Water-Related News

LWV speaker discusses greenhouse gases, rising sea levels and more

The League of Women Voters of Sanibel hosted a luncheon on March 15 at the Sundial Beach Resort featuring Dr. Rick Bartleson, research scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

He spoke about greenhouse gases, rising sea levels and the South Florida ecosystem.

Scientists predict that at the current rate of global warming, even assuming some mitigation efforts, much of Florida - including Sanibel and Fort Myers - is expected to be under water by 2100. Sea level rise in Fort Myers and Miami is expected to be even more severe than in other parts of Florida because of wind, sea currents and other factors, according to Bartleson.

By 2100, about $1 trillion in U.S. gross domestic product will be lost per increased degree Fahrenheit. He reported that Florida will experience one of the highest levels of economic damage in the country. Florida's state government holds a below-average grade in steps taken to mitigate the expected damage. The National Resource Defense Council awarded Florida a grade of C minus in climate preparedness.

The current administration has rolled back a number of steps to limit climate change. In 2017, the League of Conservation Voters gave some of Florida's politicians scores of 0 percent in protecting the environment, with a number of elected officials in the state receiving scores of 8 percent or less.

Florida receives $26.5M in funding for conservation and sportsmen access

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Midway, FL – On March 20th, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced $26,588,009 million in funding for Florida from revenues generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration acts. The announcement was made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan from the Joe Budd Youth Conservation Center, which provides students the opportunity to learn about aquatic ecology, archery, angling and hunting in a natural setting.

The funds, which are distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, support critical state conservation and outdoor recreation projects. They are derived from excise taxes paid by the hunting, archery, shooting, boating and angling industries on firearms, archery equipment, ammunition, sport fishing equipment, and a portion of gasoline tax attributable to motorboat fuel and small engines.

The recipient state wildlife agencies have matched these funds with approximately $6.7 billion throughout the years, primarily through hunting and fishing license revenues.

Third annual Calusa Palooza canoe, kayak, and SUP race April 7th

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FORT MYERS – The third-annual Calusa Palooza, a competitive race event organized by the College of Life Foundation for paddling enthusiasts, returns April 7. The event will be held at Koreshan State Park, 3800 Corkscrew Road, Estero, FL along Lee County Parks & Recreation’s Great Calusa Blueway. The Estero River race includes events for standup paddle boarders (SUPs) as well as kayaks, outrigger canoes and surf-skis.

This is an American Canoe Association-sanctioned race that will include an 8-mile race, 4-mile race and a free quarter-mile Calusa Kids Race. More than 80 paddlers from Florida attended last year’s Calusa Palooza.

The event is free for spectators, and several locations along the river offer vantage points.

This year, Calusa Palooza organizers hope to attract even more local participants and spectators. A renewed emphasis will be placed on introducing more people to paddling as a family-oriented event. There will be free kayaks and SUPs available through Estero River Outfitters on a first-come, first-serve basis. Pre-registration is required for racers. There will not be an opportunity to register the day of the event. Race entries are $35. All proceeds from Calusa Palooza will benefit a summer camp for underprivileged youth, which includes youth paddling sports in Southwest Florida and an environmental workshop.

“My goal as a race director is to get our community involved in paddle sports while supporting a great cause,” said Brandy Minchew, Calusa Palooza race director.

“This race is not only for our local competitive racers, but for our everyday paddler as well. I have the honor of offering a summer camp for underprivileged youth every summer and without the proceeds from this race, I would not be able to do this. Our community is so supportive.”

To register or for full event schedule visit paddleguru.com/races/CalusaPalooza2018.
Out-of-area paddlers and spectators can book lodging at a discounted rate at https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/koreshan.

Schedule Highlights:

  • 8-8:45 a.m. Check-in
  • 9 a.m. Race Meeting
  • 9:15 a.m. Races begin (staggered starts)
  • 10:30 a.m. Calusa Kids' Race
  • Noon(ish) Lunch

Fish kills reported at Bonita, Marco Island beaches afflicted by red tide

A lingering red tide left behind dead fish Wednesday at Bonita Beach, Barefoot Beach and Marco Island, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported.

The bloom of microscopic algae, which can kill marine life and cause respiratory irritation in humans, was found at very low to medium levels in 15 water samples collected along the Collier County shoreline.

In Lee County, 19 samples tested for red tide at very low to medium levels, the Conservation Commission reported.

