Water-Related News

Treating nutrients with algae blooms

By Betty Staugler, Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program

No, there’s not a typo in my headline. In fact, this technology is so cool, you really should continue to read. With all the bad press about algae, we often forget that it really can be beneficial. In fact, algae are responsible for much of the air we breathe, and they form the base of the food web upon which all life depends.

I suspect most readers are aware that algal blooms often occur when too many nutrients enter our waterbodies. With this understanding, a novel approach to remove nutrients from a waterway was developed and patented in 1980s by Dr. Walter Adey at the National Museum of History: The algae turf scrubber, or ATS.

The basic idea: Run the water across a shallow trough or raceway, upon which attached filamentous algae are allowed to grow. The algae treat the water by taking up nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, as they grow.

Where does the algae come from? Provide the right conditions — sunlight, water and nutrients — and algae will establish naturally. What grows is the same green filamentous algae we often see attached to rocks and seagrass in shallow areas. Only in this case, instead of being a nuisance, it’s beneficial.

Report: Red tide and aftermath killed 174 dolphins

Scores of dolphins have died along Florida’s southwest coast due to the red tide bloom in the past year, federal researchers said.

Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed 174 dolphins were stranded in a mass die-off between last July and last week.

Fish, sea turtles and manatees also have died from the red tide bloom, which plagued the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast from November 2017 through January of this year.

While red tide has diminished and the rate of dolphin deaths off Florida’s southwest coast has slowed down, researchers in recent months have seen deaths from the secondary effects of red tide.

Those include dolphins consuming fishing gear because the red tide fish kill reduced the supply of the dolphin’s usual diet of mullet and trout, forcing them to search for food in atypical places, Blair Mase, NOAA’s stranding response program coordinator, said July 5.

Researchers in recent months also have found unusual food in the dolphins’ stomachs, such as crabs and eels.

“We’re also seeing underweight animals,” Mase said.

Red tides happen naturally and have appeared sporadically off the state’s coast for ages, but many believe humans have made the problem worse. This past year’s bloom caused respiratory irritations in people near Southwest Florida beaches.

Black & Veatch/Brown and Caldwell team up to map out Winter Haven’s water future

The engineering and design team of Black & Veatch/Brown and Caldwell has been selected to develop a water sustainability blueprint for Winter Haven, Florida. As home to the "Chain of Lakes”, an important regional water and recreational resource, and with a growing population of more than 37,000 potable-water customers, the City views water resiliency as critical to Winter Haven’s continued prosperity.

The planned, integrated master plan will adopt a "One Water” approach championed by advocacy groups, including the Water Research Foundation (WRF) and the US Water Alliance. The approach is based in all forms of water – drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, reclaimed water, indirect and direct potable reuse, and groundwater – as a singular resource to be managed sustainably. The Black & Veatch/Brown and Caldwell team will assess Winter Haven’s water resources and utility systems, then help chart how to integrate its land- and water-use planning, incorporate its lakes and restore/protect its natural systems while promoting citywide water sustainability and economic growth for at least the next half-century.

Winter Haven has been especially proactive in addressing its water future, having joined the Polk Regional Water Cooperative to support regional efforts to better manage impacts from land use, aquifer withdrawals, and drainage on water supplies and natural systems. The City Commission adopted a Sustainable Water Management Plan in 2010 that established a long-term approach that recognized how water is connected to Winter Haven’s economic future and quality of life.

Bonita Springs makes flood reduction top priority amid heavy rain

It was a soggy morning Tuesday across Southwest Florida, with several communities experiencing flooded roads. One of those communities was Bonita Springs, where two years ago, residents dealt with serious flooding that stuck around for weeks and damaged some homes.

Mango Drive in Bonita was flooded over Tuesday morning, with drivers splashing through the standing water on their way to work. The water drained off the road after several hours, but the front yards of many homes were still rain-swollen throughout the day.

Debbie Roberts' front yard on Esplanade Street looked like a lake by afternoon.

"This flooding is just from a regular rain day," Roberts said. "It's very slow to go down."

Proposed FGCU research project would monitor bacteria in the Estero River

The village of Estero and Florida Gulf Coast University may team up to monitor types of bacteria in the Estero River and where they come from.

Three FGCU professors have proposed a 15-month research project, which would involve collecting water samples and lab testing to identify bacteria and nutrients in a portion of the Estero River.

The river, which winds through the village to Estero Bay, is classified as a special water in the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Outstanding Florida Water program.

It also has been recognized by the state agency as “impaired for dissolved oxygen and bacteria,” according to the village.

