Water-Related News

Now you can take your boater safety exam online

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FWC now allows online providers to offer boating safety exam

Access to Florida’s Boater Education Temporary Certificate Program has been expanded, thanks to work done by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to make allowances for online course providers to offer the required courses over the internet.

In August of 2017, the FWC amended Florida Administrative Code 68D-36.108 to allow the temporary certificate exam to be offered in an online version. This change makes it easier and more convenient for both vessel operators and vessel liveries to comply with Florida’s boater education laws, which require liveries to verify that customers born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, have met Florida’s boating safety education requirements before allowing them to rent their vessels.

Online temporary certificate exam providers will create a system that allows 24-hour, seven-day a week accessibility to the exam using tablets, laptops, or other electronic devices. This added convenience will make it easier for both visitors and residents by allowing them to take the test before a vacation to Florida.

Currently, one online boating safety education provider, Boat Ed, has completed the process to offer the exam online. Boat Ed has been a leader and innovator in boating safety education since 1995. Study or learning materials are available on the Boat Ed site to prepare students for the exam, improve their boating knowledge and increase their chances of successfully completing the exam on the first try. The exam costs $3 and study materials are available for an additional charge. A link to the exam can be found at Boat-Ed.com/FloridaRental/.

Prior to this change, paper exams were the only option and were required to be completed and passed by rental vessel operators. The ability for liveries to continue to offer paper exams has not changed with the addition of this online option. Liveries can still purchase and administer the paper exams, as long as their contract and insurance are valid.

The temporary certificate exam is a knowledge check, not a full education course. It cannot be converted into a boater safety identification card that is valid for life. Temporary certificates are not valid in any other state and do not meet boater safety education requirements in other states.

The online exam will be 25 questions, randomly selected from a large pool of questions. The cost for the exam will remain $3. Upon successful completion of the exam, students will be provided an electronic proof of their successful completion and their passing score. A livery will be able to inspect this proof to ensure that a prospective vessel renter has met Florida’s boating safety education requirements.

The new change offers various benefits to liveries:

  • Liveries are not required to contract with any other company to use the online exam.
  • A link that will send customers directly to the online exam can be provided by liveries.
  • Liveries are not required to continue purchasing paper exams from the FWC.
  • The burden of mailing paper tests back to the FWC is removed with the online option.
  • Liveries will be able to provide speedier service to customers who take the exam in advance of renting.

The FWC encourages liveries to transition to the new online exam system to increase accessibility and streamline the testing process for renters interested in enjoying Florida’s beautiful waterways by boat.

Nelson, Rubio call for passage of WRDA bill to address algae crisis

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have called on Senate leaders to immediately take up and pass legislation aimed at helping mitigate the toxic algae blooms that are plaguing South Florida.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Nelson and Rubio urged the leaders to bring this year’s Water Resources Development Act – which includes funding for a massive reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee designed to store and clean some of the water being released from the lake before it goes into the nearby waterways – to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible.

“The EAA Storage Reservoir is a critical piece of the puzzle for ending Lake Okeechobee discharges and the harmful algal blooms they help fuel,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to bring the WRDA bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible so that we can advance this key project.”

Nelson, who has been pushing his colleagues to approve the funding needed for the massive reservoir project known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), was able to get the project included in this year’s WRDA bill. Shortly after he and Rubio sent their letter to Senate leaders, Nelson took to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to pass the bill as soon as possible.

“Right now, in Florida, we are facing a massive environmental and economic crisis,” Nelson said. “If we don’t act soon, I’m afraid there won’t be much of an environment in South Florida left to save. I urge the majority leader to schedule a vote on the WRDA bill as soon as possible, and I urge my colleagues to support the water resources bill when it comes to the floor of the Senate.”

Florida Sea Grant’s Karl Havens on the causes of red tide

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What is causing Florida's algae crisis?

Editor’s note: Two large-scale algae outbreaks in Florida are killing fish and threatening public health. Along the southwest coast, one of the longest-lasting red tide outbreaks in the state’s history is affecting more than 100 miles of beaches. Meanwhile, blue-green algae blooms are occurring in estuaries on both coasts. Karl Havens, a University of Florida professor and director of the Florida Sea Grant Program, explains what’s driving this two-pronged disaster.

What’s the difference between red tide and blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae are called cyanobacteria. Some species of cyanobacteria occur in the ocean, but blooms — extremely high levels that create green surface scums of algae — happen mainly in lakes and rivers, where salinity is low.

Red tides are caused by a type of algae called a dinoflagellate, which also is ubiquitous in lakes, rivers, estuaries and the oceans. But the particular species that causes red tide blooms, which can make water look blood red, occur only in saltwater.

What causes these blooms?

Blooms occur where waters have high concentrations of nutrients — in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. In Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff.

Red tides form offshore. When ocean currents carry a red tide to the shore it can intensify, especially where there are abundant nutrients to fuel algae growth. This year, after heavy spring rains and because of discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, river runoff in southwest Florida brought a large amount of nutrients into near-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which fueled the large red tide.

Report outlines Florida’s major environmental concerns

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Spoiler alert: Three of the six are about water

A coalition of environmental and other organizations is distributing a sternly worded report to all candidates in Florida for federal and state offices about worsening threats to the state’s natural resources.

On Wednesday, the alliance publicly released “Trouble in Paradise,” an initiative started by Nathaniel Pryor Reed, a conservationist and co-founder of 1,000 Friends of Florida who died recently.

“Tragically, he did not live to see this report to fruition,” Paul Owens, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, said during a media conference.