Respiratory irritation was reported at Bonita Beach, Barefoot Beach, Vanderbilt Beach and South Marco this week. Red tide warning signs were up Tuesday at Vanderbilt Beach.

Red tide has been afflicting waters off Southwest Florida, from Sarasota to the Ten Thousand Islands south of Marco for weeks, state reports show.

City of Sanibel provides update on beach erosion monitoring along Gulf

The city of Sanibel provided an update today on its efforts relative to the ongoing beach erosion that may be affecting the Gulf Pines, Gulf Shores and West Gulf Drive beaches. Officials reported that the city has been closely monitoring erosion along a section of beach between Gulf Shores, Gulf Pines and the western portion of West Gulf Drive for the past several months. The area has historically experienced erosion, which in 1996 prompted a beach renourishment project to place over 229,000 cubic yards of sand along 3,400 linear-feet of the shoreline. The specific area is located between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's reference monuments R-129 to R-133 on the Sanibel Island Monument Survey Map. Over the past several weeks, some recovery of sand along the beach in the area has been observed. Additional recovery is anticipated as the beach transitions from its typical winter to summer profiles.

Wetland protection poised to shift from Corps of Engineers to Florida DEP

Whom would you rather have in charge of protecting Florida's wetlands: the state or the feds?

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign recently approved legislation to shift responsibility for issuing permits for development on wetlands from the Army Corps of Engineers to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The proposed change has been lauded by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida League of Cities and Associated Industries of Florida as a way to streamline an often costly and time-consuming stumbling block to development.

"The less we deal with the feds the better," said Joseph A. Catrambone, president and CEO of the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce. "I'm a big fan of home rule. Taking something out of the feds' hands and giving it to the state isn't exactly home rule, it's a start. The more locally these decisions can be made, the better."

The move has been criticized by a number of environmental groups, who see it as removing one more layer of protection for the environmentally vital wetlands.

"This is one of many terrible anti-environmental bills passed this legislative session," said Richard Baker, head of the Pelican Island Audubon chapter in Indian River County. "There are exceptions, but I'm a fan of keeping environmental rules at the highest governmental level possible as they are less likely to be influenced by local and state political payoffs and special interest groups."

Currently, developers have to get both state and federal "dredge and fill" permits before they can build on wetlands, which play an important role in cleaning water before it reaches estuaries, such as the Indian River Lagoon.

With its staff shrunk by more than 600 employees, from about 3,500 to 2,900 since Scott took office in 2011, DEP doesn't have the personnel to take on the new responsibilities, said Julie Wraithmell, interim executive director of Audubon Florida.

The DEP's 400-plus staffers who work in permitting can handle the "slight workload increase," said Communications Director Lauren Engel.

The agency's existing permit program already is "more expansive" than the Corps', Engel said in an email, "and the vast majority of these programs’ requirements overlap."

DEP reported reviewing more than 7,300 state permits during a budget year that ended in 2016.

Fort Myers owes $22K in fines for dumping untreated water in Caloosahatchee River

Fort Myers owes more than $22,000 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for dumping untreated water into the Caloosahatchee River.

After Hurricane Irma, millions lost power, including Fort Myers wastewater facilities.

Without working pumps, 35,000 gallons of untreated water was dumped into the river.

"It overwhelms the system and causes changes to the quality of what comes in and the quality of what comes out of our wastewater plant," the director of public works Richard Moulton said.

Fort Myers city council met Monday night to discuss how to pay the DEP fine.

Rather than paying the thousands in cash, they will offer to pay-in-kind, purchasing multiple generators, so this never happens again.

"We’re not going to pay the state in cash, we’re going to use our cash to buy tangible equipment to resolve the issue..." said Mayor Randall P. Henderson Jr.

Some council members weren't happy, saying the city is being punished for Mother Nature's wrath.

"Does it seem fair? That we have to pay a fine for a natural occurrence?" asked council member Fred Burson.

The city manager was quick to remind the council the DEP will have the final say.

State budget includes funds for Cape Coral reservoir pipeline, mobile command center

Gov. Rick Scott has signed the state budget and included appropriations for two Cape Coral projects.

The budget will provide $1,115,000 in state funding for the city's Reservoir Pipeline Project $176,250 for a the Mobile Command Center.

