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

Water-Related News

Longboat Key pipe may have dumped 28 million gallons of sewage into Sarasota Bay

It’s unclear what effect the rupture of Longboat’s central sewer pipe will have on water quality ahead of the Independence Day weekend, environmentalists say.

LONGBOAT KEY — Left unaddressed for nearly two weeks, a leak from a Longboat Key sewage pipe spilled an estimated 26 to 28 million gallons of sewage into Sarasota Bay from the town’s aging sewage line, a Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman said.

The DEP will investigate the spill and hold Longboat Key “accountable by identifying necessary restoration and remediation actions,” agency spokeswoman Shannon Herbon said in an email response shared by the environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper.

That includes fines and penalties for the violations.

In a press release on Wednesday afternoon, Town Manager Tom Harmer cited a much lower volume of sewage spilled, putting the estimate at 2.58 million gallons, and a much later date for the pipe rupture than the DEP, saying the town notified the state of the spill Monday, when he said the public works director learned of it. He added that the “amount of the discharge is still being quantified.”

Harmer also made reference to potential signs of earlier problems, saying “staff believed there may have been meter and equipment issues causing anomalous flow readings,” though they didn’t “determine there was an actual leak in the pipeline” until Monday.

New law gives Florida DEP gets new duties, including septic systems oversight

Under a new bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday [June 30th], the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will take on new duties as an agency. Notably, those duties will include regulating the more than two and a half million septic systems in the state.

DeSantis, speaking to press in Juno Beach, said DEP is inheriting that responsibility from another state agency:

“The Florida Department of Health, which currently oversees the state septic system regulations, only contemplates the human health impacts of septic systems, but not their environmental impact,” the governor said. “This legislation transfers the authority of septic tank inspection from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, to make sure environmental harm by septic systems is finally accounted for.”

The legislation also directs the state DEP to update regulations that apply to storm water systems. The governor says emphasis in storm water regulation has historically been on preventing flooding, and has neglected taking into account environmental impact.

DeSantis told reporters storm water systems throughout the state are based on “outdated science,” and allow pollutants to enter Florida waterways.

Algae bloom along Florida’s west coast is not red tide. So what is it?

State wildlife officials say a Trichodesmium algal bloom has been lingering off the coast of Southwest Florida the past few weeks.

It’s a cyanobacteria that always exists in the Gulf of Mexico. Blooms are a yearly occurrence with colors varying from golden brown, to green, and even pink.

Kate Hubbard leads the algal bloom research and monitoring program at the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. She said this bloom is now being reported from Pinellas County down to Collier County.

“We also had some levels that we found in Gasparilla Sound, and then also on the east coast in Flagler Beach,” she said. “That is interesting and helps us really turn to looking at ocean circulation.”

Hubbard said the Saharan winds are blowing iron-rich sands into the Gulf. Trichodesmium feeds off of that iron. Then it consumes nitrogen from the air and disperses nutrients into the water, which could potentially feed toxic red tide blooms—those don’t typically start until the end of the summer.

So other than possibly nourishing red tide, and also cutting off some oxygen to marine life in the water, Trichodesmium blooms are not known to be harmful.

Governor vetoes more than $21 million for Sarasota-Manatee projects

The governor vetoed at least 20 funding requests from the two-county region.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed more than $21 million in state funding Monday for projects in Sarasota and Manatee counties aimed at everything from boosting water quality to expanding higher education offerings.

The governor vetoed at least 20 funding requests in the two-county region.

Water and science-related projects that were vetoed included:

  • $1.5 million — Mote Marine Laboratory STEM Education (HB 9239) (Senate Form 2366)
  • $1,220,000 — New College of Florida - Master in Data Science & Analytics
  • $950,000 — Manatee County Water Quality Improvement with Native Oysters and Clams (HB 3829) (Senate Form 1173)
  • $100,000 — Sarasota County Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility Recharge Wells (HB 2509) (Senate Form 1101)
  • $200,000 — Venice New Water Booster Station and System Improvements Including Emergency Interconnect
  • $142,000 — Longboat Key Assessment of Sea Level Rise and Recurring Storm Flooding Phase 3 and 4 (HB 3827) (Senate Form 2572)
  • $900,000 — Manatee County Palmetto Green Bridge Fishing Pier Replacement (HB 3831) (Senate Form 2443)

Study: Saharan dust may help fuel red tide in the Gulf of Mexico

A large plume of Saharan dust from Africa, over 2,000 miles wide, is surging across the Caribbean Sea. It’ll push into the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the United States, including Florida, later this week and linger into next week.