At a public meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Estero Village Council will consider the research proposal and the approval of a $48,000 contract to fund the project.  

Army Corps concedes Lake O discharge toxicity

For the first time ever, the Army Corps of Engineers has publicly stated that it discharged water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers knowing the water was toxic.

This admission comes exactly one year and one day since then-governor Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency for algal blooms in seven Florida counties.

Florida Congressman Brian Mast, who serves at the U.S. representative for Florida's 18th Congressional District, questioned Army Corps of Engineers Major General Scott Spellmon before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

Mast asked Spellmon if the Corps has transferred toxic water "from Lake Okeechobee to the east through the C-44 (canal) into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon and to the west through the Caloosahatchee river?"

Spellmon replied, "Yes, sir. We have conveyed water out the system that has contained cyanobacteria and harmful algae blooms. Yes sir."

Mast, to be clear, asked, "And the Corps considers that toxic?"

Spellmon replied, "Yes, sir."

Mast was grateful of Spellmon's admission and said, "I appreciate that acknowledgment. It's important so that we can move forward as we try to accurately weigh the risks and assess what's going on as we try to manage both flood control for those to the south of the Herbert Hoover Dike and human health and human safety impacts to those to the east and west of Florida's Lake Okeechobee."

Mast's office stated that the Corps "had previously and repeatedly refused to acknowledge that the water being discharged was toxic or harmful to human health."

Scientists discover the biggest seaweed bloom in the world

The record-breaking belt of brown algae stretches from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico—and it’s likely here to stay, says a team led by the USF College of Marine Science.

ST. PETERSBURG – Scientists led by the USF College of Marine Science used NASA satellite observations to discover the largest bloom of macroalgae in the world called the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt (GASB), as reported in Science.

They confirmed that the belt of brown macroalgae called Sargassum forms its shape in response to ocean currents, based on numerical simulations. It can grow so large that it blankets the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. This happened last year when more than 20 million tons of it – heavier than 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers – floated in surface waters and some of which wreaked havoc on shorelines lining the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and east coast of Florida.

The team also used environmental and field data to suggest that the belt forms seasonally in response to two key nutrient inputs: one human-derived, and one natural.

In the spring and summer, Amazon River discharge adds nutrients to the ocean, and such discharged nutrients may have increased in recent years due to increased deforestation and fertilizer use. In the winter, upwelling off the West African coast delivers nutrients from deep waters to the ocean surface where the Sargassum grows.

“The evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited field data and other environmental data, and we need more research to confirm this hypothesis,” said Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the USF College of Marine Science, who led the study and has studied Sargassum using satellites since 2006. “On the other hand, based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is very likely to be a new normal,” said Hu.

Hu spearheaded the work with first author Dr. Mengqiu Wang, a postdoctoral scholar in his Optical Oceanography Lab at USF. The team included others from USF, Florida Atlantic University, and Georgia Institute of Technology. The data they analyzed from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) between 2000-2018 indicates a possible regime shift in Sargassum blooms since 2011.

Gulf Coast states see similarities to Southwest Florida blue-green algae

The same type of algae that plagued our waterways, causing a water crisis last year is now devastating the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Tampa Bay Area is also having problems.

Mike Parsons, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University who also serves on the Florida Blue-Green Algae Task Force, said the microcystins found in Mississippi is the same as what we saw in Southwest Florida last summer. Mississippi coastal waters have a Cyanobacteria bloom that may be from the Mississippi River.

In response to the algae, all of the beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been shut down. The Tampa Bay Area is having a bloom of its own.

“The similarities I think between what we saw and what Mississippi is experiencing are high levels of nutrients,” Parsons said. “Tampa is experiencing a different kind of blue-green algae bloom. It’s what we commonly call ‘lyngbya.'”

Scientists go microscopic to find answer to prevent blue-green algae

Scientists with U.S. Geological Survey’s southeast region and Caribbean Florida Water Science Center believe they can make a positive impact on the Southwest Florida water crisis and find an answer to prevent blue-green algae from returning.

Scientists will look at water in Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River and the life cycle of the algae that lives in that water.

“Scientists are collecting different water samples, some of which they’ll leave untreated,” said Dr. Barry Rosen with the scientific agency. “But others, they’ll add nutrients to, to see if any of those nutrients will have an impact on the life cycle of harmful algal blooms.”

It takes more than one mind to make this experiment a success.

“This definitely requires many different types of scientists and their expertise,” said Dr. Joe Lopez at Nova Southeastern University.