"We want to thank Governor Scott for supporting these two important projects, which will provide benefits that extend beyond the City of Cape Coral," said City Manager John Szerlag in a prepared statement issued by the city Friday afternoon. "More importantly, we want to thank our local legislators, Rep. Dane Eagle and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who worked on our behalf to ensure these projects were included in the final appropriations bill approved by the Legislature."

"Funding for the Reservoir Pipeline Project will enable Cape Coral to engineer, design and permit a 3.5-mile pipeline from Southwest Aggregates Mining reservoir in south Charlotte County to Gator Slough in northeast Cape Coral," the release states. "This pipeline will provide an additional freshwater supply for the City's canal system that provides irrigation and fire protection in Cape Coral. The pipeline project has the potential to provide a benefit to the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Initiative area and will reduce flooding in the Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area. Design is expected to take about 18 months to complete. Construction of the pipeline could cost about $8 million and take up to two years to finish."

"The Mobile Command Center Vehicle funding will refurbish the Cape Coral Police Department's existing 2005 vehicle, which had become useless due to inoperable electronics and outdated technology.," officials said.

The Mobile Command Center is a multipurpose vehicle that can be deployed for a wide variety of emergencies locally and regionally. The vehicle can provide services for emergency operations in the event of a natural disaster, active violent situations, planned special events, crime scene investigations and special operations. The Mobile Command Center will allow personnel to communicate and work alongside City departments and neighboring law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

Source: City of Cape Coral

Legislature passes bill to boost aquifers with treated sewage: Environmental groups cringe

A bill approved by the Legislature allows utilities to pump treated sewage into Florida’s aquifer system.

Most state residents get their drinking water from the aquifers.

The measure is aimed at boosting the state’s over-tapped aquifers.

But Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club worries it threatens a primary drinking water source with water usually reserved for things like irrigating lawns.

“It can contain high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, hazardous chemicals, things that are above the acceptable standards for drinking water quality.”

The bill’s sponsor says it is safe and that he would be glad to drink the aquifer water after the treated sewage is pumped in.

The Legislature adjourned Sunday. The measure is awaiting the governor’s signature.

“Data is king”: Analysis confirms projections of sea level rise models

No more computer models or projections. Finally – concrete data. A scientific paper published in February may pave the way for a new conversation about rising sea levels using data instead of projections. Gary Mitchum, co-author of the paper and Associate Dean at the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida, says the research is more than just another explanation of the effects of global climate change. “In science, data is king,” Mitchum said. “I’ve been telling people I think it’s a game-changer in that the discussion can now switch from is this just an error in the models, the computer models, or is it really in the data?’’ The paper immediately received international attention and went viral within the scientific community. The team of researchers began compiling data in 1993. They released the statistics from satellite altimetry, the measurement of height or altitude from a satellite. “We’re hoping that what this is going to do is allow people to stop worrying about the fact that it’s only the models seeing it, that we actually see it in the data now too and we can have a conversation about what we need to be doing,” Mitchum said. Using data from 25 years of observation, researchers concluded that previous projections by computer models were accurate with 99 percent confidence. The global average sea level rose about 3 millimeters per year. Now, the scientific community has recorded data that confirms these research methods.

More manatees died from cold stress this winter

Florida is on pace for another cold, harsh record year for manatee deaths, according to an environmental watchdog group.

Already, 166 manatees have died statewide, state statistics through March 2 show.

Cold spells in January and February claimed 51 manatees statewide this year, including 10 of the 22 deaths in Brevard County.

More than 150 manatees died in just the first seven weeks of 2018, putting Florida on pace to set an annual record for manatee deaths, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit government watchdog group.

“Florida’s manatees are one big freeze away from an ecological disaster and need more, not less, protection,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

Sarasota County adds evening, weekend flood zone workshops

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SARASOTA COUNTY – Sarasota County has added evening and weekend flood zone workshops to its 2018 workshop schedule.

The workshops, which were originally only scheduled from 10:15 a.m. to noon during the week, are intended to educate residents, lenders and insurance and real estate agents about flood risk, zones, maps, regulations and mandatory insurance purchase requirements. Attendees will also find out why flood zone maps are continuously updated.

All workshops are at county libraries, and no registration is required. The additional workshop dates and locations are:

North Port Library, 13800 Tamiami Trail, North Port:
Saturday March 24, 2-4 p.m.;
Wednesday, Oct. 24, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Jacaranda Library, 4143 Woodmere Park Blvd., Venice:
Saturday, March 17, 10:15 a.m. to noon;
Tuesday, Oct. 2, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Fruitville Library, 100 Coburn Road, Sarasota:
Monday, June 11, 6-8 p.m.;
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Selby Library, 1331 First St., Sarasota:
Saturday, April 21, 2:30-4:30 p.m.