The plumes coming off the coast of Africa are quite normal. These plumes of dust typically begin in mid-June and run through mid-August, peaking somewhere in the middle.

There are many benefits to Saharan dust. It helps to temporarily suppress or lower tropical activity, can lead to vibrant sunrises and sunsets, fertilize soil in the Amazon, and help maintain Caribbean beaches.

However, the dust isn’t all positive. According to a study partially funded by NASA, Saharan dust brings nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s West Coast that may kick off blooms of red tide.

This is largely due to iron, one of the minerals found in the dust. As the dust falls into the Gulf, it attracts a cyanobacteria, called Trichodesmium. The bacteria uses that iron to convert any nitrogen in the water into a form that can be consumed by other marine organisms, including the algae that leads to red tide.

The study found that in June 1999 dust from the Sahara Desert made its way across the ocean and reached parts of Florida in late July. By October, and after a 300% increase of this biologically-accessible nitrogen, a huge bloom of toxic red algae had formed within the study area, an 8,100 square mile region between Tampa Bay and Fort Myers.

The blooms go through cycles — they start offshore and as they move near shore, they intensify and can be detected and monitored. Florida sees a red tide bloom nearly every year, but not every bloom is devastating.

Manatee Commission to deny ‘Concession’ development plan

The commission voted 6-1 for the county attorney to prepare a written denial ahead of the next land use meeting.

The Manatee County Commission will deny a proposal from The Concession to build 22 homes on 17 acres of land in eastern Manatee County at its next land use meeting.

After debate that lasted nearly all day, the commission voted 6-1 to direct the county attorney to prepare a written denial ahead of its July 22 land use meeting. Commissioner Priscilla Trace was the only dissenter.

Resident after resident took to the podium on Tuesday to reject what they called “urban sprawl.” Clustering 22 homes on 17 acres, they said, wasn’t compatible with neighboring areas, where residential lots spread across five, 10 or even 15 acres.

The project, they argued, would exacerbate existing flooding issues, threaten their access to historic equestrian routes and disrupt the rural character of the surrounding area. The proposal came amid plans to eventually expand that portion of State Road 70 to four lanes.

Study: Florida has thousands more high-risk properties than FEMA says

Cape Coral and Tampa are the first and second most-exposed cities in the state, the disaster modeling found.

About 114,000 more Florida properties are at risk of flooding in a 100-year storm than the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently estimates, according to a model released Monday by a nonprofit arguing the country has undersold its vulnerability to disasters.

Tampa is the second-most exposed city in the state, says the First Street Foundation, with 43,111 properties that could flood in such an event — the seventh most at-risk in the country. No. 1 in the United States is Cape Coral, according to the analysis, with more than 90,000 at-risk properties.

The foundation’s flood tool is meant to highlight gaps in federal insurance maps and give home buyers what First Street promises is a better view of vulnerability. The data include property-specific reports that are accessible online for users to search their address — and will soon also be displayed on realtor.com, one of the largest real estate listing websites in the country, the company said.

Anna Maria Island-wide beach renourishment project begins in July

MANATEE – A contractor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will begin an extensive beach renourishment to restock a 5.5-mile stretch of beach northern Holmes Beach to the southern end of Coquina Beach at Longboat Pass.

Crews began mobilizing equipment this week for the project that is scheduled to begin during the first week of July. Construction will start at 78th Street North in Holmes Beach and continue south to Coquina Beach. The project schedule calls for restocking about 300-feet of beach per day, baring weather delays, the project should be complete by the end of October.

"This beach nourishment management program is very much like a roadway or other such infrastructure, as in once it is built, it must be maintained," said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director. "The work you see is maintenance that will help ensure continued presence of a sandy beach and storm protection for the upland, as well as provide important nesting habitat for endangered sea turtles and shorebirds."