Inland flooding passes storm surge as #1 killer during hurricanes

If you live in Florida long enough, you learn storm surge is generally the number-one danger when it comes to hurricanes.

"We've seen a very large public outreach campaign over the past few years to educate people on the dangers of storm surge and people are responding. They're getting out of the way of these storms,” said Bryan Moraska, National Weather Service Meteorologist.

Now, the biggest killer related to water during hurricanes is inland flooding.

One devastating example -- Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"We have seen a shift,” said Moraska.

From 2016 to 2018, out of all water-related hurricane fatalities, only 4 percent were blamed on storm surge. The rest, the large majority, are from drenching rainfall and flooding.

Florida may adopt limits on amount of toxins from blue-green algae blooms allowed in waterways

Blue-green algae is popping up all over Florida this summer.

It's in the canals of Gulfport and the Intracoastal Waterway in Treasure Island. In Bradenton, the Manatee River has turned green from the stuff, which the mayor of Holmes Beach calls "gumbo." In Lake Okeechobee, toxins have hit a level three times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. Meanwhile state officials have convened a Blue-Green Algae Task Force to figure out how to prevent such blooms in the future. So far they have concluded only that the state's current regulations, which rely largely on voluntary anti-pollution measures, don't work very well.

Amid fears of another summer of toxic algae afflicting the state and hurting its economy, officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection say they are considering new regulations on how much of the natural toxins are allowed in the state's waterways.

Warm temperatures bring cyanobacteria blooms to Sarasota Bay

Cyanobacteria FAQs from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program:

It’s hard not to notice some strange stuff surfacing in many areas around our bays this summer. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Algae Bloom Monitoring and Response team identified Lyngbya majuscula, a type of cyanobacterium, in many bays between Anna Maria Island and Venice in May and June. Many of those blooms are still visible as they decompose. Another species of cyanobacteria, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, was detected in the freshwater reaches of the Manatee River in early July. FDEP is working to identify other samples taken around the region. (Click here to see sampling locations and results in an interactive map.)

What is Lyngbya majuscula?
Lyngbya majuscula is a type of cyanobacterium, meaning that it is part of a group of bacteria that obtain energy through photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria are commonly known as “blue-green algae.” While some cyanobacteria cause harmful algae blooms (HABs), most are beneficial. Their ranks include Prochlorococcus, a genus of tiny marine cyanobacteria that are some of the most important oxygen-producers on Earth.

Lyngbya species are found in coastal tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. L. majuscula is only one of several species of Lyngbya found in central and southern Florida waters.

How do Lyngbya mats form?
Lyngbya blooms have been tied to water temperature increases and to pulses of nutrient sources including nitrogen, iron, and phosphorus. Lyngbya majuscula blooms form in sedi

SFWMD governing board encourages public to attend workshop on St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries

 The South Florida Water Management District's (SFWMD) Governing Board is encouraging the public to attend the agency's workshop on Wednesday, July 10, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. The workshop, which will be held at SFWMD Headquarters at 3301 Gun Club Road in West Palm Beach, will be open to the public and broadcast on sfwmd.gov.

Wednesday's workshop agenda will focus on the ecological status and water quality conditions of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and watersheds, as major components of the Northern Estuaries Protection Program. The workshop will also review the programs and projects that are designed to improve the condition and function of these estuaries. Members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide public comment. The workshop session is informative in nature and no decisions will be made by the Governing Board.

The workshop is part of a series of workshops the Governing Board plans to hold as part of the District's ongoing efforts to explore all facets of the region's water resource issues and encourage public participation.  

Black out on nitrogen, phosphorous fertilizers in effect

With the arrival of rainy season comes a black out period for certain fertilizers on Sanibel.

From July 1 through Sept. 30, a city ordinance prohibits the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous. However, products containing only secondary or micronutrients, such as magnesium and iron, may be applied throughout the black out period and are the sole exception.

"The goal is to reduce nutrient pollution to our local waters," Holly Milbrandt, deputy director of Sanibel's Natural Resources Department, said. "They (nitrogen and phosphorous) are the same two nutrients that cause algae blooms in local waterways. It all comes back to the water quality issue."

She added that grass tends to grow just fine without fertilizer in the rainy season.

"So using it is sort of doing what Mother Nature is already doing by itself," Milbrandt said.

What is next for the Dunbar community?

The smell is gone. The sludge is gone.

Since 2017, WINK News has been sharing the story of people in the Dunbar community living at a site where the city dumped toxic waste for decades. Now, neighbors are breathing easier. But, the fight is not over yet.