To complete Reed’s final initiative, the 1,000 Friends organization partnered with Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Florida Springs Council, Florida Wildlife Corridor, Florida Wildlife Federation, the Howard T. Odom Florida Springs Institute and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The result is a document intended to educate this state’s potential elected officials about what Owens calls “the greatest challenges facing Florida’s environment.”

Although the organizations are making sure paper or email editions of the report reach candidates in upcoming state and federal elections, Owens said they encourage voters to make sure contenders in local races are also aware of the findings and recommendations.

“These are critical issues at every level of government in Florida,” Owens said.

The study outlines six priorities that the partnership contends need urgent attention as well as specific geographic areas it considers especially endangered, including the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Indian River Lagoon, Apalachicola River and Bay and several natural springs.

Throughout the report, the authors call for enforcing environmental protections “already in place,” sufficiently funding agencies responsible for overseeing those duties, appointing “strong and effective” agency leaders and passing legislation “to restore and improve workable programs and address current and future challenges.”

Polk case to move forward: Judge denies motion to dismiss Peace River water fight hearing

Polk County has said that massive withdrawal will impact its long-term plans to increase aquifer recharge in the Peace Creek Basin.

LAKELAND — Polk County’s request for a day in court over a water dispute can move forward after a state judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case.

The Polk Regional Water Cooperative, Fort Meade and Wauchula asked an administrative law judge earlier this summer to hear the case after it appeared the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) would allow a 50-year permit to more than double the amount of water the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority could withdraw.

In response to Manasota’s and Swiftmud’s attempt to dismiss the case, Francine Ffolkes, an administrative law judge in Tallahassee, wrote that “the petitioners (Polk County) essentially allege that their present water supply planning activities could be affected by issuance of the water use permit to the (Manasota) Authority.”

“The Petitioners’ allegations, taken as true, do not constitute pure speculation or conjecture,” Ffolkes wrote.

Ffolkes wrote in her order that in reviewing the motion to dismiss, she must assume that the allegations in the petitions are true.

Burnt Store Isles seawall replacement project informational meeting scheduled

The City of Punta Gorda Canal Maintenance Division will be hosting a workshop on August 27, 2018 at Twin Isles Country Club, located at 301 Madrid Blvd., Punta Gorda to update Burnt Store Isles residents, particularly IRMA seawall replacement customers, on seawall replacements project.

Residents will have the opportunity to speak one-on-one between the hours of 1:00 p.m.. .and 5:00 p.m. with designated Canal Maintenance employees to answer any questions or concerns on their individual seawall issues. The information will cover the following zones: BSI-N & BSI-S

For more information contact Irene Ploskina, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Canal Maintenance Division: 941-575-5092.

FGCU's ”Gulf Coast Live“ to air live call-in on red tide and algae

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This coming Wednesday, August 15th at 1pm, WGCU Gulf Coast Live will open the phones for listener questions about the persistent red tide bloom devastating wildlife, and the blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee and estuary.

During the program, Julie Glenn will be joined by Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director for the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, and News-Press Environmental Reporter Amy Bennett Williams to field calls and comments from social media. Click on the link below to share your thoughts, submit your questions about our water woes, how we got here, and possible solutions in advance of the show.

Feel free to share this information with friends.

Blue-green algae cleanup under way in Cape Coral

Efforts to mitigate water-quality issues throughout Lee County continue under the leadership of the Lee Board of County Commissioners with county staff, contracted vendors and several state entities, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Health.

Board actions:

The Board at its regularly scheduled Aug. 7 meeting:

Voted unanimously to ask for federal resources. The Board's resolution urges President Trump to recognize a major disaster exists in Lee County because of the high concentration and prolonged presence of harmful red tide in the Gulf of Mexico and harmful blue-green algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee River and surrounding waters.

Heard from mayors and representatives the county's six municipalities, who adopted their own State of Local Emergency.

Extended the existing county State of Local Emergency for blue-green algae and issued a second State of Local Emergency for red tide.

The Board at its Aug. 21 meeting is anticipated to approve several agenda items that will use Tourist Development Tax reserve funds for beach cleanup and marketing (see below under "Coastal" update).

Algae monitor sponsored by NASA installed in Lake Okeechobee

Satellite images tell us every few days how an algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee — the source of blooms in the St. Lucie River — has been growing and shrinking over the summer.

Now there's a device in the middle of the lake that will give us updates every hour.

On Thursday, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce installed a SeaPRISM on a platform in the middle of Lake Okeechobee.

The sensor developed by NASA can look into the lake every hour and, by the color of the water, determine how much blue-green algae it contains.

More:TCPalm's complete coverage of water issues

The idea is for real-time data from the SeaPRISM (Photometer Revision for Incident Surface Measurements) to be relayed to NASA and be available to researchers (and the public) on the agency's Aeronet website within a couple of hours.

The hourly data will help scientists figure out how algae blooms develop and why their size fluctuates from from week to week, month to month and year to year. That information will help them predict when algae will bloom in the lake, and that could help water managers prevent blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Mote Marine researchers racing against clock to study red tide

SARASOTA COUNTY - Researchers are racing against the clock to find solutions to this red tide crisis. For Dr. Tracy Fanara, the pressure has been relentless.

“I think that everybody feels a lot of pressure because this is a public health issue,” said Dr. Fanara.

She and her fellow researchers are in the thick of this crisis every day, and she constantly hears from people desperate for answers.

"It’s heartbreaking to hear how affected they are by this naturally occurring phenomenon and I want to find a way to protect them,” said Fanara.

