Water-Related News

Board votes to expand water quality monitoring in northern everglades watersheds and Lake Okeechobee

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today voted to dramatically expand water quality monitoring within the Northern Everglades watersheds and Lake Okeechobee.

These additional water quality measurements help to fulfill the directives of Gov. Ron DeSantis in his Achieving More Now For Florida's Environment Executive Order which directs water management districts to provide data to support statewide water quality efforts. It also helps to fulfill the initiatives of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force convened by Gov. DeSantis to better understand harmful algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries in the Northern Everglades.

"The South Florida Water Management District is glad to support Governor DeSantis' ambitious effort to improve water quality in the Everglades with today's vote to expand our water quality monitoring," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss. "More scientific data leads to better decisions and helps us achieve more now for Florida's environment. That is why we are investing in a robust scientific monitoring infrastructure, so we can have the most complete picture possible of the health of this great ecosystem to make the best possible decisions to restore and protect it." 

Almost half of Florida water bodies have algal blooms, and climate change is worsening the problem

Florida — home of armed iguana hunters, exploding toilets, and the nation's grandparents — just so happens to be the perfect petri dish for algal blooms. Because blue-green algae absorb energy from the sun and quickly grow in warm freshwater, the Sunshine State offers optimal conditions for the microorganisms called cyanobacteria to thrive.

Nearly all of Lake Okeechobee was covered in cyanobacteria in 2018, and the bacteria has returned this summer. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection tested 108 bodies of water statewide in the past month, and 44 percent had algal blooms. Eight sites were tested in Broward County in the past two weeks. Algal blooms were found in all but one.

"We have a problem," says Soren Rundquist, the director of spatial analysis for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "Florida's warmer climate is naturally conducive to algal blooms."

Lee County postpones wastewater treatment plant application approval

Right now, the request to approve an application for a proposed Lee County wastewater treatment plant is being delayed for a week.

For Jennifer Bruns, her family and their horses, having them sloshing through pasture is a reality.

“We bought the property four years ago and it was bone dry in August,” Bruns said. “Then, three years ago, we started to see the water rising.”

The Bruns are not alone. Britt Gladwell has lived there for around 30 years, with what she said was restrictive drainage in the area.

Gladwell is a cattle rancher and leases the land, which is also the site for a proposed solid waste transfer and wastewater reclamation facilities.

“I don’t know how this makes this a designated site or a suitable site,” Gladwell said.

Update: Comment period on proposed LORS deviation extended

UPDATE:

Comment period on proposed LORS deviation extended

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has extended the comment period for a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and proposed Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a proposed deviation to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) 2008.

The new deadline for comments is Sept. 5, providing the public an additional 15 days to review and comment on the proposed deviation that will provide the agency additional water management flexibility at Lake Okeechobee to help address harmful algae blooms (HABs).

Due to the urgency of the potential operational changes, an expedited draft EA and proposed FONSI was prepared to assess environmental impacts associated with the proposed deviation. During the first week of the comment period, the Corps received a few requests for an extension of the initial 15-day comment period.

The draft EA and proposed FONSI are available at www.saj.usace.army.mil/Deviations/.

Comments will be accepted by mail at Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers, 701 San Marco Boulevard, Jacksonville, FL 32207-8175, and by email at Melissa.a.nasuti@usace.army.mil.

Rising seas could speed up loss of Florida mangroves, study finds

Four thousand years ago, rising seas decimated huge swaths of mangroves in Florida Bay.

Today, seas rising at a far greater rate, combined with increasing storms and drought, could lead to another catastrophic loss of mangroves that help keep the state from sliding into the sea, according to a new study published by the U.S. Geological Survey in the journal Nature Communications.

"This was surprising because mangroves are thought to be relatively resilient to sea level rise," said Miriam Jone, a USGS geologist and lead author for the study.

While previous studies revealed mangroves have disappeared amid rising seas in the past, this study is the first to show just how quickly that happened. 

