Water-Related News

Federal wetlands protections threatened by bill advancing in FL legislature

A Florida Senate committee, Wednesday, advanced a bill (SB 1402) which aims to place a longstanding federal program that protects wetlands through the Clean Water Act under state control.

Right now, under the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers holds permitting authority when it comes to proposed developments on environmentally sensitive wetlands in Florida. This designation is known as “Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority” under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

However, a companion bills moving rapidly in both chambers of the Florida Legislature would put such decisions in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Bill sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, R-Logwood, said that if approved by the EPA, the legislation would eliminate a redundancy in the development permitting process for freshwater wetlands.

“This is permitted by federal law so that the state can administer, without duplication, with federal law itself, the Section 404 permits, but the actual implementation of this and the execution of this will be done as if the DEP is acting as the Corps of Engineers, and will be done in accordance with the requirements of federal law,” said Sen. Simmons. “There will be no lessening of the requirements for these dredge permits.”

Environmental advocates oppose the bill over concerns that it will fast track permitting for development of wetlands. They point to the importance of Florida’s wetland ecosystems as critical habitat for endangered species, as a source of fresh drinking water, and as a vital aspect to Florida’s natural infrastructure in the event of hurricanes and floods. One acre of wetlands can store about one million gallons of water. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Amber Crooks said she’s also concerned about the DEP’s ability to take on the additional work.

Free Event-Charlotte Harbor Kids Fest Feb. 24 at Port Charlotte Beach Park

Get up, Get Out, Get Active! Come join the Charlotte County Community Services Department and our sponsors Pediatric Dentistry, Fraternal Order of Police, Golisano Children’s Hospital, Big Time Entertainment, Southwest Florida Counseling Center and the YMCA Y’s Men for the fourth annual Charlotte Harbor Kids Fest. The event will take place Saturday Feb. 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Port Charlotte Beach Park, 4500 Harbor Blvd. in Port Charlotte. This free event features informational booths from many area organizations and businesses who provide services and programs for the children of Charlotte County. Each booth will offer a fun game or activity and many will give away promotional items. Lunch is provided for children.

For information contact Marc Solomon, at 941-627-1628, ext. 103 or marc.solomon@CharlotteCountyFL.gov.

FGCU student-scientists get to use USF's new Research Vessel Hogarth

About 40 Florida Gulf Coast University students got hands-on experience in offshore marine research this week, thanks to a collaboration between FGCU and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.

The opportunity came through a local visit by FIO’s brand-new ship, the 78-foot-long R/V W.T. Hogarth.

This boat, whose home port is St. Petersburg, was built by Duckworth Steel in Tarpon Springs, and is named for William Hogarth, a recently-retired dean of the USF College of Marine Science, and a leader in the scientific response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The state paid for nearly half of the $6 million vessel, with the remainder coming from the city of St. Petersburg, FIO, the University of South Florida, FGCU and other member-universities.

FGCU’s Vester marine research station in Bonita Springs owns boats, but not of the size and sophistication of the Hogarth.

Using the local fleet, “we tend to work inshore, in the estuaries,” said Darren Rumbold, FGCU oceanography professor.

The Hogarth, Rumbold noted, has a deck big enough to hold the students, two faculty members and a generous supply of collection gear.

On Wednesday and Thursday, different groups of about 20 students accompanied Rumbold and Associate Professor David Fugate on day trips that took them 30 miles out into the Gulf.

There, they took water and sediment samples using a CDT Rosette. That’s a cylindrical frame holding water sampling bottles and instruments for measuring depth, temperature and salinity.

Southwest Florida citizens showing leadership in climate change issues

SARASOTA – With President Donald Trump withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Congress still pondering legislation but not acting and Florida Gov. Rick Scott banning state environmental regulators from even using terms such as "global warming," concerned citizens say they cannot wait for leadership on the climate change issue to come from the top. In their recent book "Climate of Hope," former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope, former national executive director of the Sierra Club, say that leadership has to rise from the grassroots.

