Water-Related News

Trump wetlands rule rollback makes about 6 million acres in Florida unprotected

The EPA's own figures show the rolback of Obama-era regulations will leave 51 percent of the nation's wetlands unprotected. Florida has 12 million acres of wetlands, more than all but one other state.

A new definition of federally protected wetlands that the Trump administration unveiled this week would make an estimated 6 million acres of Florida's wetlands vulnerable to developers and other interests that seek to wipe them out, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The figures, first reported by an energy and environment publication called E&E News, say the new wetlands definition would remove federal protection under the Clean Water Act from about 51 percent of all of the nation's wetlands. Florida has about 12 million acres of wetlands, the most of any state except Alaska.

Losing federal protection for half of them "could alter the Florida landscape pretty significantly," said Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager for wetlands at the National Wildlife Federation. "There will be a significant impact on water quality as a result."

Stetson University law school dean Royal Gardner, a former attorney for the federal agency in charge of issuing wetlands permits, called the proposed change an "attempt to gut Clean Water Act protections by proposing a restrictive definition of waters of the United States."

And Brad Cornell of Audubon Florida pointed out that “this is a very bad time to lessen protection for wetlands and watersheds in Florida — we are in the second year of just about continuous Red Tide affliction.” A Red Tide toxic algae bloom is fueled by pollution in storm runoff, which can be filtered and cleaned up by wetlands.

The new rule, unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says that the only wetlands that will be federally protected are those immediately adjacent to a major body of water, or ones that are connected to such a waterway by surface water.

Algae biomass organization bringing ‘2019 Algae Biomass Summit’ to Orlando

ORLANDO – The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), the trade association for the algae industry, announced today that the 2019 Algae Biomass Summit will take place in Orlando, Florida, September 16-19, 2019 at the Rosen Centre Hotel. The annual Summit is the world’s largest gathering of algae scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, government officials, and Fortune 500 companies that are adopting algae into their products and operations. Information about the event and call for abstracts can be found at AlgaeBiomassSummit.org

The Summit has become the go-to conference for commercial algae producers, the scientific community, and algae product developers that are unlocking the potential of algae agriculture to provide a more sustainable source of food, feed, biofuel, nutritional supplements, advanced materials like plastics and foams, pharmaceuticals and more.

The event also highlights promising applications of algae – such as wastewater treatment, nutrient management, and carbon capture and use – to safeguard our water, air and soil, including solutions to algae blooms facing Florida and other parts of the world.

Proposed legislation looks to restore septic inspections

New legislation filed by state Rep. Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) looks to restore inspection requirements on septic tanks that were eased at the height of the Great Recession.

“I heard about nothing else more than red tide during the course of my campaign,” Robinson said. “Even at my victory party, a supporter said to me, ‘Will, do something. Big or small, do something about red tide.’ “

This may fall into the former category. Septic tank leakage this year was frequently cited among the sources of nutrients feeding both the blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee and the red tide blooms on the east and west coast.

Now, Robinson has filed his first piece of legislation (HB 85) with the aim at curtailing nutrients seeping from the coast to the sea.

“A critical issues I heard about was faulty septic tanks, which have in my view contributed excess nutrients into the waterways,” he said.

Of course, there’s been disagreement on the worst culprits behind red tide and blue-green algae.

And Robinson for his part also promised in the campaign in Florida House District 71 to hold polluters to account and fund land acquisition program Florida Forever.

But plenty of investigations in recent years have shown poor septic tanks bear some blame.

Estuary partners choose their battles coast to coast

A boatload of estuary experts from around the country gathered on an early October day to tour the prettiest part of San Francisco Bay. They paid rather less attention to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate than to each other. In town for the National Estuary Program’s annual Tech Transfer Conference, they had come to compare notes and strategies from the 28 varied bays, bights, bayous, and river mouths that benefit from one of the nation’s most durable, and efficient, environmental laws.

In 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, Congress proclaimed selected tidewater regions to be “estuaries of national significance” and offered money to help local coalitions take on environmental problems there. Through all the political gyrations since, a thin stream of funding, via the Environmental Protection Agency, has continued to flow to place-based programs with tiny core staffs and numerous collaborating partners. These doughty groups have helped work wonders in habitat restoration and pollution cleanup, learning many a lesson along the way. The yearly conference, hosted this time by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, ensures that that knowledge gets shared.

