Water-Related News

Edwards, Brandes file bills to prevent wastewater discharges

In order to encourage public and private utilities to upgrade the infrastructure supporting their wastewater treatment and pumping systems, two legislators have filed companion bills to offer incentives and create programs to help utilities gain compliance with today's industry standards.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, has filed HB 837 and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes — whose city has been plagued with sewage spills in recent years — has filed SB 244 — legislation that arose principally out of Hurricane Irma's aftermath.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, more than 9 million gallons of wastewater were released throughout Florida post-Irma because of loss of power, resulting in 989 separate spills due to loss of power. The spills necessitated "boil water notices" in almost 40 counties.

In recent years, heavy rains have exposed deficiencies in utilities' wastewater pumping capabilities throughout the state of Florida, Edwards points out in a media statement. Due to aging infrastructure that has highlighted the presence of decaying pipes, outdated pumping stations, septic tanks that are susceptible to overflows during flooding, and a lack of generators necessary to keep stations online during a power outage, millions of gallons of wastewater have spilled into waterways and onto city streets throughout the state.

The 2017 hurricane season is finally over. Why was it so bad?

Hurricane season just ended. Looking back on devastating storms like Harvey, Irma, and Maria, you may wonder if climate change played a role. Carl Parker, hurricane specialist with The Weather Channel, says there’s little room for doubt that climate change is making hurricanes more intense. Parker: “Yes, the atmosphere is changing, we are seeing storms that are different from anything we’ve seen in the past, and yes, the warming of the climate system does play a significant role in this.” 'There's little room for doubt that #climate change is making hurricanes more intense.' CLICK TO TWEET He says the main reason is warmer ocean waters. Parker: “It takes a lot of different things to make a hurricane, but all of those things being equal, if there’s more warmth in the oceans then there’s going to be more fuel, more power, for the hurricanes.” As the world warms, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor, so a single storm can produce more rainfall. And, he says, warming may cause changes to the jet stream that can slow weather systems down, so a storm may stay longer in one place, increasing the damage. Parker says it can be hard to believe that something as powerful and unpredictable as a hurricane can be influenced by human activity. But … Parker: “As people have more experience with these things … I think that is going to really change their minds.” Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Charlotte Harbor commercial crabbing featured in new TV episode

Episode 3 of the Series Highlights Commercial Crabbing and Native Wildlife Rehabilitation

PUNTA GORDA/ENGLEWOOD BEACH – Commercial crabbing is a family tradition for the Santini Family. Five generations have pulled crab pots from Florida’s waters to make a living. Today, father and son Gene and Nick Santini of Punta Gorda continue the family’s commercial fishing legacy by harvesting blue crabs from Charlotte Harbor.

The latest episode of Adventure & Wildlife – Hosted by the Shark Brothers highlights a morning of crabbing with the Santinis then follows the blue crabs to Peace River Seafood where owner Kelly Beall and general manager Larry Corbin discuss more of the seafood industry. The harvested crabs are either distributed to local restaurants and markets, sold in the seafood market, steamed for 13 minutes and served to Peace River Seafood diners, or shipped out of state such as to Maryland or California,

Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda is featured in the episode’s conservation spotlight segment. Dr. Robin Jenkins, who is the facility’s Director of Veterinary Services, and Executive Director Callie Stahl share what the non-profit facility does to rehabilitate and care for abandoned, injured or orphaned native wildlife.

“Episode 3 of Adventure and Wildlife – Hosted by the Shark Brothers shows how Charlotte Harbor and our environment are intertwined with the local economy. Charlotte County’s economic health is dependent on Charlotte Harbor’s health and through the series, our goal is to raise awareness of the County’s natural product so it is protected for future generations to enjoy,” said Lorah Steiner, Director of Tourism for the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau. The 25-minute video is part of an original series hosted and produced by Sean Paxton and Brooks Paxton II, otherwise known as the Shark Brothers, and a component of the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau marketing program.

The series invites those interested in exploring Florida’s wild outdoors, nature-based activities and soft-adventure to visit the Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast in Southwest Florida. The series is available online at AdventureAndWildlife.com and viewers can stay up-to-date with the show hosts including participating in Facebook Live events at Facebook.com/adventureandwildlifeseries

Additional episodes of Adventure and Wildlife – Hosted by the Shark Brothers will be released at later dates featuring the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities the area offers.