It’s all hands on deck at Mote Marine Lab.

Scientists have been using interns, volunteers, even information from the public to respond to this crisis.

Researchers are employing a wide variety of tests. They're studying organisms that can eat red tide. Others are studying water treatment technologies, while fellow scientists are discovering how storms impact red tide.

They want to find out what's causing this algae bloom to intensify, and what kind of methods can stop it.

A hurricane may be only way to get rid of red tide, expert says

A major weather system could disperse and push the toxic bloom away from the shore.

SARASOTA — The invasion of toxic red tide on Southwest Florida beaches that has slaughtered marine life and sickened humans shows no signs of retreat anytime soon, experts say.

The killer menace, which has turned the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico into a soft-drink brown hue and transformed pristine white sand beaches into ghastly graveyards of rotting sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and whale sharks in recent weeks, doesn’t look like it will loosen its grip on the area, scientists say. There is a “but” in the grim forecast, said Vincent Lovko, a staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, an independent research institution in Sarasota that has studied Florida red tide for decades.

A major weather system — such as a hurricane — could potentially rid Southwest Florida of the persistent bloom, which began last October and killed an undetermined amount of marine life, while causing beachgoers to cough, sneeze and experience other respiratory or eye irritation. Sarasota County alone estimates it has removed more than 66 tons of decomposing fish from its beaches since Aug. 1, while the Town of Longboat Key estimates it has cleared 5.22 tons of decaying sea life from its shoreline.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports it has received complaints of respiratory irritation spanning from Manatee to Collier counties.

Mote scientists to test new method to mitigate red tide

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Mote Marine Laboratory scientists will field-test a newly developed method for mitigating Florida red tide — elevated concentrations of toxic Karenia brevis algae — in the closed end of a canal in Boca Grande on Tuesday.

The method uses ozone to destroy the algae and its toxins inside a special system that releases no ozone into the environment and restores oxygen that is often deficient in Florida red tide areas, Mote said Thursday. The technology is designed for areas of limited size and tidal flow, such as dead-end canals and small embayments, where Florida red tide algae, their toxins, and resulting dead fish can accumulate.

The test is set for Tuesday morning and will be led by Mote Senior Scientist Richard Pierce.

Mote’s ozone treatment system was developed and patented, and is currently used, to remove Florida red tide cells and toxins from seawater entering Mote Aquarium and Mote’s animal hospitals on City Island in Sarasota.

FGCU researchers to investigate Lake O-red tide connection

FORT MYERS » Red tide: you can smell it, and see its deadly impact, but what makes some summers worse than others?

“The water here are used to be clear there used to be sea grass there is a boyster now it’s far from that,” said Daniel Andrews, of Captains for Clean Water.

Dr. Bill Mitsch, a wetland ecologist and professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, is on a mission to find out if Lake Okeechobee releases are supercharging red tide conditions.

“This river is sending billions of gallons of Lake O water down stream,” Dr. Mitsch said.

A team of researchers lead by Dr. Mitsch spent the day collecting water samples from the Caloosahatchee River as well as red tide along the coast.

“We want to know if the nitrogen we believe is feeding the frenzy of red tide plus what We will call it red tide plus plus plus if that’s the nitrogen coming out of Lake O,” Dr. Mitsch said.

If his theory is proven correct, Dr. Mitsch believes this will be the concrete evidence needed to finally push lawmakers to solve this puzzle: and that’s to add 100,000 acres of wetlands near Lake Okeechobee to act as a natural filter for the water discharges.

Fort Myers toxic sludge neighbors have their first day in court

ORLANDO – Attorneys for Fort Myers and neighbors of the arsenic-laced lime sludge landfill on South Street met in U.S. Middle District Court on Wednesday for the first time in a federal lawsuit that could be resolved in mediation — or culminate in a 10- to 15-day jury trial.

The meeting before Federal Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando set deadlines for both sides to advance their case on a fast track set for trial Dec. 7, 2019.

SWFWMD performing prescribed burns in August and September in DeSoto 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 last year. That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns in August and September at Deep Creek Preserve in DeSoto County.

Deep Creek Preserve is located in southwest DeSoto County, east of Kings Highway. Approximately 450 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. Visit the link below to watch a video that explains why igniting prescribed burns now prepares lands for the next wildfire season.

Mote Marine Laboratory is working to solve red tide riddles

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Communities affected by the current Florida red tide are asking great questions — in particular, what more can be done to address this challenging harmful algal bloom (HAB) and better protect public health and quality of life?

Mote Marine Laboratory — an independent research institution that has studied Florida red tide for decades in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and numerous other partners — is working hard to answer that question with multiple scientific studies advancing this summer.

For months, several southwest Florida communities have been experiencing effects from elevated concentrations of the Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis, which have persisted in the Gulf of Mexico since November 2017. Toxins from the bloom have caused large-scale fish kills, sickened or killed some large marine species and caused beachgoers to cough, sneeze and experience other respiratory or eye irritation, sometimes causing them to avoid the affected shoreline areas.

These impacts drive Mote scientists to find solutions. Mote is advancing innovative research with the ultimate goals of: improved rapid assessment and modeling for HAB forecasting; prevention, control and mitigation of HAB impacts; public health protection; and expansion of local community outreach and engagement.

Join Mote scientists for a web video chat on Florida red tide research and response efforts. Details will be available on Mote’s website Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. The web chat is tentatively expected to take place later in that week. Please check here for updates and registration: https://mote.org/pages/red-tide-web-forum-august-2018

Here is how Mote is addressing Florida red tide, from essential and extensive monitoring efforts to new mitigation and control studies launched within the past few years.