… … …

Sarasota Bay, a fifty-mile-long lagoon on the southwest coast of Florida, is fairly new to the ranks of estuaries, having naturally lacked the freshwater input to qualify as one. In modern times, though, the bay acquired tributaries of a sort due to stream reengineering, urban storm runoff, and wastewater outfalls. With more water from the land came nitrogen and other nutrients, tending to overfertilize the bay. Among other accomplishments, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Partnership has succeeded in reducing nitrogen inflow by two thirds.

But these days all local efforts seem overwhelmed by the devastating regional red tide, an overgrowth of the toxic alga Karenia brevis. While the affliction follows natural cycles, director David Mark Alderson suspects that continued cleanup could lessen future pain. “We’ve done a lot of really good work on reducing nutrient pollution along this coast, but it may not be enough.” A new initiative along the bay seeks to naturalize normal streams and shorelines, creating additional nutrient uptake and improving habitat for fish.

Fort Myers sludge from Dunbar site is headed to Polk County

The city of Fort Myers has found a Plan B for getting rid of the sludge deposited in a Dunbar neighborhood decades ago, according to a memo to city staff.

It is now headed to a waste solidification facility in Mulberry that processes nonhazardous solids, sludges, liquids, tars and gels in bulk quantities, the plan states.

The city began excavating the sludge site on South Street on Nov. 29 and at least two trucks left for a cement plant in Alabama in what the city called a "test run."

The removal plan was crafted by PPM Consultants, which the city has paid more than $3 million to help remove sludge from the site.

The Altamonte Springs-based consulting firm PPM enlisted the services of Geocycle, a subsidiary of waste management company LafargeHolcim, which owns the plant, but they found they could not take the material to Alabama, prompting neighbors on South Street to wonder how long it would take the city to continue the removal.

Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi said Thursday that he still expects the sludge to be removed by the middle or end of February.

"That's the commitment and we are going to do it," Kazemi said.

In the memo, Kazemi writes: "City staff evaluated the test run of the lime residuals material to Alabama and adjustments to the plan are required to proceed with the project. City staff worked with the contractor PPM to refine the plan and PPM found a permitted facility that is able to accept the material."

Mote Marine-led initiative will restore resilient corals across 130 acres

Mote Marine Laboratory and partners will restore 70,000 coral “seeds” across 130 acres of depleted Florida reefs over three years — prioritizing coral genetic varieties resilient to disease and climate change impacts — thanks to a grant of nearly $1.5 million announced today, Nov. 9, by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners. The grant challenges Mote and its supporters to raise matching funds and achieve the greatest possible impact for the Florida Reef Tract and those who depend on it. Florida has the planet’s third-largest shallow-water coral reef system, which underpins the state’s marine ecosystems, supports over 70,000 local jobs, draws $6.3 billion to Florida’s economy and serves as the primary front line of coastal resiliency defense from major storms. Resilient coastlines are the focus of Mote’s grant and 34 others totaling $28.9 million, awarded by National Coastal Resilience Fund (NCRF), a partnership of NFWF, NOAA, Shell Oil Company and TransRe. These grants were made possible when congress provided funding for Title IX of the National Oceans and Coastal Security Act. Together, the grants are expected to generate $38.3 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $67.2 million. With the new grant, Mote will implement a strategic Florida Keys Coral Disease Response & Restoration Initiative with multiple research and restoration partners — a powerful attack against unprecedented threats facing Florida’s reefs, including an outbreak of coral tissue-loss disease spanning more than 96,000 acres.

Reservoirs won't help algae problem, commissioner, scientist agree

PUNTA GORDA — A reservoir that a prominent biologist says may do little to help the Everglades is poised for federal funding, while Charlotte County’s septic-to-sewer projects got bumped off the list.

Greg Burns, a Washington lobbyist working for the county, presented the results of federal legislation to the Charlotte County Commission recently. Burns reassured the board that Florida’s U.S. legislators will work to get the county’s requested $16 million back in the federal program by 2020.

“They were not happy in the end,” he said of the Florida delegation in Washington. “We were closer this time.”

The reservoir project is expected to cost the state and federal government $1.6 billion.

Later that day, University of Miami Professor Larry Brand spoke on harmful algae to a Sierra Club chapter at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Of the new reservoir promised by federal legislators, Brand predicted that the project will not do much to reduce the cyanobacteria coming out of Lake Okeechobee in the rainy season.

The man-made marshes that go along will help a little, he said, but the pollutant nitrogen is difficult to remove. Brand was among the first scientists to sound the alarm on nitrogen pollution more than 10 years ago.

“It will become a little Lake Okeechobee,” he said of the reservoir.

