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Water-Related News

Proposed Florida constitutional amendment aims to give waterways legal rights

Floridians and organizations within the state could take legal action on behalf of waterways under the amendment.

Florida environmentalists have begun collecting signatures to introduce an amendment to the state's constitution that would recognize a person's legal right to clean water.

The amendment aims to do this by recognizing a waterway's legal right to "exist, flow, be free from pollution, and maintain a healthy ecosystem." Meaning, Floridians and organizations within the state could take legal action on behalf of waterways, according to the proposed amendment.

If the waterway's rights were violated, then the amendment requires the penalty to be paying whatever the cost is to restore the water to its "pre-damaged state."

The petition would need to reach nearly 900,000 signatures by February 1, 2022, in order to be placed on Florida's ballots.

Tampa Bay algae blooms could be fed by Piney Point wastewater

Even though recent water quality tests have not been detecting nutrients of the Piney Point wastewater spill, researchers believe current red tide and cyanobacteria blooms across Tampa Bay are likely being exacerbated by the nutrients which still exist in the bay's ecosystems.

Tampa Bay is experiencing multiple algae blooms. Toxic red tide has made its way north to the Pinellas County coast from Collier County and around Port Manatee. But there are also Lyngbya-like cyanobacteria blooms, which are stringy green mats floating in Joe Bay, Anna Maria Sound, and just north of Port Manatee — near where more than 200 million gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater was dumped from the Piney Point phosphate plant back in March.

Scientists think nutrients, such as nitrogen, from that spill are feeding both types of algae blooms, although results are pending to scientifically confirm this.

When water quality tests stopped measuring nutrients in the water, people began assuming they had just dissipated and were gone. But that’s not the case, said Maya Burke, with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

“Helping people understand this issue of nutrient cycling and how the nitrogen gets transferred from organism to organism and kind of stays within the system is something that I think is really important for the public to understand,” she said.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is part of a large effort to monitor the bay's water quality, including multiple government entities, private sector partners, and universities.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke to Burke about the current state of nutrients and algae in Tampa Bay:

Based on the status reports, it looks like concentrations of the red tide organism Karenia brevis appear to be higher around Port Manatee. Could that be caused by lingering nutrients from the Piney Point discharges?

That's what we think is going on for certain. I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence that you're seeing these algae blooms in the vicinity of the place where we discharged more than 200 tons of nitrogen over the period of 10 days.

That's not to say it's the only thing that's going on, though. I mean, we know Karenia brevis was in the Gulf of Mexico beforehand, and it had been systematically making its way northward, so it's about sort of how that species was interacting with the nutrients. Once it did get in here through these larger oceanographic phenomena, like currents, wind, tides, those sorts of things.

And same with the Lyngbya-like blooms that we're seeing. Those were documented in Manatee County a month before the spill, so they were there already. But are they worse now? Maybe. that's why we're monitoring.

Red tide seemed to flow into the mouth of Tampa Bay along the same lines as the Piney Point discharges flowed out. Could that just be a coincidence, or is there a connection?

That makes sense that that's where we're seeing things because we wouldn't necessarily otherwise be measuring up in the bay like that until you started to get things like a fish kill.

Some of the spatial distribution of the monitoring is an artifact of the monitoring that we're doing for Piney Point. So, there is that kind of thing that is perhaps coincidental, but we don't always see Karenia make its way up into the bay. Sometimes it stays more along the barrier islands in the intercoastal waterways, and sometimes it makes its way up there.

Like I said, there's a few things that are going on: the fact that the bay was really salty because it was so dry made it more hospitable. And so, Karenia is more likely to come inward in those kinds of instances. But once we saw it come inward, it didn't come in at medium concentrations, right? It came in, and we were getting those low to very low hits. Once it's interacting with the nutrients that are in that vicinity of the spill, that's when we started to see the intensification towards those medium levels, which is a bloom threshold. And that's when you start to get things like the fish kills that we're reporting now.

Fertilizer ingredients contribute to SWFL’s algae crisis

Do you know exactly what you put on your lawn? When fertilizer containing phosphorus and nitrogen ends up in our water, it can feed the toxic algae we’re struggling to reduce.

