Water-Related News

DEP rejects city plan for toxic Dunbar site

The Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday rejected the City of Fort Myers' proposed test plan for its toxic lime sludge site in Dunbar.

Purchased in 1962 to dispose of water treatment waste, the lots bounded by Henderson Avenue and South Street were unfenced and minimally tested, exposing children to toxic soil and families to polluted runoff until a News-Press report spurred the city and DEP into action

In a memo to City Manager Saeed Kazemi, the DEP stated that its review of the plan showed the city did not meet all of the requirements under its regulations.

It catalogued over a dozen issues that must be addressed.

The plan developed by GFA International omitted tests for federal and state primary and secondary drinking water contaminants.

Captiva Plan, wastewater, Captiva Drive still under discussion

The final touches to the Captiva Plan are underway. According to David Mintz, vice president of the Captiva Community Panel, the panel is finishing the plan which started in 2014.

"The plan still has to go through the LPA (Local Planning Agency) process, then it gets sent up to the state the county commissioners for their approval," Mintz said.

For the Captiva Community Plan, the panel added back in the land use regulations language which includes preserving the shoreline and its natural habitats, enhancing water quality, encouraging the use of native vegetation, maintaining the mangrove fringe, limiting noise, light, water and air pollution and enforcing the standards that maintain one and two story building heights and the historic low-density development pattern of Captiva.

On Policy 13.1.1, the panel put back in the language which says the plan will protect mangroves to the greatest extent possible. On 13.1.2, which concerns Blind Pass, maintains it to remain an open Blind Pass.

Critics of DEP water rules now are more hopeful for appeals

Critics of state limits on toxic chemicals in waterways expressed optimism following an appeals court ruling on Tuesday that reversed the dismissal of legal challenges to the state standards.

In July 2016, a sharply divided state Environmental Regulation Commission voted 3-2 during a boisterous meeting to approve new human health criteria despite opposition from environmental activists, some local governments and industry groups.

An administrative law judge threw out challenges filed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the city of Miami, the Florida Pulp and Paper Association and Martin County because he said they were filed late. But the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that Judge Bram D. E. Canter erred by siding with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in ruling that the deadline had passed.

Fort Myers promises transparency about former dump site

City officials are pledging a more transparent approach as they continue to deal with controversy over a former toxic dump site near Dunbar homes.

The city is planning a public meeting to allow residents to express concerns about upcoming tests planned for the site where arsenic was found 10 years ago.

“It is a process that is open, it’s transparent and we’re going to continue with the same thing,” City Manager Saeed Kazemi said. “There’s nothing in there that we are going to keep secret.”

The city expects to announce the time, date and location of the meeting Tuesday. It hired two firms — GFA International Inc. of Lee County and Kansas-based Black & Veatch — to provide environmental engineering and testing services at the site where the city used to dump sludge from a water treatment plant.

Testing is expected to begin the week of July 31, with findings to be published around Sept. 11. The city will also test drinking wells that some use near the site, Kazemi said.

The last tests performed on the area — bounded by Henderson Avenue on the west, Midway Avenue on the east, Jeffcott Street on the south and South Street on the north —revealed no remaining hazardous levels of arsenic or any existing threat to groundwater, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

A fence going up around the area is slated to be finished by week’s end.

Divers protect over 1 million fish from invasive lionfish

Divers removed 1,079 invasive lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico, saving an estimated total of at least 1.6 million fish from the invasive predator during the fourth annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby, which concluded July 9 at Mote Marine Laboratory.

The Sarasota, Florida-based derby was a partnership effort among Mote, a world-class marine science institution, and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), which helps study and address the lionfish invasion, sanctions official lionfish derbies, and provided the estimate of the Sarasota derby's benefit to fish. This was the first derby in the 2017 Summer Lionfish Derby Series coordinated by REEF. Three upcoming derbies are accepting registrations at: www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies.

The Sarasota derby from July 7-9 drew 14 teams, more than double last year’s six teams. Team divers vied to catch the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest lionfish in Gulf of Mexico waters ranging from Collier to Escambia County.

Burnt Store Isles perimeter channel dredge project update

The City of Punta Gorda contractor, Brance Diversified, has begun the maintenance dredging of the perimeter channel in the Burnt Store Isles subdivision (work will occur seven days a week as weather and equipment operation permit). The dredge is near the Macedonia Drive/San Massimo Drive Basin and will progress north along the perimeter channel to the completion point at Terin Court. Boaters should expect navigational delays and need to exercise caution in the vicinity of the work and may contact the company workers through channel 78 on the VHF radio. The dredge will be located in the perimeter channel and will have up to 4,000 feet of 12 inch discharge pipe leading to the spoil locations. The spoil will be discharged directly into the canal system as required by the State/Federal permits.