"The good news is that's already starting to happen, as voters all over the country see storms growing stronger and more frequent, as they see floods where they never had them before, and as they suffer through droughts that are worse than they've ever experienced," Bloomberg writes. "Americans are a lot smarter than the elected officials they send to Washington. Our country's citizens want to avoid these disasters — and they know they can do something about it."

Southwest Florida is a prime example of a community in which citizens are not only expressing concerns about climate change and its possible impacts, such as sea level rise, they are uniting and acting on those concerns.

DEP supports Fort Myers toxic sludge clean-up, still requires testing

More than 55 years after the City of Fort Myers started dumping toxic sludge on a Dunbar-area field, it has decided to clean it up – completely removing the soil and sediment, a plan estimated to cost as much as $17 million, according to the city.

City Manager Saeed Kazemi said in a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that the city would be required to do more testing on the site only if it intended to do a partial cleanup or place a soil cap over the former dump.

But that's not the plan, according to Kazemi. "The city of Fort Myers is pursuing the complete removal of the lime sludge ...," he wrote on February 9.

Before doing that however, the city will have to submit a plan to the Florida DEP.

A letter Jon Iglehart, the department's director of district management, sent to Kazemi on Wednesday, laid out the next step in the clean-up process. The city will have to provide a notice:

  • Describing the type of contamination
  • Estimating the volume of soil and sediment to be removed
  • Proposing the methods used to dispose of what is removed.

The city's move also doesn't let it off the hook when it comes to further testing of the site and Fort Myers officials must continue to try to determine the source of the contamination in the residential neighborhood around the site.

City of Cape Coral says residents’ conservation efforts are keeping canal levels stable

Cape Coral residents are doing their part in conserving the city’s water resources during this year’s dry season. As the city approaches the peak months of the dry season, the supply of irrigation water is much improved from this time last year. The city’s freshwater canal system has about 1.75 billion gallons of water, which is about 60 billion gallons more than 2017. These canals along with the City’s reclaimed water system supply water to residents for irrigating their lawns.

“Overall demand has decreased, and our residents are doing an excellent job conserving our limited water supply,” said City Manager John Szerlag. “The community has stepped up, and if we continue to work together, there should be no need for tighter watering restrictions.”

Last year, drought conditions and overuse of the water supply forced the City to declare a water emergency and impose a one-day watering schedule.

Another byproduct of residents following the watering schedule has been a significant reduction in the number of watering citations issued this season. In January, Code Compliance issued 467 watering citations compared to 1,243 citations in 2017.”

“We have a few months before rainy season arrives, which means we must continue to follow the watering schedule,” added Szerlag. “With our residents’ help, we can get through the dry season with healthy lawns and stable canal levels.”

The two-day watering schedule applies to all residents whether they use the City’s dual-water system or private wells for irrigation. The watering days and hours depend on the last number of the home address.

DEP to drop controversial water pollution regulations and start over

Florida regulators are withdrawing a set of controversial standards for how much pollution can be dumped into the state’s waterways.

The standards drew strong opposition from environmental groups, local governments and Native American tribes. Now the Department of Environmental Protection says it will start over and work with one of those groups to produce new pollution standards.

"DEP has identified an opportunity to partner with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to gather additional data as we move forward to protect Florida’s water," agency spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times .

She said that with their help, the DEP wants to "update the state’s water quality criteria to ensure the department is relying on the latest science."

Attorneys for the Seminole Tribe did not return a call seeking comment Friday. No one at the Miccosukee Tribe offices answered the phone.

The pollution regulations that are being withdrawn marked the first update to the state’s water quality standards in 24 years. When they were first unveiled in 2016, critics said they would allow polluters to increase the level of toxic chemicals they dump into Florida bays, rivers and lakes. Those most at risk would be children and people who eat a lot of seafood.

The 2016 standards, which were strongly supported by business and manufacturing interests, called for increasing the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals and also raising the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens.