USGS study: Salinity important for managing Lake O's algal toxins

Researchers find that cyanobacteria release more toxins in response to increased salinity.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists tinkering around with freshwater blue-green algae from Lake Okeechobee have made a simple, yet potentially significant discovery: the amount of salty water needed to transform the tiny organisms from benign to toxic as they travel toward busy coasts.

With the right planning, the discovery could help water managers prevent the kind of foul sliming that spreads along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers with every rainy season.

“Our findings open up the possibility that water managers may eventually be able to help reduce the algal toxins reaching coastal waters by manipulating salinity,” said the study’s lead author and USGS biologist Barry Rosen.

Blue-green algae naturally occur in fresh water, including Lake O, and provide the foundation for the food chain that has made the lake a destination for bass anglers and birders. But fed by too many nutrients flowing mostly off farms and ranches to the north, Lake O’s algae can explode into dense blooms that block light, smother life and sometimes release toxins that can make people and wildlife sick.

It's known as ‘The ABC Plan’. Can it solve red tide?

With many fishermen and shellfish farmers losing their jobs because of Florida red tide, Barry Hurt of Little Gasparilla Island in Charlotte County decided to do something about it.

Hurt, 69, a former entrepreneur who became a clam farmer 13 years ago, proposed restoring native algae-consuming shellfish to filter the water along the state’s southwest coast.

This is what the red tide bacteria look like under a microscope. (Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) Red tide – the toxic algae scientifically known as Karenia brevis – continues to destroy marine life, restaurants and the livelihood of some South Florida communities.

Hurt’s idea is known as A Billion Clams for a Healthier Charlotte Harbor, or ABC plan for short. It has the support of a number of scientists and other local growers along the harbor, which is considered among the best spots to sail in Florida.

According to a website created to promote it, clamrestoration.com, the ABC plan aims to use local clam farmers to restore depleted native clam resources. It also would create permanent clam beds protected from commercial and recreational harvest. The beds would mature and become self-recruiting, leading to an increase in native populations over time, the site states.

Hurt and a team of science advisers would like to begin enacting the plan within the next six months. However, they still must secure what Hurt said would be the funding – between $1.5 million to $2 million per year for 10 years – needed just to replace depleted clam populations.

New national report says climate change threatens U.S. water security

Water infrastructure was not designed for past climate extremes, let alone future changes, report authors say.

Putting human health, life, and jobs at risk, a reliable supply of clean water for cities, farms, industries, and ecosystems in the United States while also managing droughts and floods is “increasingly in jeopardy,” according to an expansive U.S. government report on the consequences of climate change in the country.

The National Climate Assessment, required by an act of Congress and written by more than 300 scientists, half from outside the federal government, is meant to inform U.S. leaders about changes to land, water, and air from a warming planet.

Released the day after Thanksgiving, the report focuses on how those physical changes will dramatically reshape human life and the systems that support it. The report also underscores troubling knowledge gaps about how the projected increase in extreme storms and heat will affect the nation’s water supply.

“We don’t have a very good grasp as a nation what our water-related risks are,” Casey Brown, a co-author on the report’s water chapter, told Circle of Blue. “We seem to keep learning this every time there’s a flood or drought.”

The authors of the water chapter emphasized three elements of the interaction between climate change and man-made systems: water quality and availability will shift; dams, levees, drainage systems, and other components of the nation’s water infrastructure are aging and poorly designed for a topsy-turvy climate; and water managers will need to prepare for a broader set of climate stresses.

“You could talk about a lot of impacts to water,” Upmanu Lall, lead author of the report’s water chapter, told Circle of Blue. “We chose to talk about infrastructure because no one is highlighting that.”

Physical alterations to the country’s water supplies, many of which are already happening, will be far-reaching, the report says. On the coasts and islands, rising seas will drive saltwater farther inland underground, which will worsen flooding and spoil groundwater used for irrigation and drinking water.

CHNEP seagrass restoration project In the Caloosahatchee River makes progress

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program partnered with local non-profit organizations as well as private citizens and companies to try to restore seagrass in the Caloosahatchee River.

Several yards from some mangrove trees nestled along the northwestern bank of the Caloosahatchee, the Executive Director of CHNEP, Jennifer Hecker, looked at the progress of seagrass that planted over six months ago.

Historically, the river has supported vast seagrass beds but much of it was lost in recent years— in part because of alterations in water flows in the Tidal Caloosahatchee River.

The tan riverbed leading up to the shore is bare, with the exception of five cylindrical cages that poke out a few inches above the water. Underneath them, seagrass is growing abundantly.