The current spoil location will be the basin between Macedonia Drive and San Massimo Drive which will be blocked by turbidity screens. Boaters should contact Joost Derijk (952-999-3122), Bryant Smith (352-283-5882), or Seth Mayhall (337-793-6740) to schedule their exit and reentry through the work area.

Short Range Schedule of dredge areas:

Dredging is complete in this area: 5016-5068 San Massimo Drive.

July 15 through August 18, 2017; 513-739 Macedonia Drive.

Residents shall not direct the dredge work in any way. For additional information on this project, please contact City Project Manager, Gary Disher, Punta Gorda Public Works Department at (941) 575-5021 between the business hours of 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Tom Palmer: Problem of water use is not a new issue

To hear some political leaders discuss the increasing challenges of addressing water supply issues lately, you might think this is a relatively recent issue. The same goes for some of the approaches to storing water for future use.

I was reading something the other day about this topic.

“Our water resources can and will be exhausted unless we use them wisely and plan for some method of storing to be used in dry seasons,” it read.

This was from a Florida textbook titled “Florida: Wealth of Waste.” It was published in 1946.

Flash forward to 1973 and read a treatise written by Garald Parker (1905-2000). Parker was known as the “father of Florida groundwater hydrology” and the person credited with coining the term “Swiftmud” to refer to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. At the time, he was Swiftmud’s chief hydrologist and senior scientist.

He suggested more efficient irrigation, treating and reusing sewer discharges, building desalination plants, development of regional wellfield complexes and water distribution systems, capturing and storing storm runoff underground, and taking care not to mine the aquifer.

The last term refers to withdrawing water from the aquifer faster than it can be replenished by rainfall.

It has taken time, but many of these measures were eventually adopted in this part of the state.

Water Atlas program, faculty, Atlas sponsors receive FLMS Awards

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The USF Water Institute was one of five recipients of FLMS Awards of Excellence at the 2017 Florida Lake Management Society symposium in Captiva Island. Former USF Water Institute faculty member Jim Griffin was honored by the Society with its highest award, the Marjorie Carr Award, for lifetime achievement.

The USF Water Institute received the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award, given to individuals or organizations who report on aquatic resource issues, for its use of informatics to publicly disseminate data and supporting, explanatory information related to water resource management. The Water Atlas program is Institute's primary vehicle for distributing water information.

Dr. Jim Griffin, principal investigator for the Water Atlas program from 2005 until he retired in 2014, received the Marjorie Carr Award, the Florida Lake Management Society’s highest award. It is given for lifetime work on behalf of Florida’s aquatic resources. The award is named in honor of Marjorie Carr who, among other things, organized citizens and brought to an end the proposed Cross Florida Barge Canal.

Other 2017 FLMS award recipients:

  • Judy Ott received the Edward Deevey, Jr. Award, given to an individual for contributing to our scientific understanding of Florida’s water bodies. Edward Devey was an internationally recognized limnologist and was affiliated with the State Museum of Florida at the time of his death. Judy retired in March after nine years as program scientist for the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.
  • The Seminole County SERV Program received the Dr. Daniel E. Canfield Jr. Volunteerism Award, given to a volunteer organization or outstanding volunteer for significant contributions to the research, restoration, and/or preservation of our water resources. The award is named after Dr. Daniel Canfield, founder of Florida LAKEWATCH, the pioneering citizen-volunteer water quality monitoring program involving over 1,200 lakes statewide, and now being emulated across the United States. The Seminole Education, Restoration and Volunteer (SERV) Program works to actively restore and educate people on how to protect the waterways and natural areas of Seminole County.
  • Nia Wellendorf, Environmental Administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, received the FLMS Young Professional Award, presented to a young lake management professional who exhibits exemplary professional accomplishments and a commitment to water resource protection and management of our lakes and watersheds.

Mote’s shelf survey could help scientists improve red tide forecasts

While the circular rosette balancing six hydraulic tubes lightly breaks the surface of the water, scientists aboard the nearby boat scramble to hoist the machinery on deck.

Soon, they will open the tubes and pour each of the samples, taken at three different water depths, into a labeled container. As the rosette travels through the water, it collects data on temperature, salinity, water cloudiness and other factors that could play a role in the nutrients and organisms present.

The samples will then return to the lab, where scientists will filter and analyze them for particular elements, such as Karenia brevis, the toxic Florida red tide organism. The expedition is part of Mote Marine Laboratory’s shelf survey, a research project conducted every eight weeks at 14 stations within the West Florida Shelf, where scientists believe the red tide bloom originates.