Charlotte County to hire new utilities director

MURDOCK – Charlotte County commissioners are expected to approve a new utilities director this week, their sixth in the last 15 years.

The appointment of Cuban-born Julian Deleon is set to become effective March 21. He will make an annual salary of $120,000.

For the past six years, Deleon was city manager of Avon Park, a town of roughly 10,000 residents and the oldest city in Highlands County. He supervised about 50 people in that position.

In his job application, Deleon cited "the difficult politics in Avon Park" as his reason for wanting to change employment.

Deleon succeeds Travis Mortimer, county capital projects manager, who was named interim CCU director following the resignation of Gary Hubbard.

Hubbard was the most recent utilities director to resign the post, following Terri Couture in 2015, Jeffrey Pearson in 2009 and David Schlobohm, who quit in 2007.

SFWMD unveils optimized EAA storage reservoir plan

Alternative plan reduces harmful discharges to the northern estuaries, delivers CERP goal for clean water to the Everglades

WEST PALM BEACH – The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) at its Governing Board meeting today unveiled a cost-effective alternative that optimizes the benefits of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir. SFWMD's team of modelers, professional engineers, scientists, planners and water managers worked to optimize the two best buy alternatives presented to the SFWMD Governing Board, Florida House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee and Florida Senate Appropriations Committee in January.

Optimized Alternative C240A, unveiled to the public at SFWMD's Governing Board meeting in Orlando, borrows aspects of the previous five alternatives and combines them into a project that will meet one of the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) by sending an annual average of approximately 300,000 more acre-feet of clean water south to the Everglades. The District is committed to delivering the environmental benefits of this project. The additional flows to the Everglades will be protected by rule or reservation and achieve state water quality standards to comply with state and federal laws. The project will also reduce the number of discharge events from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries, when used in conjunction with authorized projects, by 63 percent.

Alternative C240A would meet state water quality standards by utilizing a new 6,500-acre Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) in combination with existing STAs and Flow Equalization Basins (FEBs), such as the A-1 FEB. The new reservoir would store 240,000 acre-feet of water on the 10,100-acre site comprised of the District-owned A-2 parcel and lands to the west as identified in Senate Bill 10. C240A would work in conjunction with Gov. Rick Scott's Restoration Strategies for a total of 350,000 acre-feet of above-ground storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

This optimized alternative would cost approximately $1.34 billion to build in addition to the costs already included in the congressionally authorized Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).

For modeling data and more information on the previously held meetings, including agendas and presentations, visit www.sfwmd.gov/eaareservoir.

Mark your calendar for this year’s Southwest Florida Birding Seminar

Mark your calendar now to attend the fourth annual Southwest Florida Birding Seminar on Friday, March 16, and Saturday, March 17. The annual event explores the science and value of birds in Southwest Florida and beyond.

The event, sponsored by UF/IFAS Lee County Extension and Conservation 20/20, will be hosted at Florida Gulf Coast University and include field trips to local birding hot spots. The seminar welcomes birders of all levels and anyone interested to learn more about birds.

Activities on March 16 are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include:

  • Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve bird-watching tour – Participants will join a guide for a sunrise tour along the elevated boardwalk at this popular wetland preserve in Fort Myers.
  • San Carlos Bay - Bunche Beach Preserve bird-watching tour – Participants will join a Lee County Bird Patrol guide to explore the natural beach habitat at this Conservation 20/20 preserve, which is critical to the survival of many shorebird species.
  • Photographing Birds instructional workshop at Harns Marsh in Lehigh Acres – Participants will learn beginners’ tips for photographing birds, including scouting for birds, anticipating behavior, and recommended camera angles to tell a unique story through images.

  • Activities on March 17 are from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Florida Gulf Coast University and include presentations from expert speakers. Topics will included rare birds, bird migration in Southwest Florida, and tips for local birding adventures. Among the list of speakers are Yve Morrell, a Naples-based birder who completed an American Bird Association big year competition in 2017, and Tyler Beck, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission focused on conservation efforts to protect the federally endangered Everglades snail kite.