Annie Freeman likes the view from her house a lot better now. Over the past couple of months, 1,200 hundred trucks were removing the 30,000 tons of materials in Dunbar.

“The smell isn’t as bad as it used to be,” said Theresa Cannady, who lives in the area.

Neighbors were not worried about the overgrown brush. The sludge from a water treatment facility was dumped for years in the 1960s without their knowledge. Test show arsenic levels are above the standard drinking level.

“It do worry us, but we can’t do anything about that,” Freeman said. “I’m glad that they’re working on it.”

Four green sea turtles tagged amid nesting increase in southwest Florida

Four nesting female green sea turtles were tagged with satellite transmitters by Mote Marine Laboratory scientists in the past few weeks on Casey Key, with the goal of tracking this threatened species whose nests counts are increasing on southwest Florida beaches.

“Amelia” was tagged June 21, “Freda” was tagged on June 17, “June” was tagged June 16 and “Thalia” was tagged May 29. Mote scientists are monitoring their locations in near-real time, and the public can follow along by viewing the “nesting female green sea turtles” map at https://mote.org/sea-turtle-tracking.

Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program monitors sea turtle nesting on 35 miles of Sarasota County beaches — Longboat Key through Venice — during each day of nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31. From the end of May through July 31, Mote scientists conduct nighttime patrols to encounter, tag and learn about nesting turtles on an individual level. Most local nests are laid by loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), but nest counts from green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) have increased notably since Mote detected the first local green nest in its 37-year monitoring history, in 1994. Green nests are historically more common along southeast Florida, and their counts increased slowly in southwest Florida for a time but truly ramped up within the past decade. In 2017, Mote counted a record 79 green nests locally, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported a statewide record count.

“In recent years the numbers of green nests have increased exponentially,” said Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella. “For our 99% loggerhead nesting beach, having so many green nests is very exciting.”

Southwest Florida blue crab trap closure starts July 10, followed by Big Bend trap closure

Recreational and commercial blue crab traps in state waters from the Palm Beach-Broward county line to the Pasco-Hernando county line must be removed from the water before July 10, the first day of a 10-day trap closure. This closure will give groups authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) the opportunity to identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps from the water.

Traps may be placed back in the water in this area starting on July 20. Until then, blue crabs may be harvested with other gear, such as dip nets and fold-up traps. Blue crab harvesters may also use standard blue crab traps during the closure if the traps are attached to a dock or other private property.

Lost and abandoned blue crab traps are a problem in the blue crab fishery because they can continue to trap crabs and fish when left in the water. They can also be unsightly in the marine environment, damage sensitive habitats and pose navigational hazards to boaters on the water.

DEP announces support to help communities prepare for sea level rise

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Resilient Coastlines Program announces that nearly $1.6 million in grant funding has been awarded for fiscal year 2019-20 to strengthen resilience initiatives for 30 coastal communities in 17 coastal counties in Florida.

“These grants are incredibly important to the sustainability and protection of our natural resources and Florida’s coastal communities,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I am proud of the work we are doing around the state to prepare for the impacts of sea level rise, and I know we will continue to protect Florida together.”

Grants are provided through the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection’s Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, and are specifically designed to assist local governments with resilience planning and funding assistance to implement those plans. Resilience Planning Grants (RPG) provide financial assistance to aid Florida communities in promoting resilience planning; developing vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans, comprehensive plan goals, objectives and policies; and regional coordination.

All aspects of Florida water quality discussed at task force meeting

The people working to keep nuisance, green muck out of our waterways are digging into every aspect of what leads to it and how to prevent it from coming back. And they brought the conversation to Southwest Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force met at the Lee County School Board chambers in Fort Myers Monday to discuss the water crisis centered around Lake Okeechobee.

“The focus of the task force here isn’t on what pot of money we have to spend,” said Dr. Tom Frazer, Florida’s chief science officer. “It’s can we identify solutions.”

Discussions focused on the technology and agricultural aspects involved in Florida’s water quality as well as laying out a road map for improving the quality of water on our coast and statewide.

“Today, we hit pretty hard on agricultural [best management practices],” Frazer said. “But next time, we’re going to deal with septic systems, right? We’re going to talk more about these innovative technologies after we talk about some of the criteria we want to develop to evaluate them today.”

During discussions, Frazer explained the role agriculture plays in our water quality.

SCCF and partners succeed in getting DEP to set state cyanobacteria standards

On May 23, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity and Calusa Waterkeeper submitted a petition to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to initiate rulemaking to adopt water quality criteria for cyanotoxins produced by blue-green algae.