SWFWMD performing prescribed burns in August and September in Sarasota 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 last year. That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns in August and September at the Myakka River - Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and the Myakka River - Schewe Tract in Sarasota County.

Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and the Schewe Tract are located west of North Port, east of the Myakka River, north and south of Interstate 75. Approximately 1,300 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. Visit the link below to watch a video that explains why igniting prescribed burns now prepares lands for the next wildfire season.

Toxic algae hospitalized at least 15 people in Florida

The worst red tide in more than a decade has left Florida’s southwestern shoreline littered with dead fish and sea turtles, but now humans are getting sick too.

Exposure to algae sent at least 15 people to the hospital last week for symptoms related to contact with toxic algae, but the number of people who have actually gotten sick could be higher, TCPalm reported.

An algae bloom, known as the red tide, has wreaked havoc on coastal wildlife. Red tide season typically lasts from October to around February, but this red tide has persisted along the coast for 10 months. Some rivers and lakes in Florida are also seeing a rise in harmful algae, forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water from Lake Okeechobee to keep lake levels down, Sun Sentinel reported.

Lee County secures Florida DEP grant to proceed with test project to cleanup blue-green algae

FORT MYERS – Lee County has secured $700,000 from the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Management Grant Program through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the removal, processing and disposal of harmful algae blooms from select test sites in unincorporated Lee County and affected municipalities, most notably Cape Coral.

Over the past week Lee County has been working closely with DEP and county consultants to create an approved work plan for this project. The work plan includes:

  • a health and safety plan to address any physical hazards that may be encountered;
  • the equipment to be used and the procedures to be implemented during the algae recovery operations and the transfer, temporary storage, processing and final disposal of the recovered algae;
  • the sampling required prior to disposal and will present steps for review of the laboratory data and obtaining approval for disposal.

    “It is important to remember that this is a test project,” County Manager Roger Desjarlais said. “It will look very different from efforts such as Hurricane Irma debris pick-up.”

    The treatment of the collected material is a time-consuming and complex process, which will limit the clean-up locations to those with the greatest concentration of algae.

    Lee County has mobilized AECOM, one of the nation’s largest construction and engineering firms with expertise in environmental cleanup, under a state contract for emergency cleanup deployments. The DEP approved the plan on Wednesday to allow the work to begin.

    The first task is to set up the treatment facility over the next two days so that algae collection can begin as soon as Friday. In simple terms, the recovered material will be processed at the North Lee County Reverse Osmosis Plant. The recovered material will be separated into liquids and solids. The water will then be treated and deposited into the deep injection well and the solids into the landfill.

    Algae recovery sites will be determined based on severity of the bloom, the number of residents immediately affected, accessibility of the site and changing environmental conditions. The County will continue to do aerial and field assessments in order to determine collection sites on a daily basis.

Lee County provides dumpsters for dead fish

Lee County has placed dumpsters in key locations where residents can dispose of fish that washed ashore near to their homes and businesses due to red tide:

  • Lynn Hall Memorial Beach Park, 950 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
  • Crescent Beach Family Park, 1100 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
  • Bowditch Point Beach Park, 50 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
  • 7th Street Beach Access, 7th St W., Boca Grande, FL 33921
  • Causeway Islands, 19931 Sanibel Causeway Road, Sanibel, FL 33957
  • Bonita Beach access #10, 26082 Hickory Blvd., Bonita Springs, FL 34134
  • Residents may also double-bag fish and place in regular household trash receptacles, but residents are advised that the hauler will not be able to make additional collections outside of regularly scheduled collection days.

Lee County directs contractor to assist with effort to clean county beaches

FORT MYERS – Lee County has hired its debris-removal contractor to supplement efforts currently underway by Parks & Recreation employees to clean county beaches affected by the recent red tide fish kill.

CrowderGulf will begin Thursday morning, concentrating first along county parks and beach accesses on the Sanibel Causeway, Lynn Hall Park to Bowditch Point (on Fort Myers Beach), and Boca Grande.

“Lee County is actively working to clean up the debris along our beaches as a result of the recent red tide bloom,” said Cecil Pendergrass, who is Chairman of the Lee Board of County Commissioners and the Tourist Development Council. “I will continue to strongly advocate for water quality improvements by working with our state and federal agencies, pushing for action.”

Parks & Recreation crews now are cleaning parks and boat ramps of the larger fish (not pinfish) each morning. Crowder Gulf will be supplementing those efforts and also is under contract by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and City of Sanibel.

The county will focus on the most affected county parks and accesses.

The county also urges property owners adjacent to beaches to clean their immediate areas and is working on a plan to place dumpsters in key locations where residents can dispose of these fish. People may also pick up fish immediate to their homes and businesses and place them in their normal waste stream by double-bagging them and placing them in their regular trash receptacles, but understand that the hauler will not be able to make additional collections outside of regularly scheduled collection days.

Once the locations of dumpsters is determined, the county will release that information through the media and on its website.

Red tide is a naturally occurring microscopic alga that has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840s and occurs nearly every year. Blooms, or higher-than-normal concentrations, happen periodically. Blooms typically occur miles offshore and are carried to the shore by winds and currents. Red tide is a different organism than blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that has recently bloomed in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie river basins.

For more information on red tide statewide, see the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission site here: myfwc.com/redtidestatus.