When we think of algae blooms, a lot of people are quick to blame it all on Lake Okeechobee releases, but part of the blame lies in our own backyard. The chemicals from fertilizers get pushed into waterways and are partly to blame for algae blooms that dissolve oxygen and kill fish. Therefore, do not apply fertilizer within 10 feet of a body of water.

First, look at the ingredients in the fertilizer, then take a look at your WINK News Weather app; you don’t want to apply fertilizer before it rains, because then the runoff from your lawn can get picked up and washed away into the Caloosahatchee.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida says to make sure your fertilizer product contains no less than 50% slow-release nitrogen, as well as 0% phosphorus. A slow-release product will help to ensure that the next time it rains, the nutrients aren’t washed away quickly.

“Just like when we apply fertilizer onto our yard, it’s helping things grow,” said Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of SWFL. “One thing we don’t need in our waterways is [an] excess of nutrients that will help algae grow into sometimes those massive and toxic blooms.”

Here in Florida, a lot of our plants have adapted to the extreme conditions, so most of them do pretty well without fertilizer at all.

Florida officials no longer responsible for Piney Point maintenance after emergency order expiration

The responsibility of making sure the massive reservoir filled with untreated wastewater does not leak again is back in the hands of the property owners.

MANATEE COUNTY – Florida's Department of Environmental Protection will no longer be solely responsible for maintaining the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant.

The state's emergency order expired last week, meaning the responsibility of making sure the massive reservoir containing 200-million gallons of untreated wastewater does not once again leak is back in the hands of the property owners, HRK Holdings.

DEP sent the company a letter last Friday, June 4, explaining that while the state will continue overseeing Piney Point, it's up to HRK Holdings to manage the site and to "ensure the integrity of the stack system, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and the environment."

Environmental officials say crews were able to minimize the chances of a "catastrophic" collapse of the site. However, even they recognize the facility still does not meet the state's code. And with the rainy season underway, DEP is reminding HRK that they will have to make sure the reservoirs do not flood and overflow.

Biden administration initiates legal action to repeal WOTUS

Clean-water safeguards ended by Trump would be restored

The Biden administration began legal action Wednesday to repeal a Trump-era rule that ended federal protections for hundreds of thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways, leaving them more vulnerable to pollution from development, industry and farms.

The rule — sometimes referred to as “waters of the United States” or WOTUS — narrowed the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act. It was one of hundreds of rollbacks of environmental and public health regulations under former President Donald Trump, who said the rules imposed unnecessary burdens on business.

The Trump-era rule, finalized last year, was long sought by builders, oil and gas developers, farmers and others who complained about federal overreach that they said stretched into gullies, creeks and ravines on farmland and other private property.

Environmental groups and public-health advocates said the rollback approved under Trump would allow businesses to dump pollutants into unprotected waterways and fill in some wetlands, threatening public water supplies downstream and harming wildlife and habitat.

The water rule has been a point of contention for decades. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan has pledged to issue a new rule that protects water quality while not overly burdening small farmers.,

Poll: Floridians want federal infrastructure plan to deal with climate change

A new poll shows a majority of Floridians think infrastructure improvements in the $2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan Democrats are calling the "American Jobs Plan" should include measures to deal with the effects of climate change or natural infrastructure investments to build resiliency and lower the costs of climate-driven extreme weather events.

EDF Action, the advocacy partner of the Environmental Defense Fund, commissioned Morning Consult to conduct the survey.

Three-quarters of respondents support funding natural infrastructure as part of the American Jobs Plan, with 66% of independents and 53% of Republicans in favor, as well as 75% of coastal respondents and 76% of inland respondents.

Citizen scientists needed for seagrass/macroalgae survey in Sarasota Bay

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) is looking for volunteers to help gather more data on macroalgae and seagrass.