Users are encouraged to share the videos on social media and use the hashtags #bestsideoutside, #ecologinomical, #thesharkbrothers and #adventureandwildlife

Each year, the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau conducts marketing, sales and promotional campaigns to increase awareness of and visitation to Charlotte County. In addition to generating economic contributions, Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach VCB is also focused on developing ecotourism and soft adventure travel. These popular low-impact industries enable the county to preserve the invaluable natural resources that contribute to its ecological and economic health, while distinguishing the area and drawing visitors. During calendar year 2016, Charlotte County welcomed an estimated 406,700 visitors and tourism generated an estimated $362,277,100 in direct expenditures and made an estimated $552 million economic impact in Charlotte County.

Plan floated for new south Lee County flood control effort

Additional resources for flood control in south Lee County could start flowing under a plan to change the division of the region's water management system becomes reality, supporters say.

The South Florida Water Management District is split in to two operational units, the Big Cypress and Okeechobee basins, with all of Lee County in the Okeechobee basin..

While the northern part of Lee County is in the watershed of the Caloosahatchee River, which takes water from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, there is a natural connection between south county and water systems in the Big Cypress basin and the Everglades.

Punta Gorda homeowners fear further erosion from Irma-damaged seawalls

Hurricane Irma damaged many seawalls in Punta Gorda and left homeowners fearing they’ll lose their home to the erosion.

Jim Lanza lives in the Punta Gorda Isles community. He is dealing with damaged seawalls.

“We have a problem that’s not being taken care of because there’s just so much to do,” said Lanza.

Lanza said one of his neighbors lost almost the entire seawall in front of their home.

“We’ve only got about 12 feet of land left," Lanza said. "And we’re losing a little bit every time."

To help address this issue Punta Gorda’s city council discussed boat speed enforcement in the canals. The say the wake left from boats is contributing to the erosion.

The city will add signage warning boaters of the issue, and extra law enforcement will patrol the waters.

The city manager also said more crews would be added to help with the canal's maintenance program. Residents who live on the canal pay for that maintenance.

That program is also stepping up its efforts by helping with temporary fixes like adding sand and dirt to the damaged wall before getting around to building them back up. That won't happen until at least early January.

If you’d like to pick up a sign to help warn boaters to slow down, visit the Punta Gorda's public works facility.

USGS to start monitoring water quality at Warm Mineral Springs

News Image

Beginning Thursday, December 7, staff from the US Geological Survey (USGS), Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center, will start a project to install a monitoring station at Warm Mineral Springs. The purpose of the monitoring station will be to quantify flows from the Spring and record water-quality parameters every 15 minutes.

The USGS currently operates more than 8,100 stream gages across the nation with a mission to collect and disseminate reliable, impartial, and timely information that is needed to understand the nation’s water resources. The USGS and Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) will be working in cooperation to provide funding for the gage installation and maintenance. There will be no expense for the City of North Port.

Continuous monitoring of hydrologic characteristics is intended to provide valuable information to water-resource professionals to better understand and sustainably manage Warm Mineral Springs.

Work will be scheduled to ensure minimal disruption to public operating hours at the Springs. Once installation is completed and the equipment is operational, the data will be available to the City of North Port and the public though the USGS National Water Information System via the internet. The information will be updated every hour.

For more information, contact Customer Service Coordinator Erin Bryce with the General Services Department at (941) 429-7143 or at ebryce@cityofnorthport.com.

Ponce De Leon Inlet dredging scheduled through mid-December

Beginning the week of December 4, 2017 through December 15, 2017 (weather and equipment operation permitting), the Ponce Inlet is scheduled to be dredged. The contractor will off load dredge material at the vacant lot at the southerly end of Colony Point then the material will be transported to another location by dump trucks.