Red tide is infamous for its effect on Florida beaches, marked by a bad smell, dead fish that wash up on shore and serious respiratory irritation in people. The harmful algae’s toxin can kill birds and other animals, including the iconic manatee; an estimated 300 manatees were killed by red tide in 2013.

FWC asking for public’s help in tracking fish kills

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) needs your help in monitoring fish health by tracking marine and freshwater fish kills in Florida.

FWC scientists monitor and document fish kills and diseases, as well as other aquatic animal health issues and associated environmental events. Many factors can contribute to a fish kill. The good news is that most natural water bodies are resilient to fish kill events.

The public can report fish kills to the FWC at MyFWC.com/FishKill or by calling the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511. You can also submit a report through the “FWC Reporter” app on your iOS or Android mobile devices.

Scallopers get ready, more waters open for harvest starting July 1

Celebrate the Fourth of July with bay scallops. State waters from the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County through the Pasco/Hernando county line will be open for scalloping starting July 1. A span of waters in the middle from the Fenholloway River in Taylor County to the Suwannee River in Dixie County opened earlier this month on June 16 and will close on Sept. 10. (See map.)

These new season dates are for 2017 only and are an opportunity to explore regionally-specific bay scallop seasons. Harvesting bay scallops is a fun outdoor activity that the whole family can participate in. It also brings an important economic boost to coastal areas in the open region.

The scallop season in St. Joseph Bay in Gulf County will be July 25 through Sept. 10 and includes all waters in St. Joseph Bay and those west of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County, through the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

All state waters from the Pasco-Hernando county line to the Suwannee River Alligator Pass Daybeacon 4 in Levy County, and from north and west of Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County through the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County will be open July 1 through Sept. 24.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff worked with local community leaders on selecting these regional 2017 season dates.

At the December 2017 Commission meeting, staff will review public feedback on these changes and make a recommendation for future management. Staff will host public workshops to gather feedback after the season closes. To submit your feedback now on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

Bag and vessel limits throughout the entire bay scallop harvest zone are 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.

Scallops may be collected by hand or with a landing or dip net.

Scallops must be landed within the area that is open to harvest.

There is no commercial harvest allowed for bay scallops in Florida.

Be safe when diving for scallops. Stay within 300 feet of a properly displayed divers-down flag or buoy when scalloping in open water and within 100 feet of a properly displayed divers-down flag or buoy if on a river, inlet or navigation channel. Boat operators traveling within 300 feet of a divers-down flag or buoy in open water or 100 feet of one on a river, inlet or navigational channel must slow to idle speed.

Cleanup plan for Dunbar arsenic sludge pits revealed

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The arsenic sludge dump in Dunbar will be remediated by the city of Fort Myers and will need input from you in the process, according to a plan announced Friday afternoon.

This after Councilwoman Terolyn Watson called for a vote to have the site cleaned up, along with involving more agencies in future tests, during Monday's meeting. That motion was approved 5 to 2.

The toxic mess sits buried underneath an empty lot between Henderson Avenue and Midway Avenue.

The city bought the property in the 1960s to use as a dump site for a water treatment plant but will be taken care of in a four-phase process.

The city says that while they intend to get moving on the process, they ask for patience from nearby residents.

Southwest Florida gets $35.9 million in funding for local projects from state

After the House released its first budget proposal during the last legislative session, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo panicked. Several Southwest Florida projects, including a bridge in Hendry County and a fire station in Marco Island, were not included.

So she called her colleagues in the House to help her out. While many House members went home after legislative leaders worked out the budget in secret, freshman Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel stayed to advocate for Southwest Florida priorities.

“They spent the entire weekend, but those guys were in the appropriations suite making sure their projects were taken care of,” said House budget chief Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. “They had a very very good session, especially for freshmen not knowing the process.”

Southwest Florida lawmakers secured $52.6 million for local projects in the budget they approved May 8. An additional $106 million in funding went to the C-43 reservoir as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. For a rural lands project important to the region that buys development rights from ranchers to keep natural areas open, lawmakers budgeted $10 million.

It was no small feat, given a new budget process that forced House members to put their names next to every local request.

DEP awards nearly $3 million for water-quality restoration grants

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently awarded nearly $3 million for six stormwater projects to communities across Florida. Funded through annual appropriations from the Florida Legislature, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) grants support projects designed to improve water quality in impaired springs, rivers, lakes and estuaries, which need help meeting Florida's stringent water-quality standards.

