gallon aeration basins, a 3,200-square-foot recharge well building would be added, along with a storage area of around 1,500 square feet.

Tampa Bay most at risk of repeated flooding, says climate scientist

As sea levels continue to rise in Florida, repeated flooding and storm surge are major concerns for Tampa Bay.

David Hastings, a climate scientist at Eckerd College, said the region could experience some of the most severe effects of climate change. He told the civic group Cafe Con Tampa on Friday that in the next 30 years, sixty-five thousand homes in Florida will flood twice a month affecting 100,000 Florida residents.

"We're predicting that there's going to be chronic inundation in many, many homes in Florida and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area is one of the hotspots for that chronic inundation," Hastings said.

Hurricanes and storm surge will become more intense as the ocean warms and sea levels rise in Florida. Hastings said water from warmer oceans will evaporate, creating more energy in the atmosphere and resulting in more severe hurricanes.

While people think hurricane winds cause the most damage, he said storm surge is the bigger concern for residents in Tampa Bay.

Homes approved in 25-year floodplain area of Manatee County

The residents who have lived near Slaughter Drain for decades know one thing is for certain: when it rains, it floods. The creek, often in need of dredging, runs to the east of Erie Court in Parrish before emptying into the Manatee River.

The council planning commission Thursday voted 4-1 to recommend the county commission OK The Grove at Grand Oak Preserve, a proposed 83-home development that Slaughter Drain would slice through. Planning Commission Chair Bill Conerly recused himself and Commissioner David Roth dissented.

“I’m afraid with all this filling in, we will flood,” said Joan Smith, who has lived in the area for 42 years. “We will become a big retention pond.”

As the surrounding area slowly becomes subdivisions, longtime residents of larger parcels are concerned the infill project will push stormwater to their land, as the area is already known for having “historically flooded in the past,” said TomGerstenberger, the county’s stormwater engineering division manager. He advised that if residents needed county staff to clear the creek, they should contact the Citizen Action Center at 941-742-5800.

As part of the proposal, 31 acres would be rezoned. A special approval is needed because the site is in a 25-year floodplain.

Manatee County repairs sinkholes at Bradenton shopping plaza

Despite fines, the delinquent property owner has failed to address the issue

BRADENTON – Manatee County has decided to use taxpayer money to fix sinkholes in a Bradenton shopping plaza.

Officials say the depressions formed after the property owner failed to repair underground pipes.

Deon Sarlls has owned Plato's Closet here at Cortez Plaza East for 12 years. Business was good, until two years ago.

"It started in one spot and it slowly migrated to two or three other spots,” Sarlls recalled.

Sinkholes have formed in the parking lot because of broken storm-water pipes.

Manatee County says the pipe system dates to the 1950s. The pipes are corroded from rust and the leaking water caused these holes.

“It's created a deficit in the bottom of the pipe which has led to erosion which has led to the holes that have opened up in the parking lot,” explained Manatee County Field Maintenance Division Manager Myra Prater.

Officials say the property owner, Bradenton Associates, LLC, is responsible for repairs. But despite daily fines, nothing has been done.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida Coast

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Thanks to whale shark sightings reported by the public off the southwest Florida coast in early June, scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory located five of the polka-dotted, filter-feeding giants and tagged two of them with tracking devices on the afternoon of June 14.

All five whale sharks were found offshore of Longboat Key and New Pass, feeding at the surface possibly on fish eggs as well as other forms of plankton.

“It is not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted feeding in the Gulf this time of year, but the duration of their stay is longer than in previous years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote. “Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.”

The first shark, a 16-foot-long male nicknamed “Colt,” was tagged around 12:30 p.m., about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County. As the team was traveling back to shore around 2 p.m., they found and tagged a 22- to 25-foot female nicknamed “Minnie” and photographed her unique spot patterns for later identification. Three more whale sharks were found and photographed in a group closer to shore.

The trip was made possible by Captain Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts, who transported the research team on his large vessel, allowing them to travel far and fast enough to locate the animals.

The tracking tags will store data about the whale sharks’ location, and the depths and temperatures they encounter.

Dead sea turtles washing up on area beaches

ENGLEWOOD – The onslaught of red tide on our area is not over yet. Dead sea turtles are now reportedly washing up across southwest Florida.

Cindy Blasa enjoys Englewood Beach for its wildlife and scenic views. But on Thursday night, she saw something she'll likely never forget.

"We came down for sunset and we saw a mound out at the water's edge,” said Blasa.

That "mound" was a dead loggerhead sea turtle that had washed ashore.

"It’s just very sad. We've seen some dead turtles in the past, but never one this big,” she said.

The Coastal Wildlife Club says the loggerhead had no apparent injuries, and it's possible this death could be connected to the recent red tide outbreak.

In the past week and a half, local researchers have seen four dead sea turtles on south Manasota Key, including two critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.

Recent red tide blooms in the gulf have led to devastating fish kills in the area.

Researchers from Mote Marine Lab say these turtles had no injuries then were likely killed from red tide, but samples must be taken for sure.

Red tide is a natural, toxic algae that forms in the gulf.