Portions of the beach will be closed during active construction, preventing the public from accessing that area of the shore. The progress will be updated throughout construction and a list of frequently asked questions are available at mymanatee.org/beachproject.

Residents and business owners who have questions about the project may reach David Ruderman in the USACE Corporate Communication Office, at david.j.ruderman@usace.army.mil or by calling (904) 232-1623.

The awarded project cost is $17.3 million. The federal cost share is $8 million. The State of Florida is contributing $4.6 million and the County is contributing $4.6 million in tourism tax revenues..

The sand will be delivered by barge from an of

Rehabbed mother manatee and calf released into Sarasota Bay

June 18th was a very exciting day at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), SeaWorld Orlando and Mote came together to release a manatee and her calf into Sarasota Bay. The female manatee was rescued by Mote staff, FWC, and other partners on Mother’s Day weekend, and later gave birth to a male calf at SeaWorld Orlando.

On May 9, Mote's Stranding Investigations Program and the Sarasota Police Department responded to a call about a distressed manatee along the bayside of Siesta Key and confirmed the manatee was in distress. The manatee was exhibiting abnormal behavior, including not being able to dive properly, and had both fresh and healed boat-strike wounds.

After Mote’s initial response, FWC led a rescue effort, as additional trained responders from Mote, Sarasota Police Department, and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office descended upon the scene to assist the manatee. The manatee was safely netted onto a boat, transferred into a transport truck and taken for rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando. During the veterinarian exam at SeaWorld Orlando, the animal was found to be pregnant, and on Tuesday, May 11, the manatee gave birth to a healthy male calf. SeaWorld staff nicknamed the mother "Siesta" and the calf "Key." SeaWorld’s team of manatee rehabilitation experts provided the care needed to bring the mom back to a healthy state. Read more about the rescue efforts here.

On the morning of June 18th, SeaWorld Orlando transported both the manatee and its calf to Sarasota, where a large team from FWC and Mote were waiting to assist with the release near Mote’s campus. Upon arrival, the team lifted both manatees out of the truck and onto the ground to take updated identification photos for the mother and new photos of the calf, as well as give the last round of necessary medical care. The photos are used to identify an anim

SWFWMD draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan available

SWFWMD logo

The Southwest Florida Water Management District's (District) draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) is now available on the District’s website for review and comment by stakeholders and the public. The plan identifies existing and projected water demands across all water use categories, available potential water sources, and projects and funding sources to meet those demands within the District’s four planning regions over the next 20 years.

Two online webinar workshops will be held in June to provide opportunities for the public and stakeholders to learn more and comment on the draft plan. All public comments and feedback are taken into consideration and may be included in the final plan document. The comment period ends July 15 at 5 p.m.

The public webinars will take place:

  • June 24 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

This meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams. Please copy and paste the following URL into your browser, https://bit.ly/3cJFaOI and follow the instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use the web interface for Teams. Google Chrome is the recommended browser for best compatibility. Members of the public can also call into the meeting at (888) 585-9008 using the conference code 346-054-201.

  • June 30 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

This meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams. Please copy and paste the following URL into your browser, https://bit.ly/2BUzG79 and follow the instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use the web interface for Teams. Google Chrome is the recommended browser for best compatibility. Members of the public can also call into the meeting at (888) 585-9008 using the conference code 346-054-201.

The Draft 2020 RWSP has been developed in collaboration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Suwannee River, St. Johns River and South Florida water management districts, public water supply utilities and other stakeholder groups. The District includes four planning regions that consist of all or part of 16 counties in west-central Florida, covering approximately 10,000 square miles.

The final plan will be presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval in November. To view the draft plan, please click here.

The Draft 2020 RWSP is in the process of being converted to an ADA compliant document. The Final 2020 RWSP will be ADA compliant. If you need assistance, please contact the District at (352) 796-7211 or 1-800-423-1476.