    Registration is $35 for both days, which includes a catered lunch on Saturday. To register, visit https://2018birdingseminar.eventbrite.com.

    For more information, contact Jason Boeckman, Conservation 20/20 Coordinator, at jboeckman@leegov.com, or 239-204-1125.

    New satellite data confirm accelerated sea level rise

    USF marine science professor Gary Mitchum is part of a team using statistical analysis of satellite data to enhance previous studies based on tide gauge data

    TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2018) -- Twenty-five years of satellite data prove climate models are correct in predicting that sea levels will rise at an increasing rate.

    In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that since 1993, ocean waters have moved up the shore by almost 1 millimeter per decade. That’s on top of the 3 millimeter steady annual increase. This acceleration means we’ll gain an additional millimeter per year for each of the coming decades, potentially doubling what would happen to the sea level by 2100 if the rate of increase was constant.

    “The acceleration predicted by the models has now been detected directly from the observations. I think this is a game-changer as far as the climate change discussion goes,” said co-author Gary Mitchum, PhD, associate dean and professor at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. “For example, the Tampa Bay area has been identified as one of 10 most vulnerable areas in the world to sea level rise and the increasing rate of rise is of great concern.”

    Dr. Mitchum is part of a team led by University of Colorado Boulder Professor Steve Nerem, PhD, that used statistical analysis to enhance previous studies based on tide gauge data, which have also suggested acceleration over the last century. However, satellites give a better view of sea level rise, because samples are collected over the open ocean, rather than just along the coastline.

    Experts have long said warming temperatures are heating ocean waters and melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. As it continues, the next generation will experience a far different landscape than it does today.

    Floods are getting worse, and 2,500 chemical sites lie in the water’s path

    Anchored in flood-prone areas in every American state are more than 2,500 sites that handle toxic chemicals, a New York Times analysis of federal floodplain and industrial data shows. About 1,400 are located in areas at highest risk of flooding.

    As flood danger grows — the consequence of a warming climate — the risk is that there will be more toxic spills like the one that struck Baytown, Tex., where Hurricane Harvey swamped a chemicals plant, releasing lye. Or like the ones at a Florida fertilizer plant that leaked phosphoric acid and an Ohio refinery that released benzene.

    Flooding nationwide is likely to worsen because of climate change, an exhaustive scientific report by the federal government warned last year. Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency.

    At the same time, rising sea levels combined with more frequent and extensive flooding from coastal storms like hurricanes may increase the risk to chemical facilities near waterways.

    The Times analysis looked at sites listed in the federal Toxic Release Inventory, which covers more than 21,600 facilities across the country that handle large amounts of toxic chemicals harmful to health or the environment.

    Of those sites, more than 1,400 were in locations the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers to have a high risk of flooding. An additional 1,100 sites were in areas of moderate risk. Other industrial complexes lie just outside these defined flood-risk zones, obscuring their vulnerability as flood patterns shift and expand.

    35 manatee deaths in January blamed on cold weather

    Cold waters in January caused the deaths of 35 manatees across Florida, wildlife officials say.

    The animals died due to cold stress syndrome brought on by low water temperatures, the Bradenton Herald reports. The deaths occurred between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, according to a preliminary report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

    Officials say there were five times as many manatee deaths last month compared to the same timeframe in 2017, the Associated Press reports. However, it’s still much less than the 151 manatees killed by a cold snap in January 2010.

    Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that water temperatures never climbed above 67.1 degrees at Port Manatee in January, according to the Herald. The average temperature was 57.6 degrees.

    Cold stress syndrome can occur when marine mammals are immersed in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time. Manatees begin to experience hypothermia, which causes their organs to fail and their skin to slough off.

    In total, 87 manatees were found dead across the Sunshine State last month, the Herald reports. The deaths are measured in eight categories, ranging from natural to undetermined.