Water conditions and the health of seagrass beds in the Sarasota Bay area have been changing rapidly, and there is a pressing need to gather more information about the amount of algae growing in our bays. Algae is a natural part of the ecosystem, but if changing conditions cause it to grow out of control, it can damage vital habitats. Volunteers will help monitor macroalgae by snorkeling in an assigned area, estimating the coverage of seagrass and macro algae, and collecting samples. Volunteers of all levels of experience are welcome.

The Eyes on Seagrass survey will take place over a two week window from July 12–July 24. Volunteers can pick any time during this window. The survey will take about one hour. Training and gear distribution will be held over three days.

You Will Need:

  • A team of 2 or more (Give your group a name)
  • Transportation
  • Mask & Snorkel
  • Kayak, paddle board, or boat
  • GPS or GPS capable phone

SBEP Will Provide:

  • Survey equipment
  • Dive flags
  • Training

Training and Gear Distribution:

  • June 28 @ Blackburn Park 9am-1pm
  • June 29 @ Ken Thompson Park 9am-1pm
  • June 30 @ South Coquina Boat Ramp 9am-1pm

Watch the Video Demonstration

Piney Point update from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (6/4)

Key Observations through the end of May:

  • Minimal rains resulted in increased salinities in Tampa Bay. This was more conducive to the ingress of red tide (Karenia brevis) further into the Bay adjacent to Port Manatee. The bloom has been intensifying into early June.
  • Other floating algal bloom rafts were observed in mid-May along Pinellas and Manatee county beaches (Trichodesmium spp.), and then primarily centered in Anna Maria Sound and upper Sarasota Bay (Lyngbya spp.) at the end of May.
  • Understanding how the initial Piney Point discharges are contributing to these cycles of algal bloom formation and persistence in the Tampa and Sarasota Bay estuaries is still under investigation by researchers.

Additional details are summarized in the report link below:

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program continues to work with regional partners to coordinate comprehensive environmental monitoring and document the effects of the Piney Point discharge. Provisional data, as collected or reported to TBEP, are being shared at the following link:

Our website (tbep.org) continues to direct individuals to baseline data and current monitoring assessments as they become available. Additional information, including links to FDEP's Protecting Florida Together Piney Point Update website and prior TBEP monitoring summary reports are also available at: https://linktr.ee/TBEP.

Please continue to direct any new observations, questions or requests for support to esherwood@tbep.org and mburke@tbep.org.

—Ed Sherwood

Tampa Bay shellfish farmers can resume harvesting at sunrise after Red Tide scare

State officials are also investigating whether fish kills reported in Pinellas could be linked to an algal bloom.

Aquaculture farmers in lower Tampa Bay will be allowed to resume harvesting at sunrise Saturday after the state temporarily shut them down because of fears of Red Tide blooming in the area.

Officials are also investigating reported fish kills in Pinellas.

Four water samples this week showed bloom levels of Red Tide offshore, generally around Port Manatee. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has issued a health advisory, warning of the possibility for people to experience respiratory irritation because of Red Tide in lower and middle Tampa Bay.

Fish kills “suspected to be related to Red Tide” were reported in both Pinellas and Manatee counties over the last week, according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission update Friday. Respiratory irritation was reported in Pinellas, the agency said.

Input requested on Sarasota Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan

CCMP cover

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) is now entering the final stages of updating its 5-year Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), which establishes priorities for activities, research, and management of the estuary from 2021 - 2026. The CCMP serves as a blueprint to guide future decisions and actions and addresses a wide range of environmental protection issues and opportunities. Over the last year and a half, SBEP has been gathering input from a diverse coalition of community stakeholders and partners on priorities for each of the four chapters: water quality and quantity, watershed habitats, fish and wildlife, and community engagement.

The SBEP is interested in hearing your feedback on the draft management plan. To submit comments, download the draft CCMP update (pdf) and fill out this form.

The comment period will be open until July 31st.

Hillsborough health officials send Red Tide warning for Tampa Bay

Be careful around or stay away from waters near the Hillsborough-Manatee line. Samples were taken close to the site of the Piney Point discharge.

Elevated levels of Red Tide were detected in water samples taken from parts of Tampa Bay. Now Hillsborough County health officials are advising people against swimming in certain areas.

