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

Water-Related News

Manatee County conservation referendum headed to November ballot

The referendum will ask voters whether they support the county taking out up to $50 million in bonds and levying a 0.15 mill property tax to support conservation and parks.

Manatee County voters in November will be asked whether they support a slight increase in property taxes to fund conservation efforts and parks in the county.

The board of county commissioners on Tuesday [July 27th] unanimously referred the referendum titled “Water Quality Protection, Fish and Wildlife Habitat Preservation, and Park Ad Valorem Tax and Bonds” to November’s ballot.

District 1 Commissioner Priscilla Trace abstained from the vote because of previously being approached about the possibility of selling some of her family’s land for preservation.

If approved, the referendum would authorize the county to take out up to $50 million in general obligation bonds to acquire land for parks and conservation. It would also levy a 0.15 mill ad-valorem property tax.

The referendum says the money would fund “the acquisition, improvement and management of land to protect drinking water sources and water quality, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, prevent stormwater runoff pollution and provide parks.”

Blue-Green Algae Task Force: Alert public when algal toxins detected

How much toxicity does it take to make a blue-green algae bloom hazardous?

The World Health Organization says 10 parts per billion of the toxin microcystin is hazardous to touch. The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the threshold at 8 parts per billion.

But the Florida Blue-Green Algae Task Force agreed Wednesday [July 30] people need to be warned when any toxins are in the water.

"A simple detection of toxins is enough to prompt a health alert," Florida Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer, who leads the panel, said during the Zoom meeting.

The task force was discussing whether Florida needs to establish a state threshold for hazardous levels of microcystin such as those used by the WHO and EPA and looking at signs developed by the Florida Department of Health and state Department of Environmental Protection to warn people of toxic algae blooms in water bodies.

"There's no safe exposure to toxins," said task force member James Sullivan, executive director of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce. "If there's a reliable detection (of toxins in the water), the number doesn't mean anything. To be the most cautious for the public, if you detect toxins, you put out an advisory."

Public invited to help identify flood-prone areas in Pearce Drain/Gap Creek area

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is gathering information to improve identification of flood prone areas in Manatee County. The District will provide virtual outreach now through Sept. 20 at for the public to view preliminary data for flood prone areas within the Pearce Drain/Gap Creek Watershed. The website will present preliminary data for flood prone areas and the public will have the opportunity to submit comments.

After addressing the public comments, information will be finalized and presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval to use the data for regulatory purposes. This information is not currently being incorporated into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs); however, it may be used in future DFIRM updates.

The information which identifies areas prone to flooding can be used by local governments for land use and zoning decisions, to help manage development in and around floodplains and wetlands, to reduce flood risks, to preserve land and water resources, and for emergency planning. It will also provide valuable information to the public for decisions about purchasing and protecting property.

For more information or to find out which watershed you live in, please visit or call the District at (352) 796-7211, ext. 4297.

Register now for Aug. 4th Bay Mini-Grants webinar

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Bay Mini-Grant Webinar | 2020–2021

Are you interested in applying for a Tampa Bay Estuary Program Bay Mini-Grant, but not quite sure how to develop a competitive grant?

Join the TBEP for a free grant-writing webinar on August 4, 2020 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

This webinar will provide the knowledge needed to develop a strong project narrative, budget, and overall application.

Additionally, learn how grants are judged, and about payment and reimbursement procedures, and reporting responsibilities.

For more information contact Sheila Scolaro:

Timeline of the recent Longboat Key sewage spill

LONGBOAT KEY — The 20-inch diameter iron sewer line, submerged beneath the Sarasota Bay, was supposed to be delivering thousands of gallons of wastewater every 15 minutes from the Town of Longboat Key to a Manatee County water treatment facility on the mainland.

On June 18, Jeff Blosser, the lead operator at Manatee County’s Southwest Water Reclamation Facility in Bradenton, sent an urgent email to his utility counterparts on the barrier island: “Yesterday at 5:30 p.m. our flow reading from LBK dropped to zero and has stayed there.”

Blosser checked the meter and other equipment. He asked: Was there something wrong on Longboat Key’s end that would account for the sudden change?

There was.

At 8:45 a.m., just hours before Blosser sent the email, flow readings on Longboat Key plunged from 990 gallons per 15 minutes to zero.

But Longboat Key and Manatee County officials did not begin to decipher the problem until June 29, nearly two weeks after those flow readings, according to records obtained by the Herald-Tribune.

That’s when they discovered that the main sewer transmission line between Longboat and Manatee had ruptured, spilling an estimated 26 million gallons of sewage where the pipe heads ashore from Sarasota Bay.