“It has a toxin called ‘brevetoxin’ which is released and it can cause fish kills and aquatic life kills,” said Dr. Tracy Fanara with Mote Marine Lab.

Red tide can also cause respiratory issues for beachgoers.

Administrative judge to hear Polk and Manasota regional water dispute

Water war heating up as Polk Regional Water Cooperative argues 50-year permit sought by Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority to double water it can withdraw.

BARTOW — The regional water war continues.

In the coming months, a judge from the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings will listen to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s argument that the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority should not be allowed to obtain a 50-year permit that would more than double the amount of water it can withdraw.

On June 25, Chris Tumminia, a lawyer for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), wrote to the chief judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings.

“The District has concerns regarding whether it conclusively appears from the face of the Petitions that the pleadings contain defects that cannot be cured,” Tumminia wrote. “However in an abundance of caution the District requests that you assign this matter to an Administrative Law Judge to conduct all necessary and formal proceedings.”

Ryan Taylor, executive director of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, and George Lindsey, who represents Polk on the PRWC, said they hope the two sides can reach a compromise before the hearing. A date for the hearing has not been set.

The PRWC represents the county and 15 cities, including Lakeland.

Will sargassum be the next algae problem in Florida?

The Gulf Coast of Florida is already dealing with two different algae blooms: a red tide on many beaches south of Manatee County and blue-green algae spilling into the Gulf from Lake Okeechobee; but now outbreaks of a larger species of seaweed have even reached Florida. Beginning about seven years ago, beaches throughout the Caribbean Sea have been swamped by feet-thick blooms of Sargassum.

Amy Siuda is an assistant professor of marine science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and is trying to figure out if this Sargassum is a different species than is commonly found in the Caribbean.

“Sargassum is a brown algae, a type of seaweed, that is common throughout the tropics and temperate region. There are hundreds of species of Sargassum and most are attached to the bottom like normal seaweeds. But there are two species that are known right now — of Sargassum — that live their entire lives not attached to the bottom. So those two species have been associated with the Sargasso Sea out in the center of the North Atlantic [Ocean].”

And oftentimes critters live right among these floating algae.

Red tide still lingering at Sarasota, Manatee County beaches

SARASOTA — Sarasota and Manatee County beachgoers could feel some respiratory irritation from red tide at Lido Beach, South Lido Park, Siesta Key and Turtle Beach, where the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County reported low red tide cell counts. The effects will be more prevalent farther south at Nokomis Beach, North Jetty, Venice Beach, Service Club Park, Venice Fishing Pier, Brohard (dog) Beach, Caspersen Beach and Blind Pass, where red tide levels are high.

High concentrations of red tide and discolored water have also been reported at Manasota Beach.

There were no observed effects at Longboat Key or Bird Key Park, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County says.

The algae is not expected to move much over the next three days, according to the University of South Florida-Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Collarboration for Prediction of Red Tide, which forecasts harmful algal blooms in Florida.

Experts began monitoring the current red tide bloom that has killed thousands of fish, sea turtles, a duck and a manatee in Southwest Florida, beginning last October, according to FWC Research Division spokeswoman Michelle Kerr.

Kerr said sea turtles and manatees are infected by ingesting sea grass blades and shellfish. She said the FWC has documented more than 200 reports through the Fish Kill Hotline.

Mote scientists studying possible remedy for red tide

What if organisms in Sarasota Bay could help tame the effects of red tide? That's what researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory are hoping to find out.

This week, Mote is starting a lab study on whether certain organisms have any effect on Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for toxic algal blooms called red tide. When the naturally-occurring organism gathers in dangerous amounts, it can lead to respiratory irritation in humans and often causes fish kills.

The study will use six ladder-like structures that have had time to accumulate filamentous green algae — the stringy, matted plant that typically is the first to attach to underwater structures — and filter feeders like barnacles, tunicates and oysters in Sarasota Bay.

The fate of Florida's wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Red tide largely spares Manatee County, but plagues beaches to the south

MANATEE COUNTY – The shores of Manatee County have lately been relatively free of the effects of red tide. But as beachgoers venture farther south along the Gulf of Mexico, it's a different story.

On Monday afternoon, beaches from Lido Key to Venice North Jetty reported some dead fish, some respiratory irritation or a little bit of both. This is according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab, or SO COOL for short, which gathers the conditions of 29 beaches from Caladesi Island to Marco Island.

The Karenia brevis organism is naturally occurring but when it accumulates in toxic amounts, it becomes red tide. It's obvious to tell when red tide is on a beach when itchy, watery eyes or scratchy throats become unbearable, or if dead fish litter the shore.

Vince Lovko, phytoplankton ecology scientist with Mote Marine, said this particular bloom is "unusual, not remarkable." By this, he means that although red tide is typically known to appear between late summer and early fall, this particular instance in Manatee and Sarasota waters isn't that strange. The first day of summer is Thursday.

"Certainly we are aware that red tide ... can happen any time of the year," Lovko said.

The trouble is knowing enough about K. brevis to predict when it's going to happen, or to stop it from happening altogether. He compared it to predicting the weather.

"We don't try to change the weather, but we do try to get better at predicting it," he said.

He suspects that the recent harmful algal bloom is actually part of a bloom that has persisted since November 2017.