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Water-Related News

Manatee County Commissioners express interest in revisiting stormwater utility fee

BRADENTON – Residents who live near Bowlees Creek and Pearce Drain relived stories of the disastrous flooding they experienced before Hurricane Irma during a Manatee County Commission workshop.

This rehashed a discussion of a long-sought stormwater utility fee that could help fund flood mitigation projects.

Engineers with the county’s public works department presented information on the history of the area and how much rain the watersheds received during the no-name storm at the end of August.

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Manatee County does not have a stormwater utility fee, which is one of the reasons why its taxes comparatively lower than others, commissioners said. The fee could be used to fund stormwater maintenance projects and create flood mitigation. It would be tied into ad valorem taxes.

The public works department is conducting studies on the Pearce Drain and Bowlees Creek that run in the tune of $1 million. Public works director Ron Schulhofer indicated that they were looking to expand the scope of the study to include flood event mitigation, which could increase the cost up to $600,000. The Southwest Florida Water Management District would help split the cost.

While commissioners couldn’t take a vote during the work session, they indicated a unified interest in discussing the possibility of implementing a stormwater utility fee.

Blue-green algae defeated the field at prestigious triathlon

The 30-acre man-made island known as Nathan Benderson Park was created by developers close to the border of Manatee and Sarasota counties specifically to showcase the area to the entire world.

Designed for special events, like world-class rowing canoeing and triathlons, not to mention local use by avid bicyclists, runners, joggers and walkers, the park’s reputation has been soaring the past three years, culminating with a well-received World Rowing Championship two weeks ago.

But the park received a bit of a disappointment last week when its lake was ruled off limits to swimmers due to a blue-green algae bloom during the first ever Sarasota-Bradenton International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Cup, which featured athletes from roughly 16 countries.

What will Florida (and its water supply) look like in 2070?

The Florida of 2070 is at a crossroads today.

That’s the conclusion of two reports released late last year by 1000 Friends of Florida, the University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center and the state’s Department of Agriculture. With the state’s population expected to swell to 33.7 million by 2070, almost 15 million more than identified in the 2010 Census, researchers teamed up to look at growth trends and sprawl.

One report, Florida 2070, says if development continues on its current path, more than a third of the state will be paved over by 2070. That means millions of acres of agricultural and natural lands will be lost, to say nothing of the jobs, natural resources and quality-of-life indicators tied to them.

Another report, Water 2070, says almost 15 million new Floridians will overburden an already fragile water supply, with water use projected to more than double by 2070.

Mixed-use development approved in Parrish area with drainage woes

PARRISH — A 1,155-acre agricultural property that is mostly a dying orange grove could, by the year 2036, become fully built out as another mixed-use development in rapidly growing Parrish.

On Thursday, the Manatee County Commission voted 6-1 in favor of a development plan for Parrish Lakes.

Property owner Claude Melli’s Brandon-based FLM Inc. submitted the proposal for the site south of Moccasin Wallow Road, north of Erie Road and about three-quarters of a mile east of Interstate 75. The development could eventually consist of 3,300 homes, 400,000 square feet of retail space and 50,000 square feet of offices.

The requested residential density of three homes per acre is half of what the developer could request under the county’s comprehensive land use plan.

Lake O hits highest level since 2005, raising concerns its dike could fail

Rainfall from Hurricane Irma has pushed the water level in Lake Okeechobee to its highest point since 2005. Now, with more wet weather in the forecast, nearby residents fear a collapse of the 80-year-old dike around the lake.

As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dumping large volumes of lake water out into coastal estuaries — exactly as it did last year, when those releases caused a massive toxic algae bloom that closed Atlantic coast beaches over the Fourth of July weekend.

Meanwhile, Corps officials have stepped up inspections of the dike to three to four times a week to make sure its continuing leaks don't grow to the point of endangering people living near it.

"We recognize that as the water level continues to rise, there is an increased risk of failure," Corps spokesman John Campbell said.

The dike around the lake is classified as one of the most vulnerable in the nation. The earthen embankment on the south end of the lake is older, and thus more in danger of being breached, he said.

That puts the communities south of the lake — Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay and Clewiston among them — at the greater risk for both property damage and loss of life.

Is development draining Florida’s aquifer system beyond repair?

