Water-Related News

CFWI calls for projects to help meet Florida’s water demands

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Source: Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI)

A colorful collection of pipes and pumps sits behind a fence in Seminole County. Segments of blue, green and red are riveted together like a sophisticated LEGO set, but this structure is capable of something far more impressive than any toy.

It’s part of an integrated stormwater, reuse, and reclaimed water system that will deliver excess stormwater and reclaimed water from Altamonte Springs to the city of Apopka.

This alternative water supply project is an example of the kinds of projects that the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) is soliciting to meet the area’s future water demands.

Because of the projected limitations on existing sources of water, water suppliers and other stakeholders within the CFWI planning area were recently asked to identify potential water supply and conservation projects to help meet water demands through 2040.

These projects will help manage the region’s water supply needs by providing water to meet a variety of needs, like public supply, agricultural, commercial and recreational, all while sustaining Florida’s water resources and related natural systems.

“Collaboration is a central and vital element to the CFWI. We’ve put out this call for projects because we want to involve our stakeholders in developing solutions to our regional water supply challenges,” said Thomas Kiger, who leads the CFWI Water Projects Options sub-team.

“Our goal is to create a broad suite of water supply and conservation options that will enable us to meet our water supply needs now and into the future.”

Kiger said in addition to water conservation, he anticipates other water supply options will help meet CFWI needs, including surface water, brackish groundwater, an increased use of reclaimed water and aquifer recharge.

The call for projects runs through October 2018. Project options that meet the goals of the

CFWI regional water supply plan will be included in the list.

Stakeholders are encouraged to submit potential projects, even if they are in early planning stages. While submitting a potential project does not commit a stakeholder to build a project, it will provide a central place where water users can collaborate to evaluate future water supply options. These projects will serve as a list of options in the upcoming Regional Water Supply Plan from which local governments, utilities and others can choose to help meet their water demands over time.

Algal bloom prompts riverfront park advisories in Cape Coral

City of Cape Coral posts notices at Rosen Park, Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, Horton Park, Jaycee Park & the Yacht Club Beach

Algal blooms are continuing to put a damper on swimming and fishing conditions along the Caloosahatchee River, prompting the city of Cape Coral to post temporary advisory signs at Rosen Park, Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, Horton Park, Jaycee Park and the Yacht Club Beach.

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can potentially produce toxins harmful to the human body, along with turning the water into a slimy, sludge-like dark green vat of "no way I'm swimming in that."

"We issued the advisory due to the presence of blue-green algae in the Caloosahatchee River, which can affect the canals adjacent to the river," said Maureen Buice, city spokesperson, in an email. "This does not affect all of our canals especially the freshwater canals. Also, it may not affect some of the more interior saltwater canals."

The advisories-which state swim at your own risk and to not consume fish from the waters - were posted earlier in the week and will remain up as long as the blue-green algae is present, Buice said.

Cyanobacteria is a type of algae naturally present in freshwater environments.

It is a microorganism that functions similarly to plants in that is feeds through photosynthesis and obtains energy from the sun.

A contributing factor to algal bloom can be increases in nutrients that amplify the extent, duration and intensity of these blooms.

Other factors can include warm temperatures, reduced water flow and lack of animals that eat algae.

Dead sea turtles washing up on area beaches

ENGLEWOOD – The onslaught of red tide on our area is not over yet. Dead sea turtles are now reportedly washing up across southwest Florida.

Cindy Blasa enjoys Englewood Beach for its wildlife and scenic views. But on Thursday night, she saw something she'll likely never forget.

"We came down for sunset and we saw a mound out at the water's edge,” said Blasa.

That "mound" was a dead loggerhead sea turtle that had washed ashore.

"It’s just very sad. We've seen some dead turtles in the past, but never one this big,” she said.

The Coastal Wildlife Club says the loggerhead had no apparent injuries, and it's possible this death could be connected to the recent red tide outbreak.

In the past week and a half, local researchers have seen four dead sea turtles on south Manasota Key, including two critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.

Recent red tide blooms in the gulf have led to devastating fish kills in the area.

Researchers from Mote Marine Lab say these turtles had no injuries then were likely killed from red tide, but samples must be taken for sure.