Medium concentrations of Red Tide were detected in four samples from June 1 and June 2 pulled around Port Manatee in lower Tampa Bay, according to a map from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That area, near the Hillsborough-Manatee border, is where more than 200 million gallons of wastewater were discharged in early April from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property.

“It’s sort of a worst-case scenario for us right now going into the rainy season,” said Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Runoff from storms typically washes pollution into the water. But the Piney Point release makes this season different.

“It’s basically been seeded or fertilized already,” Sherwood said.

Restoring urban streams benefits habitat, water quality

Urban stream: Not always an oxymoron

The concept of an “urban stream” might seem like an oxymoron, but restoration efforts across the state are proving that naturalized streams provide significant benefits even in densely populated settings.

For example, at Joe’s Creek in St. Petersburg and Phillipe Creek in Sarasota steep ditches are being restored to recreate meandering streams that improve both habitat and water quality, says John Kiefer, a water resources engineer at Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions.

“The trick is finding sufficient rights-of-way to allow the stream to spread out,” he said. “In many cases, even in urban cores, there is enough room.”

And those narrow ditches with steep sides aren’t just bad for fish and water quality, they’re expensive to maintain, Kiefer said. Rather than allowing rainwater to slowly flow through a more natural system, they cause flashes of freshwater that erode shorelines, move pollution quickly, destroy critical low-salinity habitat and require high levels of maintenance.

Restoring those deep channels to naturalized streams – typically within existing rights of way – allows the systems to process nutrients before they reach larger bodies of water like rivers, lakes and bays. Sediment has time to settle rather than increasing as soil washes away from eroding stream banks. Fish, including juvenile snook that need low-salinity habitat to thrive, respond quickly to the restored streams.

Governor vetoes funding for local water-related projects

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed the state's $101.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2021-2022.

According to a release from the governor's office, the budget includes $169 million in tax relief.

He also vetoed more than $1.5 billion in total spending, along with $1.35 billion of federal funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Several items that were earmarked for funding across the greater Tampa Bay region, however, did not make it past the governor's desk.

They include:

  • Sarasota County Dona Bay Watershed Restoration Project Phase 3 Aquifer Recharge - $500,000
  • Venice - New Water Booster Station and System Improvements Including Emergency Interconnect - $750,000
  • Longboat Key Assessment of Sea Level Rise and Recurring Storm Flooding - $61,913
  • City of Venice Emergency Operations Equipment and Critical Response Unit -  $286,676

State tightens rules for sewage sludge used as fertilizer but leaves a loophole in place

As damaging algae blooms continue to afflict Florida, the state is taking steps to crack down on and track pollution from biosolids, the waste from sewage plants loaded with nutrients that can fuel blooms.

But the new rules, conservationists warn, continue to ignore a loophole for about 40% of the state’s waste.

At a final hearing last week, state environmental regulators said the new rules address two classes of sludge largely used in agriculture. Class AA, a third class, gets more highly treated to remove pathogens and heavy metals and is classified as a fertilizer not covered by the rules.

But environmentalists warn Class AA still contains phosphorus and nitrogen that feed blooms. Not including the class, they say, creates a gap in tackling worsening blooms that have increasingly fouled Florida waters and fueled saltwater blooms moving inshore.

Gov. DeSantis nixes Southwest Florida projects, but will environmental trust bring some back?

From Dona Bay to Bonita Springs, budget slashes impacted the region.

Several Southwest Florida projects fell to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto pen. But there’s still hope state grants can fill in those losses, lawmakers believe.

Sarasota County saw quite a few water-related projects slashed. The most notable included $750,000 for a water booster station in Venice and $500,000 for the Dona Bay Watershed Restoration Project’s third phase.

But Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, said the vetoes were “somewhat expected.” He references a new structuring of trust funds this year that should make available significant environmental funding.

“With the creation of the new Trust Fund, these projects will be able to apply immediately for a DEP grant and I will work with them to help them through the process,” he said. “The funding is there and these are worthwhile projects, so I expect them to get the funding that they require.”