Check out this online tool to see how sea level-rise will impact your flood risk

Here’s a fun online gadget for a sobering task:

FloodIQ.com is a web site created by the nonprofit First Street Foundation to help users visualize how rising sea levels are expected to affect your risk of flooding — not only now, but up to 15 years in the future.

And, yes, it gets worse.

With FloodIQ.com, the First Street Foundation created an interactive map for Florida showing flood risks from both tidal flooding and a Category 1 and Category 3 hurricane this year, in 2023, 2028 and 2033. The data comes from the United States Geologic Survey and county governments, historic tide gauge readings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, storm surge predictions from the National Weather Service and NOAA, sea level rise predictions from the United States Army Corps Of Engineers and property details from state and county government offices.

The result is that it’s easy to find your home or business and see what you might expect — a foot of flooding? 2 feet? more? — in various combinations of bad storms, high tides and deteriorating conditions.

Enjoy.

Source: Tampa Bay Times.

DeSoto County Commission denies Mosaic's rezoning request for phosphate mining

ARCADIA – After two days and 11 hours of hearings, DeSoto County Commissioners voted 4 to 1, denying Mosaic's request to rezone 14,000 acres between State Road 72 and State Road 70 in Arcadia from Agricultural land to Phosphate Mining Industrial land.

"True satisfaction would be they shut down their mines in the state of Florida," said Lee Richardson, a Charlotte County resident opposed to Mosaic. "They figure out a new way to do this type of mining and leave our water districts alone."

Back in 2016, Mosaic made national headlines after a huge sinkhole at their Mulberry location dumped 215-million gallons of what the company says was slightly radioactive water into the aquifer. Commissioners heard from more than a hundred residents from Manatee, Charlotte, DeSoto and Charlotte counties who are opposed to this. People who spoke out against it had some major concerns, especially since the land in question is right up against some waterways including Horse Creek.

Palmer: Keep an eye on local water issues

When I began covering water issues 40 years ago, the conventional wisdom in Polk County was that someday Tampa would launch a “water raid” on Polk County.

It wasn’t irrational. Utilities in the Tampa Bay area had already done that in Pasco County and had dibs on water from springs farther north as they engaged in lengthy legal battles among themselves over water allocations.

Tampa Bay utilities finally worked out their differences and later backed off from a plan to develop a giant wellfield at the edge of Polk County, which threatened to diminish Polk’s well system.

Then came the Orlando area with a proposed well permit that potentially could cause the same effect on the other side of Polk County.

Polk officials were ready to go to court to challenge the permit.

Gov. Jeb Bush stepped in and stopped another regional water war before it got started. Instead, he told everyone to work together.

That eventually resulted in the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI), an organized plan to figure out how much water was left, how much everyone needed, and how to come up with a plan to make up the projected deficits everyone faced unless they decide to slow down the development wave that created the demand for more water.

Now comes the conflict with the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority (PRMWSA).

The regional utility applied for a permit last fall to double the amount of water it could pump from the Peace River, the culmination of its own regional water planning efforts to deal with projected growth in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties while avoiding impacts on the already stressed aquifer.

Somehow the folks at the Polk Regional Water Supply Authority, which also were working on their own plan as an outgrowth of the CFWI project, didn’t know about the downstream permit request until a few months ago.

Captiva Community Panel reviews Wastewater Alternative Study report

Presented with the final report on the Captiva Island Wastewater Alternative Study, the Captiva Community Panel discussed the findings and came up with follow-up questions at its July meeting.

Conducted by TKW Consulting Engineers on behalf of Lee County and the panel, the study was intended to assess the feasibility of alternative wastewater collection and treatment systems suitable for Captiva based on current land use and taking into consideration long-term impacts and future costs.

Panel Member Jay Brown, chair of the Wastewater Committee, explained on July 10 that he had an initial meeting with county officials to review the report and had already posed some questions.

"I have two concerns with this," he said.

Brown questioned how the panel would garner support from voters for the most feasible scenario outlined in the report for a central sewer system, one of the alternatives examined as part of the study. He explained that he felt details pertinent for owners of conventional septic systems was missing.

According to the study, there are 378 developed properties outside of the areas served by the four existing wastewater treatment plants that cover South Seas, 'Tween Waters, Sunset Captiva and Captiva Shores. Of those, 11 are aerobic treatment units and 70 are performance based treatment systems.

Lee County approves test project to ‘vacuum’ blue-green algae from waterways

FORT MYERS – Early this morning [July 27], Lee County commissioners unanimously approved a test project for algae clean up, as well as the filing of an application for state funding, in an attempt to relieve Southwest Florida waters of the toxic blue-green algae that has plagued various communities and its residents.

The board also approved spending up to $150,000 in county dollars, if necessary, before grant money is obtained.

"I'm glad they declared their emergency status which will allow us to have grant money," said Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello, who was in attendance at the emergency County Commission meeting.

County Natural Resources Director Roland Ottolini walked Commissioners Cecil Pendergrass, Frank Mann and Brian Hamman through his findings from aerial pictures taken of the algal blooms across Southwest Florida and most notably, Cape Coral.

It was agreed that a short-term solution of sorts is needed to remove the algae in the most concentrated areas through a vendor already under state contract.

The biggest issue is where to dispose of the algae once it's "vacuumed up."

Cape Coral to conduct sanitary sewer system smoke test starting July 30th

SMOKE TESTING AREAS:
Area 1 (North of Cape Coral Parkway)
Area 2 (Coral Drive/South of Bimini Basin)

Wednesday, August 1 in parts of southeast Cape Coral. The work is being done by USSI. Non-toxic smoke will be forced into the sanitary sewer lines to identify any breaks and defects within the City’s sewer system.