    Wildlife officials told the AP that boat collisions killed 10 of the animals statewide last month.

    Mote announces plan to move HQ to Nathan Benderson Park

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    On Feb. 8, 2018, surrounded by some of southwest Florida’s most influential residents, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, made the announcement many in the area had been waiting to hear: Mote will build a spectacular new Aquarium on mainland Sarasota County.

    The new Mote Science Education Aquarium will be designed and located strategically to serve a much greater cross-section of residents and visitors in Florida, and enhance ocean literacy opportunities and impacts for all. Mote leaders have had preliminary discussions with appropriate officials from Sarasota County to understand the potential opportunities for use of approximately 5 acres of county-owned land within Nathan Benderson Park, a highly accessible location in a hotspot of community growth adjacent to Interstate 75. The interstate’s intersection with University Parkway hosts an average 60,000 drivers on both sides daily, allowing an expected average of 43 million drivers to view Mote’s new facility each year. With Mote’s Feb. 8 announcement of the overall concept and goals for Mote Science Education Aquarium, Mote is now planning to initiate a formal request for a lease to be approved.

    Powering this major advance is Mote’s new, $130-million capital construction fundraising effort, Oceans for All: Improving Access to Marine Science & Technology. Contingent on progress toward this goal, Mote leaders aim to begin construction in 2019. The fundraising effort started strong on Feb. 8 with the announcement that commitments for over 20 percent of facility’s total cost have already been made.

    Save the date for 2018 Environmental Summit

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    Where: Sudakoff Center, New College of Florida, Sarasota
    When: April 25–27
    What: Connect. Engage. Activate.

    The Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida (SEC) is once again facilitating a community-wide event to bring together area scientists, planners, managers, fishers, farmers, business people, students, elected officials, and the environmentally curious to connect, engage and activate.

    Get ready for a fast-paced, engaging program with expert panel discussions and provocative talks that weave connections between our environmental heritage and a resilient future, between the health of natural habitats and our quality of life. Two full-day sessions at New College of Florida April 26-27 will explore topics such as:

    • Our rich environmental legacy: can we connect it to our future?
    • Are we on our way to restoring fishable, swimable waters?
    • Bringing back oysters, scallops, clams, seagrass, and marsh
    • Uniquely Florida: conversation with the Directors of Florida’s 4 Estuaries of National Significance
    • Science-Outreach-Advocacy-Lobbying: what’s the difference and how do we work together?
    • What’s coming with climate change?
    • Plastic, nutrient, and bacterial pollution: what’s the solution?
    • Explore the urban ecology of Phillippi Creek
    • Celebrate the Wild and Scenic Myakka River
    • Meet the architects of success in local land conservation

    It all kicks off with a Keynote Reception at Mote Marine Laboratory Wednesday evening April 25. Network and find inspiration at our Bayfront Reception Thursday evening April 26. Join the SEC email list for updates as the program develops!

    Learn more about sponsorships at the link below!

    Everglades restoration: Water storage, political will key to success

    Michael Grunwald, a journalist who works as a senior writer for Politico Magazine, gave the keynote speech Friday at the 27th annual Southwest Florida Water Resources Conference at Pelican Preserve in Fort Myers.

    He is the author of “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise.” He addressed what’s happening with the Everglades more than a decade after his book was published in 2006.

    Grunwald, who spoke for 40 minutes, provided a few quick history lessons and personal anecdotes along the way, painting a picture of how politics has mostly gotten in the way of significant progress.

    First, it’s important to understand the importance of water resources, which he called “the most precious resources that Florida has.”

    “Getting the water right — it’s a really big deal,” he said. “I think the fate of Everglades restoration will tell us a lot about this crazy experimentation of human habitation on Earth.”

    Senate committee approves statewide fracking ban

    A controversial method of extracting natural gas would be banned statewide under a bill approved by a Senate panel Monday.