For additional information on this project, please contact Canal Maintenance Supervisor, Cathy Miller, Punta Gorda Public Works Department at (941) 575-5050 between the business hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Learn about crowdsourcing water level data at Dec. 19th webinar

News Image

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with the University of North Carolina, Institute of Marine Sciences, has developed a water level reporting application. The application collects and aggregates reports of observed water levels submitted through citizen scientists. These contributions are photographs with locations and a few simple details that will help weather predictors, scientists, and the public to better visualize and understand changing water levels. This application can be used globally to document high water levels at the coast, such as king tide events, but also far inland, such as snow melt or heavy rainfall events.

Various state and federal partners are currently using water level reports and photographs as communication and model validation tools. Explore the web-based application: What’s your water level? Or log a report from your mobile device.​

Date: Tuesday – December 19, 2017
Time: 12:00 – 1:00 PM ET

About the Presenter

Christine Buckel has been a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science since 2001. She is an ecologist and examines geospatial relationships of species and habitats in the marine environment. Most recently she has been examining these relationships and human interactions under future conditions with sea level rise. She has degrees from University of Nebraska (BS) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (MS).

The webinar is being sponsored by the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA).

Reserve your spot »

DEP secretary rejects judge's recommendation, denies Everglades oil drilling permit

A state agency chief on Monday issued an order denying a permit for oil drilling in western Broward County, despite an administrative law judge's recommendation that the permit be issued.

Judge Gary Early in October said evidence from a hearing in May showed the risk to the Everglades and regional water supplies from oil drilling was insignificant. He recommended the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reverse itself and issue a permit to the Kanter family for an exploratory well west of Miramar.

But DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein wrote Monday that his department had not issued a permit for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades since 1967. And he noted the Legislature, in adopting the Everglades Forever Act in 1991, designated the drilling site as being within the boundaries of Everglades restoration.

"The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is committed to protecting Florida’s one-of-a-kind natural resources, including the environmentally sensitive Everglades, and administering Florida’s environmental laws," DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said. "After careful review and consideration, DEP today executed a final order denying Kanter Real Estate’s application for a drilling permit in the Everglades."

Study to determine number of red snapper in Gulf of Mexico

A team of 21 scientists will conduct a study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The panel of researchers from universities and state and federal agencies was convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and awarded $9.5 million in federal funds, The Sun Herald reported. The project will receive another $2.5 million from the universities.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross highlighted the important of access to and long-term sustainability of red snapped to Gulf communities.

"American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the longterm sustainability of, red snapper," Ross said in a statement announcing the formation of the team. "I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource."

State leader calls on national government to aid toxic sludge cleanup

Pressure is coming from the state and now the federal levels to get toxic sludge cleaned up in Fort Myers.

The City of Fort Myers is releasing their findings on sludge to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, on the same day that Senator Bill Nelson called on the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene.

Friday marked the deadline for the city to hand over test results from recent groundwater tests at six monitoring wells.

NBC2 received the leaked results from attorneys representing residents living in and around South Street.

Arsenic levels five times what's considered safe was discovered in one of the six wells tested, with other wells also testing high for the toxic material.

At first, the results were on a need-to-know basis as city leaders decided not to publicize the data, saying the results were inconclusive.

Clearer view of Irma's impact emerges as Lake Okeechobee water recedes

Lake Okeechobee’s receding water is offering a clearer view of Irma’s environmental impact.

The water is down by about a foot since the hurricane but remains high at more than 16 feet.

Paul Gray of Audubon of Florida says the water and muck stirred from the lake’s bottom prevent sunlight from reaching important plant communities.

And those plants serve as nurseries for fish.

“You have a huge loss in the lake. You lose the plant communities. You lose the bass fishery, and the crappie fishery tends to tank, too. And it may not come back for years because we just have to sit around and wait for a drought.”

He says the state’s largest lake could lose as many as 70 square miles of vegetation although the full scope of the hurricane’s impact won’t be known for months.

Lake Okeechobee serves as the hydrological heart of the Everglades, a watershed that supports the drinking water for more than a third of Floridians.

Hurricane Irma's impact near Lee County's rural Bedman Creek troubles many in Alva

Many who live along Bedman Creek say life will never be the same.

Swollen by Hurricane Irma’s rain and runoff, the normally tranquil Caloosahatchee tributary surged out of its banks, swamping pastures and yards, swallowing septic fields, rolling through houses.