USF's poop-powered generator could have worldwide impact

Flowers are blooming in an unconventional spot. It's a vertical hydroponic wall attached to a small generator.

"Which is basically making use of the nutrients and water recovered from the waste water that our system is treating," explained University of South Florida researcher Jorge Calabria.

The mini sewage system is called the NEWgenerator. It was developed by USF engineering professor Dr. Daniel Yeh and his research team.

“NEW" stands for nutrients, energy and water, which the generator recovers from human waste.

"This system works well,” said Yeh. “It allows us to get rid of our waste and actually recover clean waterfrom that.”

It also harnesses energy.

"Think of this as a renewable natural gas that's sitting in our waste and we're, for the most part, not mining that. So we can mine that for heating water, cooking, generating electricity, a number of uses," explained Yeh. 

Floods frustrate Lehigh Acres neighbors amid FDOT drainage project

Families are flooded out and frustrated in a Thursday in a Lehigh Acres neighborhood as dark, muddy water is at a standstill.

Kassandra Barnswell is not happy about all the water in her driveway. Despite the conditions, she has to make do.

“Hopefully nothing happens while I’m backing up,” Barnswell said, “because it’s a long road and hopefully I don’t get stuck because that’s my main concern.”

All this makes it hard to take her son to therapy. But, she still will because it is vital for the health of her son.

The Florida Dept. of Transportation said contributing factors are the heavy rainfall, the low-lying street and roadwork is to blame for Barnswell’s troubles. The contractor is not only widening the road but making drainage improvement.

DEP hosts 2019 resilient Florida: planning, policy and practice workshop

DEP, in conjunction with the University of South Florida, Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Climate Institute, hosted the inaugural 2019 Resilient Florida: Planning, Policy and Practice Workshop in Tampa this week. The two-day workshop, held Aug. 8-9, 2019, brought together nearly 200 attendees, including floodplain managers, community planners, climate change adaptation professionals, natural resource managers, park managers, academic representatives and other stakeholders to discuss tactics and data that will help Florida’s coastlines prepare for the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding.

“We are making pivotal strides in resilience efforts, and it is an exciting time to be tackling resilience in Florida under Governor DeSantis’ leadership,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I was thrilled to see so many resiliency experts from around the state and across the nation gathered together to learn from one another and build relationships that will create the essential collaboration to successfully address the state’s most challenging resiliency issues.”

Among some of the topics discussed by experts were infrastructure, living shorelines, land acquisitions related to climate change and coastal flooding. Officials from local governments and Florida universities shared how their communities have been involved in resiliency projects, discussing various success stories. Additionally, Florida State Parks staff talked about ways they’re working in parks to plan infrastructure projects and other coastal initiatives.

Have you ever seen a seagrass flower?

With July behind us, local Eyes on Seagrass volunteers have completed their seagrass surveys in upper Charlotte Harbor. This was the first year of our new citizen science survey, which involved trained volunteers collecting seagrass and seaweed information at 30 different sites during a two-week period in April and again in July.

This survey is important because increasing abundances of seaweed (scientists call it macroalgae) is growing concern for many estuary communities, including Charlotte Harbor. We chose April and July to survey because in Florida estuaries, macroalgae often display seasonal abundance patterns, peaking in spring and declining in the summer.

Of course, I say often, not always — and in our first survey, this seasonal pattern did not hold up. Where we had macroalgae in April, we also had it in July. Maybe not as thick, but we saw it over a wider area.

What this means, we don’t know yet. This was our first survey, so we have nothing to compare our results to. But we will be back out next year in April and July to do it all over again. And, as we finished up our annual surveys, the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve began their fall seagrass surveys using similar but expanded methods. Over time, we hope to better understand macroalgal bloom dynamics in shallow seagrass areas.

Nokomis Area Civic Association water symposium well attended

There was a full house at the Nokomis Community Center for Wednesday evening’s Water Symposium, sponsored by the Nokomis Area Civic Association.