On June 25, the SCCF received notice that the DEP granted the petition, which means that it will consider developing cyanotoxin criteria during this triennial review.

"We are very pleased that DEP has granted our petition," SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel said, "and will consider adopting criteria for cyanotoxins as part of the current, triennial review rule development process, as our meetings with staff earlier in the year did not intend to include cyanotoxins. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended criteria for microcystins released on May 22, the day before this order was issued, the timing was perfect for the July 1 meeting of the Blue Green Algae task force to support evaluation under the current triennial review."

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signs bill to change environmental enforcement

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Tuesday a measure that will shift 19 law enforcement officers focused on environmental crimes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The bill (HB 5401) is part of a series of environmental proposals DeSantis rolled out in January, including increased funding for Everglades restoration and water projects.

DeSantis said during a bill-signing ceremony Tuesday at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart that shifting the law-enforcement officers should make enforcement of environmental laws more effective.

The creation of the Division of Law Enforcement within the Department of Environmental Protection will take effect Monday.

DeSantis noted that it was pitched by his transition team as he took office in January.

Great Bay Scallop & Hard Clam Search scheduled for August 10th

* * * * THIS IS A NO HARVEST EVENT * * * *

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – Join Florida Sea Grant and the University of Florida IFAS Extension Charlotte County, by participating in the Great Bay Scallop & Hard Clam Search on August 10, 2019. The search is a resource-monitoring program where volunteers snorkel, looking for bay scallops and hard clams in select seagrass areas. The purpose of this program is to monitor and document the health and status of these important bivalve species.

About 40 shallow draft boats are needed with up to 150 participants. Canoes and Kayaks are also welcome. Snorkelers without boats are welcome, however boat space is limited. Volunteer searchers will meet at 8:30am at Cape Haze Marina to receive survey equipment and instructions for the monitoring event. Lunch will be provided once you return to shore.

Volunteers need to bring: a mask, snorkel and gloves and be able to snorkel/swim 50 meters (about 150 feet)—fins and weight belt are optional.

Reservations are required and survey sites and equipment are limited. This Search promises to be a popular event—so sign up early!

Registration is online at: https://2019greatbayscallopandhardclamsearch.eventbrite.com

Contact the organizer Betty Staugler via email at staugler@ufl.edu or by calling 941-764-4346.

What is next for the Dunbar community?

The smell is gone. The sludge is gone.

Since 2017, WINK News has been sharing the story of people in the Dunbar community living at a site where the city dumped toxic waste for decades. Now, neighbors are breathing easier. But, the fight is not over yet.

Annie Freeman likes the view from her house a lot better now. Over the past couple of months, 1,200 hundred trucks were removing the 30,000 tons of materials in Dunbar.

“The smell isn’t as bad as it used to be,” said Theresa Cannady, who lives in the area.

Neighbors were not worried about the overgrown brush. The sludge from a water treatment facility was dumped for years in the 1960s without their knowledge. Test show arsenic levels are above the standard drinking level.

“It do worry us, but we can’t do anything about that,” Freeman said. “I’m glad that they’re working on it.”

Black out on nitrogen, phosphorous fertilizers in effect

With the arrival of rainy season comes a black out period for certain fertilizers on Sanibel.

From July 1 through Sept. 30, a city ordinance prohibits the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous. However, products containing only secondary or micronutrients, such as magnesium and iron, may be applied throughout the black out period and are the sole exception.

"The goal is to reduce nutrient pollution to our local waters," Holly Milbrandt, deputy director of Sanibel's Natural Resources Department, said. "They (nitrogen and phosphorous) are the same two nutrients that cause algae blooms in local waterways. It all comes back to the water quality issue."

She added that grass tends to grow just fine without fertilizer in the rainy season.

"So using it is sort of doing what Mother Nature is already doing by itself," Milbrandt said.

She explained that the black out period only refers to fertilizer products that contain nitrogen and phosphorous. Called "summer blends," there are products made with alternative components like iron, magnesium and potassium that fall under the exemption and are OK to use year-round on Sanibel.

No warning signs or action plan for dangerously dirty Estero River, but help may be on the way

Normally, summer camp at Estero’s Happehatchee Center would end with a splash party — canoe races and a water fight in the village’s namesake river.

Not this year.

“As a nurse, I am recommending that these kids don't go into the water at all,” said former board member Holley Rauen, who’s also a volunteer ranger with Calusa Waterkeeper. Happehatchee describes itself as an eco-spiritual nonprofit.

