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

Water-Related News

Models show double the number of Tampa Bay area homes will flood during a storm like Eta in 2050

Tampa Bay Times journalists discuss their reporting on Tropical Storm Eta and how the same storm would affect the region 30 years later with rising seas.

Tropical Storm Eta took the Tampa Bay region by surprise in November 2020 when it arrived during high tide and caused flood damage to some areas along the coast.

The Tampa Bay Times has worked with the National Hurricane Center to create models showing what a weaker storm like Eta could do in 2050 with projected higher sea levels.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke with Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Zack Sampson and data editor Langston Taylor.

What did these models show could happen 30 years later?

Read the Tampa Bay Times story »

Manatee County seeks public input on Coquina South Boat Ramp improvements

MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County is looking for public input on a plan to renovate and expand the Coquina Key Boat Ramp on Gulf Drive South on Bradenton Beach.

The proposed improvements – designed to help meet the growing needs of pedestrians, boaters, and motorists in Manatee County – can be reviewed in a video on the County’s Speak Up Manatee platform.

Those who view the video can take part in a special survey to gauge opinions on the development design. With groundbreaking for the project scheduled for March, stakeholders are encouraged to submit their survey responses over the next month.

Results from the survey will provide the County with valuable insight to identify areas of improvement and engagement.

Conservation Foundation permanently protects 14.38 acres in Manatee County

The newly protected land is located between Braden River Park and the Honi Hanta Girl Scout Camp.

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast has announced the permanent protection of14.38 acres in Manatee County. This newly protected land is located between Manatee County’s Braden River Park to the south and the Honi Hanta Girl Scout Camp to the north and east. The protection was made possible due to a conservation easement donation from the property’s owner, Bunny Garst, in honor of her late husband, Judge Claflin Garst, Jr. It was completed on Dec. 30, 2021. The property was subsequently sold to the adjoining landowners, James and Mary Parks, for continued grazing and other limited agricultural use subject to the conservation easement.

The protection of this land is the first step in a larger initiative to permanently conserve an additional 58 acres currently owned by Garst and is part of Conservation Foundation’s ongoing effort to protect the remaining natural and agricultural lands along Gap Creek and the Braden River.The Garst property is located within the Manatee River and Tampa Bay watersheds. It filters rain and surface water runoff, helping to clean the water before entering the Manatee River and ultimately Tampa Bay. It also prevents flooding in Manatee County by storing rain and surface water runoff. Conserving this land permanently protects habitat suitable for a variety of natural communities, including multiple species of grassland birds which are in steep decline locally and nationwide.

The donation of this land was made possible with a grant from the Bill and Mary Muirhead Fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Anna Maria delays decision on $50K clam-seagrass project

The waters around Anna Maria may someday house about 20,000 new residents — clams.

But city commissioners want to keep options open for now.

Commissioners unanimously voted Jan. 13 to table discussion on a proposed project to seed clams and add areas of cultivated seagrass along the city’s northern shoreline on Tampa Bay and within Bimini Bay.

The city earmarked $50,000 of the $740,432 it received from the U.S. American Rescue Plan to spend on red tide mitigation, according to Mayor Dan Murphy.

Local restaurateur Ed Chiles wrote in a Jan. 7 email to Murphy that if the city agreed to use the money on a clam and seagrass project, the Chiles Group would announce a $50,000 matching challenge to increase funding to $150,000.

Chiles, who is named as vice president of Gulf Shellfish Institute Inc., brought executive president Stephen Hesterberg to pitch the project Jan. 13 to commissioners.

Mote outreach center project at Anna Maria Pier delayed

A timeline remains unclear for progress on Mote Marine Laboratory’s educational outreach center at the Anna Maria City Pier. Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said Jan. 13 the city’s plans to open the center in the empty 1,800-square-foot building on the pier’s T-end by March would need to be revisited as he continues to wait for designs from Mote. Early in negotiating a lease with Mote, the city projected a December 2021-January 2022 opening date. That date had shifted to March-April 2022 by the time the lease was signed in September 2021. Now, apparently, due to difficulties in engineering for live marine display tanks, Mote will submit two sets of designs, according to Murphy. “They’re going to give us one set of plans with a lot of live displays and then another set of plans with less live displays and more interactive displays,” Murphy said. He said Mote was set to provide designs by the end of the month, at which point he will bring them to city commissioners for consideration. The city’s lease with Mote allows city commissioners to cancel the contract if they find the designs unsatisfactory.

Florida resiliency plan scrutinized for failure to address prevention, aid smaller communities

'We're spending a whole lot of money here on projects in a reactive way.'