John McCarthy, Executive Director of Historic Spanish Point, emceed the event that drew more than 100 attendees.

He began the evening with a short slide presentation documenting changing newspaper headlines from the 1920s, when hundreds of thousands of Gulf fish were caught and transported north, to today’s headlines on beach closures due to fecal bacteria, flesh eating bacteria incidents, and the area’s ongoing recovery after last year’s devastating red tide bloom.

“Something’s gotta give,” McCarthy said.

Calusa Waterkeeper premieres ‘Troubled Waters’ film

Troubled waters – now there's an understatement.

Calusa Waterkeeper held a world premiere of its documentary "Troubled Waters; Public Health Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms" Monday at a packed Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers. The nonprofit also hosted a question-and-answer panel made up of prestigious experts in the medical and research field, many of whom who were featured in the film, after the viewing.

As the film opened with solemn music playing over droves of de-ceased marine life covered in cyanobacteria across the region, Dr. Walter Bradley, a world-renowned expert in neuromuscular diseases and chairman emeritus of the University of Miami Department of Neurology, spoke over the images and posed the question: what is going on in our waters?

The film saw residents of Southwest Florida give testimonial on last year's toxic blue-green algae catastrophe, as well as expert opinion of several medical and research experts.
 

Speakers offer insight on improving Sarasota’s water quality

John McCarthy, executive director of Historic Spanish Point, started close to home Tuesday night when he illustrated the water-quality problem Sarasota faces, while addressing members of the Nokomis Area Civic Association.

“We’ve got a problem, would you agree? My wife doesn’t want to go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico,” McCarthy said, then added that he wasn’t sure if it was because of elevated counts of fecal bacteria or the recent reports of flesh-eating bacteria. “The fact that she doesn’t want to go shows me we have a problem.”

He followed that up with then-and-now headlines that illustrated the abundance of oysters in Sarasota Bay, as well as productive fishing trips.

“We were like a paradise; you never knew what you were going to pull out of the Gulf of Mexico, or out of the bay.”

He contrasted that with headlines of flesh-eating bacteria, no-swim advisories, blue green algae and sewer spills.

After McCarthy set the stage, Dr. Abbey Tyrna of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and Sustainability; Steve Suau, principal of Progressive Water Resources; and Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for Community Investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, illustrated different aspects of the issue, as well as offering some solutions.

South Florida Water Management District: Extra sampling can track, prevent algae blooms

With a goal of preventing pollution in general and blue-green algae blooms in particular, the South Florida Water Management District is proposing a dramatic expansion in its water quality monitoring in Lake Okeechobee, the lake's watershed and the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River watersheds.

Under a proposal to be presented Thursday to the district's board, the agency would increase:

  • The number of water quality monitoring sites from 163 to 243
  • The frequency of sampling, in many case from once to twice a month
  • The number of algae-friendly substances, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer runoff, sampled for

The plan is still being developed, said Susan Gray, district chief of applied sciences, so details may change with board input.

Venice considers fines for sewage spills

Frustrated after a contractor broke a 16-inch sewer pipe July 24 and caused a spill of 448,800 gallons of raw sewage, Venice City Council members will explore whether they can levy penalties after similar incidents in the future.

Venice Mayor John Holic, who is vacationing, said in emails to staff that he plans to bring it up for discussion when the council reconvenes Aug. 27.

The contractor cut into a 16-inch force main owned by Sarasota County, while digging on land that will become the subdivision Aria by Neal Signature Homes, just west of Jacaranda Boulevard and south of Laurel Road.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, no off-site stormwater systems or bodies of water were affected.

County spokesman Drew Winchester noted that since Sarasota County owns the sewer system and is the permit holder for the treatment plant, any fines levied by the DEP would be issued to the county. The county Risk Management team would then seek compensation from the developer or subcontractor.

Repair costs for the broken sewer line would be charged to the developer as well, he added.

“They were still tallying the cost and repairs,” Winchester said.