The following areas will be affected (please see the attached maps): The area bounded by the Singapore Canal to the north, Coronado Parkway to the east, Cape Coral Parkway East to the south, and the Rubicon Canal to the west. The Coral Drive neighborhood and several streets north to the Bimini Basin also will be affected.

Residents will see smoke exit rooftop vent pipes on houses and commercial businesses. Smoke also will be seen exiting manholes in these areas. This smoke is not a fire hazard and does not leave a residue. Smoke will not enter a home or business unless there is defective plumbing present or the drain traps are dry. To prevent smoke from entering a home or business, please run water for a few seconds at each plumbing fixture such as sinks, tubs, and showers to ensure the traps are full of water. The affected residences/businesses will be notified via door hangers 24-48 hours before smoke testing begins.

For questions, please contact USSI by calling (888) 645-9570.

Fort Myers Beach struck with sea grass, fish kill

Signs of the ongoing water quality state of emergency are washing up on Fort Myers Beach's shores.

The beach is inundated with sea grasses, dead fish and drift algae today. Sea grass serves an important role in the estuarine system, providing food for animals like manatees and also serving as home and safe zones for fish nurseries. But the grasses are dying and washing up on the beach - a sign of the imbalance of salinity in the estuary, said Rae Burns, Town of Fort Myers Beach environmental technician. "We want our sea grasses in the sea grass beds, protecting our fish," she said.

The grasses need a mix of salt water and fresh water to thrive; too much of either is detrimental. With the past 14 days of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee, that mix has been thrown out of balance.

It's not just sea grasses - dead fish are here now, too.

Red tide has been concentrated in northern Lee County for weeks, but the bloom has shown its consequences now on Fort Myers Beach.

Red tide likely killed whale shark that washed up on Sanibel

A whale shark that washed up on a Sanibel beach over the weekend likely died due to red tide poisoning.

Biologists at the Florida Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg examined various tissue samples and found that all contained Karenia brevis, or red tide.

"This does not indicate why it died, but because researchers had measured similar and higher levels than that in live fish caught in bloom areas, and given the high concentrations of Karenia brevis in that area and the large fish kills in that area, it’s fair to say it may be red tide," said Michelle Kerr, FWRI spokeswoman. "But we don’t know for sure. We may never know."

A strong red tide has lingered along the Southwest Florida coast since October, at times stretching from Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys.

Regional water authority hopes to get litigation dismissed

Utilities in Polk County want to block Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority’s expansion plans

The regional authority that supplies water to the counties of Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto and the city of North Port is attempting to get a lawsuit filed against it by seven government entities in Polk County dismissed or settled.

The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority is a coalition comprised of Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties that dates back to 1982. Its mission is to interconnect utility systems to ensure water keeps flowing across jurisdictional boundaries.

From its treatment plant on the Peace River, which it acquired from a private utility in 1991, the authority now supplies about 28.2 million gallons daily to three of its four county members and to non-member North Port.

Although it does not need the additional supply now, the authority seeks a permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to create a third reservoir at its treatment plant in DeSoto County and increase its withdrawals from the river during the rainy season from a maximum of 120 million gallons a day to 258 million gallons a day. Most of its withdrawals are stored in underground aquifer systems and then pumped out during the dry season to meet its commitments to customers.

In May, the Polk Regional Water Cooperative (joined by Polk County and the cities of Bartow, Fort Meade, Lakeland, Wauchula and Winter Haven) filed litigation against the Peace River authority and the water management district. The plaintiffs want the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings to block the water management district from issuing the water use permit.

Utilities in Polk County currently rely on ground water and do not withdraw from the Peace River. Yet, according to their complaint, “traditional groundwater supplies may be insufficient to satisfy the existing and future water supply demand of Polk County in a sustainable manner.”

Sea turtles dying in ‘unprecedented numbers’

Poor water quality is proving fatal to an "unprecedented number" sea turtles in local waters.

"Since the beginning of the current red tide bloom in October 2017, 91 sea turtles have been found stranded on the beaches or in waters surrounding Sanibel and Captiva; 58 were dead and 33 were found alive and taken to CROW for treatment," a release from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation states. "The continuous 10 month red tide has impacted an unprecedented number of sea turtles. Over 50 have stranded on Sanibel and Captiva this June and July alone.

"Of the 91 strandings since October, 53 have been mature adults, representing a significant impact on a recovering population of animals where only one in 1,000 hatchlings survive to reach reproductive maturity at around 25-30 years of age. Nineteen of these turtles (9 of which have washed up in the third week of July) have been the critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, a rare sighting on area beaches."

Tissue and gut samples are being tested for neurotoxins produced by red tide algal blooms.

Boat captains, snorkelers needed for annual Pine Island scallop search

News Image

Join Florida Sea Grant – UF/IFAS Lee County Extension and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation by participating in the 2018 Pine Island Sound Scallop Search, a resource-monitoring program in which volunteers snorkel and search for scallops in select areas within Pine Island Sound. The event is sponsored by Lee County Parks & Recreation, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Friends of Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve and Pineland Marina.

This is a no-harvest event.

The purpose of the search is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Up to 40 boats are needed with as many as 150 participants to search selected sites in Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay for the elusive “bay scallop.”