Apply now for TBEP Bay Mini-Grants

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The deadline to apply is September 25th at 3:00 p.m.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is now accepting project applications for the Bay Mini-Grants program!

Bay Mini-Grants are competitive cash awards (up to $5000) for community groups with projects that help improve Tampa Bay.

Project proposals must incorporate at least one of Tampa Bay Estuary Program's goals: water quality, habitat restoration, invasive species, public education, fish and wildlife enhancement.

This year, priority will be given to proposals which directly incorporate emerging contaminants or community involvement in bay restoration.

Applications for Bay Mini-Grants must be submitted by 3:00pm September 25, 2020. Funds will be awarded by mid-December. Projects must begin within six months and be completed within one year.

Groups and organizations from Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties may apply. Funds will be dispersed through contracts. Both non-profit and for-profit organizations are eligible.

The online application is available at

Please contact Public Outreach Specialist Sheila Scolaro ( with any questions.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program seeking executive director

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) is seeking qualified applicants for the Executive Director position.

The successful applicant will have demonstrated experience in effectively managing multi-entity environmental, scientific and/or engineering programs; fostering and maintaining collaborative approaches to complex environmental issues; the ability to facilitate consensus among diverse and sometimes conflicting stakeholders; success in raising funds from public and private sectors, including federal, state and local grants; and the ability to manage an effective and talented staff.

Please download the document below for the full position description:
SBEP Executive Director Position Announcement »

EPA limits states’ power to review projects that affect water quality

SAN FRANCISCO — For almost 50 years, states and tribal governments have played an outsized role in deciding whether projects that can harm water quality should receive federal permits — a role that is about to change under a new rule finalized by the Trump administration Monday.

The “Clean Water Act 401 Certification Rule” narrows what issues state and tribal governments may consider when determining if a project, such as one that involves discharging pollution into a river or stream, will comply with state water quality standards. State or tribal approval is a prerequisite for obtaining a federal permit under the Clean Water Act.

The new rule curtailing states’ review power is intended to advance President Donald Trump’s goal of promoting “efficient permitting” and reducing “regulatory uncertainties” as outlined in his April 2019 executive order on “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth.” This rule is one of the first major overhauls of the water quality certification process established by the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Tampa Bay Scallop Search registration open

Attention boaters, registration is open for the Scallop Search

It's time to wear a different kind of mask!

Tampa Bay Watch aims to recruit volunteer boaters to snorkel selected sites within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bay for the elusive bay scallops. This year’s Scallop Search will be do-it-yourself from August 15 -23 due to COVID-19.

The goal of the Great Bay Scallop Search is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Read more about the Scallop Search. We mainly recruit volunteers with shallow draft boats, but have limited spots for canoes and kayaks. This year we will not register volunteer snorkelers who do not have boats due to the pandemic. At each site, a weighted transect line 50 meters in length is laid along seagrass beds. Snorkelers count scallops along each side of the transect line, within one meter of each side, creating a 100 square meter survey area.

Sign up fast for this free event, and help us tally up the bay scallop population in Tampa Bay!

Register your boat | Register your canoe or kayak

Environmental groups say latest water bill bad for Florida

Environmental groups across the state are challenging the bill recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that is supposed to help clean up Florida's ailing waterways.

Proponents of Senate Bill 712, also called the Clean Waterways Act, say it will help the state better deal with blue-green algae blooms that have popped up across the Sunshine State in recent years.

Critics, however, say the bill fails to advance Florida's water quality standards and regulations and is actually worse than having no new water laws at all.

"It started out with good intentions, taking the Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations and trying to convert them into law," said Chuck O'Neal, with Speak Up Wekiva, one of several groups that have filed a legal challenge to the bill. "But as always happens it goes to Tallahassee and gets picked apart until what comes out is worse than the status quo."

Hundreds of sea turtle nests relocated for Anna Maria Island beach renourishment

Nearly 270 nests relocated

ANNA MARIA — Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch volunteers have been working for months to move sea turtle nests that are in the beach replenishment area on Anna Maria Island. The sand pumping project starts this week.

AMITW director Suzi Fox says the small group has been moving four to 15 nests a day since April. They are relocated to a protected area designated by Florida Fish and Wildlife.

"We are permitted to do so with Florida Fish and Wildlife and nests are just starting to hatch, so these guys would’ve had to stop pumping," said Fox.