Other projects vetoed include $61,913 for a Longboat Key assessment of sea level rise and recurring storm flooding.

The City of Venice was also expecting $286,676 slashed by DeSantis.

Further south in Lee County, the Governor also killed $300,000 worth of funding for a home election and buyout program. Rep. Adam Botana called that outcome “disappointing for my hometown.” But ultimately, the Bonita Springs Republican said Florida is a fiscally responsible state, and restraint was part of why Florida dealt with $1 billion shortfalls this year and not $6 billion shortfalls.

Longboat Key rainy season fertilizer restrictions begin June 1st

Residents and landscapers are reminded that the Town of Longboat Key’s Fertilizer Management Ordinance prohibits the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30.

Summer rain showers can wash fertilizers from our lawns into Sarasota Bay and Gulf waters. Stormwater runoff carrying the nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers can cause harmful algal blooms, impacting aquatic life.

That is why the Town of Longboat Key prohibits the use of fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus during the Summer rainy season, and why at least 50 percent slow-release fertilizer is required during the rest of the year. In addition, all applicators of fertilizer within the Town, other than private homeowners on their own property, are required to abide by and have successfully completed an approved best management practices training program.

During the SUMMER: June 1 - September 30

  • Say no to nitrogen. Longboat Key prohibits the use of any fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus from June 1 through September 30.
  • Green up with iron. Iron products with micro-nutrients keep lawns green through summer.
  • Get better dirt. Add compost to improve your soil and give your garden a boost.
  • Use Florida-friendly plants. Plants adapted to Florida need less fertilizer, water, pesticides and overall care.
  • Keep the clippings. Leave grass clippings on your lawn. Mow high for health. Mowing short stresses grass and makes it vulnerable to disease, pests and drought.

During the WINTER/SPRING: October 1 - May 31

  • Watch the weather. Rainstorms don't help fertilizers soak in, they wash fertilizers away.
  • Go slow by half. Longboat Key requires at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen in lawn or landscape fertilizers.
  • Blue not green. Keep fertilizer at least 10 feet away from waterways.
  • Be on your guard. Use a spreader with a deflector shield or edge guard to spread fertilizer.
  • Test your turf. If the problem is a pH imbalance, pest invasion or disease, then fertilizer is not going to help.

The Town of Longboat Key is one of more than 90 Florida communities that have Summertime fertilizer restrictions. Maintaining healthy waters helps to maintain the Town’s goals of enhancing the quality of life and fo

Fertilizer bans begin June 1st in Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — If you live in the Tampa Bay area, it's important to pay attention to the fertilizer restrictions that are designed to keep Florida's frequent afternoon showers and storms from washing potentially harmful nitrogen or phosphorous into the state's waterways.

Those harmful nutrients can cause algae blooms and kill fish.

That's why during the rainy season, some local governments ask people to use more environmentally-friendly fertilizers that contain zero nitrogen and zero phosphorus.

Between June 1 and Sept. 30, fertilizer bans are in place in Pinellas, Manatee, and Sarasota counties, along with the city of Tampa.

Hurricane season begins June 1st. Be flood-ready.

June is Flood Control Awareness Month, and your local Water Management District encourages you to learn more about flood control.

Did you know? Flood control is a shared responsibility between Water Management Districts, local governments, drainage districts, homeowner associations and you.

Five things you can do to prepare for the wet season:

  1. Make sure drainage grates, ditches and swales in your neighborhood are clear of debris.
  2. Trim your trees and remove dead vegetation in your yard. DO NOT trim trees if a major storm is in the forecast.
  3. Check your community retention pond or lake for obstructed pipes and contact the appropriate authority for removal (could be your HOA, city, county, or local drainage district). ?
  4. Find out who is responsible for drainage in your community at www.sfwmd.gov/stormupdate.
  5. Make a personal plan for hurricane preparedness. Learn more at www.floridadisaster.org.