    But while the Senate is moving forward on a ban on fracking — a process whereby a mixture of water and chemicals is forced deep underground at high pressure to release natural gas — its chances look slim in the House.

    Anti-fracking activists say the possibility of fracking fluids polluting groundwater is high in Florida, where slabs of limestone could make it easier for leaking chemicals from fracking sites to seep upward and pollute the aquifer that South Florida uses for drinking water.

    The bill sponsor, state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, held up a chunk of porous, 125,000-year-old limestone from Miami-Dade County and said, “This is what our state is built on, and this is the reason for this bill.”

    Advocates for fracking disagree.

    “You’re sending a message to the rest of the country that fracking is not good, and I think that’s the wrong message,” said Eric Hamilton, of the Florida Petroleum Council, which lobbies for fossil fuel interests. “It may not be advantageous to use it at this time, but as we find additional reservoirs, it may be a technology we can rely on. And it can be done safely.”

    The bill appears to be dead on arrival in the House.

    Billy's Creek in Fort Myers: Good news, bad news

    There’s good news and bad news for historic Billy’s Creek, a much-messed-with waterway that runs almost five miles past more than 1,000 Lee County homes before it empties into the Caloosahatchee River.

    The creek's huge basin extends east of Interstate 75 and collects runoff from much of urban east Fort Myers as well as the industrial areas in its ditch- and canal-drained headwaters. It was named for Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs, who was forced out of Florida by the U.S. Army and surrendered on the creek's banks in 1858.

    First, the bad news: It’s filthy.

    Beyond the downed trees and trash that all but choke the creek off in places, creating squishy berms of bags, bottles and rotting algae, its water is full of dangerous fecal bacteria.

    Something wicked in the water: Lee and Collier led the state last year in cases of

    Multiple databases, that include city of Fort Myers and Lee County tests, show that starting in 2001, its enteric bacteria readings consistently exceed what the state says is safe. It averaged nearly 20 times over the warning level at one test station for more than 14 years, and once reached 56 times the safe level. Yet the creek has not been declared impaired — bureaucrat-ese for polluted — nor has any agency or government taken official responsibility for restoring it.

    The public health concerns are serious. This kind of bacteria, Enterococci, show that water has been polluted with feces, which can cause disease. If people go in water tainted with it, they can get gastrointestinal illness, infections and rashes. What’s more, multi-drug resistant Enterococcal strains are now one of the leading causes of hospital-acquired infections.

    SWFWMD workshop Feb. 8th on North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes operational guidelines

    The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is hosting two workshops for residents who live along the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes in Polk County. Lakefront residents of Lakes Conine, Fannie, Haines, Hamilton, Henry, Lowery, Rochelle, Smart and the Peace Creek Canal are invited to attend to learn more about the current structure operational guidelines.

    The workshops will take place on Thursday, Feb. 8 from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 13 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Chain of Lakes Complex in the Poolside Room, located at 210 Cypress Gardens Blvd. in Winter Haven. There will be an open house the first hour of each workshop, followed by a presentation and open discussion.

    The District is engaging and collaborating with the public as a first step in the process of reviewing the operational guidelines for the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes. Lakes Conine, Haines and Rochelle are included in the system, but do not have structures.

    Members of the public interested in receiving future lake management communications can visit our website at WaterMatters.org/Structures to sign up for information or to submit questions.