In one neighborhood in rural Alva, floodwaters rose several feet in a few hours, then didn't recede for days, ruining homes residents were never warned to evacuate.

“I kept watching the creek and it was just rising to the top, then all of a sudden, here comes the flood,” said resident Kent Cary who was out walking when the flood waters came. “It happened at 2:47 in the morning, and by 3:20 in the morning it was more than 5 feet deep here in my house … it was like swimming.”

Galled as they were by the governmental silence as the crisis unfolded, residents’ anger continues to smolder as the months pass with no communications from officials or answers about why the flooding happened as it did.

Fort Myers sludge testing takes unexpected turn

With no official explanation other than "the tests are inconclusive," crews began installing four new monitoring wells Thursday around the perimeter of the City of Fort Myer's decades-old lime sludge dump on South Street.

The vague explanation came last week with news of elevated arsenic from recent groundwater tests reported not by the city but by The News-Press.

But it’s not the lab results -- showing up to five times the safe level of arsenic in the groundwater – that are inconclusive. It’s what they mean.

“The city has not been honest and truthful with the people,” said civil rights activist Willie Green, who’s been crusading to end polluting land uses in the minority community. “They are trying to locate the wells to the north to see if the toxins could come from someplace else. Come on, lets get real.”

Midway Avenue, where most of the wells are being placed, lies in the opposite direction city consultants believe the ground water flows. If tests from the offsite wells come back showing arsenic, it could change the narrative of the 55-year-old site dramatically.

Since 2006, the city and DEP have acknowledged that the site’s arsenic-tainted soil is the cause of the arsenic in the groundwater.

If tests from the offsite wells show arsenic upstream, it will be harder to say the city’s lime sludge is the culprit.

Sick birds this time of year could mean undetected algal blooms

News Image

At the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or C.R.O.W., on Sanibel, some birds were reacquainted with the outdoors in a wired enclosure last week.

Veterinarian Julia Hill was checking up on them.

“We have pelicans and cormorants out here right now," said Hill. "It has an in-ground pool with filtered water that we can give them as they recover and it lets them start to fly again and socialize prior to releasing.”

These are birds that naturally don’t often make a lot of noise. However, these silent birds act as an alarm, signaling that something isn’t right in the environment.

Last month, the rehab center got an influx of sick pelicans and cormorants.

“They couldn’t move around very well," Hill said. "They looked like they were drunk.”

The birds had gastrointestinal problems, trouble breathing. Some were coughing up blood.

Hill said those are symptoms of exposure to red tide. But when these birds started coming in back in October, there were no indications of red tide from satellites or from instruments used to detect it.

News-Press Op-Ed: Keep Lee County’s septic tank regulation in place

Moving septic systems closer to the water and potentially endangering major water ways and beaches is wrong and Lee County's Land Development Code should not be changed to allow such a practice.

There is a good regulation in place that prohibits septic systems from being built on the seaward side of the county construction line. The law is being challenged by a property owner who wants to build a home on Upper Captiva, but the septic system would need to be constructed across that line – or in violation of the current regulation. The owner was previously denied a permit for that reason.

Caloosahatchee River debris clearance project may delay Davis Boat Ramp patrons

FORT MYERS – A waterway debris cleanup project has begun on the Caloosahatchee River, which may impact boaters at Lee County Parks & Recreation’s Davis Boat Ramp, 2227 Davis Blvd., Fort Myers, FL 33905.

The debris clearance project could last up to three weeks. During this time, boaters using the east Fort Myers ramp may experience delays at the ramp. Although Davis ramp will remain open, nearby public boat ramps to be used as alternatives include the Alva Boat Ramp, 21580 Pearl St., Alva, FL 33920.

Please check the parks website for updates, www.leegov.com/parks/irma-updates.

For more information about Lee County Parks & Recreation locations, amenities, and other special events, visit www.leeparks.org, call 239-533-7275 or email leeparks@leegov.com. Download the Come Discover Map online or get one at any Lee County site.

Rule change allowing Captiva mansion wins backing; lawyer says no 'backroom deal'

A divided Lee County advisory board has endorsed making changes in county development rules that would ease the way for construction of a million-dollar mansion on Upper Captiva.

