Water-Related News

Florida needs to improve sewage systems, enviro group says

Hurricane Irma caused massive sewage overflows in Florida, prompting an environmental group to call on local communities to improve infrastructure to prevent that from happening again when the next big storm hits.

“Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida, but sewage in our streets and bays shouldn’t be,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “As these storms get more severe and frequent, we have to be ready for some pretty challenging conditions. We’re not ready now.”

The Department of Environmental Protection has received more than 200 cases of sewage spills since Irma barreled through Florida 10 days ago.

Environment Florida, Florida PIRG and the Frontier Group released a factsheet Wednesday demonstrating that many of the sewer systems in the state’s biggest coastal cities were unable to handle the strong rains and winds that a hurricane like Irma delivered.

Advocates say that the bacteria and viruses in wastewater can infect humans and animals.

Fight over 'flushable' wipes D.C. says are clogging sewer systems heads to federal court

The question of whether flushable wipes — used by potty-training toddlers and people looking beyond traditional toilet paper — are clogging sewer systems will be hashed out in federal court, where a manufacturer has sued the District of Columbia over a new city law regulating when such wipes can be labeled "flushable."

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark, which manufactures Cottonelle, Scott Naturals and Pull-Ups flushable wipes, alleges that the District law — the first of its kind in the U.S. — is unconstitutional because it tries to regulate businesses beyond the city. The company also alleges that the law violates the First Amendment because it could require companies that believe their wipes to be flushable to label their products as "do not flush."

"In seeking this court intervention, Kimberly-Clark is fighting for our consumers and standing up for our brands," company spokesman Bob Brand said in an email. "The District of Columbia has unfortunately passed a law that will severely restrict, if not eliminate, consumers' ability to purchase flushable wipes in Washington D.C."

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, came in response to complaints from DC Water and sewer utilities nationwide that flushable wipes are jamming pumps, blocking screens and clogging equipment at sewage treatment plants. The problem costs U.S. utilities up to $1 billion annually, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

The issue drew international attention a few years ago, when a 15-ton glob of wipes and hardened cooking grease the size of a bus — and nicknamed "Fatberg" by the Brits — was discovered blocking a London sewer pipe.

Help celebrate Siesta and Briarwood Waterway restoration Oct. 14th

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Location: The Grove at the Siesta Waterway

The South Venice Civic Association Water Quality Task Force, Southwest Florida Water Management District and Sarasota County are hosting a grand opening to celebrate the restoration of Siesta and Briarwood Waterways in South Venice Beach. Come enjoy guest speakers and refreshments, as well as view project sites.

For more information, call 941-861-5000 and ask for Kathy Meaux.

Funding for the project was from the County's Neighborhood Initiatives Capital Improvements Program for South Venice Beach and a grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Sewage spills add to misery In hurricane-battered Florida

As if loss of air conditioning and refrigeration weren't bad enough, widespread power outages in hurricane-battered Florida are teaming with structural failures to cause another headache: sewage overflows.

Local governments have submitted well over 100 "notices of pollution" to the state Department of Environmental Protection since Hurricane Irma struck, some involving multiple spills and releases of millions of gallons of wastewater in various stages of treatment.

Officials in many cities were still scrambling Thursday to determine how much sewage had escaped, while the state warned people to steer clear of standing water.

"Floodwaters may contain not only bacteria from sanitary sewer overflows but other potential contaminants from agricultural or industrial waste," environmental protection department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said.

About 6 million gallons of wastewater was released from a plant on Virginia Key near Miami during a seven-hour power outage overnight Sunday that disabled its pumps — one of seven spills reported by the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department. The water had gone through most of the treatment process but hadn't been chlorinated, spokeswoman Jennifer Messemer-Skold said.

Officials advised people not to swim at Miami-area beaches until waters could be tested for a variety of pollutants.

Comment period extended for the definition of "Waters of the United States"

EPA and the Army have extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of "waters of the United States" to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in.

Background
The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. The proposed rule was signed by the Administrator and Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and posted to EPA’s website on June 27th and published in the Federal Register on July 27th. When finalized, the proposed rule would replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with the regulations that were in effect immediately preceding the 2015 rule. The public can submit comments, identified by Docket Id. EPA-HQ-2017-0203, at regulations.gov.

Federal Register Notice
On August 16, 2017, the EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, Michael Shapiro, along with Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, signed the Federal Register notice extending the public comment period, which published on August 22, 2017.

After Irma, slow-moving crisis headed for lake Okeechobee

The winds and outer bands of Hurricane Irma are long gone, but as rainwater drains south through Florida’s rivers and watersheds, the storm still presents a slow-moving crisis headed right for Lake Okeechobee.

The hurricane dumped a lot of rain upstream of the lake--according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne, the two-day total in Ft. Pierce alone was more than 21 inches. As Irma’s rainfall reaches Lake Okeechobee, the increasing water level could cause problems with the aging Herbert Hoover Dike--a 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds the lake, parts of which were built in the late 1940s.

According to Mark Perry, the executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, the water levels in Lake Okeechobee are already on the rise from Irma’s rains. “We’re going to still see that effect for several weeks going forward,” says Perry.

Nearly $900 million has been spent to reinforce the dike since 2001. That work includes installing a partial cutoff wall along the southeast part of the dike and removal and replacement of water control structures such as culverts. A Lloyds of London analysis shows more than 400,000 residents and their homes and businesses would be at risk if the dike were to fail.