    New Critical Wildlife Area in-water markers to be installed in Lee County

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will soon be installing in-water markers around five new Critical Wildlife Areas in Lee County. Each of these CWAs support significant numbers of nesting birds, including brown pelicans, great blue herons, great egrets and white ibises, as well as state-threatened little blue herons and tricolored herons. The locations of these CWAs are: Hemp Key CWA – A 5.7-acre island within the Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, west of Pine Island, a part of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Broken Islands CWA – Three mangrove islands within the Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, northwest of Pineland. Matanzas Pass Island CWA – A spoil island northwest of the Matanzas Pass Bridge and San Carlos Island in Fort Myers Beach, adjacent to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. Big Carlos Pass CWA – A mangrove island on the southeast side of Estero Island, within the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. Coconut Point East CWA – A mangrove island northeast of Big Hickory Island, within the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. The posting of these CWAs is a continuation of an unprecedented conservation effort by the FWC to protect vulnerable wildlife species in the state. In November 2016, the Commission approved a proposal to designate 13 new CWAs and improve five existing CWAs. Prior to the approval, FWC staff held public workshops across the state to gather feedback and improve proposals. CWAs play an integral part in the protection of sensitive wildlife by minimizing human disturbances that can disrupt critical life activities such as breeding, feeding and migration. Markers will be placed around the CWAs at distances ranging from 100 to 150 feet. Broken Islands CWA will be closed seasonally, from March 1 to Aug. 31, while the remaining four CWAs will be marked for year-round closure. Vessels and fishing are prohibited within posted areas. A violation would constitute a second-degree misdemeanor. FWC staff will be working closely with partners to ensure educational material regarding the locations and regulations for each new CWA are readily available. Markers will be installed at all five CWAs before Feb. 28, 2018, in time for peak breeding season for the birds nesting on these islands. To learn more about Florida’s CWAs, visit MyFWC.com/CWA.

    Punta Gorda to replace water meters

    The City of Punta Gorda has contracted with National Metering Services, Inc. for routine meter replacement in your area to improve the services provided to Water Utility customers. All water meters are located outside of your home or place of business. Access to home or place of business will not be required.

    The replacement process takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete; during which time, water service interruption will occur. Customers are asked to please secure loose pets on property and make sure the meter area is clear for the safety of maintenance personnel.

    All personnel are required to be in uniform and display I.D. at all times. Additionally, they have had background checks completed by the State Police prior to employment. If no one is home or our place of business is closed, you will receive a notice on your door stating that your meter was upgraded.

    For additional information or questions about this project, please call 1-888-448-0009 or visit: www.nmsnj.com.

    Peace River water authority eyes long-term improvement plans

    Check the Water Atlas calendar of events for upcoming PRMRWA meetings

    CHARLOTTE COUNTY – Although the regional water supply system currently offers capacity that far exceeds demand, an aggressive schedule of water infrastructure projects will be unveiled at the next Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority board meeting.

    In the last year, the water authority delivered an average of 25.5 million gallons of water every day to an ever-growing population of more than 900,000 people in its four-county service area, or about 73 percent of capacity. That leaves about 9.2 mgd remaining for future water-use demands.

    The water authority’s biggest customer, Charlotte County, is allocated 16.1 million gallons per day from the Peace River Water Treatment Facility, which supplies the vast majority of water to the county. However, Charlotte is projected to use only 14.0 mgd in 2018.

    Figuring in population growth estimates and water-use trends, the county will not require additional water supply until 2031. Despite this envious situation, water authority members will discuss a draft five-year capital improvements program and 20-year capital needs assessment at their Feb. 2 meeting.

    "The water authority has a very ambitious 20-year capital plan," said Travis Mortimer, capital projects manager for Charlotte County.

    Current planning projections for the five-year capital improvements program, from fiscal year 2019 to FY 2023, call for $94.8 million in total projects, with $50.1 million expected to be paid from grant money. Of this total, Charlotte County is targeted to receive $60 million in infrastructure improvements.

    Supreme Court rules that challenges to WOTUS should be filed in district courts

    The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that challenges to the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” rule must be filed in federal district courts, as opposed to the federal appeals courts.

    The ruling marked the first opinion of the month. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion, which was filled with water puns, though she was not on the bench Monday.

    The court heard oral arguments in the case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, in October.

    The Supreme Court met to weigh in on which courts had jurisdiction for lawsuits challenging WOTUS, not to decide the merits of the 2015 water rule, which vastly expanded the definition of a waterway that can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

    The definition of a waterway under the rule includes everything from a simple drainage ditch to streams and rivers. That means many more areas would fall under EPA's enforcement jurisdiction and control, from farmers to individual homeowners to oil companies, critics of the rule say.