Since the spill occurred in the city limits, Holic wrote to both City Manager Ed Lavallee and City Attorney Kelly Fernandez, asking if the city had “penalty clauses for stupid things builders and developers might do.”

While contractors breached pipes during the recently completed downtown road and drainage reconstruction project, Holic noted those were poorly documented after being installed decades ago.

Researchers deploy new tech to explore depths of Gulf of Mexico

FIU marine scientist Kevin Boswell and a multi-institution research team will deploy experimental technology next week to explore the deep scattering layers of the ocean.

They are looking for information about animals in the Gulf of Mexico that make up the scattering layers — those that undergo daily vertical migrations of 100 to 1,000 meters. These animals represent the largest organized animal migration on the planet, yet little is known about them. What scientists do know is these animals are major players in the global carbon cycle, transporting carbon to deeper waters as they migrate. Some of them are part of a global discussion about whether they could have economic potential from a fisheries standpoint.

The research team will deploy an autonomous glider modified with sonar technology to collect up-close and personal data on the migrating animals in the water column. The slow-moving glider can stealthily travel through the water measuring where organisms are and how they are moving. An exciting addition to the glider is an ‘acoustic brain’ developed by the University of Washington team that processes acoustic data and sends data products home through a satellite connection. Having near-real-time acoustic data facilitates changes to the glider path when interesting acoustic features are observed. The team will simultaneously deploy a prototype camera system developed by the National Geographic Society called the Driftcam. Also an autonomous device, the Driftcam is designed to collect high-resolution images of species composition, distribution and even behavior that is not possible to capture with current technologies and methods. It too, is a minimally invasive device.

What can we do about our water?

Hot chocolate-colored. Opaque. And occasionally smelly.

That’s how Sanibel residents Barbara Horvath and Liz Mostello-Harris would have described the retention pond abutting their backyards not long ago. But today, on a bright April morning, they’re taking stock of the changes they’ve noticed since they got swept up in the island’s all-hands-on-deck effort to clean up tainted water.

The two are maintaining a floating treatment wetland installed by an outside landscaping firm and have crafted, through trial and error, six more such hydroponic plant collections since. The plant roots absorb excess phosphorous and nitrogen, nutrients that feed algae and spark a chain reaction that impacts the water’s ability to sustain aquatic life.

“It still is a little murky, but nothing like what you would have seen before,” Mostello-Harris says. The women list species they’ve noticed of late: birds and turtles—and, the harbinger of change, fish. 

Algae task force meeting to focus on septic tanks in SWFL water crisis

When it comes to water quality issues, there is no one source to blame. But, an upcoming agenda meeting will focus on the role septic tanks play.

Right now, about 100,000 people in Lee County have active septic systems.

“If you’re in a rural area or far enough away from the infrastructure,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, member of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, “septic tank makes sense.”

Florida Gulf Coast University Professor Parsons said sewers might become more suitable as those areas become more developed.

“Then you have all the costs associated with it,” Parsons said.

To back up that claim, Lee County commissioned a study by Florida Atlantic University. The study found that human waste is a substantial part of our water quality issues.

Septic tanks dating back to the 1950s are not protecting our water, allowing sewage to end up in the Caloosahatchee River and other waterways.

Army corps of engineers posts algae warning signs on Caloosahatchee

We discovered algae warning signs direct the public to contacts that don’t exist. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told us it was responsible after we contacted them.

Algae signs have been posted at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam on the Caloosahatchee River, directing the public to a non-existent website and phone number, the army corps confirmed Monday.

The army corps of engineers confirmed it directed a ranger at the lock to put up the signs and explained the website and phone number are placeholders until permanent signs are ready.

We asked Dr. Mike Parson, FGCU professor and member of the governor’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, if there is any recent discovery near the lock.

“I have not heard of anything in the last couple weeks near the Franklin Lock,” Parson said. “But it’s been there periodically on and off through the year so far.”