Red tide is a natural, toxic algae that forms in the gulf.

“It has a toxin called ‘brevetoxin’ which is released and it can cause fish kills and aquatic life kills,” said Dr. Tracy Fanara with Mote Marine Lab.

Red tide can also cause respiratory issues for beachgoers.

Administrative judge to hear Polk and Manasota regional water dispute

Water war heating up as Polk Regional Water Cooperative argues 50-year permit sought by Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority to double water it can withdraw.

BARTOW — The regional water war continues.

In the coming months, a judge from the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings will listen to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s argument that the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority should not be allowed to obtain a 50-year permit that would more than double the amount of water it can withdraw.

On June 25, Chris Tumminia, a lawyer for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), wrote to the chief judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings.

“The District has concerns regarding whether it conclusively appears from the face of the Petitions that the pleadings contain defects that cannot be cured,” Tumminia wrote. “However in an abundance of caution the District requests that you assign this matter to an Administrative Law Judge to conduct all necessary and formal proceedings.”

Ryan Taylor, executive director of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, and George Lindsey, who represents Polk on the PRWC, said they hope the two sides can reach a compromise before the hearing. A date for the hearing has not been set.

The PRWC represents the county and 15 cities, including Lakeland.

Lake Okeechobee discharges to St. Lucie River likely to restart this week

The reprieve in Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie River might be short-lived.

"We will likely have to resume releases later in the week to reduce the flood risk that a rising lake presents to people living and working around it," the Army Corps of Engineers announced late Sunday.

The lake was 14.42 feet above sea level Sunday, the news release says. The agency wants to keep the lake between 12 feet, 6 inches and 15 feet, 6 inches during the summer rainy season, from about June 1 to Nov. 30, to avoid a breach in the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding the lake.

Discharges were scheduled to resume July 9, after a nine-day reprieve that began June 30. However, the Army Corps postponed restarting them "to conduct a full assessment of system conditions," Col. Jason Kirk, the Jacksonville district commander, said in the news release. "As we look at operations in the system, we believe we can pause discharges for a short time to get additional input from staff on available options for moving water."

The agency continues to work with the South Florida Water Management District to keep moving water south through its system of canals, stormwater treatment areas and water conservation areas.

"We want to ensure we are using all available flexibility before we resume discharges east and west," Kirk said in the news release.

Lee County legislators ask Gov. Rick Scott to declare state of emergency because of algae problem

As a toxic blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River floats into its second putrid week, state legislators representing Lee County have asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency because of the threat it and a persistent red tide bloom pose to the area's economy and waterways.

The letter, sent Thursday, said:

"A state of emergency would effectuate a swift and efficient state response to the imminent dangers of the bluegreen algae threat to Lee County by identifying available funds state agencies could use to respond to this threat. Additionally, we ask that you continue to request the water management districts explore and pursue all options that will reduce discharges, including storage north, east, west, and south of Lake Okeechobee."

The letter was signed by state representatives Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, Matt Caldwell, R- North Fort Myers, Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and state senators Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, Kahtleen Passidomo, R-Naples and Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid.

In 2016, when a similar bloom plagued the southern part of the state, the governor declared an emergency that helped facilitate loans for 54 businesses statewide claiming harm. Twelve were in Lee County.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida Coast

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Thanks to whale shark sightings reported by the public off the southwest Florida coast in early June, scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory located five of the polka-dotted, filter-feeding giants and tagged two of them with tracking devices on the afternoon of June 14.

All five whale sharks were found offshore of Longboat Key and New Pass, feeding at the surface possibly on fish eggs as well as other forms of plankton.

“It is not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted feeding in the Gulf this time of year, but the duration of their stay is longer than in previous years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote. “Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.”

The first shark, a 16-foot-long male nicknamed “Colt,” was tagged around 12:30 p.m., about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County. As the team was traveling back to shore around 2 p.m., they found and tagged a 22- to 25-foot female nicknamed “Minnie” and photographed her unique spot patterns for later identification. Three more whale sharks were found and photographed in a group closer to shore.

The trip was made possible by Captain Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts, who transported the research team on his large vessel, allowing them to travel far and fast enough to locate the animals.