To see the full list of 2018 workshops or for more information, visit scgov.net/floodprotection or call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.

High-res mapping of U.S. flood risk triples the population in harm's way

Some 41 million Americans are at risk of seeing their homes flooded in so-called 100-year events, an exposure level perhaps three times higher than the official estimates of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government bodies.

This is the marquee finding, but hardly the only surprise, in a groundbreaking study by researchers in Britain and the United States, including two scientists for The Nature Conservancy who work out of the group’s Minneapolis office.

The results are derived from modeling based on extraordinary advances in high-resolution mapping and supercomputing, in techniques developed at England’s University of Bristol and a nearby research institute called Fathom.

The new modeling has been applied globally for a number of Fathom's public and private clients, and in this instance sought to make improvements over “past attempts to estimate rainfall-driven flood risk across the U.S. [that] either have incomplete coverage, coarse resolution or use overly simplified models of the flooding process.”

Court rulings may result in groundwater discharges requiring NPDES permits

If the first two months of 2018 are any indication, events to play out over the rest of the year will have a major impact on what constitutes a “discharge” subject to regulation under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Three cases pending in different federal courts of appeals will address whether releases of pollutants to groundwater hydrologically connected to waters of the United States are subject to the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting requirements of the CWA. In a fourth case, the Ninth Circuit recently weighed in on this issue by articulating a novel, broad rule for determining when a discharge occurs. Spurred on by these developments, and its own admittedly varied positions on this issue over the years, EPA is now seeking comment by May 21 on how to approach this issue.

How the courts and EPA resolve this question will dictate what releases potentially create liability under the CWA. For example, spilling or leaking materials conveyed by groundwater or subsurface flow to surface water may suddenly require NPDES permits. And under the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision, even pollutants washed into navigable waters by sheet flow may be regulated by the CWA. Unlike discrete point source activities traditionally required to obtain NPDES permits, these newly defined “discharges” would be difficult to anticipate—and seek permit coverage for—because these pathways to regulated waters may only be discernible after the fact. The four pending lawsuits represent attempts by citizen plaintiffs in each case to expand NPDES permit liability to unforeseen circumstances.

Nearly every industry has a stake in how EPA and the courts resolve this issue. If EPA and more federal judges follow the Ninth Circuit’s lead by broadly defining discharges regulated by the CWA, many companies and operations will see increased exposure to enforcement actions by citizen groups, EPA, and states authorized to implement the NPDES program. Submitting comments to EPA by May 21 and filing amicus briefs in pending litigation offer timely opportunities to inform how the Agency and judiciary will define the CWA’s reach.

‘Ding’ Darling reports on three projects planned for new year

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge recently announced its plans for this year's prescribed burns, restoration of the Bailey Tract and a wildlife buffer zone for Tarpon Bay.

During a public meeting on Feb. 28, officials and staff with the refuge provided presentations on the three subjects, as well as hosted break-out sessions afterward to answer questions from attendees. The goal of the meeting was to inform and to gather input in order to make better management decisions.

Refuge biologist Jeremy Conrad explained that the Prescribed Fire Task Force, which is made up of several coordinating agencies, uses prescribed burns to reduce hazardous fuels in order to minimize the threat of catastrophic wildfire and maintain public safety. It also restores natural habitat for wildlife.

"Fire was historically part of the environment and ecosystem," he said.

The influx of humans and development has impacted the naturally-occurring phenomena.

Prescribed burns mimic the natural process and help to maintain local habitats.

For example, ensuring marsh does not turn into forested wetland. Conrad explained that prescribed burns help to remove encroachment from other woody species, restoring and saving marsh lands.

"They are a major filtration for a lot of the ecosystems we have here," he said.

Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland noted that last year's mission went unmet.

This year, the refuge has prescribed burns tentatively planned for the Botanical Site, Legion Curve, North Center Tract, San-Cap Parcel, Sanibel Gardens Preserve and Frannies/Johnston Tract.