$2.8M Robinson Preserve restoration will benefit people, snook

Habitat restoration project managers juggle many priorities. One of those priorities is ensuring that the created habitat is useful for local wildlife. The restoration plan for Robinson Preserve will change with the priority species. Gopher tortoises need different things than tarpon, for example. Then there are considerations for public access, which can conflict with goals for species restoration.A quality job results in public land, inviting to all people, that provides safe places for wildlife to feed and breed. The driving force behind this year’s 135-acre restoration effort at Robinson Preserve Expansion is an effort to make habitat for snook, an important game fish in Southwest Florida. Manatee County Parks & Natural Resources staff have been working with leading inshore fisheries biologists to design wetlands that will provide high quality habitat for juvenile snook life stages.

So, what do juvenile snook need in a restored habitat? First, they need interconnected habitats so that snook larvae can find the restored habitat. Yet the habitat must restrict access for larger fish so that the young fish do not become prey. Their other needs are similar to our own. Young snook need food, a safe place to go when they’re tired of wind and waves, temperature control to keep them from getting too cold in winters, and shade to prevent their sensitive eyes from exposure to Florida’s strong sun. The expansion’s habitat plan includes adding diverse native plants to create hammocks, freshwater and saltwater wetlands, flatwoods, and freshwater ponds. Recycled oyster shells will be placed close to tidal connections to invite oyster larvae to settle.

People’s needs won’t go unmet either. Plans for the Expansion include pavilions, benches, restrooms, kayak storage tubes, and trail-side shade structures. These amenities should be more than enough to make up for the Expansion’s seven-month closure to accommodate the project.

2020 CHNEP Watershed Summit videos available

CHNEP logo

Missed the Summit? Now you can watch it all at your leisure.

The 2020 CHNEP Watershed Summit, sponsored by the Florida Section of the American Water Resources Association and FGCU Media, was held on June 1-2. The Summit, which is usually an in-person event, was held virtually to protect the health of participants because of the COVID-19 virus.

Videos of 34 presentations are now available for viewing online. Visit the CHNEP website to see a list of the presentations in each session. Each listed presentation is linked to its associated video. The Summit included four sessions:

  • Water Quality Improvement
  • Hydrological Restoration
  • Fish, Wildlife & Habitat Protection
  • Public Engagement for Protecting Our Water & Wildlife

Visit the CHNEP's YouTube channel to view presentations from past CHNEP Watershed Summits. The Video Library page on this Water Atlas also has videos on conservation topics.

SWFWMD schedules prescribed fires in Manatee County

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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 June through September on the Edward W. Chance Reserve - Gilley Creek Tract (Gilley Creek) and Coker Prairie Tract in Manatee County.

Gilley Creek is located between State Road 62 and 64, east of County Road 675. Approximately 1,050 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Coker Prairie is located south of State Road 64. Approximately 380 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.

View the video at the link below to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

Summer storms mean runoff, but you can help reduce its negative impacts

Editorial by Don Rainey, regional water agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Southwest District.

During seasonal storms in Florida, rain strikes surfaces such as rooftops, sidewalks and driveways, and within minutes, water will form puddles — and along comes stormwater runoff. At its core, stormwater is simply excess rainfall that does not infiltrate the ground or immediately evaporate back into the atmosphere.

Stormwater runoff uses the path of least resistance to reach its destination. It is a collection of rainfall from the surrounding hard surfaces, lawn and plant beds that flows above ground to a nearby body of water. Stormwater runoff is not just water. It transports nutrients from rainwater, sediment, and other materials found in the urban landscape.

As the runoff moves across saturated surfaces, it transports dissolved plant nutrients, possible pesticides, pet waste, sediment and other debris. Think of stormwater runoff as a soup, consisting of “ingredients” such as dissolved particulates and sometimes harmful pathogens that will move to a body of water. When concentration levels within this mixture exceed the ability for natural systems — such as ponds and wetlands — to utilize, absorb or break down pollutants, we must take steps to address the issue.

In some areas of Florida, stormwater runoff flows directly into a large body of water without treatment, immediately affecting the water quality. Untreated stormwater can negatively impact natural ecosystems for future generations.

Fortunately, a plant-based lawn and landscape not only help filter contaminants and remove sediment, they also provide an infiltration area to recharge the water supply.

As a homeowner, you can protect water quality by addressing runoff from your property. Simply start with your roof and driveway — usually the largest connected hard surface and runoff generator on your property. Redirect your downspouts to a rain bar