A new old way to combat toxic algae: float it up, then skim it off

In Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers is working to combat a growing environmental menace: blue-green algae. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms and subdivisions combines with warm summer weather to create massive blooms of algae in rivers and lakes that can be toxic.

In central Florida, Lake Okeechobee has been hit hard in recent years. In Moore Haven, on the western shore of the lake, Dan Levy was recently working on a solution. He was standing on a platform peering into a large water-filled tank. Inside, floating on top of the water was a thick mat of blue-green algae. "This is our treatment system," said Levy. "This is where we actually float the algae up and skim it across."

Levy is with AECOM, an engineering and infrastructure company that's working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the nagging and sometimes devastating problem. Algal blooms aren't just a nuisance. The algae, actually cyanobacteria, can produce toxins that threaten drinking water supplies, local economies and human health.

Peace River water authority extending pipelines and raising rates

An agency that provides drinking water to Sarasota, Charlotte and Desoto counties and the city of North Port is proceeding with plans to extend its network of pipelines and construct a third reservoir to expand its supply.

The Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority recently finalized a $61.9 million budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, up from $59.6 million.

Its customers will pay 76 cents per 1,000 gallons, a rate increase of 2 cents.

For a typical household using 4,000 gallons monthly, the water bill will go up 8 cents, Executive Director Patrick Lehman said. The authority’s utility customers have already factored the increase into their rates, he noted.

The budget increase is largely due to costs associated with pipeline projects and a feasibility study for another reservoir that could provide sufficient water through 2030.

“We need to plan ahead,” Executive Director Patrick Lehman said. “You can’t wait until you need it (additional capacity).”

Registration is open for 2019 CHNEP Nature Festival

The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP) is thrilled to present the 20th CHNEP Nature Festival!

CHNEP will celebrate the splendor of Central and Southwest Florida with environmental educators, live animal exhibits, engaging speakers, guided nature walks, games, and food trucks! Please join us on Saturday, November 16th, 2019, from 10 AM - 3 PM at Laishley Park in Punta Gorda.

This is a free family event and you do not need a ticket to attend. This registration form is for individuals and groups who wish to have a booth space, operate a food truck, be a vendor, or volunteer at the event. The Festival has become a showcase of our region's activities and it is a great opportunity to spread your message, demonstrate your accomplishments, and sell your creations. To participate in the festival, you are required to review and consent to these three documents:

This community festival is possible because of the generous support of its sponsors and volunteers. Please consider becoming a financial contributor at the Roseate Spoonbill, Alligator, or White-tailed Deer level. If interested, please submit this form to outreach@chnep.org by September 13th.

Visit the CHNEP Nature Festival webpage or follow CHNEP on Facebook.

Lee County residents dispute proposed location for wastewater treatment facilities

A neighborhood battle is brewing over what could be two waste water treatment facilities in Lee County, near Alico Road and south of Southwest Florida International Airport.

If local leaders approve a new project, neighbors who live to the east side of Alico Road worry about the proposed site of both the wastewater treatment plant, and solid waste transfer facility.

The site off of Green Meadow Road was once protected through the Conservation 2020 program, but now the county says it needs the site to meet demands of a growing area.

The idea to use this land is not coming without growing frustration from those who live there.

Concerns include public safety, says one resident who lives in the area of the proposed site.

“No room whatsoever, for vehicles to move through, for emergency vehicles to get through,” Amber Todd said. Naples residents also fear for the wildlife in the area.

Neighbors have also expressed concerns with what they call a lack of transparency from those involved through the design process. The county disputes this though.

Lee County continues to work through the design process for these two facilities. The next zoning hearing will continue on August 13.

Corps may alter lake release schedule ‘asap’

WEST PALM BEACH — An internal message from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers circulated at the July 17 meeting of the Palm Beach County Commission has some officials concerned that the corps will make changes to the schedule for releases from Lake Okeechobee even before the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual is complete.

Since 2008, the corps has used the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS’08) as the guideline for lake releases. LORS’08 attempts to maintain between a high level of 15.5 feet (above sea level) and a low of 12.5 feet.