On a 3-2 vote, the Local Planning Agency recommended an end to county regulations over the placement of septic tanks on the environmentally sensitive Gulf of Mexico coastline.

The landowner's attorney told the county planning agency his client did not go looking for special consideration, as neighbors and environmentalists criticized the speedy process of the rule change proposal after rejection of a building permit on the 75- by 233-foot parcel at 530 Gulf Lane.

Scientists monitor red tide increase off southwest Florida

The public can enhance monitoring using Mote’s smartphone app

Researchers are monitoring elevated levels of the naturally occurring Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis, along southwest Florida. The public can follow online updates from multiple monitoring partners and even report coastal conditions using Mote Marine Laboratory’s new smartphone app.

Red tide monitoring and prediction in Florida is accomplished through a unique collaboration between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC’s) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the Florida Department of Health, Mote Marine Laboratory, the University of South Florida, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), county agencies, other private non-profit agencies, and citizen volunteers. The FWC-Mote Red Tide Cooperative Program leads joint research, monitoring and public education efforts focused on K. brevis red tide.

The single-celled K. brevis alga occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico and is observed throughout the year at concentrations considered to be “background.” Higher-than-normal concentrations of K. brevis can include “very low,” “low,” “medium,” and “high” levels. (Below is a table describing these concentrations and their possible effects.*)

During the past two weeks, water samples confirmed a bloom of K. brevis along Lee County, with several samples observed to contain high concentrations of K. brevis. Also during the past two weeks, background to low concentrations were observed in Charlotte County, background to very low concentrations in Sarasota County, and background concentrations in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, according weekly reports issued Nov. 18 and 22 by FWC, which gathers and analyzes red tide data and compiles data from partners statewide, including Mote in Sarasota County.

DEP invests more than $90M in water quality improvement projects

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has provided more than $90 million toward the recent completion of seven water quality improvement projects in Central and South Florida. The funding was awarded through DEP’s Division of Water Restoration Assistance's various funding resources and programs.

The recently completed projects include:

Apopka: The Orange Blossom KOA septic to sewer project, funded in part by a $34,425 Florida Springs Grant to the St. Johns River Water Management District, connected the park to Apopka's existing central sewer system, improving water quality in Lake Apopka and the Wekiva springshed.

Gasparilla Island: The Gasparilla Island reverse osmosis water treatment plant expansion project, funded in part by a $5 million Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) loan, expanded the capacity of the existing facility from 1.073 to 1.267 million gallons per day. Also included are two new brackish water supply wells and a raw water main to transport water from the new wells to the facility, which supplies potable water to its service area on Gasparilla Island in Lee County.

Largo: The Largo Wet Weather project, funded in part by a $73.2 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) loan, upgraded and expanded the city's sewer and reuse systems. These much-needed improvements have helped reduce sewer overflows and ensure that treated wastewater effluent meets water quality standards.

Martin and St. Lucie counties: The Caulkins Water Farm project was funded in part by a total of $1.5 million in Environmental Protection Agency's Section 319 nonpoint source pollution grants to the South Florida Water Management District for the original pilot project, which turned former citrus groves into a reservoir. With the pilot project's success, the reservoir was recently expanded, providing much need storage for excess stormwater from the C-44 Canal, which is linked to Lake Okeechobee. The completed project provides both water storage and a reduction in nutrient loading into the St. Lucie River and estuary.

Sebring: The Spring Lake Improvement District's Stormwater Treatment Area project, funded in part by a total of $4.3 million in a CWSRF loan, an Environmental Protection Agency's Section 319 nonpoint source pollution grant and a legislative appropriation, constructed a lake-wetland marsh system and expanded storage capacity for stormwater treatment. The stormwater treatment area provides additional water quality treatment benefits prior to discharge into Arbuckle Creek, a tributary of Lake Istokpoga. This water is then transported to Lake Okeechobee and ultimately, the Everglades and Florida's sensitive Atlantic estuaries.

Stuart: The distribution system and water meter upgrade project, funded in part by a $5.8 million DWSRF loan, replaced more than 11 miles of distribution piping, converted approximately 2,500 meters and installed an emergency interconnect with the Martin County water supply system. This will improve reliability of water supply to Stuart residents.