Large populations of bay scallops (or Argopecten irradians) disappeared from Southwest Florida waters decades ago due in large part to degraded water quality, related declines in seagrass acreage, over-harvesting and other causes. Water quality and seagrasses have improved in many areas to levels that may once again support these important bivalves. This event is modeled after the successful Great Bay Scallop Search conducted in Tampa Bay since 1993. Pine Island Sound’s inaugural event was in 2010.

Reservations are required to participate in the event. Space is limited. Scallop searchers will meet at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 18, at Pineland Marina, 13921 Waterfront Drive, Pineland, to receive survey equipment and instructions for the monitoring event. Lunch will be provided to participants once they return to shore and report their information.

Volunteers with shallow-draft boats are asked to let organizers know the style and size of their boats. Volunteers should bring a dive flag if possible. Canoes and kayaks are also welcome, but sites are very limited; sign up early. Personal watercraft (Jet Skis, Sea-Doos, etc.) are not allowed in the search.

Snorkelers without boats are welcome; however, space is limited. Volunteers need to bring a mask, snorkel and gloves and need to be able to snorkel/ swim 50 meters (about 150 feet) along the bottom — fins and weight belt are optional but suggested.

Sign up using the link below, email Joy Hazell, or call FL Sea Grant at the Lee County Extension office: (239) 707-1267.

Photo by David Moynahan, courtesy Florida Sea Grant

Cape Coral Council talks water quality, assessments

Water quality has been the hot topic in council chambers throughout the region, and Monday was no exception during the Cape Coral City Council's regular meeting at City Hall.

Now, it seems as if a new problem has arisen - of landscapers dumping their grass trimmings in the canals. Several residents brought up the problem during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"Can't we find a way for code enforcement to deal with landscapers?" asked Robert Weller. "People's lives revolve around the canals. Our homes are an investment. What is City Council prepared to do about it?"

Others said the problem isn't grass clippings.

"When people have tall grass, it's impossible for grass to not be in the canal. Some landscapers are doing it," said Dan Sheppard. "The real problem is Big Sugar."

Councilmember John Gunter said that he has noticed grass in canals and said there should be something done about it, even if it means hiring more code enforcement officers.

"I smelled something in the air the other day. There are things we can do locally. If we're going to have rules and regulations we need to make sure our residents are complying," Gunter said.

Rich Carr, code enforcement division manager, said it is very rare for them to find someone in the act of dumping clippings, though he saw someone raking piles of grass into a canal on social media.

"We found the location and it turned out to be a young kid. His mom told him to cut the grass. He didn't know the law and the parents didn't know he was doing it," Carr said.

Carr said the city puts out a lot of educational material about yard waste to commercial contractors in the city and that education is the key.

Gunter said the big problem is that not enough federal and state money has been applied to deal with water quality issues, and that municipalities have to come together as one voice.

Army Corps announces public meetings for Lake Okeechobee Watershed study

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District announces a series of public meetings for the Draft Integrated Project Implementation Report (PIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP).

Each of the following public meetings is scheduled from 6-8 p.m.:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Lee County Mosquito and Hyacinth Control Districts
15191 Homestead Road
Lehigh Acres, FL 33971

Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Indian River State College
Wolf High-Technology Center
2400 SE Salerno Road
Stuart, FL 34997

Thursday, August 2, 2018
Indian River State College
Williamson Conference and Education Center
2229 NW 9th Avenue
Okeechobee, FL 34972

The Corps proposes an above-ground wetland attenuation feature (WAF) and several aquifer storage & recovery (ASR) wells in an area north of the lake. The proposed plan also calls for restoration of 5,300 acres of wetlands in the area. The draft document was released for review on July 6, 2018.

“This plan provides additional flexibility for managing water north of the lake in a manner consistent with Everglades’ restoration goals,” said Lisa Aley, Planning Technical Lead for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. “We hope that people join us for the public meetings, and look forward to hearing from people living and working in the area on this proposed plan.”

The Draft LOWRP Integrated PIR/EIS document is available at: www.saj.usace.army.mil/LOWRP/.

The Corps will accept public comment through August 20.

Bonita Springs officials want to improve city's water quality

The City of Bonita Springs is looking for ways to prevent future flooding in the event of a hurricane.

On Wednesday, the city council drafted a letter to the South Florida Water Management District, requesting $200,000 for the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program to conduct a study.

“We are working right now with dealing with the post-Irma flooding situations and water quality problems that we see throughout our community," said Jennifer Hecker, the Executive Director of the CHNEP.

"We need some additional information.”

One of the topics that the city wants to be handled is the issue of water quality.

Red tide blooms along the coast have caused problems in the past, and they hope that this study can look into the issue of water quality.

They hope to prevent or minimize the red tide problem.

“The water moves up towards Sanibel all the way down towards Marco," said Mike Parsons, Professor of Marine Science at FGCU, "so the currents and the winds are really driving the red tide, and it is getting nutrients indirectly from our coastal waters.”

Charlotte County experts look to use seagrass as natural solution to alage problem

What if the answer to ending the algae emergency was in your backyard?

Some homeowners are fighting the green gunk by planting seagrass gardens.

But others say it’s not that simple.

“My partner grew up on this river, and she said when she was a child, there was seagrass just growing, and you could see in the clear canyon colored water,” said retired public health nurse Holley Raune.

That was long before Raune moved to her house 15 years ago along the Caloosahatchee River, but today, it’s a different story.

“The water’s not clear enough for me to see it now, so I think it’s gone,” Raune said.

Not only does seagrass play a vital role in the community, but experts say it’s a natural way to restore water quality.

“That’s really important in supporting our fisheries and marine life,” said Jennifer Hecker, executive director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.