"The department is eager to partner with communities to improve water quality in coastal estuaries," said Drew Bartlett, DEP deputy secretary for ecosystems restoration. "Healthy waterways are a top priority for Florida's residents and visitors."

Specifically, the TMDL grant program provides funding assistance for communities to implement projects to better manage or treat stormwater. Stormwater runoff is generated when rain flows over land and other surfaces and does not seep into the ground. As this runoff flows over paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops, it accumulates debris, nutrients, sediment or other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if the runoff is left untreated and runs into nearby surface waters.

Caloosahatchee reservoir sprouting at last

An Everglades project aimed at helping the ailing Caloosahatchee River is taking shape just east of the Lee and Hendry County line despite a lack of federal funds.

Called the Caloosahatchee reservoir, or C-43, the $500 million reservoir is designed to hold about 55 billion gallons of stormwater runoff.

"It's being built exclusively for health and benefit of the estuary. Not only do we get too much water from Lake Okeechobee from time to time, but during the rainy season we get too much water coming into the watershed," said Phil Flood, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District. "During the summertime it's too fresh and it damages the ecology."

Then the weather coin flips.

"And during the dry season there's not enough water coming in because we've ditched and drained the system and changed the water table throughout the watershed and as a result it's too salty during the dry season," Flood continued while giving The News-Press a tour of the reservoir site recently.

This reservoir has been part of the Everglades restoration plan for about two decades but has been delayed due to a lack of funding.

Battle for the Bay: Marco pushes back against the FDEP

The Marco Island City Council unanimously filed an appeal of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) recent decision to eliminate all future water quality testing and monitoring at Esplanade Marina at its meeting Monday. :

In 1998 the Esplanade entered into a development agreement with the city for the purpose of constructing a waterfront mixed-use development. As part of the agreement, the Esplanade pledged to “provide onsite water management in accordance with the standards of South Florida Water Management District (and) adequately address issues related to public health, safety and welfare.” :

Similarly, in 2002 when the Esplanade received a permit from the FDEP to build and operate a marina located in Smokehouse Bay, it entered into a binding agreement to protect the water quality of the bay. :

The binding agreement contained a paragraph requiring the marina to "implement a long-term water quality testing and monitoring program." It also warned the marina that "(it) would have to consider eliminating a number of boat slips" should the water quality tests show violations of the state’s water quality standards. :

Recently, the marina asked the FDEP to remove that paragraph from the agreement, freeing it from its obligation to test and monitor the bay's water quality.

Trump administration moves to withdraw clean-water rule

The Trump administration moved Tuesday to roll back an Obama administration policy that protected more than half the nation's streams from pollution but drew attacks from farmers, fossil fuel companies and property-rights groups as federal overreach.

The 2015 regulation sought to settle a debate over which waterways are covered under the Clean Water Act, which has dragged on for years and remained murky despite two Supreme Court rulings. President Donald Trump issued an executive order in February instructing the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind or revise the Obama rule, which environmentalists say is essential to protecting water for human consumption and wildlife.

In a statement, the agencies announced plans to begin the withdrawal process, describing it as an interim step. When it is completed, the agencies said, they will undergo a broader review of which waters should fall under federal jurisdiction.

Lee County pursues Edison Farms land for Conservation 20/20

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FORT MYERS – The Lee Board of County Commissioners today agreed to offer $42.4 million for the purchase of 3,900 acres in southeast Lee County – commonly known as Edison Farms – for a Conservation 20/20 preservation site.

If the county closes on the property, it would rank as the second-largest acquisition approved by the Board since the purchase of Bob Janes Preserve, which is 5,620 acres. In January, commissioners directed staff to solicit three appraisals on the property and to do fact-finding related to the parcel. Commissioners have made preserving Edison Farms a top legislative priority for the past two years. It is an example of the type of environmentally critical land that the Conservation 20/20 program was created to protect and that voters overwhelmingly endorsed with an 84 percent majority late last year.

Edison Farms is adjacent to other county conservation land -- Hidden Cypress Preserve and Flint Pen Strand Preserve – and to land maintained by the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. The site contains significant natural flow-ways, given its location at the confluence of Estero River, Halfway Creek and Imperial River. Restoration through site improvements could provide enhanced water quality, flood attenuation and aquifer recharge as well as protect a significant, diverse population of wildlife and plant communities. It also would provide opportunities for nature-based recreation in the southern part of Lee County.

Conservation 20/20, which has preserved more than 25,000 acres since its inception, is Lee County’s environmental acquisition and management program. Preservation lands help the county protect drinking water, provide nature-based recreational opportunities, protect areas from flooding and provide wildlife habitat. About $86 million is set aside in the program’s acquisition fund.