Last week, a water sample pulled from the camp’s banks showed levels of dangerous fecal bacteria more than 10 times what would close a swimming beach. Exposure can cause gastrointestinal illness, rashes and infections.

Those alarming counts are nothing new to the much-loved-yet-chronically troubled river, which flows to Estero Bay, the state’s first aquatic preserve.

More than 20 years of data collected by Lee County and incorporated into a Florida Department of Environmental Protection database upriver of the U.S. 41 bridge show an average bacterial count of 400 colony-forming units – more than five times the safety threshold of 70.

“There’s tremendous usage there – not just from public boat ramps, but from all the private ones as well,” Cassani said. Day-trippers can follow its sinuous, oak-shaded course to Mound Key in Estero Bay, once home of the ancient Calusa. The river supports two liveries: Estero River Outfitters, which declined to comment for this story, and the Koreshan State Park, from which 929 boats have launched since August, 2017, according to park documents.

DEP working to get Caloosahatchee River pollution plan to feds by 2022

The state is moving forward with a plan to clean up pollution in the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary nearly a decade after the standards were adopted.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection program managers met with local government agencies, agriculture interests and environmental groups Tuesday to talk about what are called Basin Management Action Plans, or BMAPs.

BMAPs are basically blueprints for restoring polluted waterways.

"We’re trying to get all the pieces we need to make sure we can do this properly," said Sara Davis, with DEP.  

Florida oceans and coasts strategic plan to be developed

A half-million dollar state grant will be used to develop a strategic plan for the Sunshine State’s oceans and coasts, the Florida Ocean Alliance announced Wednesday.

The alliance, a nonprofit, nonpartisan partnership of private industry, trade, academic, and environmental organizations, aims to bring awareness to the ocean’s importance to the economy and environment of Florida.

“The project addresses both legislative and public concerns over Florida’s recent water crisis,” Stan Payne, chair of the Florida Ocean Alliance and director of the Seaport and Airport in St. Lucie County, stated in a news release issued by the alliance. “We will offer resilience solutions to these problems as the state strives to cope with these issues.”

The effort originally was outlined in legislation pushed by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. Eventually, the key language of their bills was rolled into the state budget bill.

The alliance intends to host public hearings across the state before drafting a strategic plan to address conservation and management of the state’s estuaries, bays and oceans.

FGCU summer camp teaching kids about water quality

Florida Gulf Coast University is making waves by educating the younger generation about Florida’s waters.

“It’s really fascinating and it’s fun to learn about our oceans,” said Sidney Kamerman, 7th grader, North Naples Middle School.

Eleven middle school students from all over Southwest Florida are getting their hands wet in Marine Biology.

“I’ve always been interested in marine biology and want to be a marine biologist when I grow up,” said Jax Possehl, Venice.

“And that’s when I really started connecting with the environment, where I found my love for science, my love of the oceans, and it’s that start that really brought me to where I am today,” said Phoebe Clark, FGCU Marine Biology Graduate Student.

Port Charlotte Beach Park boat ramp closure July 7-24

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – The Port Charlotte Beach Park boat ramp, 4500 Harbor Blvd., Port Charlotte, will be undergoing construction starting July 7. Boat ramp access will be unavailable from July 7 through July 24.

Boaters are encouraged to use the Spring Lake Park boat ramp, 3520 Lakeview Blvd., Port Charlotte, during this time.

For information, contact Gary Burdahl at 941-623-1009 or Gary.Burdahl@CharlotteCountyFL.gov.

Report: Rising seas could cost Florida $75 billion over 20 years

A new national study concludes that rising sea levels could cost U.S. states more than $400 billion over the next 20 years. And Florida has the highest price tag.

The report is by the environmental advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity. It says Florida would have to pay around $75 billion to build new seawalls to defend against a two-foot sea level rise by 2040.

The report uses seawalls as a common metric that can be used nationwide. But seawalls aren't environmentally friendly, and they are impractical for places like the Florida Keys, which are islands. The report says there are other ways to protect coastlines, including beach renourishment, raising roads and infrastructure and improving drainage.

Center director Richard Wiles says in an era of exploding federal debt, getting funding help from Washington is more difficult. He says so-called "polluters" should pay for rising seas, similar to the way tobacco companies were sued for health risks.

"The entirety of the fossil fuel community, if you will, industry, needs to be responsible for literally bailing out those communities and making sure they have a future where people can live where they've always lived," he said.

State budget includes $3M for Cape Coral reclaimed water River Crossing project

Governor Ron DeSantis has signed the state budget and included appropriations for a Cape Coral project. The budget will provide state funding for the City’s Caloosahatchee River Crossing Project ($3 million).