Concerns about the safety of the Herbert Hoover Dike, the earthen berm that surrounds the big lake, is one of the reasons the upper limit was set at 15.5 feet. Repairs to the dike are scheduled to be complete in 2022. Earlier this year, the corps began the process of holding public hearings.

Levels above 15.5 feet also damage the marshes around the edges of the lake, which filter water and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

The published schedule called for the draft LOSOM report to be available for public comment in April or May 2022, with the new manual ready to implement by September 2022.

Sarasota researchers conducting red tide/human health research

Congress recently approved $6.25 million to study how red tide algae blooms affect people's health. Multiple facilities in Sarasota will work together on the research.

Right now, physicians and scientists only know that red tide causes people to cough and makes their eyes water, but Mote Marine Laboratory, the Roskamp Institute and Sarasota Memorial Hospital are teaming up to learn more.

"For example, for my asthma patients, or my elderly patients with emphysema, COPD-- how are they affected by red tide?" asked Kirk Voelker, a lung doctor and clinical researcher at Sarasota Memorial.

"I know that I get a lot more people who come into my office during an outbreak of red tide with respiratory complaints."

The project is still being designed, but the plan is to test the blood of people who live or work on the coast and inland, both during red tide outbreaks and when the coast is clear.

They're looking for short term and possible long term effects of exposure.

"It's something that needs to be looked at because community physicians have theories that red tide may lead to some illnesses and that question needs to be answered," said Voelker.

Click here if you're interested in participating in the study.

Bonita Springs might buy homes in neighborhoods flooded by Hurricane Irma

Homeowners in flood-prone neighborhoods in Bonita Springs might be able to sell their properties through a voluntary buyout program run by the city.

The state has set aside $75 million to buy property impacted by Hurricane Irma in an effort to reduce flood risk, according to a city news release.

The block grant is competitive — any local government in Florida can apply for funding. Bonita Springs officials are working to get a share, the city said.

The city said it would focus its buyout program on Quinn Street and Downs Drive neighborhoods.

The Imperial River spilled over its banks and into streets and homes in the surrounding area twice in a four-week span in 2017.

Register now for 2019 Pine Island Sound Scallop Search

This is a No-Harvest Event

Date: August 17  Time: 8:30 am-2 pm  Place: Pineland Marina (address below)

Join the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and Florida Sea Grant by participating in the 2019 Pine Island Sound Scallop Search, a resource-monitoring program in which volunteers snorkel, looking for scallops in select areas within Pine Island Sound. The purpose of this program is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population and is designed to be a fun family event. Reservations are required to participate in the event. Space is limited so reserve your spot today.

Up to 40 boats are needed with as many as 150 participants to search selected sites in Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay for the elusive “bay scallop”. Large populations of bay scallops (or Argopecten irradians) disappeared from Southwest Florida waters decades ago due in large part to degraded water quality, related declines in seagrass acreage, over harvesting and other causes. Water quality and seagrasses have improved in many areas to levels that may once again support these important bivalves.

Scallop searchers will meet at 8:30 a.m. at Pineland Marina, 13921 Waterfront Dr, Bokeelia, FL., to receive survey equipment and instructions for the monitoring event. We will provide lunch to participants once you return to shore and report your information.

SCCF and Florida Sea Grant are recruiting:

  • Volunteers with shallow draft boats. Please let us know the style and size of your boat. Canoes and kayaks are also welcome, but sites are very limited, please sign up early. Jet skis are not allowed in the search. Please bring a dive flag if you have one.
  • Please let us know how many additional people you can take on your boat so we can pair you up with additional snorkelers.

SWFL pulling together to confront climate concerns

With discussions on climate change, sea level rise and coastal resiliency gaining steam, Southwest Florida municipalities are following the lead of other regions in the state to try and address the issues.