    The National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit challenging WOTUS in federal district courts after agencies promulgated the rule, and the cases were then consolidated and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the 6th Circuit.

    The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 ruled that appeals courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the water rule.

    Research finds discrepancies between satellite, global model estimates of land water storage

    Research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that calculations of water storage in many river basins from commonly used global computer models differ markedly from independent storage estimates from GRACE satellites.

    The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 22, raise questions about global models that have been used in recent years to help assess water resources and potentially influence management decisions.

    The study used measurements from GRACE satellites from 2002 to 2014 to determine water storage changes in 186 river basins around the world and compared the results with simulations made by seven commonly used models.

    The GRACE satellites, operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, measure changes in the force of gravity across the Earth, a value influenced by changes in water storage in an area. The computer models used by government agencies and universities were developed to assess historical and/or scenario-based fluxes in the hydrological cycle, such as stream flow, evapotranspiration and storage changes, including soil moisture and groundwater.

    Army Corps may close popular Franklin Lock beach on the Caloosahatchee upriver from Fort Myers

    It’s 30 miles upriver from the Gulf and sometimes dangerously polluted, but a small, south Olga beach on the Caloosahatchee River is still a locally well-loved spot, and some residents are dismayed the government might close it.

    To be clear, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam plus its recreation areas on both sides of the river, is considering only shutting down the waterfront sandy stretch — not kicking the public out of the whole place. In addition to swimmers and sunbathers, anglers, boaters, picnickers, campers and birdwatchers use the area, and could keep doing so, officials say.

    But the waterfront beach fronting a buoy-marked swimming area would go, if the Corps' proposals are adopted.

    That would be a heartbreak for people like Fort Myers resident, notary Cathy Whidden Solis, who's officiated at least 10 weddings on its pale sand. "So many people enjoy that park."

    Everglades reservoir project could take years, official says

    After receiving legislative approval last spring, a massive reservoir intended to help shift water south from Lake Okeechobee remains years away from reality, the head of the South Florida Water Management District said Wednesday.

    A big factor in the timeline for design and construction of the reservoir is waiting for federal-government approval of its half of the roughly $1.6 billion project, district Executive Director Ernie Marks told members of the House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

    The federal money — needed to trigger two to three years of design work and five to six years of construction — could conservatively take two years to secure, Marks estimated based on past federal performance and authorizations.

    “If we had the funding to do it, we could move forward tomorrow. But we need a commitment from our federal partners that they’re going to pay that half,” Marks said. “We need a commitment from the federal partners that they’re going to open the southern end of the system, because I don’t think it does any of the taxpayers any good to have a giant water resource project out there that we can’t operate.”

    'Land grab' or too small? Everglades reservoir plan denounced by several groups Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, last year made a top priority of passing a bill to create the reservoir. The idea is to move water south from Lake Okeechobee into the reservoir instead of releasing it into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries in Southeast and Southwest Florida.

    Cape Coral seeks state funding for reservoir pipeline

    Last year's drought was a real eye opener for Cape Coral officials struggling to keep enough water in city canals to be able to fight fires and for residents to water their lawns.

    This year, the city has asked for help from the state and its state representative to make sure it is prepared in the future.

    State Rep. Dane Eagle, R-77, has filed an appropriations bill requesting $1,115,000 in state funds for the city of Cape Coral to engineer, design and permit a 3.5-mile pipeline from Southwest Aggregates Mining reservoir in south Charlotte County to Gator Slough in northeast Cape Coral.

    The pipeline would provide an additional freshwater supply for the city's canal system, which provides irrigation and fire protection in Cape Coral.

    Eagle said the issue is both qualitative and quantitative. The pipeline project into the reservoir would allow the city to use that water during drought and for a variety of purposes.