Lake Okeechobee reservoir to curb discharges gets DEP approval; SFWMD board votes Mar. 8th

Environmentalists and state officials agree there's "no silver bullet," no single project that will seriously curtail discharges of excess Lake Okeechobee water east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River. A suite of projects north, south, east and west of the lake are either under construction or in the planning stage to help solve the problem. Wochit

The state said a proposed reservoir project to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges not only will sufficiently clean water sent south to the Everglades — but that it must.

In a 12-page order, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said the project will meet criteria for "water supply, water quality, flood protection, threatened and endangered species and other natural system and habitat needs."

UF Study: To prevent harmful algal blooms, limit nitrogen and phosphorus

GAINESVILLE – Algal blooms can kill fish and harm a lake’s ecosystem, but by reducing two nutrients together such as nitrogen and phosphorus – not just one or the other -- water managers might limit the blooms in lakes and rivers, a new University of Florida study shows.

To come to this conclusion, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers used an innovative method used in artificial intelligence. The method also will apply to bloom-control research in freshwater ecosystems around the world, UF/IFAS researchers say.

For years, scientists have argued about whether managing both nitrogen and phosphorus – versus managing strictly phosphorus or just nitrogen – would control harmful algal blooms.

For 25 years, Ed Phlips, a UF/IFAS professor in fisheries and aquatic sciences, has worked with scientists at the St. Johns River Water Management District to try to limit nutrients from entering Lake George and imperiling its ecosystem. Blooms in Lake George come from a group of algae that contain many species capable of producing toxins or otherwise disrupting ecosystems, such as creating low oxygen conditions, Phlips said.

“One of the central goals of the research has been identifying the factors that cause frequent harmful algal blooms in the lake, creating a range of challenges for the health and sustainability of key aquatic resources, including fish communities and water for human uses,” Phlips said.

Recently, Rafael Muñoz-Carpena, a UF/IFAS professor of agricultural and biological engineering, led a research team, with his doctoral student Natalie Nelson that reviewed 17 years of data collected by Phlips’ lab from the waters of Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida, behind Lake Okeechobee. Lake George lies in parts of Putnam, Lake, Marion and Volusia counties in central Florida.

Scientists used a new approach called Random Forests Analysis, which tests the sensitivity of bloom-forming species to several environmental conditions in the lake, Muñoz-Carpena said. Those include nutrient levels, water temperatures, light levels and densities of aquatic life that feed from the lake’s bottom.

Researchers found that the major bloom-forming algae in Lake George respond differently to levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, said Phlips.

America's flood insurance chief has a message for all Floridians: You're at risk

If you’re a homeowner in Florida relying on flood zone maps to decide whether to buy insurance, you may want to check your drivers license instead.

"If it says Florida, you need flood insurance," said Roy Wright, who oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, which covers more policies in Florida than any other state. "It may be more helpful than trying to find the right map."

Hurricane Irma is only the latest case in point, said Wright, who was in Miami Beach on Monday for an insurance conference.

When the massive storm churned toward Florida, hurricane-force winds extended 140 miles, nearly the breadth of the state. As the storm rolled across the Lower Keys, it pushed a storm surge across the islands and continued swamping the coastline as it moved north along Southwest Florida. Homes in Everglades City and Chokoloskee filled with mud up to five feet deep. On Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami, water washed over seawalls and out of the Miami River, swamping the business district.

In Jacksonville, far from the storm’s eye, a confluence of storm surge and high tide swelled the St. John’s River and caused the worst flooding in a century.

The national flood insurance program is now $20 billion in debt, largely because of Irma and other catastrophic storms like Harvey. Wright, during a break in the insurance conference, sat down with the Miami Herald to outline a plan to stabilize a troubled federal program vital to Florida’s real estate industry. It includes ambitious goals to double enrollment over the next five years amid a major makeover that will include more aggressive purchases of re-insurance and catastrophe bonds.

By law, only homes with federally-backed mortgages in high-risk zones are required to have insurance.

Lake Hollingsworth restoration project recognized by APWA

LAKELAND – The City of Lakeland was notified on March 1st that the Lake Hollingsworth Shoreline Restoration Project was selected to receive the American Public Works Association (APWA) West Coast Branch Project of the Year - Small Structures Award. This is a special honor that is reserved for the elite projects in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.

The Lakeland Hollingsworth Shoreline Stabilization Project was done at a cost of $192,000 to retrofit stormwater outfalls, establish erosion control and enhance public safety for recreational activities. The improvements are located on the south side of Lake Hollingsworth in an area that is heavily utilized by recreational users. It encompasses the area adjacent to the public access boat ramp with the primary focus on 400 feet of deteriorating shoreline.