For more information, make sure to check out these resources:

Free 2021 Hurricane Guide released by TBRPC

Free Hurricane Guide provides key storm survival tips

Free 2021 Disaster Planning Guides and Evacuation Maps are now available in Citrus, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The guide, published annually by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, is also available in Spanish for Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and lasts through November 30, but residents should start to prepare before the season begins. Even those who have weathered many hurricane warnings still need think about how to best prepare, evacuate and recover should a storm strike.

The Disaster Planning Guide is filled with important information and suggestions on evacuating, sheltering in place, preparing pets, insurance and protecting your property.

Hurricane evacuation zones can change, and residents should check the latest map to know their evacuation zone and be ready if local authorities mandate leaving. The county-specific guides also include an updated list of shelters, including which shelters are designated for people with special medical needs and which allow pets.

These county-specific guides also offer many more helpful suggestions, such as:

  • Establish two family meeting places: one near your home and another outside your neighborhood.
  • Send copies of important documents, including insurance papers, to a contact person outside the area for safekeeping. Important documents should also be scanned and uploaded to a cloud-based digital storage service.
  • Microchip your pet now so that you can be reunited if you are separated during a storm.
  • Stock essentials in your hurricane kit, such as a flashlight, portable radio and plenty of nonperishable foods.
  • Get a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid and spare bags of cat litter. They can be used as an emergency toilet.
  • Plan your evacuation route ahead of time and place paper maps in your car in cellular service and GPS maps are unavailable.
  • Withdraw extra cash and fill your fuel tank as a storm is approaching. Bank ATMs and gas pumps will not work if the electricity is out.
  • Register with the county and your utility/power company if you are dependent on electrical medical equipment. This will provide for getting you transport to a medical shelter, and priority when power is being restored during a power outage.

A digital version of each county’s Guide is available at TampaBayPrepares.org, while printed copies are available in Citrus, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties at many post offices, libraries, and government buildings, while supplies last.

Water restrictions in place across Tampa Bay as dry conditions persist

Counties across the greater Tampa Bay region have issued warnings or placed limits on water usage due to a lack of measurable rain.

The restrictions were issued as the entire region is under at least moderate drought conditions, with Sarasota County under more severe drought conditions.

On Wednesday, Sarasota officials issued a state of emergency for at least a week.

County officials are asking people to refrain from “unnecessary use” of such water, and have banned lawn irrigation until further notice.

Officials said they saw record demand of more than 31 million gallons of potable water on Tuesday.

Manatee County also is experiencing supply and demand issues, with the county keeping potable water at its minimum water pressure. They’re also asking customers to conserve water for the time being.

And Pinellas County officials are reminding customers to follow reclaimed water restrictions as well due to high demand. Those seasonal restrictions will be in effect through June 30.

The city of St. Petersburg on Thursday announced that it will be lowering the pressure on reclaimed water during the hottest hours of the day. That way, they said, will mean the “quantity of water will be sufficient for irrigating overnight and in the morning.”

In addition, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is prohibiting campfires on all District campgrounds until further notice because of the dry weather conditions and high wildfire danger.

The Keetch-Byram drought index, which measures soil dryness, shows Southwest Florida is feeling the strongest effects of the lack of rain.

Longboat Key proposes rate increases to fund utility projects

Water and sewer bills could be on the rise as the town considers critical infrastructure projects in the next five years.

The Longboat Key Town Commission is set to decide between two proposed increases for water and sewage rates to help fund critical projects during the next decade.

The town has identified about $42.8 million in critical capital needs through fiscal year 2030.

“The town hasn’t increased its rates for over 10 years, even beyond that, even though we’ve had ongoing cost increases for materials and salaries and insurance and all those things, so we’ve been careful about increasing our rate revenue on our side of the bill,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “We have some big projects coming up that are necessary.”

Commissioners are expected to decide between two options:

  • Option one would expand the monthly residential sewer billing cap from 7,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons, spreading most of the increase to high-volume users.
  • Option two would provide across-the-board adjustments on all user rates

UF research aims to help reduce nitrogen flow into Tampa Bay

Not all algal blooms are harmful, but Amanda Muni-Morgan hopes to eventually mitigate the impacts of nutrients going into Tampa Bay. Those nutrients – often brought to the estuary by stormwater runoff -- can fuel a harmful algal bloom.