The tracking tags will store data about the whale sharks’ location, and the depths and temperatures they encounter.

Funding for repairs to Hoover Dike fast-tracked, work to be completed 3 years sooner

BELLE GLADE — Senator Bill Nelson made a major announcement Thursday in Belle Glade about repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike: he’s fast-tracking the project.

Now, the Army Corps of Engineers approved to complete the project by 2022, three years earlier than expected.

So who’s paying for the project?

According to Senator Nelson, $1 billion have already been spent with an additional $720 million to go. Nelson said Thursday that money will officially come from the Hurricane Disaster Assistance fund, a pot of money holding $80 billion dollars.

“It was a big pot of money," explained Sen. Nelson, “and we needed about three-quarters of a billion to complete this.”

The repairs to the dike mean added safety for the communities living alongside Lake Okeechobee and less discharge into the water that reaches the Treasure Coast. That discharge causes toxic algae blooms.

Senator Nelson also shared the details of the water bill he is introducing to the Senate next week. It involves cleaning the water before dumping it into the St. Lucie River and distributing the water from Lake Okeechobee differently.

Will sargassum be the next algae problem in Florida?

The Gulf Coast of Florida is already dealing with two different algae blooms: a red tide on many beaches south of Manatee County and blue-green algae spilling into the Gulf from Lake Okeechobee; but now outbreaks of a larger species of seaweed have even reached Florida. Beginning about seven years ago, beaches throughout the Caribbean Sea have been swamped by feet-thick blooms of Sargassum.

Amy Siuda is an assistant professor of marine science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and is trying to figure out if this Sargassum is a different species than is commonly found in the Caribbean.

“Sargassum is a brown algae, a type of seaweed, that is common throughout the tropics and temperate region. There are hundreds of species of Sargassum and most are attached to the bottom like normal seaweeds. But there are two species that are known right now — of Sargassum — that live their entire lives not attached to the bottom. So those two species have been associated with the Sargasso Sea out in the center of the North Atlantic [Ocean].”

And oftentimes critters live right among these floating algae.

When toxic algae blooms, who warns people to stay out of the water?

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Though huge blooms of blue-green algae have been making headlines lately, one place communication about their potential dangers is less clear is on the waterfront.

More than a week into the worst bloom in recent memory, people are still swimming, fishing and boating in the green-slimed river as municipalities try to figure out who's supposed to educate people about its potentially grave risks.

Last Thursday, with no signs or barriers warning them not to, Carson Wallace,15, and Will Wiggins,19, unloaded their personal watercraft at the Alva boat ramp. They weren't worried about the bloom, they told The News-Press.

Later that week, Lee County's Natural Resources department posted warnings at the ramp as well as two other public access points, the Davis Boat Ramp in Fort Myers Shores and Caloosahatchee Regional Park in Alva. However, in some places, there are still no barriers or signs warning of danger, even though the kind of algae now polluting the Caloosahatchee is decidedly toxic, says Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani.

As the Fourth of July holiday looms, Cassani's anxiety has surged.

Photo credit: Earth Justice, 2011

Florida DEP partners with regional land trust to conserve 56-Acre Peninsula

DEP and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast protect and preserve integral coastal lands

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announces the permanent protection of the 56-acre Coral Creek Peninsula as an addition to Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park. With the addition of of this conservation land, DEP will be able to better protect several of its already managed areas.

"The Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park has been a land acquisition priority since 1972," said Callie DeHaven, Director of DEP Division of State Lands. "The Coral Creek Peninsula purchase is a great example of Florida Forever dollars being used to ensure the vitality and integrity of our spectacular state parks. We're proud that we were able to work with our partners to complete this important acquisition and look forward to continuing to build these types of partnerships to acquire additional rare and sensitive lands."

This parcel is within the boundaries of the northern half of Charlotte Harbor. Adding this vital land to the park will ensure it is also managed for the health and diversity of its natural communities while benefiting the adjoining public lands and significant waterways. The 46,000-acre preserve buffers more than 100 miles of the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor National Estuary and over 80,000 acres of aquatic preserves. The variety of habitat supports more than 100 invertebrate species, 200 fish species, and 150 species of shore and wading birds.