"This is the first documented instance in over a decade that we’ve had seagrasses growing and flowering in the Tidal Caloosahatchee River," Hecker said. "So, we’re extremely excited about this development.”

Various species of seagrasses were planted by trained citizen volunteers at five different locations along the Caloosahatchee to see which type would be able to withstand the fickle salinity of the river water.

The species Vallisneria Americana, commonly known as “eel grass,” grew several inches tall underneath the cages. The cages were placed over the seedlings when they were planted in order to protect them from being grazed upon before becoming established.

Hecker explained that while the grasses are a vital part of the river's ecosystem.

Snook and redfish harvest closed until March due to red tide

Snook harvest seasonal closure in most Gulf waters starts Dec. 1

The recreational harvest season for snook closes Dec. 1 in federal and most state waters of the Gulf, including all of Monroe County and Everglades National Park.

Snook, as well as redfish, remain catch-and-release only in state waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County (includes Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County) through May 10, 2019, in response to the impacts of red tide.

Snook outside of that area will reopen to harvest March 1, 2019. Anglers may continue to catch and release snook during the closed season.

Season closures are designed to help conserve snook during vulnerable times such as cold weather. Atlantic state and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, will close Dec. 15 through Jan. 31, 2019, reopening to harvest Feb. 1, 2019.

Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Snook” for more information on snook. Improve data and report your catch on the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s Angler Action iAngler app, which can be downloaded at SnookFoundation.org.

Lee County officials vow water quality diligence

As local water quality issues have seemed to slow, county officials are not taking their foot off the gas when it comes to mitigation efforts in Lee County.

The Horizon Council met last Friday morning at Hodges University for a general membership meeting and a Lee County Water Quality Panel Discussion, highlighted by Lee County Manager, Roger Desjarlais; Lee County Natural Resource Director, Roland Ottolini and Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau Director, Tamara Pigott.

The Horizon Council is a public-private board to advise the Lee County Board of Commissioners on economic development issues.

"We're in that time of year where the blue-green algae has mostly dissipated - cooler temperatures, cooler water - makes for a much better environment," said Desjarlais. "The red tide is off-shore right now. Prevailing winds are now more easterly than they were. The beaches look great, the river looks great, but, we have to remember that it could be back next year."

The county officials broke down their efforts on continuing to mitigate these water-quality issues in the forms of public education, projects and regulation.

Public education includes fertilizer ordinances, pet waste education, maintained septic tanks and source control cost-effective approach.

Calusa Blueway speaker series begins Dec. 4th

Mark your calendar for Calusa Blueway speaker series – Lee County Parks & Recreation to offer events through March

FORT MYERS – Introduction to Kayak Fishing Tournaments will be presented by Dan Carns as the first talk in a series of free Calusa Blueway-related programs at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center, 16760 Bass Road, Fort Myers.

Dan Carns is a professional kayak fishing guide with years of experience fishing the waters of the Calusa Blueway and participating in paddle fishing tournaments. He will bring his own equipment and discuss preparing for fishing tournaments, planning strategies, rigging your craft, measuring fish and more.

“With the Calusa Blueway Kayak Fishing Tournament being just a few days after our first talk, we thought it would be a great idea to have Dan focus on tournament fishing,” said Calusa Blueway Coordinator Mike Hammond of Lee County Parks & Recreation. “He is our most requested speaker and we are excited to have him back.”

Calusa Blueway Speaker Series Schedule:

  • Dec. 4 – Dan Carns – Kayak Fishing
  • Jan. 8 – Brian Wyllie – Building Your Own Kayak
  • Feb. 5 – Connie Mier – Photography from a Canoe
  • March 6 – Tommy Thompson and Peg Phillips – Paddling Florida Adventures

Note: all events begin at 6:30 p.m. at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center.

For more information and directions to the program, contact Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center at 239-432-2154. Trail information is at www.calusablueway.com. Visitors can find information at www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.

Flood insurance rate maps to be revised

The information below specifically relates to properties located within unincorporated Lee County only (properties that are not located within a city limit).

FEMA has issued new Flood Insurance Rate Maps along the Ten Mile Canal that will become effective on Dec. 7, 2018.

Only 17 map panels (out of 155) in Unincorporated Lee County have been revised as part of this particular map change.

The new maps more accurately assess flood risk along the canal than the existing maps (which were effective in 2008). These revisions are not directly related to Hurricane Irma. However, a Lee County consultant validated the accuracy of the proposed maps using the rainfall volumes and velocities from the two 2017 rain events that caused flooding along the canal.

