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Water-Related News

Stormwater funding topic of Sept. 24th Manatee Commission meeting

MANATEE COUNTY – During a work session today Manatee County Commissioners discussed the County's stormwater program and how to fund it into the future to improve drainage and local water quality.

For much of 2019 Commissioners have discussed the current stormwater program which helps reduce roadway flooding and improves local water quality by maintaining public stormwater pipes, ditches, canals, ponds and other structures that filter pollutants before stormwater reaches water bodies.

Commissioners are considering a stormwater fee to pay for the County’s Stormwater Program which has been funded since the early 1990s by mostly solid waste fees and property tax revenues. Next Tuesday, Sept. 24, the Commission will discuss the proposed stormwater rate and they are expected to authorize a public outreach campaign this fall to educate Manatee County residents about the program and the proposed fee. No vote will be taken on the proposed stormwater fee until after the public outreach campaign is complete.

Manatee County invites volunteers to Sept. 21st oyster reef restoration event

MANATEE COUNTY — Do your part to improve local water quality at an oyster reef restoration volunteer event Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 a.m. at Perico Bayou.

Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, and Tampa Bay Estuary Program are hosting this morning of community service as part of National Estuaries Week, a nationwide celebration of our bays and estuaries and the many benefits they provide to local communities.

Volunteers will meet at the point where Manatee Avenue crosses over Perico Bayou. Participants will work together to create a “bucket brigade” to place recycled oyster shells. Creating this artificial oyster reef provides a place for juvenile oysters to settle and grow. Similar oyster reef restoration projects have been successful in nearby Robinson and Perico Preserves.

“This is an opportunity to make a positive impact in our environment and help build a community in the bay literally from the bottom up,” Manatee County Parks & Natural Resources’ Programming, Volunteer, and Education Division Manager Aedan Stockdale said. “More oysters mean cleaner water and cleaner water promotes more oysters. These oysters will provide food and habitat for fish, which will in turn attract a diversity of birds and other animals as well as provide recreational and commercial opportunities for people.”

Oysters siphon water through their bodies to obtain food, cleaning the water by removing excess nutrients. With each individual oyster filtering up to 50 gallons of water per day, every acre of restored oyster reef filters nearly 40 million gallons of water each day. Oyster reefs like this one protect the health of our waterways and help shelter shorelines from storm damage and erosion.

Large-scale oyster restoration projects require many partners to be successful. Scientists with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program provided te

Florida Gov. DeSantis rolls out environmental proposals

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways and to lock an environmental-funding pledge into state budgets for at least the next three years.

The proposals are the first of a series the governor said he will make ahead of the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee on Monday to start holding committee meetings to prepare for the session.

Doubling fines for sewage spills would eliminate what DeSantis described as a “slap me on the wrist” approach to penalties for local governments. Civil penalties are now up to $10,000 a day, DeSantis said during an appearance last week at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples.

“What we end up seeing happening is, you have some of these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”

DeSantis noted, for example, spills that have occurred into Tampa Bay.

Small harvest leaves Florida stone crabbers in a pinch

There is one more victim of the red tide outbreak that plagued Florida’s Gulf Coast last year. This season’s stone crab harvest is among the state's lowest, according to seafood industry experts.

Estimates show only 1.9 million pounds were collected during the season, reports NationalFisherman.com.

The season ran from Oct. 15, 2018 to May 15, 2019. An average season ranges between 2.5 and 3.2 million pounds.

According to Bill Kelly, the executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, red tide is to blame.

The algae bloom cut off oxygen to the seafloor in Florida’s southern waters, forcing the crabs to move to other areas in search of better conditions.

"Stone crabs are typical burrowing animals, we affectionately call them ditch diggers, and they didn't have any mud to dig a ditch, and so they had to move on,” said Kelly.

Mote launching stone crab research and education project in Tampa Bay with new grant

Mote Marine Laboratory is launching a new research and education project aimed at examining which coastal habitats might help stone crabs—a $30-million seafood staple in Florida—survive the growing threat of ocean acidification, thanks to a new grant from Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund.