Reports of blue-green algae ‘too soon’ to link to Longboat sewage spill

The break that spilled about 26 million gallons of wastewater into the Sarasota Bay occurred in a section of pipe on undeveloped mangrove-lined land

MANATEE COUNTY — The mangroves looked gaunt — bare with no green leaves for the wind to rustle.

Tire marks rutted the ground, the mud still glistening in the summer sun and clinging to Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman’s heavy work boots. Horseflies buzzed and landed on his shirt.

Brownman pointed ahead toward where — a week ago — crews drained at least a swimming pool’s worth of wastewater before repairing Longboat Key’s main sewer transmission pipe.

“This mangrove area was pretty swampy,” said Brownman, referring to the area where a sewer line rupture sent wastewater spewing into Sarasota Bay. “You can’t really bring trucks or heavy equipment back here to stabilize this.”

The break that spilled about 26 million gallons of wastewater into the Sarasota Bay occurred in a section of pipe on undeveloped mangrove-lined land at Long Bar Pointe on the Manatee County mainland. The spill site was about a football field’s length from Sarasota Bay.

Reports of pileups of blue-green algae called Lyngbia have been reported as far north as Perico Island in Manatee County and as far south as the Roberts Bay islands near Venice, but they’re not yet being linked to the spill.

New technology delivers fast, easy results on water quality

Handheld platform technology uses single sample to test for a variety of contaminants

A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Likened to a pregnancy test, the handheld platform uses one sample to provide an easy-to-read positive or negative result. When the test detects a contaminant exceeding the EPA’s standards, it glows green.

Led by researchers at Northwestern University, the tests can sense 17 different contaminants, including toxic metals such as lead and copper, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and cleaning products. The platform — which is powered by cell-free synthetic biology — is so flexible that researchers can continually update it to sense more pollutants.

“Current water tests rely on a centralized laboratory that contains really expensive equipment and requires expertise to operate,” said Northwestern’s Julius Lucks, who led the study. “Sending in a sample can cost up to $150 and take several weeks to get results. We’re offering a technology that enables anyone to directly test their own water and know if they have contamination within minutes. It’s so simple to use that we can put it into the hands of the people who need it most.”

The research was published today (July 6) in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Lucks is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and a member of the Center for Synthetic Biology. Jaeyoung Jung and Khalid Alam, members of Lucks’ laboratory, are co-first authors of the paper.

Longboat Key moved to address aging pipe a month before spill

Ahead of a sewage spill that dumped millions of gallons into Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key had a plan to add a new pipeline

LONGBOAT KEY — Longboat Key town leaders already were working toward addressing their aging and only sewage pipeline off the barrier island when a sudden rupture this week spilled millions of gallons of wastewater into Sarasota Bay, adding new urgency to those efforts.

Barely a month before Longboat’s utility staff reported the spill of an estimated 25.8 million gallons of raw sewage to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, town commissioners agreed to begin the permitting process and identify funds to pay for a backup pipe that would run alongside or near the existing line that runs under Sarasota Bay from the key to the Manatee County mainland.

The multimillion-dollar pipeline project would act as an alternative to pump wastewater off the island if a major catastrophe occurred.

“Failure of the existing force main would result in substantial environmental, financial and public perception impacts,” a presentation on June 1 warned, foreshadowing what was first discovered by Longboat utilities staff after it cleared a path of mangroves on Longbar Pointe 28 days later.

Moving ahead with the plan, the preliminary design plans and permit application for the redundant pipe were due sometime this month, and a public workshop was slated for this fall or early 2021.

Longboat’s central sewer pipe carries about 2 million gallons of sewage to the mainland daily to the Manatee County wastewater treatment facility. The break occurred in a section of pipe on undeveloped mangrove-lined land at Long Bar Pointe on the mainland.

Signs that there might be a problem surfaced on June 17, 12 days before the rupture was discovered and subsequently reported to the state.

Florida researchers are studying metals in the Gulf of Mexico

Last summer, scientists with the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the University of South Florida started a project to find iron, copper, cobalt, cadmium, nickel, manganese, and zinc in the waters along Florida's west coast.

The goal is to find out how much of these trace metals come in and out at different times of the year, and how they affect phytoplankton, like Karenia Brevis, the organism that causes toxic red tide blooms.

Kristen Buck is a chemical oceanographer and associate professor at USF's College of Marine Science.

"As you change the dynamic of what nutrients are available, you get different organisms growing better or worse, and that fuels food webs, and it builds our system,” she said.

For example, a Trichodesmium algae bloom right now in the Gulf of Mexico could be getting fueled by iron-rich Saharan sands.