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection presented its first Resilient Florida plan Tuesday evening — but not without some criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The plan, presented to the Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee, provided a preliminary outline for the Resilient Florida Grant Program — the state’s new annual $100 million commitment to tackle issues around sea level rise and mitigation efforts. The program was established under SB 1954, a 2021 legislative priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls that was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis last summer.

Adam Blalock, the DEP Deputy Secretary for Ecosystems Restoration, presented the proposal to the committee. He outlined how the department selected the projects it put forth in the grant list, starting with local governments submitting project grant requests via the DEP’s Resilient Florida online portal, which opened July 1. Submissions closed Sept. 1.

The department received 384 project requests through the portal, totaling nearly $2.25 billion, Blalock said. After evaluating the projects for eligibility — the proposals could not be used for recreational structures like piers or for aesthetics — 275 projects were left, totaling $1.77 billion.

Environmental groups wary of Florida Senate’s ‘Heartland’ plan

Critics contend the money could be broadly used under the bill, going beyond the intent of a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment.

TALLAHASSEE – Florida lawmakers could further carve up the use of voter-approved conservation money, after a Leon County circuit judge this month rejected a challenge by environmental groups to how money has been spent.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday approved a measure (Senate Bill 1400) that would provide $20 million a year to help protect the headwaters of several waterways in Central Florida.

The bill would help carry out a 2017 law known as the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act, which was designed to protect the headwaters of the Alafia, Hillsborough, Kissimmee, Ocklawaha, Peace and Withlacoochee rivers in the Green Swamp and Polk County. The bill points, at least in part, to concerns about future water supplies in the region.

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.

Bradenton Beach combats rising sea, reviews new plan for living shorelines

Environmental Science Associates went before the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Jan. 5 and city commission Jan. 6 to discuss a 30% plan for a living shoreline. The ESA presented proposals for resiliency in the face of rising sea levels and future storms.

The environmental consulting firm was hired by the city to analyze coastal conditions for living shorelines about 1,200 feet in length on Sarasota Bay, along a section of Bay Drive South from Bridge Street to Fifth Street South.

ESA proposed installing a vertical wall in the uplands — seawalls with planters, precast concrete structures and tier walls that hold oyster bags.

ESA is projecting rising sea levels based on benchmarks from the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel, a group of scientists researching the impact of climate change.

“Right now, 2-foot plus 2 is our natural ground evaluation at our lowest form. North, more toward the marina, we’re talking about 6-7 feet elevation. We want to work on those lower areas. New seawalls would be at elevation plus 5 and bring areas of around 2- or 3-foot natural grade to about 5,” ESA coastal engineer and program manager Bryan Flynn said Jan. 5, addressing the CRA.

The height for a seawall is calculated using rising sea level projections and statistical analysis of wave heights in 10-year to 25-year wind events.

SWFWMD plans prescribed fire in Manatee County

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns January through March on the Edward W. Chance Reserve - Gilley Creek Tract (Gilley Creek) in Manatee County.

Gilley Creek is located between State Road 62 and 64, east of County Road 675. Approximately 500 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year.

Click here to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

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.

Applications open for 2022 SBEP Bay Partners Grants

Sarasota Bay Partners Grants support community stewardship of Sarasota Bay.

Groups may apply for up to $10,000 to support habitat and water quality restoration, environmental education, community involvement, and stewardship to improve the overall quality of Sarasota Bay. Schools, businesses, non-profits, neighborhood associations, churches, government agencies, and others are eligible to receive a grant for projects that take place in the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program study area.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) staff are happy to answer questions and provide application assistance. Please email Darcy Young, Director of Planning and Communications at darcy@sarasotabay.org or call (941) 955-8085 ext. 2.

Applications are due by Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

Register for the Sarasota Bay Partners Grants Informational Webinar

In a webinar to be held on Tuesday, Jan. 18th from 10:30 a.m. until noon, SBEP staff will cover the basics of applying for a Sarasota Bay Partners Grant. Following a brief presentation, webinar attendees will be invited to ask questions. The webinar recording will be posted online for later viewing.

Register online for the webinar.

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.

Rattlesnake Key on deck to become a new state park in Manatee County

Rattlesnake Key Map

Rattlesnake Key could become the next state park in Manatee County if an effort to purchase the land moves forward at the upcoming legislative session.

The island is located just south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and is only accessible by boat. It has several estuarine wetlands and coastal upland habitats identified as conservation priorities by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

For decades, local advocates have highlighted the importance of preserving the 830-acre property.

“This parcel was added in 1996 to the state acquisition program,” Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said. “(It’s) something the environmental community and the state have recognized as a resource for environmental protection.”

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to contribute up to $3 million to the effort. The county's ordinance also calls for daytime public access and provisions for camping and other recreation at the park.

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

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.