“Conservation Foundation is working to conserve critical properties surrounding the Charlotte Harbor estuary and its barrier islands,” said Christine Johnson, Conservation Foundation President. “We recognized the importance of saving the Coral Creek Peninsula to prevent any future development which would disturb important fish and wildlife within the state park, surrounding creeks and bays.”

The Conservation Foundation worked with DEP to acquire the property through the Florida Forever program. The state’s acquisition will enhance management of the natural resources on both the land and the adjoining state park lands.

With approximately 10 million acres managed for conservation in Florida, more than 2.5 million acres were purchased under the Florida Forever and P2000 programs. Since the inception of the Florida Forever program in July 2001, the state has purchased more than 770,279 acres of land with a little over $3 billion.

Fertilizer and Lake O releases contribute to algae in the Caloosahatchee

Experts say that Lake Okeechobee releases are definitely a contributing factor to the algae in the Caloosahatchee River, but the chemicals from fertilizers are also adding to the gunky, green sight.

“It happens pretty much each year,” said Sweetwater Landing Marina owner Brandon Mayer. “It’s a normal occurrence.”

Mayer says he has gotten used to the slimy, green water surrounding the boats off State Road 31 and worrying his customers. “A lot of customers just want to know if it’s anything that’s gonna be alarming health wise, or where they can’t get in the water,” Mayer said.

Experts say it is alarming and harmful to people and wildlife. One problem is the Lake Okeechobee releases that are sent down the Caloosahatchee, but another issue is something in people’s lawns and landscapes, fertilizers.

“Fertilizer is good as long as it’s just being applied during winter months, and being irrigated with standard irrigation,” said horticulturist at Seabreeze Landscapes Justen Dobbs.

Fertilizer’s needed to keep plants healthy, but not good during the summer months. With the heavy rain during the summer, it causes fertilizers to run off into the water.

“We have a lot of rain run off that makes it’s way through everybody’s lawns, into the storm run off and, eventually, out into the gulf,” Dobbs said.

A Lee County ordinance doesn’t allow landscapers to use fertilizers with nitrogen or phosphorous during the months of summer to September. But, this ordinance doesn’t stop homeowners from using that kind of fertilizer on their lawns.

Some beaches near Fort Myers and Naples in fine shape with no algae

With all of the recent bad news about Lake Okeechobee-stained water, algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee and red tide in the Gulf of Mexico, a day at the beach might not seem like such a good idea.

But there is still plenty of coastline in the Fort Myers and Naples area that's in good shape.

"The official word is things look good here," said Matt Kruse, Lovers Key assistant park manager. "No reports of red tide, the air clear and clean and we're not seeing any dead fish."

Here’s a list of six sandy spots in Southwest Florida that, as of Friday afternoon, had no advisories about potentially dangerous bacteria, reports of red tide or dark, murky water carried by Lake Okeechobee releases.

Poisonous algae bloom spreading in Caloosahatchee

Water samples taken by a local river advocacy group show that the blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River is toxic.

The algal bloom started last week and has grown denser in recent days.

"My big concern is health," said Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani while driving to the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam. "People want to be in or on the water, and we’ve got a holiday week coming up. But they won’t be able to swim at Franklin locks because it’s closed."

Cassani thought signs put up by the state health department would keep people out of the water at Franklin Lock and Dam.

He was wrong.

"There are six or seven kids swimming in the water right now and people fishing in it," Cassani said while speaking to The News-Press on his cellphone.

A short distance down the river at the Alva boat ramp, Carson Wallace and Will Wiggins were launching a personal watercraft that looked like it had been coated in John Deere green paint.

Public can weigh in on reservoir below Lake Okeechobee

The public has until July 24 to put in their comments about the expanded storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

After Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 10 and activists lobbied in Washington, D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to fast-track the review of a new reservoir area in the Everglades Agricultural Area just south of the lake, proposed by South Florida Water Management District.

The Corps is undertaking the review of an environmental impact statement of the new area, and must take public comment as part of the process.