As part of her research, Muni-Morgan will use a high-resolution spectrometer to zoom in on nitrogen compounds in runoff, down to the molecular level.

Muni-Morgan, an interdisciplinary ecology doctoral student in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, starts her Ph.D. research on harmful algal blooms this summer.

For her research, Muni-Morgan will take a close look at Karenia brevis, a harmful algal bloom species that blooms every year along Florida’s Southwest coast. Karenia brevis is responsible for Florida’s red tides. It poses danger because it can release toxins into the water and in the air through sea spray. Toxins can kill fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and birds.

Even humans can be exposed to toxins by eating contaminated shellfish and by breathing toxic aerosols that result from a bloom at the beach. This can result in digestive issues and respiratory irritation.

Citizen Scientists To Document King Tides In Sarasota, Manatee Counties

High Tide

The king tide is the highest predicted high tide of the year. It is above the highest water level reached at high tide on an average day.

Photo: High tide at Siesta Key docks in 2019.

This week, many coastal areas around the U.S. will experience extreme high and low tides. King tides happen once or twice a year when the moon, earth, and sun are aligned and the moon is closest to the earth.

A citizen-science initiative aims to document these tides with photos.

The images from the King Tides Project help scientists better understand how sea level rise can impact coastal communities.

Christine Quigley of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, says the organization is part of the initiative and is hosting its own king tides photo contest.

The goal is to create a record of how shorelines look today and to track future changes.

Organizers encourage people to post photos to social media and include the hashtag #kingtides. Those who do are contributing to a larger database of imagery that helps people understand how sea level rise will impact their lives.

"Our seas are rising in this area and king tides give us a glimpse into where that might be happening,” she said. "I kind of think about king tides as normal tides on steroids, so they're very extreme on both ends. You have higher high tides than normal and lower low tides than normal."

Quigley says to participate, people should take photos of both the high and low tides Thursday and Friday. The data will be shared with the King Tides Project, an international initiative.

King tides don't cause sea level rise but they do offer a glimpse into life with higher seas. Many low-lying areas already experience localized flooding with higher tides. Average daily water levels are rising along with the oceans. As a result, high tides are reaching higher and extending further inland than in the past.

According to The National Ocean Service, high tide flooding has increased in the U.S. on average by about 50% since 20 years ago and 100 percent since 30 years ago. The events cause public inconveniences, such as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm drains and compromised infrastructure.

Quigley says she's heard reports of elevated water levels from residents in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

"And that actually coincides with data that we've been seeing,” she said. “There is a tidal gauge in St. Petersburg that's been measuring tides since about the 1940's and that has seen an eight-inch increase in the sea level since that time."

And Quigley says understanding how tidal events impact rising seas isn't just valuable to scientists — but to policy makers charged with investing in solutions.

Manatee County Utilities reminds customers to conserve water, especially during current dry period

MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County Utilities Department (MCUD) is reminding customers of local watering conservation efforts during the dry weeks leading up to the rainy summer months. Avoiding unnecessary water use, Utilities officials say, will help avoid stressing water supplies.

"Although there is more than an adequate supply of our water sources, and because the rainy season has not yet started, we're asking MCUD customers to adhere to our year-round watering restrictions," said Mike Gore, Manatee County Utilities Director. "May is one of the drier months of the year with conditions this year even drier than usual."

Water systems all over the state are being stressed by the increased demand for water caused by the dry conditions. For Manatee County, the increased demand is contributing to a system already stressed by important upgrades underway at the Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant.

Manatee County watering restrictions include:

  • Irrigating lawns and landscaping once a day before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., no more than two times per week
  • Addresses ending in an even number may water on Thursday and/or Sunday
  • Addresses ending in an odd number may water on Wednesday and/or Saturday
  • Properties without an address may water on Tuesday and/or Friday

Lawn watering days and times may be different if a resident's homeowners association (HOA) operates under a variance issued by the Southwest Water Management District. Those residents should check with their HOA to determine whether the community has an alternative watering schedule.