Also in Stuart, the East Heart of Haney Creek wetlands restoration project, funded in part by $181,000 in Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Water Quality Restoration grants, re-graded approximately 6 acres of an exotic-cleared area, created berms and weirs, and restored the eastern third of Heart of Haney Creek to native wetlands. Waters from the 395-acre Eastern Haney Creek watershed will now be directed through the restored wetlands before discharge to tidal Haney Creek, and ultimately the St. Lucie estuary.

For more information about the State Revolving Fund, Nonpoint Source water quality restoration grants, Florida Springs Grant Program and other funding opportunities, please visit the Division of Water Restoration Assistance.

Fort Myers Beach town council tells consultant to ”drill down“ on stormwater

If the town doesn't want to increase the stormwater utility fee, it won't be able to accomplish a street-by-street stormwater system.

The town's fee is scheduled to pay off a loan of $16 million for a $20 million stormwater project by 2040. But based on the costs of construction and the amount of work needed, the town might only be able to fund 15 to 20 "hot" streets in addition to the required shared outfalls with Lee County.

Tetra Tech, the town's engineering consultant, and ReFresh Estero Boulevard staff presented a project update during Thursday's workshop. Part of the presentation was the completed 30 percent plan, a preliminary design plan that surveyed all the town's streets for stormwater needs. It set a list of criteria, such as flooding frequency and citizen complaints and level of service improved with a stormwater system in place. The criteria helped rank the streets in terms of need; twenty were identified as "hot" or critical need for stormwater alleviation.

Red tide found in parts of Sanibel, Captiva Islands

Red tide is back on the beaches of Southwest Florida after a moderate to high sample was taken this week near Sanibel and Captiva.

It is the first week that water samples have shown high concentrations.

Researchers know this has a negative impact on local wildlife and the ecosystem, and also think the Lake Okeechobee water releases play a part in the problem.

The first thing people at the beach, like Tammy Blanchard, notice is the brown water.

"I wanted to show [my friend] how beautiful Sanibel Island was and the water was brown," Blanchard said.

But what visitors like Blanchard can't see is the red tide.

FWC and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation monitor local water conditions each week.

Drone study examines wading birds around North Port’s canals

NORTH PORT – A drone took flight earlier this year to survey around 35 miles of North Port's 80 miles of canals. The purpose of the study was to take a closer look at wading birds during this year's nesting season.

"I think this kind of study is very, very important," said Edie Driest, Chair of the North Port Friends of Wildlife. "A number of animals is being listed on the endangered species list, so having this kind of technology is a big tool, a big positive tool."

Many types of birds of all sizes were able to be spotted during the study, as was an abundance of vegetation in a lot of places that are inaccessible. At times the drone was flying 200 feet above the canals.

"It gives you the ability to gather really accurate data and a lot of the decisions in land development or conservation are based on having the best available data," said Matthew Miller, Environmental Manager with Water Resource Associates Engineering.

Water Resource Associates Engineering was overseeing the study and they had received a grant from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program. They presented their findings to a large group of folks Wednesday night who were very interested in what they had to say.

EPA, Army propose to delay WOTUS implementation

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of the Army (the agencies) are proposing to amend the effective date of the 2015 rule defining “waters of the United States.” The agencies are proposing that the 2015 rule would not go into effect until two years after today’s action is finalized and published in the Federal Register. This amendment would give the agencies the time needed to reconsider the definition of “waters of the United States.”

“Today’s proposal shows our commitment to our state and tribal partners and to providing regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and businesses,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This step will allow us to minimize confusion as we continue to receive input from across the country on how we should revise the definition of the ‘waters of the United States.’”

The 2015 rule, which redefined the scope of where the Clean Water Act applies, had an effective date of August 28, 2015. Implementation of the 2015 rule is currently on hold as a result of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the rule, but that stay may be affected by a pending Supreme Court case. The 2015 rule is also stayed in 13 states due to a North Dakota district court ruling. EPA and the Army are taking this action to provide certainty and consistency to the regulated community.