The comment period is open from June 8 to July 24; the Corps and SFWMD also held public meetings June 26, 27 and 28 in Lehigh Acres, Clewiston and Stuart for the public to make comments on the draft environmental report.

"We do support the project. We appreciate all your work, and the expedited timeline. Fabulous," said Rae Ann Wessel, director of Natural Policy for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Wessel was one of those who trekked to D.C. to ask for this new piece of the puzzle.

One storage area, called A-1, is already approved in the EAA. It was approved as part of the Central Everglades Planning Project. CEPP was authorized in the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, which is federal legislation that authorizes projects for funding. Part of another area, A-2, was also approved.

But to add in the new storage area into the A-2 parcel, and its stormwater treatment area, the CEPP has to be amended through WRDA.

The reservoir project as a whole will cost $1.301 billion, in a state-federal cost share.

WRDA is up for reauthorization in the fall, so the Corps has to hustle to get the report on A-2 finished in time.

"This is a very aggressive schedule. This is not the norm," said Gina Ralph, the environmental lead for the Corps.

Placida fishing pier repairs in progress

CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Repairs to the Placida Fishing Pier are in progress and will be completed in approximately 6 weeks. The pier, at 13120 Pier Road in Placida, was closed earlier this year due to fire damage.

In the interim, please visit Anger Fishing Pier at 1385 Beach Road, Englewood; El Jobean Fishing Pier at 5001 El Jobean Road in Port Charlotte; or Boca Grande Fishing Pier at 5810 Gasparilla Road on Gasparilla Island.

For more information contact Brenda Sisk at 941-833-3824 or Brenda.Sisk@CharlotteCountyFL.gov.

Red tide bloom killing fish, sea turtles in Fort Myers area

Dead Goliath grouper, tarpon, snook, sea turtles, manatees.

Fishing guide Chris O'Neill has filmed them all this week while documenting the effects of a strong red tide bloom that's lingering off the Southwest Florida coast.

"It’s pretty bad, and it smells like massive death," O'Neill said. "I saw a manatee and a sea turtle and six tarpon dead in one small body of water. I only had to look for a couple of hours. It wasn’t hard to find. I could see about six Goliaths laying on the beach at Boca Grande."

Dead fish have been washing up on Southwest Florida beaches for months now, since a long-lived bloom started in October.

But mostly those fish were mullet, which will actually eat the red tide, and small baitfish, which can't swim far distances to escape the toxic algal blooms.

Now breeding-age gamefish like snook, grouper and tarpon are dying, a sign that the bloom has become more intense in coastal waters.

"I've spent 10 years studying Goliath grouper and tagging them, and I just watched the whole population of Charlotte Harbor die," O'Neill said. "The future of the fishery was cut off at the knees."

Algae outbreak leads Florida Department of Health to issue swim “reminders”

A day after The News-Press reported about blue-green algae in the Caloosahatchee River, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County issued an algae "reminder" Wednesday.

"Cyanobacteria/blue-green algae are a group of organisms that can live in freshwater, saltwater or mixed brackish water," the release says. "When conditions are right, such as warm water and increased nutrients, these organisms can increase in numbers and accumulate in some areas of a water body."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the swimming beach at the Franklin Lock and Dam Tuesday due to the algae bloom, which has grown in size over the past week.

Smelly piles of algae are piling up on the east side of the lock.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has taken at least two water samples along the river and will report any toxins found.

Mote scientists studying possible remedy for red tide

What if organisms in Sarasota Bay could help tame the effects of red tide? That's what researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory are hoping to find out.

This week, Mote is starting a lab study on whether certain organisms have any effect on Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for toxic algal blooms called red tide. When the naturally-occurring organism gathers in dangerous amounts, it can lead to respiratory irritation in humans and often causes fish kills.

The study will use six ladder-like structures that have had time to accumulate filamentous green algae — the stringy, matted plant that typically is the first to attach to underwater structures — and filter feeders like barnacles, tunicates and oysters in Sarasota Bay.

Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to be reduced

Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the ocean will be reduced immediately, as state and federal water managers try to protect Florida’s coasts from another outbreak of toxic algae.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which limits the lake’s water level to keep pressure off its aging dike, announced Thursday that it would reduce water flows through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, which had been blamed for the green slime that coated beaches two years ago.