Lee County makes $42.4M deal to buy Edison Farms

Lee County and the company that owns Edison Farms, a 3,922-acre parcel in southeast Lee County, have reached a deal that means the property will be preserved as part of the county's Conservation 20/20 program.

The sale price, $42.4 million, is roughly equivalent to what the county put on the table last June. The deal would mean the county would pay the closing costs in the transaction.

Since then, the county and local real estate broker Randy Thibaut of Land Solutions, Inc. have been in negotiation over the purchase. Thibaut's first offer to sell was for $49 million; Lee commissioners countered with a $42 million offer.

Conservationists prized the site for it's role in water management as well as for its importance as an ecological habitat.

The Monster Surge That Wasn’t: Why Irma Caused Less Flooding Than Expected

Across coastal Florida, the dreaded storm surge from Hurricane Irma — caused when ferocious winds pile up ocean water and push it onshore — was not as bad as forecast. While some areas were hard hit, notably the Florida Keys and Marco Island, residents of neighborhoods north to Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa Bay were expressing relief.

That bit of good fortune was the product of some meteorological luck.

Because a hurricane’s winds blow counterclockwise, the precise path of the storm matters greatly for determining storm surge. Had Irma lingered far enough off Florida’s Gulf Coast, its eastern wall, where the strongest winds occur, could have shoved six to nine feet of water into parts of Fort Myers and Naples, while swamping Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg as well.

At the last minute, Irma unexpectedly veered inland right before it got to Naples, taking its eastern wall safely away from the ocean. That meant that as the storm tracked north over Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa Bay, the winds at the head of the storm were moving west and actually pulling water away from the shoreline. In Tampa, water levels dropped five feet below normal, and bewildered spectators walked out to see beaches sucked dry. In Sarasota, a manatee became stranded.

Damage to Florida’s coral reef has made the state more vulnerable to storm surges

As we begin to piece together the damage from Hurricane Irma in Florida, scientists are pointing to an environmental factor that may have made the storm’s impact worse: the ongoing loss of coral on the state’s increasingly threatened barrier reef.

At 360 miles long, the Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest barrier reef in the world, stretching from the Florida Keys up to Martin County. But as Chris Mooney of The Washington Post reported just a few months ago, the reef is in big trouble — scientists estimate that less than 10 percent of it is covered with living coral, the result of a long history of damage that, most recently, includes warming waters and back-to-back bleaching events in recent years.

Now, scientists say these losses may have weakened the reef’s storm buffer.

Research demonstrates that “if you reduce coral reef health — if you go from that really rough coral reef with lots of live coral to a degraded coral reef with a relatively smooth surface — you have increased run-up in flooding,” said Curt Storlazzi, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Fort Myers river basin captures statewide award

The city of Fort Myers has been recognized as a winner in the Florida League of Cities’ Florida Municipal Achievement awards. The city is co-winner of the league’s Environmental Stewardship Award for the downtown river basin. This is the first time that the city has won a “Muni” award from the Florida League of Cities.

The Environmental Stewardship award focuses on city programs that promote conservation, improve and protect environmental condition, and/or provide environmental education and outreach programs within a city. The city earned the award for improvements to environmental water quality, and shares the 2017 honor with the Town of Lauderdale by-the-Sea.

The River Basin is a 1.5-acre water detention/retention area that treats urban stormwater runoff from 15 acres of the city’s downtown. It reduces the total nitrogen load entering the Caloosahatchee River. The basin has sparked economic development including the construction of the upcoming basin-side Luminary Hotel & Co. Additionally, the basin has become a focal point for downtown events, helps to reduce the urban heat island and offers opportunities for community education and passive recreation.

“Most people see the river basin and think it’s just a nice water feature in our downtown area,” explains City Manager Saeed Kazemi. “It actually serves an important environmental purpose. It collects and filters the stormwater from our downtown streets, parking lots and buildings, and the result is healthier water entering the river.”

The basin will also be featured in an upcoming issue of the league’s magazine, Quality Cities.

The league also recognized the Mayor Randy Henderson and Council members Forrest Banks and Teresa Watkins with Home Rule Hero awards. They earned the designation for their efforts to advance the league’s legislative agenda and help protect the home rule powers of Florida’s cities. Home rule is the ability for a city to establish its own form of government and enact its own ordinances, codes, plans and resolutions.

Cape Coral's water woes: From famine to flooding in only four months

It's already been a pretty remarkable year for Cape Coral when it comes to water — too little and now, too much.

Only four short months ago, Cape Coral residents and businesses were dealing with a strict watering schedule as a result of some of the severest drought conditions to hit Southwest Florida in recent years.

Lawns were brown and water levels in canals were at historic lows.

At a Cape Coral council meeting in April there was a discussion about building a pipeline to send treated wastewater from Fort Myers to Cape Coral to help feed millions more gallons of water into its canals and the irrigation water system that uses those hundreds of miles of canals.

Fast forward to the last three days and it has been a far different story for Cape Coral and all of Southwest Florida as a tropical disturbance has dumped as much as 10 inches of water in some locations.

Saturday streets throughout the Cape were looking more like the canals that were reaching historic high water levels. Some residents were kayaking and swimming in their front yards. The lawns that so many homeowners were concerned about back in April were submerged in several inches of water.