“We want to thank Governor DeSantis for supporting this important project, which will provide benefits to Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and the environment,” said City Manager John Szerlag. “We want to thank our local legislators, Rep. Dane Eagle and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who worked on our behalf to ensure this project was included in the final appropriations bill approved by the Legislature.”

Funding will be used to construct a reclaimed water pipeline from Fort Myers to Cape Coral. This project is a win-win for both cities. Cape Coral will receive reclaimed water for irrigation use during the dry season, and Fort Myers will reduce discharges to the Caloosahatchee River. Construction of the pipeline is expected to cost about $15 million and will be completed in 2023.

“We have been working on securing alternative sources to meet our city’s irrigation demand,” said Szerlag. “Our partnership with Fort Myers will provide additional water and help reduce the impact on our freshwater canals during the dry season.”

The City has solicited proposals from engineering firms for the design, regulatory permitting and construction of the pipeline and is presently in contract negotiations. The design and permitting is estimated to take approximately 12-18 months to complete. A grant from the State was awarded for $800,000 to assist with the cost of designing and permitting of the reclaimed water transmission main.

Venice ban on shark fishing will be coming

New state rules restricting shore-based shark fishing go into effect July 1. Not long after that the Venice City Council will consider an ordinance banning it from city beaches and the Venice Municipal Pier.

The Venice City Council had discussed shark fishing several times previously without authorizing City Attorney Kelly Fernandez to draft an ordinance of any kind.

She had, however, advised that the city has the authority under state law to impose stiffer regulations than the state has — including a ban — in the interest of public health and safety.

The Council had shied away from doing that in the face of opposition from local anglers but revisited the topic yet again as part of an effort to have new city rules in place when the pier reopens after reconstruction, in August.

Those rules make a ban the appropriate action, according to Mayor John Holic.

They include a requirement that if a prohibited shark species is caught, it remain in the water and be immediately released. That means someone catching a shark at the far end of the pier, which is considered an extension of the shore, would have to walk all the way off it and down onto the beach to cut the fish loose.

“I don’t see any way to fish [for sharks] off the pier,” he said.

Council Member Chuck Newsom suggested including a buffer area around the pier. Council Member Bob Daniels extended it to no shark fishing from the beach or the pier.

“We’re waiting for an accident to happen,” Daniels said.

Fernandez said the ban needs to be imposed by ordinance so it will be enforceable with penalties. With only one meeting left before the Council’s summer break, the earliest an ordinance could go to second reading would be Aug. 27.

You can view the video of the meeting at Veni

NASA helps warn of harmful algal blooms in lakes, reservoirs

Harmful algal blooms can cause big problems in coastal areas and lakes across the United States. When toxin-containing aquatic organisms multiply and form a bloom, it can sicken people and pets, contaminate drinking water, and force closures at boating and swimming sites.

With limited resources to monitor these often-unpredictable blooms, water managers are turning to new technologies from NASA and its partners to detect and keep track of potential hazards. This is particularly critical in lakes and reservoirs that people use for both recreation and water supply.

A new app for Android mobile devices, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and now available on Google play, will alert officials and members of the public when a harmful algal bloom could be forming, depending on specific changes in the color of the water observed by satellites. The app is a product of the multi-agency Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, or CyAN.

“The interest is to use remote sensing as an eye-in-the-sky, early warning system to get a picture of harmful cyanobacteria in U.S. inland lakes,” said Jeremy Werdell, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center lead for CyAN, which also includes the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Beach re-nourishment scheduled for this fall in Englewood

What to expect…here are common questions & answers:

Q: What are the dates of the project?

A: It is expected that some equipment will be staged on/around the beach immediately following the end of Turtle Season (Oct. 31st). Actually work on the beach will not commence until the conclusion of the WaterFest Boat Races which are scheduled for Nov. 22nd – 24th. The completion date is March 31, 2020.

Q: Will the Beach be closed?

A: No. Beach access will permitted in areas not occupied by the construction crews. Those constructions zones will be designated with orange fencing. Once a construction zone is completed, there will be a large pipe left in place that will cause some inconvenience. Provisions will be made to navigate around/over the pipe, but the pipe will be on the beach until the entire project is completed. 

Save the date: Save Our Water summit is Aug. 21 in Bonita Springs

Southwest Florida was the epicenter for water quality issues in Florida in 2018 when the region experienced an environmental catastrophe.