Utilities is also asking customers to observe restrictions on drinking water which apply not only to potable water but also irrigation water that comes from wells, surface water sources including retention ponds, rivers, lakes, etc. Utilities asks that customers do not:

  • Allow water to flow from an unattended hose
  • Hand water a lawn on an otherwise restricted day or more than once a day
  • Hose down a driveway or other impervious surface to remove grass clippings or other debris that can be removed with a broom or other dry methods
  • Hose down a building or other structure to remove cobwebs or other material that can be removed with a broom or other dry methods

Find other water conservation tips online at www.mymanatee.org/water

Sarasota Bay losing vital seagrass, research shows

The past two years have been especially brutal on seagrass populations in Southwest Florida waterways, seagrass mapping surveys show.

Between 2018 and 2020, Sarasota Bay lost 18% of its seagrass, which equates to roughly 2,313 acres, according to preliminary research by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. It's a high percentage scientists haven't seen in decades.

"In 2018, we saw the second of two really wicked red tides," said David Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. "And that red tide gave us the biggest single seagrass loss in 30 years."

Red tide, also known as harmful algal blooms, occurs nearly every summer along Florida’s Gulf Coast. When it grows out of control, it can produce toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds.

After Hurricane Irma in 2017, red tide brutalized portions of Florida before finally dissipating in the winter of 2018-19.

The water management district’s chief scientist, Chris Anastasiou, says the ensuing seagrass loss was worse than anticipated.

USF scientists announce initial findings from Piney Point research effort

University of South Florida College of Marine Science researchers today shared their initial findings of how the Tampa Bay ecosystem has responded to the controlled discharges of nutrient-rich wastewater released from the retired Piney Point fertilizer processing plant. The scientists launched their first research cruise on April 7 and have returned to the water several times since.

Key takeaways from the USF research team:

  • Early results indicate that the effects of the wastewater discharge were localized in nature, not widespread.
  • Concentrations of nutrients have declined over time and are now more typical of those in the historical record for this part of Tampa Bay. Model results show that the concentrations of nutrients within the discharged water have been diluted at least 1000-fold since the initial release.
  • A diatom bloom of about 25 square kilometers in size around Port Manatee that formed in response to the discharge has dissipated over time. Diatoms are single-celled microalgae called phytoplankton. Chlorophyll concentrations (a proxy for phytoplankton biomass) are within the range generally observed in Tampa Bay during April and May.

Remaining unanswered questions for researchers:

  • Are longer-term impacts of the discharged water on the Tampa Bay ecosystem likely to be manifested? If so, how?
  • The nutrient chemistry of Tampa Bay is complex. Questions remain about nutrient cycling in response to a rapid influx of wastewater. For example:
  • Were nutrients and heavy metals (e.g., lead, copper, zinc) from the discharge sequestered in the sediments? If so, will storms stimulate phytoplankton blooms?
  • Will there be an impact to seagrasses and other marine life that live on the bottom?
  • What may have been the impact to fish health?

“The area in the immediate vicinity of Port Manatee was subject to a spike in nutrient concentrations and a corresponding increase in phytoplankton abundance,” College of Marine Science Dean Tom Frazer said. “Our initial field sampling efforts and data acquired from remote sensing platforms confirmed high concentrations of chlorophyll, which is a proxy for phytoplankton abundance. Recent data indicate, however, that the response was short lived. Phytoplankton abundance continues to decline and water chemistry values are typical of those reported in the historical record.”

The field team, led by USF chemical oceanographer Kristen Buck collected water and sediment samples from a suite of stations in the vicinity of Port Manatee and locations beyond the affected area. The sampling and subsequent data analyses confirmed that the phytoplankton responded quickly to the nutrient pulse, but the assemblage was dominated by diatoms and not toxic phytoplankton responsible for red tides. The algal bloom has since dissipated. The end of the algae bloom was confirmed in satellite imagery analyzed by physical oceanographer Chuanmin Hu.

The team’s sampling efforts were guided by a model provided by physical oceanographer Bob Weisberg. The model forecasts the movement of discharged water and its constituents based on tides, winds and river input.