Last fall, Dr. Michael Savarese, a professor of marine science and environmental studies with Florida Gulf Coast University's Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences, reached out to several representatives from governments in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties about meeting to discuss the impact of climate change and see if there was interest in a unified approach to coastal resiliency.

Sanibel Natural Resources Director James Evans explained that the initial meeting led to more gatherings as the various entities voiced support. Called the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact, members in the group recently drafted the group's mission and what it will focus on.

Lee County Conservation 20/20 Program completes acquisition of 92 acres on Pine Island

Lee County on July 8 completed the acquisition of 92 acres in central Pine Island increasing the size of the Conservation 20/20 Buttonwood Preserve to nearly 360 acres.

The $1.17 million acquisition was completed through the Lee County Conservation 20/20 Program. The Calusa Land Trust and Nature Preserve and the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, provided donations of $5,000 and $250, respectively, in support of the acquisition.

The land, mostly uplands, is located west of Stringfellow Road and north of Maria Drive, about one mile south of Pine Island Center. This site is just east of the Pine Island Commercial Marina in Saint James City and host to a rare fresh water marsh, mangrove forest, salt flats and oak hammock fringe. It features beautiful pawpaw (Deeringothamnus pulchellus), an endangered plant species. Beautiful pawpaw is a low flowering shrub, unique to only three counties in Florida: Charlotte, Lee and Orange.

Conservation 20/20, which has preserved about 29,700 acres since its inception, is Lee County’s environmental acquisition and management program. Conservation lands help the county protect drinking water, enhance water quality, provide nature-based recreational opportunities, protect areas from flooding and provide wildlife habitat. For more information, visit www.Conservation2020.org.

These maps show where urban sprawl is making big storms more deadly

Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are the Florida regions most at risk from flooding.

Southern Louisiana seems to have dodged a bullet with Tropical Storm Barry. Although heavy rain caused widespread flooding after the storm hit the state Saturday, the region’s two biggest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, were spared the worst.

But nationwide, the threat to lives and property from rain-triggered storm flooding is escalating, with global warming spawning larger, apparently slower-moving storms, and asphalt and concrete covering permeable open ground that would have soaked up rain as cities expand.

Flooding has always posed the main danger when tropical storms come ashore, and historically, the main killer has been storm surge — a sudden rise in sea level caused by low atmospheric pressure and winds blowing onshore. But in the past three years, 75% of the more than 160 deaths from hurricanes making landfall along the US Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard have been due to flooding from heavy rain rather than surging seas, according to statistics from the National Hurricane Center.

As seas rise, Florida will likely lose more coastal property value than any other state

Long before rising seas permanently swamp homes, millions of Americans living in coastal communities will likely face more frequent and disruptive high-tide flooding — and the effects will ripple through the local economy.

As the flooding increases over time, coastal residents will be forced to make difficult and costly choices. And if home values decline, an eroding property tax base would jeopardize funding for local services and infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and police and fire departments.

Shana Udvardy, climate resilience analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said homeowners could find themselves with mortgages that exceed the value of their homes, which will be increasingly difficult to insure.

Udvardy believes some homeowners will abandon their properties as they did during the 2008 financial crisis. Banks would then foreclose on those properties. And banks holding risky mortgages on devalued properties — you remember the Great Recession, right?

Water district officials tour Cape’s Ecological Laboratories

Water Management groups from all over Florida are coming to visit Ecological Laboratories in Cape Coral for what officials there say is a breakthrough in algae and nutrient runoff elimination.

"It's a product that the goal is to use for a month regularly, then a handful of follow-up maintenance doses afterwards, and then hopefully you never have to use it again since it's so effective," Doug Dent, vice president of sales for Ecological Labs.

The primary product, with others soon to follow, is MICROBE-LIFT. This product is a microbe that competes with algae bloom in water sources, closed and open, for the nutrient rich sources in the water that cause rapid algal growth, which Floridans have been made acutely aware of over the last year, officials said.

It also can reduce, and in some cases removes entirely, the nitrate-rich soil buildups, or "muck," at the bottom of these bodies of water.