CHNEP citizen scientist Leonard Cardone added it could provide a solution.

“The tape grass does remove some of the nutrients in the water that are creating some of the issues,” Cardone said.

Southwest Florida neighbors asked for more seagrass to fight algae and red tide.

CHNEP pulled together the funding, obtained the necessary permits and found volunteer homeowners to monitor five different sites from their backyard.

What started as a 20-square-foot patch could expand to an acre in a year’s time.

“So this whole area behind my house can be covered in grass in a years time,” Cardone said.

But the main thing this project hopes to fight might just hinder its success.

“Algae can block the sunlight to the sea grasses,” Hecker said. “Right now we’re seeing about 6 inches less of depth from where that sunlight is penetrating then we did a month ago.”

This is a two-year pilot program that CHNEP will use to help with future restoration projects along the Caloosahatchee.

State grants to help with algae blooms

TALLAHASSEE — A $3 million grant program for local governments to clean toxic algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries has been started by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office Monday announced the grant program, which follows his July 9 executive order declaring a state of emergency for Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties because of algae outbreaks. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said the money should help local communities “address immediate impacts,” as efforts move forward on longer-term projects, including construction of an Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir and restoration of the Herbert Hoover Dike. The grant money is intended to target cleanup in “significantly impacted” public areas, such as marinas and boat ramps.

The outbreaks of toxic algae stem from polluted water being discharged from Lake Okeechobee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The releases maintain the water level in the lake to try to reduce the chance of a major breach of the dike, which is basically a 30-foot-high earthen structure that surrounds the lake. Earlier this month, the corps said that $514.2 million is heading toward speeding up repairs to the dike. The toxic blooms have sparked a political firestorm that has involved local, state and federal officials.

Democrats have blamed Republican leaders in Tallahassee for failing to take action the past two decades to clean the waters. Scott, who is trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, has blamed his Democratic opponent for not pushing Congress to act on water issues affecting South Florida.

When Cape Coral drained the swamp it spurred environmental changes

It seems that throughout human history, the starting place for moving forward has been from as far back of forward as it’s possible to get. It’s the pendulum effect. A good example of this phenomenon is the effect that the extensive canal dredging in Cape Coral had upon environmental protection legislation in Florida.

1. In his Aug. 13, 2000, story, “Cape Development Affects Environmental Attitudes,” News-Press writer, Kevin Lollar, quoted a description of Cape Coral before development, by then deputy director of the Lee County Division of Planning, as follows: “No doubt it had a significant mangrove forest system. North of Gator Slough Canal, you would have had a matrix of pine flatwoods intermixed with wet prairies and dotted with small forested wetland systems like cypress domes and freshwater marshes.” Wildlife included panthers, bobcats and foxes, otters and alligators, and flocks of spoonbills said to be so dense they turned the skies pink in the morning.

2. Within two years of the start of Cape Coral, the land was stripped, reshaped and deeply scarred with miles of canals, “… without sacrificing,” boasted a 1959 ad, “any of the … virgin beauty of the magnificent tropical setting.”

Haines City re-implements fire, stormwater fees

HAINES CITY — Assessments came with some pushback from just a few residents, but the City Commission moved forward with re-implementing them during Thursday’s meeting.

The commission voted 5-0 to keep both the stormwater fee and fire assessment fee in place. Those fees can only be used toward funding those particular services.

With the questions being asked about the two fees, commissioners advocated workshops to help educate the public in how the assessments work. Mayor Morris West inquired about bringing back a Citizen’s Academy.

“The water continues to run off, ruining the roads, eating at the foundation of my house,” resident Steven Glazier said. “I haven’t seen any justification for additional taxes. I can’t tell that anything is being done.”

Only very large homes would be assessed more based on a new methodology which continues to pay for, in part, costs resulting from state and federal mandates by using equivalent residential units or ERUs. Special counsel Mark Lawson said most of the single-family homeowners in the city would not see a rate increase from last year’s charge of $59.24 for a typical house.

“At the end of the day, we’re putting money toward nonsense,” resident Patrick Phillips said.

Larger parcels with more impervious area, such as roofs and parking lots, will pay slightly more. Revenue from the assessment will only fund about $593,000 or 37 percent of a $1.37 million stormwater budget.

“Stormwater – not only is it runoff – but it’s the damage it does physically and externally,” Lawson said.

Submerged Caloosahatchee River gardens could help aquatic life bounce back

Beneath the turbid waters of the Caloosahatchee near Fort Myers, little gardens are growing.

Marine ecology experts teamed up with trained volunteers and private homeowners to plant these plots of submerged aquatic vegetation.

Their goal: Produce seeds that, when conditions are right, will help restore the river’s seagrass meadows.

Seagrasses provide a multitude of benefits to marine wildlife and water quality. But they’ve lost a lot of ground in recent years, adding to the estuary’s decline.

Too much salt or too little sunlight can kill the grasses. From 2006 to 2012, back-to-back years of winter drought made the salinity lethal to much of the grass in the river’s upper estuary near Fort Myers.

The good news: Seagrass restoration efforts have a fighting chance to succeed, despite the toxic blue-green algae that’s oozed down the Caloosahatchee in recent weeks.

However, the blue-green algae is a worrisome complication, said Jennifer Hecker.

She's executive director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, which last month launched the area's most-recent seagrass gardening initiative.

The algae fouling portions of the river doesn’t poison plants. When combined with other sediments clouding the Caloosahatchee, "it forms a blanket that can block light, even in shallow areas," Hecker said.