The $70,000 grant will be matched by Mote and support the latest of several Mote studies aiming to shed light on the 30% decrease in Florida’s yearly stone crab catch since 2000. So far, Mote’s controlled lab studies point out that ocean acidification and high levels of Florida red tide can each have significant impacts on stone crabs throughout different stages of their life cycle.

Stone crab larvaFemale stone crabs brood their eggs—carry them until hatching—in coastal environments vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA), a worldwide decrease in ocean water pH driven by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH estimated to be three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century due to nutrient-rich runoff, a potential threat for sensitive coastal species.

Study: 4 billion particles of tiny plastics pollute Tampa Bay

This study received funding from a Tampa Bay Estuary Program Mini-Grant.

To the naked eye, the waters of Tampa Bay look clean and inviting. But a new study says the bay, Florida’s largest estuary, is awash in tiny bits of plastic.

The study, published Thursday in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, found about four billion particles of microplastics in the bay. Microplastics are each a 1/8 of an inch or smaller — tiny fragments of plastic bags or bottles, or threads from polyester clothing, discarded fishing line and other artificially manufactured jetsam.

Next up: a study that looks at how those bits of microplastics might be affecting manatees and other marine creatures that make their homes in the bay, according to Kinsley McEachern, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg marine sciences graduate student who led the study.

“Harmful chemicals and toxic organic pollutants like pesticides stick to them,” she said. And because the chemicals on microplastics can mimic hormones, "they can cause reproduction difficulties. It could have impacts throughout the entire food chain.”

So far, she said, there have been no studies on the impact on humans.

This is the first study to try to gauge just how badly polluted the bay has become from microplastics. McEachern got the idea for it several years ago when she heard Eckerd College professor David Hastings talking about his discovery that microplastics were turning up in samples his students were taking throughout the bay.

Major hurricanes helping shape regional resiliency climate change plans

Hurricanes such as Dorian are providing valuable data and modeling for planners and politicians working to battle climate change.

The process is called resiliency.

For the past year, a coalition of six counties and 22 cities around Tampa Bay has gathered and coordinated data for everything from new transportation needs to zoning rules. The plan is to combat sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Dorian, last year's Hurricane Michael and 2017's Harvey showed that catastrophic tropical weather and their soaking days of rain are here to stay.

“This is sort of, unfortunately, the new normal,” said CJ Reynolds, the director of resilience and engagement for the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, “and we have to figure out how we need to look at our cities and our roads and our houses and think about how can we make ourselves more resilient.”

The coalition’s members include the coastal counties and cities from Citrus to Manatee. They hope to develop regional solutions for issues including rising sea levels, rainfall, heat, wildfires, droughts, flooding and storms. The Tampa Bay regional coalition covers 4 million residents, or one in five Floridians.

The idea is to coordinate the governments’ response to climate change, coming up with, among many other things, new building codes, zoning designations and transportation projects -- as well as adjusting county and municipal budgets to pay for them.

Great Scallop Search valued as water quality indicator

The Great Bay Scallop Search returns after being canceled last year.

ST. PETERSBURG — Fort De Soto Park was packed for the annual Great Bay Scallop Search, and for good reason: Around 200 volunteers were energized after having to miss out on the search last year because of red tide fears.

“(We're) definitely very excited to have all these volunteers out here. It was a shame to miss it last year, and all the volunteers are very excited to get out there on the water,” said Eric Plage, an environmental specialist with Tampa Bay Watch.

The goal was not to find dinner.

“We are returning the scallops to the area from which we found them. We are not harvesting them and putting some garlic butter and some white wine and all that good stuff on it," Plage joked. Scallops are water filters. If the water is too contaminated or diluted, they cannot filter.

"If they’re prevalent in an area, that means there’s good water quality there. If we can’t find any, that’s kind of a sign that the water needs improvement. That the water quality is a bit poor." Plage said.

The annual search has been conducted nearly every year since 1993 to gauge the water quality in Tampa Bay.

Brown water: natural tannins or sign of looming red tide?