"The Army, together with the Army Corps of Engineers, propose this rule with EPA to help continue to provide clarity and predictability to the regulated public during the rule making process. We are committed to implementing the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparently as possible for the regulated public," said Mr. Ryan Fisher, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).

This action follows the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on "Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the 'Waters of the United States' Rule." The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation's navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution.

The agencies’ proposal is separate from the two-step process the agencies propose to take to reconsider the 2015 rule. The comment period for the Step 1 rule closed in September and the agencies are currently working to review the comments received from the public. The agencies are also in the process of holding listening sessions with stakeholders as we work to develop a proposed Step 2 rule that would revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”

The agencies will be collecting public comment on this proposal for 21 days after publication in the Federal Register and plan to move quickly to take final action in early 2018.

(Source: EPA)

Green sea turtle nest numbers hit record

News Image

Today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced a record year for the number of green sea turtle nests in Florida. FWC staff documented approximately 39,000 green sea turtle nests, based on 27 Florida index beaches used to assess nesting trends.

The final 2017 sea turtle nesting numbers from the FWC’s more comprehensive Statewide Nesting Beach Survey, covering 800 miles of Florida coastline, will be available in early 2018. Preliminary data, based on the recently completed Index Nesting Beach Survey, indicates the trend for green sea turtle nesting has experienced significant increases over the past 27 years.

“The success of our green sea turtles is a victory for conservation,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “After years of many people and agencies working to conserve this species and its marine habitats, numbers of green sea turtles in our coastal waters and nesting on our beaches have increased substantially. Last year, the green sea turtles that nest on Florida beaches were reclassified from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Nearly 30 years ago, only 464 green sea turtle nests were recorded on the 200 miles of beaches that are part of the Index Nesting Beach Survey. By 2011, the count was up to 10,701 green sea turtle nests; in 2013, it was 25,553 nests; and in 2015, it was about 28,000. The counts on index beaches represent about 68 percent of green sea turtle nests statewide. Green sea turtles nest more abundantly every other year, which contributes to the two-year spikes in their nesting numbers in Florida.

For more information about trends in sea turtle nest counts on Florida beaches, visit MyFWC.com/Research.

Photo source: FWC

SCCF Panel: Florida’s ecosystems feel the strain after Irma

Florida's Everglades and connected ecosystems are fighting battles on all sides.

Artificial re-routing of Lake Okeechobee overflow from south to east and west, and the extremes in weather patterns are straining the delicate and complicate systems in southern Florida.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation held a panel discussion Tuesday, Nov. 14 to update the community on water conditions in the local estuary and watershed system, as well as talk about the in-the-works steps to address issues in the Everglades.

The issues are all connected: A dike had been built in the 1920s around Lake Okeechobee and more had been added in 1947, after a hurricane caused severe flooding in southwest Florida. Then state and federal government began the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project, working to protect development from the river of grass. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers became the recipients of excess water in the lake. The rivers were also altered to help form the Okeechobee Waterway, a federal commercial route through the center of the state. The Caloosahatchee was expanded, deepened and renamed the C-43 canal, and locks were installed to engineer the flow of the river.

“Coastal Keepers” to focus on water quality, ocean conservation

Coastal Keepers, a business reorganization of Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, has rebranded to focus on water quality and ocean conservation, as well as red tide.

"This is the START you know, but really improved and really focused on our islands," President Dr. Bruce Neill said. "We are forming a local partnership that makes sense for everyone. We are trying to be more sufficient, so donated support goes more to the cause and less to the machine behind the cause. It's a tried and proven local organization that has a new name."

He said START is a not-for-profit organization based in Sarasota that has subchapters, which included a Sanibel-Captiva chapter for at least 10 years.

"The state organization of START seems to be contracting and really the Sanibel Captiva chapter of START was really driving the whole state," he said. "We debated this for a long time and decided why don't we go off on our own and make our own thing on Sanibel. As a conservation organization, we very much believe that we ought to have this lean business aspect as possible, so that we can spend more of our money on conservation. We realized our very best way to trim down the business is to partner with the Sanibel Sea School."

Over the years, Neill said it has become hard to dedicate an organization to red tide because when there is a bloom everyone wants to know the solution, compared to the years when it is not present the money and interest disappears.