Red Tide floated in the Gulf of Mexico, while toxic blue-green algae choked canals and the Caloosahatchee River. This "perfect storm" caused harm to humans, wildlife, tourism, small businesses and the real estate industry.

Ensuring we have clean water is an ongoing challenge. The News-Press, Naples Daily News and USA TODAY—Florida Network have dedicated a team of journalists to cover the environment with a significant investment in the issues and the people tied to saving our water.

On Aug. 21 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, we will convene the community once again for a Save Our Water summit, featuring experts from science, business and government, as well as our award-winning journalism.

Cape explores seawall assessment

Renee Schihl has lived in the same Cape Coral home for 27 years and says for all that time, she has had issues with her storm drain and seawall.

For the past several weeks, Schihl has addressed her complaints during Cape Coral City Council meetings, asking for the city to repair the damage.

While the city has not done so, her insistence has, perhaps, created an opening for the city to explore a seawall assessment for those who may not have the tens of thousands necessary to fix walls that collapse.

Cape Coral has more than 400 miles of canals. Seawalls are required and currently, maintenance and repairs are the responsibility of the property owners.

As many learned in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017, insurance typically doesn not cover seawall damage, which can run as high as $50,000 -- or more -- for complete replacement.

Gov. DeSantis signs bill giving Sarasota’s Mote $18 million to fight red tide

The laboratory will develop technologies that can fight the toxic algae.

SARASOTA — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday that will put Mote Marine Laboratory at the forefront of efforts to combat red tide in Florida.

The bill, which was championed by Senate President Bill Galvano, allocates $18 million over six years for Mote to develop technologies that can fight red tide blooms.

Lawmakers crafted the measure in response to last year’s devastating bloom that killed sea life in Southwest Florida, fouled the air and water and hurt the region’s tourism industry.

“If we don’t do all that we can to maintain our natural resources, you will see our economy suffer,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis and legislative leaders are touting the measure as a major step toward reducing the harmful effects of red tide, even as some environmental advocates argue lawmakers have not done enough to tackle nutrient pollution that can feed the toxic algae blooms.

Red tide blooms start offshore and are naturally occurring. But when the blooms move near shore they can feed on nutrients that leach into the water from sources such as fertilizer runoff, leaky septic tanks and sewage spills.

Senate Bill 1552 — dubbed the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative — does not address the problem of excessive nutrients in coastal waterways. Instead of trying to cut off the algae’s food source, the legislation - which was sponsored by State Sen. Joe Gruters and state Rep. Michael Grant - seeks to fight the blooms through technology.

Water quality campaign kicks off June 24th

A Calusa Waterkeeper Public Health Campaign kicks off Monday with a documentary, dinner and panel discussion at Broadway Dinner Theatre to discuss why harmful algal blooms have become a public health concern.

Calusa Waterkeeper Executive Director KC Schulberg said they knew the HABs (Harmful Algal Blooms) Public Health Campaign was part of their plan as soon as their Big Calusa event concluded. He said in spite of themselves, they became experts on blue green algae, and red tide.

"We really made that a hot topic. We were crying about this for years before it blew up in our faces last year," Schulberg said.

Last year, the Calusa Waterkeepers held two town halls regarding the economic damage done because of the blue green algae and red tide and legislation and regulation policy.

The campaign kicks off with "Public Health Alert - Florida Water" from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, June 24, at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 1380 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers. The focus is on public health consequences of algae blooms.

June 23-29 is Mosquito Awareness Week

mosquito image

Next week is Mosquito Control Awareness Week! Now that it’s mosquito season, it is the perfect time to look in and around your home for ways to control mosquitoes that can carry viruses like Zika and West Nile.

Here are some simple steps that citizens can take to help control mosquito populations:

  • Empty water from any item that can hold water.
    Examples: flower pots, garbage cans, recycling containers, wheelbarrows, aluminum cans, boat tarps, old tires and buckets.
  • Flush birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
  • Flush ornamental bromeliads or treat with BTI, a biological larvicide available at home stores.
  • Clean roof gutters, which can become clogged and hold water.
  • Change the water in outdoor pet dishes regularly.
  • Keep pools and spas chlorinated and filtered.
  • Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.
  • Cover rain barrels with screening.
  • Check for standing water under houses, near plumbing drains, under air conditioning unit drip areas, around septic tanks and heat pumps.
  • Take steps to eliminate standing water, improve drainage and prevent future puddling.

“It’s important for residents to remember the three Ds of mosquito prevention,” said Brian Lawton, program manager for Pinellas County Vegetation Management and Mosquito Control. “Dress wisely, defend with a good mosquito repellent, and drain standing water.”