Tannin-stained waters are blasting out of some Southwest Florida passes as rain water continues to wash off the watershed and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Water quality scientists and others worry nutrients in that water could eventually feed a red tide bloom that's already on the horizon.

"The volume of water and the amount of nitrogen that’s being delivered to the nearshore Gulf is an issue," said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani. "We’re starting to see background levels of Karenia (red tide), so the timing is really bad. Enriching nutrients for the nearshore water, it couldn’t happen at a worse time as we're heading into the red tide season."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports from Tuesday show low to medium concentrations of red tide in Sarasota Bay.

Karenia brevis is the organism that causes red tides in the Gulf of Mexico. It's naturally occurring at background levels but can devastate the entire coastline during major blooms.

Last year, a massive red tide bloom killed millions of pounds of marine life, including hundreds of dolphins and sea turtles, manatees and even a whale shark.

County passes resolution for renourishment funding

Manatee County is taking steps toward nourishment for the beaches of Anna Maria Island.

County commissioners voted 7-0 Aug. 20 for a consent agenda containing a resolution authorizing the parks and natural resources department to file a long-range erosion control budget plan with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The county must submit the plan to qualify for state funding for two renourishment projects planned for beaches southward from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Bradenton Beach at Longboat Pass in 2020.

The first project, planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will cover the beachfront from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.

The section of work is the central beach project and is authorized to receive federal funding. At a total of $16 million, the corps of engineers will pay 56.4% of the cost. The state and county will split the remainder.

The second county project will begin at Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach and end at Longboat Pass, at a total cost of $4 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will shoulder 75% of the expense, with the state and county sharing the remaining $1 million.

Court rules Obama EPA violated law on WOTUS

More than nine months after the last hearing in the case, and nearly nine months to the day of the briefing deadline for that hearing, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood handed a victory to the state of Georgia and nine other states that sued the federal government over the Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the United States Rule.

Wood stated that the rule, which was intended to provide better protection of the nation’s water, violated the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, and she remanded it back to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers for further work.

She wrote that while the agencies have authority to interpret the phrase “waters of the United States,” that authority isn’t limitless, and therefore their decisions in doing so do not fall under what’s called Chevron deference, a matter of case law in which — for lack of a better phrase — the tie goes to the agency.

Longboat Key granted $45,000 for sea level rise plan

State grant will help town assess vulnerabilities in the long term.

On Longboat Key, environmental issues such as sea level rise are felt more acutely than elsewhere in country. Planning for rising sea levels and managing beaches becomes essential when the lifeblood of a town is its shoreline.

Longboat recently received funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for its sea level rise plan. The non-matching grant is worth $45,443 and covers the first step of phase two of the town’s planning.

According to an email from Town Manager Tom Harmer sent to Town Commissioners, “This task will focus on digitizing the town’s stormwater infrastructure to assist in evaluating vulnerabilities and future enhancements.”

The town worked with APTIM Environmental and Infrastructure Inc. on phase one, which offered an “Initial Assessment” – the name of the phase – along with projections specific to Longboat. Localized data and historical information tell the town what to anticipate over the next 30 years with the intent of revising every five years based on new data.

The rain keeps falling. The water keeps rising. And catfish roam the streets.

The catfish had River Drive to themselves on Saturday.

Days of nonstop rain finally led the Alafia River to bulge and swell over its banks, sending 1 to 2 feet of water into nearby River Drive by Saturday and allowing catfish to swim by the stilted homes scattered throughout the Lithia Springs Conservation Park.

There were other catfish sightings across the region, too, thanks to August’s above-normal rainfall totals. The constant thundershowers continued the minor street flooding across the bay area, pushed rivers close to or just over flood stage and overwhelmed local wastewater systems this weekend.

Tampa International Airport’s rain gauge has recorded 8.53 inches of rainfall so far in the month of August — 4.29 inches above normal and it’s the middle of the month. St. Petersburg has recorded 8.72 inches of rain, which is 4.49 above normal. But for the past three days it is Hernando County that may have seen the heaviest rains in the region. The Hernando Beach gauges have recorded 7 to 11 inches total so far this month.