State moving ahead with Lake O water plan, without feds

The state appears to be moving forward with deep injection well sites north of Lake Okeechobee, but it's doing so without support from the federal government or environmental groups.

The idea is to send water from high rain events and hurricanes down to 3,000 feet or more below the surface to cut back on Lake Okeechobee releases, which often blow out coastal estuaries in the Fort Myers and Stuart areas.

"Last month the board was very enthusiastic about the option of deep injection wells, and I trust that staff is moving forward with this so that we will be able to implement this ASAP," South Florida Water Management District governing board member Jim Moran said at a recent public meeting.

"We are making progress," said Ernie Marks, the district's top staffer.

Group's wish: Clean drinking water for Christmas in Charleston Park

Volunteers rallied around a common goal: Clean water for Christmas in Charleston Park.

“The solution is from the bottom up,” said Fort Myers resident Neil Volz at a meeting this week of advocates concerned about the rural eastern Lee County community’s enduring trials with bad well water. “When you realize the contours and costs, compared to the life and potential that is impacted, we should be able to join hands and walk this out.”

The hope is to provide a filter and an under-the-sink reverse osmosis system, estimated to cost about $1,200 a home, to one or two families by Christmas and gradually expand outreach in the neighborhood of about 200 residents bordered by orange groves.

The group discussed potential solutions Monday at Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, which employs a resident coordinator at the Charleston Park community center, also a United Way House.

Fort Myers sludge site tests five times above EPA standard for arsenic

FORT MYERS – Arsenic on a city of Fort Myers sludge dump that's sat for half a century amidst an African-American neighborhood exceeds the EPA safety level by up to five times, a draft report of new test results shows.

The results – which the city at first refused to release – are part of a preliminary lab report obtained Wednesday by The News-Press.

"Why aren't they telling us on the news about this?" said neighborhood resident Lucretia Freeman, who's worried about the health effects of arsenic.

The samples taken in October from six on-site monitoring wells – part of a more thorough assessment being conducted for the city by GFA International – were collectively higher for arsenic than at any time since testing began in 2008.

The city first detected unacceptable arsenic levels in the groundwater on the South Street block 10 years ago as it explored a housing project there. Although periodic monitoring should have begun immediately, the Department of Environmental Protection let if fall through the cracks until 2010.

Soil tests, too, were taken, showing the sludge itself was laced with arsenic exceeding even the EPA’s commercial standard.

Dikes, berms not answer to flooding in Bonita Springs

As Bonita Springs leaders look for answers to the city's flooding problems exposed by Hurricane Irma and a lesser storm before it, they are sifting through what's feasible and unfeasible.

Options for two major flooded areas are slim in the Quinn Street area and Imperial Bonita Estates, said Mark Erwin with Atkins Engineering.

“The only way to really stop flooding there is with dikes or berms (along the Imperial River), which are too cost prohibitive,” Erwin said.

Florida Chamber calls for science-based solutions to water issues

OKEECHOBEE — “Sound water science – not political science – is the way to secure the state’s water future,” said Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber.

“If you think about Florida’s future, more people are going to need more water,” he said.

“That means we need to focus on securing Florida’s water future.”

He said they don’t want Florida to end up with water shortages like California.

“Florida is adding 1,000 people a day,” he said. “We’re going to add six million more residents in Florida by 2030.

“By 2030 with population growth, we’re going to need 20 percent more water than we currently have available to us,” he said.

Last year the Florida chamber launched a series of educational videos about water issues. The first four videos focused on springs, Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys and the Indian River Lagoon.

“We reached out to a very diverse group of scientists, to people who care about protecting the environment,” he said.

On Nov. 8, at a press conference in Tallahassee that was broadcast live online, the Florida Chamber of Commerce unveiled its fifth in a series of water education videos which further demonstrates why following science-based research is important to securing Florida’s water future. The latest educational research video provides proof that septic tank problems are detrimentally impacting Florida’s water systems. The educational video highlights research produced by Florida Atlantic University–Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Research Professor Dr. Brian Lapointe, and sheds light on the algae blooms on the St. Lucie Estuary that followed unusually heavy rainfall in the winter and spring of 2016.