Researchers working on spray that could help combat red tide

The dead fish, dolphins and the nasty smell of murky water all came with the red tide that plagued Florida’s Gulf coast last summer.

Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota is working to make a spray they believe could reduce the toxins red tide releases.

While researchers are still working on a finding a compound that works, when they do, they say the results could be a game changer.

So far in 2019, there hasn’t been too much to worry about, but scientists said there’s always a chance red tide will make a comeback.

FGCU professor speaks about water at chamber luncheon

Dr. Greg Tolley, executive director and professor of Florida Gulf Coast University's Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences, was the guest speaker at the July 9 luncheon of the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce held at the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa on Sanibel.

Tolley's current research interests focus on the influence of freshwater inflow on estuarine ecosystems and aquatic resources. However, he spoke to chamber business members about the differences and similarities of blue-green algae and red tide, as well as the goal of the new FGCU Water School. While water is a broad term, the focus of the school is on water security or its impact on the health of humans and ecosystem, and economic and social development.

"I like to think about how they connect with one another," Tolley said. "If we get the water right, we have a healthy ecosystem and a healthy us. If we have a healthy ecosystem and a healthy us, we have healthy businesses and a healthy society."

Sandy soil and rising seas spell septic tank disaster in Florida

Communities across Florida are already grappling with aging septic tanks, which leak into groundwater and are considered a leading cause of toxic algae blooms. As sea level rise is expected to worsen that situation, the state and cities are beginning to tackle the expensive task of converting septic systems to sewer or newer septic technologies.

It’s no small challenge. Floridians are estimated to be using 2.6 million septic systems, most of them the conventional variety with two parts: a tank in the ground close to the home and a “drainfield.”

A quick septic 101: When someone flushes a toilet or rinses off a plate, the wastewater is pumped into the tank, where “solids” settle to the bottom, forming “sewage sludge,” while oil and grease float to the top, forming “scum.” When septic systems get pumped, it’s to remove built-up sludge and residual scum.

Army Corps wants ‘immediate’ changes to Lake Okeechobee management

Changes in how Lake Okeechobee is managed are in such an “immediate” need that the Army Corps of Engineers is rushing through rule amendments without public comment — a hastiness that has raised concerns about potential water shortages in Palm Beach County.

The changes to 11-year-old federal guidelines that regulate lake levels are needed to avoid harmful algae blooms in northern estuaries, according to an internal Corps letter that was circulated among Palm Beach County Commissioners on Monday.

Melissa Nasuti, of the Corps’ planning and policy division, said in the July 10 letter that “due to the nature and immediate need for this deviation, we are not able to solicit public comment prior to signature.”

Lake Okeechobee expert Paul Gray, who is a scientist with Audubon Florida, knew nothing of the proposed changes late Tuesday, and said he would need more information before making an evaluation. But his initial review of Nasuti’s note led him to believe the changes could be an improvement with the Corps wanting to be more proactive in its approach to releasing lake water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, and south into water conservation areas in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The push for changes comes as a blue-green algae bloom has developed in the northern and western sections of Lake Okeechobee. This year, the Corps used special flexibility to release water from Lake Okeechobee during the dry season in an effort to reduce lake levels so that it wouldn’t need to be released during summer months when algae is more likely to be present.

Water managers consider health of estuaries

The health of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries was the topic of discussion for the July 10 workshop meeting of the South Florida Water Management District.

Both systems have been greatly altered for flood control said Drew Bartlett, SFWMD executive director.

Mr, Bartlett said neither estuary is naturally directly connected to Lake Okeechobee.

The navigation channel in the Caloosahatchee River allows the saltwater to push quickly up into the river if there is not sufficient freshwater flow to keep the saltwater out.

Based on a 30-year average, about 33% of the water flow in the St. Lucie River comes from the lake, Mr. Bartlett said.

Based on a 30-year average, flow in the Caloosahatchee River is about 26% from Lake Okeechobee, he said.