The South Florida Water Management District, which controls the region’s major drainage canals, announced a series of measures, including the installation of temporary pumps, to rush water through the Everglades regions of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties so the lake’s excess water could be moved south.

It’s unclear how much these measures can reduce the discharges and how long the relief will last, with the rainy season underway and the need to keep the lake low enough to absorb water from tropical storms or hurricanes.

North Port repairs bridge at Warm Mineral Springs Park

The City of North Port is coordinating repairs to a pedestrian bridge at Warm Mineral Springs Park beginning Monday, June 25. It is estimated the work will take four days, pending weather.

Repair includes grinding and resurfacing to address areas that are delaminating and fragmenting.

Although the Springs will still be accessible, patrons will not be able to utilize the bridge during the work. This will impact quick access to the northwestern side of the grounds.

The City of North Port appreciates everyone’s patience and cooperation as the City works on this improvement.

Free admission for Sarasota County residents at Warm Mineral Springs Park on Aug. 11

Have you always wanted to check out Warm Mineral Springs Park? Daily admission will be waived for all Sarasota County residents on Saturday, August 11, 2018. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Spring maintains 85 degrees year-round and contains an estimated 51 minerals – one of the highest mineral content of any natural spring in the United States. People worldwide visit the Park annually to soak in the mineral dense waters. The Spring is also the only warm spring in Florida.

Beneath the Spring’s depths is one of the most important underwater archeological sites in America. It is believed that the Spring dates back to the Ice Age. During exploratory dives in the 1950s, the remains of a prehistoric man and evidence of several creatures were discovered, including saber tooth tigers, giant sloths, tortoises, and even camels. The Spring has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Warm Mineral Springs Park is owned by the City of North Port and operated by National & State Park Concessions. Proof of residence will be required for admission into the Springs on Aug. 11, including a driver’s license or an FPL bill, water bill, tax bill, or deed. Spa services are not included in the free admission and must be booked in advance and paid for separately.

For more information about Warm Mineral Springs Park, including general rules and prohibited items, visit www.cityofnorthport.com/warmmineralspringspark or call 941-426-1692.

The fate of Florida's wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

Red tide largely spares Manatee County, but plagues beaches to the south

MANATEE COUNTY – The shores of Manatee County have lately been relatively free of the effects of red tide. But as beachgoers venture farther south along the Gulf of Mexico, it's a different story.

On Monday afternoon, beaches from Lido Key to Venice North Jetty reported some dead fish, some respiratory irritation or a little bit of both. This is according to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab, or SO COOL for short, which gathers the conditions of 29 beaches from Caladesi Island to Marco Island.

The Karenia brevis organism is naturally occurring but when it accumulates in toxic amounts, it becomes red tide. It's obvious to tell when red tide is on a beach when itchy, watery eyes or scratchy throats become unbearable, or if dead fish litter the shore.

Vince Lovko, phytoplankton ecology scientist with Mote Marine, said this particular bloom is "unusual, not remarkable." By this, he means that although red tide is typically known to appear between late summer and early fall, this particular instance in Manatee and Sarasota waters isn't that strange. The first day of summer is Thursday.

"Certainly we are aware that red tide ... can happen any time of the year," Lovko said.

The trouble is knowing enough about K. brevis to predict when it's going to happen, or to stop it from happening altogether. He compared it to predicting the weather.

"We don't try to change the weather, but we do try to get better at predicting it," he said.

He suspects that the recent harmful algal bloom is actually part of a bloom that has persisted since November 2017.

Volunteers plant seagrass in Caloosahatchee River

Seeding Success

Volunteers from The Calusa Waterkeeper, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Sea and Shoreline gathered Monday, June 18 to begin a seagrass replenishment program. They planted widgeon and tape grass in the upper estuary of the Caloosahatchee River, utilizing prepared cages. These devices will help the plants get started and protect them until they reach maturity.

John Cassini of Calusa Waterkeeper explained that permitting for the project was a joint effort from Florida Department of Environmental Protection, National Marine and the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida House Representative Heather Fitzenhagen was on hand to help as well.