These flood map effects vary by location, but fall into three general categories:

  • Those who were not previously in need of flood insurance may now need it.
  • Those who already have flood insurance may see rate increases.
  • Those who now have stricter engineering building requirements may have those engineering restrictions loosened (related to a building permit).

Information about flood insurance premium rates must be obtained from an insurance agent. Lee County encourages you to contact your insurance agent or mortgage lender as well with any additional questions.

For more details and to find out IF the December 7, 2018 map changes affect you, go to www.leegov.com/dcd/mapchanges.

Mote hires experienced red tide researcher for new institute

SARASOTA — Mote Marine has hired a researcher to direct its new Red Tide Institute who has decades of laboratory and field experience under her belt studying red tide and other harmful algae.

Cynthia Heil comes from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, where she developed an independent research program focused on water quality, harmful algal blooms and ecosystem management.

She will join Mote on Jan. 1 at the institute, which focuses on studying and testing Florida red tide mitigation and control technologies to improve quality of life for coastal communities affected by the blooms. It was launched in October through a $1 million investment from its founding donor, the Andrew and Judith Economos Charitable Foundation.

By accepting the new position, Heil renews her long-term focus on Karenia brevis (red tide) research in Florida, where she previously served as senior research scientist and administrator and Harmful Algal Bloom Group Leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Earlier, she performed algal bloom research at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.

Treatment rids Cabot Canal in Cape Coral of blue-green algae

As the sun sets in southeast Cape Coral, it appears for most homeowners that blue-green algae is a thing of the past.

That’s good news for Barbara Kozma.

“Oh the smell was really bad,” Kozma said. “We didn’t even want to be outside.”

Kozma lives on the Cabot Canal near the Midpoint Memorial Bridge. It looks like 10 weeks of bacteria treatment effectively cleared up the once nasty, thick blue-green algae.

“We’ve lived here for 10 years,” Kozma said. “We’ve never seen anything like what we had.”

In an email to Cape Coral’s mayor, Ecological Laboratories said they have seen improvements in water quality and clarity thanks to their treatment.

From when the treatment started to now, they can see 6 inches further into the water.

Peace River Water Authority may avert litigation

Polk utilities challenged increased withdrawals from river

A regional utility that wants to withdraw more water from the Peace River and several Polk County governments that filed litigation to block it from getting a permit to do so may settle their differences.

“We’re hopeful,” Patrick Lehman, executive director of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, said Thursday.

Lehman said a tentative agreement enables the Peace River authority to proceed with an expansion plan but perhaps “step down” the amount of additional water it could withdraw from the river.

The authority, the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative and the city of Lakeland intend to finalize the pact within 45 days.

City of Venice wants Sarasota County to monitor Gulf for pollution, too

A simple requirement for the Venice City Council to sign off on a joint county stormwater monitoring permit turned into a lengthy discussion this week.

City leaders, in search of meaningful ways to limit pollution into local waterways, drilled city staff Tuesday morning when the permit came before them.

Their primary concern: why does the permit only monitor creeks and rivers, and not the outfalls that release stormwater into the Gulf? And why isn’t the county doing anything about it?

The Department of Environmental Protection permit is issued every five years to monitor the waterways. Tuesday’s presentation was an annual update.

It got Mayor John Holic thinking, which waterways are being tested that actually originate in Venice? And who’s monitoring the other water sources?

“Where is the actual source of the water coming in? We have Hatchet Creek and Curry Creek, and neither start in the City of Venice,” he said.

“This scares me,” Holic said. “If it’s garbage in, it’s going to be garbage out and you know who will get blamed (us)?”

“We’re already paying county taxes to have it monitored. Now, we have to pay our city taxes to monitor the water that doesn’t even originate in the city?” Holic asked.

Council Member Bob Daniels said he didn’t want to support the program at all unless the county provides understandable data and analysis as to what it’s doing to reduce pollution surrounding the city.

City Public Works Director James Clinch noted it’s a required program the city has participated in for at least 15 years. If the city doesn’t participate in the stormwater permit process with the county, it will have to pay for its own monitoring, he said.

The Clean Water Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency and states to regulate point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program.

Clinch acknowledged the joint stormwater permit only meets the bare NPDES’s minimum compliance. The city is already preparing to do extra monitoring.

“There are economies of scale” in the joint permit effort, “and it has to be done,” said Council Member Rich Cautero. “Based on the heightened awareness on water quality, why is it the county hasn’t expanded its monitoring to the Gulf? Why is that not in the scope of the project going forward based on recent events?” he asked.

“We need to have better discussion about how to preserve our environment,” said Council Member Fred Fraize.