"Water flow is the lifeblood of the springs, so when you reduce their flow, they start getting sick." —Robert Knight, Florida Springs Institute

The economic benefits of development and the preservation of natural resources are continually being weighed against each other. In a state like Florida, this conversation is often a protracted — even heated — one because so much of the state’s tourism industry is reliant on keeping its beaches, parks and springs as pristine as possible. The boon delivered by tourism also justifies questions about how new construction and expanding agricultural operations could put a dent in one of the state’s biggest revenue streams.

More than 112 million tourists visited Florida last year, a 5.9% increase from 2015, Florida Today reported. Those visitors spent $109 billion and generated 1.4 million jobs.

And some visitors are staying.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced last month that the state had seen the number of private businesses increase by 16.5% since December 2010. While many of the net 75,449 businesses added since then are homegrown, the figure also includes those coming from out of state to set up shop. The growth in the number of businesses in the state is one contributor to its strong population growth currently.

That’s good news and bad news for the state. The good news is that all those new people will need places to live, shop, work, learn, relax and seek medical care, which means a boost for the state's construction industry and its workers. Local and state agencies also get to collect more property, sales and other taxes as a result.

The bad news is that the strain on the state’s aquifer system — the subterranean limestone reservoirs that provide most of the water that Floridians use to drink, bathe and water their lawns — is starting to become evident.

Bayshore High gets clean bill of health on irrigation wells but questions remain

While the mystery surrounding the inordinate number of rare cancer cases among students and faculty at the old Bayshore High School remains unsolved, the groundwater and two irrigation wells at the current campus have tested clean, according to results presented at Tuesday's Manatee School Board workshop.

Brian Moore, principal engineer at GHD, and GHD senior geologist Kenneth Caldwell, presented the board with findings from a recent study, undertaken as the district and alumni continue to grapple with questions about the school's history and the high number of alumni suffering from rare illnesses.

The firm took groundwater samples at two irrigation wells on campus property this summer, testing for a litany of contaminants. Zinc, nickel, lead and mercury were detected, but at acceptably low levels that presented "no significant concerns." Moore explained that these metals occur naturally and are expected to be in the aquifer at the low levels discovered (click here to view test results, and here to view the conclusion summary).

While the results are important in establishing the safety of conditions for the students and faculty at the current campus (which was built on the same footprint of the old campus in 1997), they unfortunately offer no answers in the ongoing quest of alumni to find out whether and to what extent water contamination factored into the cancer anomalies. During the workshop, the district confirmed that it still cannot definitively answer the question as to where the school got its drinking water prior to being connected to public water, sewer and solid waste in April of 1998.

Funds to battle Red Tide may be on the way

In 2016, there was an outbreak of red tide in Sarasota and Manatee counties. It caused thousands of dead fish to wash ashore on beaches in those counties, harming the Suncoast environment and economy. At that time U.S. Congressman Vern Buchanan said Congress should help address the red tide outbreak with additional funding. This September the Congressman was successful in his quest.

Congressman Buchanan’s legislation dedicating $8 million to combat red tide passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposal was included in a government funding bill that now goes to the Senate for consideration. It was included in the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, which funds the federal government for fiscal year 2018.

“Southwest Florida is a beautiful, vibrant place to live and we need to address any threat to our pristine environment and way of life,” Buchanan said. “We need to understand more about the toxins in red tide so we can stop their damaging effects.”

The red tide amendment increases funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by $8 million to provide additional resources to reduce the threat of red tide.

Harmful algae blooms cause $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year in the United States, according to NOAA.

Human consumption of shellfish contaminated from red tide areas can cause severe illness. Most people can swim in red tide, but it can cause skin irritation and burning eyes. Symptoms from breathing red tide toxins usually include coughing, sneezing, and teary eyes. People with chronic respiratory problems like asthma and COPD should avoid red tide areas.

In addition, the federal government has announced that it is funding a research project in seven states to try to better understand harmful algal blooms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is providing nearly $1.7 million for research projects about the blooms in Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.

Year-round water restrictions now in effect

All 16 counties throughout the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s boundaries are now 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.

Under the District’s year-round measures, even addresses may water on Thursday and/or Sunday before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. and odd addresses may water on Wednesday and/or Saturday before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Additional details regarding the watering of new lawns and plants, reclaimed water and other water uses can be found at WaterMatters.org/Restrictions. To learn more about how you can conserve water, please visit WaterMatters.org/Conservation.