The project included the construction of a seawall as the appropriate restoration method to help stabilize the shoreline. The seawall is concrete with a vinyl shell because it is safe, aesthetically pleasing, long lasting and cost effective. The project’s construction started September 2016 and was completed February 2017.

City Manager Tony Delgado said, “This high visibility project is located one of our most heavily used recreational amenities. It certainly is gratifying to be recognized by the APWA and a special kudos to all those involved for getting this project completed on schedule and for getting it done with the least amount of impacts to our citizens who frequent Lake Hollingsworth.”

The project has eliminated shoreline erosion in the area adjacent to the public boat ramp on Lake Hollingsworth and the multiple stakeholders that use the area are very happy with the design of the completed project. These stakeholders include the Lakeland Water Ski Club, Orange Cup Regatta, City of Lakeland Parks Department and the general public.

Trump directs EPA to begin dismantling clean water rule

President Trump stepped up his attack on federal environmental protections Tuesday, issuing an order directing his administration to begin the long process of rolling back sweeping clean water rules that were enacted by his predecessor.

The order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to set about dismantling the Waters of the United States rule takes aim at one of President Obama’s signature environmental legacies, a far-reaching anti-pollution effort that expanded the authority of regulators over the nation’s waterways and wetlands.

The contentious rule had been fought for years by farmers, ranchers, real estate developers and others, who complained it invited heavy-handed bureaucrats to burden their businesses with onerous restrictions and fines for minor violations.

Obama's EPA argued that such claims were exaggerated and misrepresented the realities of the enforcement process of a rule that promised to create substantially cleaner waterways, and with them healthier habitats for threatened species of wildlife.

Help nesting sea turtles: keep beaches dark and obstacle-free at night

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Keeping beaches dark at night and free of obstacles will help sea turtles during their nesting season, which begins in Florida on March 1 and lasts through the end of October.

Bright artificial lighting can misdirect and disturb nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, so beachgoers should avoid using flashlights or cellphones at night. Turning out lights or closing curtains and shades in buildings along the beach after dark will ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed as they come ashore and hatchlings will not become disoriented when they emerge from their nests. Clearing away boats and beach furniture at the end of the day and filling in holes in the sand are also important because turtles can become trapped in furniture and get trapped in holes on the beach.

Florida’s beachfront residents and visitors taking these actions will help conserve the loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles that nest on the state’s coastlines.

“Keeping Florida’s beaches dark and uncluttered at night can help protect sea turtles that return to nest on our beaches,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who heads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) sea turtle management program. “Many agency partners, such as nature centers, marine turtle permit holders and local governments, contribute greatly to sea turtle conservation. But caring beachgoers can also make a significant difference in helping nesting and hatchling sea turtles survive.”

Exactly when sea turtle nesting season starts depends on where you are in Florida. While it begins in March on the Atlantic coast from Brevard through Broward counties, it starts later in the spring, in late April or May, along the northeast Atlantic, the Keys and Gulf coasts.

Wherever you are, other ways to help sea turtles include properly disposing of fishing line to avoid entanglements, and reporting those that are sick, injured, entangled or dead to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.

Purchasing a “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” External Website Florida license plate at Buyaplate.com External Website contributes to sea turtle research, rescue and conservation efforts. People also can donate $5 and receive an FWC sea turtle decal.

Go to MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle for more information on Florida’s sea turtles, and click on “Research,” then “Nesting” for more data on sea turtle nesting.

Daylight Savings Time starts Mar. 11th - Check your sprinkler timer

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is reminding residents to check the timers on their irrigation system controllers this weekend, which is the beginning of Daylight Saving Time.

Saturday night is when we will turn our clocks ahead one hour. The time change is also a good time to make sure irrigation system timers are set correctly to ensure that the systems operate consistently with year-round water conservation measures.

All 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries are now on year-round water conservation measures, with lawn watering limited to twice-per-week unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours. Local governments maintaining once-per-week watering by local ordinance include Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties.

Know and follow your local watering restrictions, but don’t water just because it’s your day. Irrigate your lawn when it shows signs of stress from lack of water. Pay attention to signs of stressed grass:

  • Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
  • Grass blades appear blue-gray.
  • Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

For additional information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

Military on front line of battle with sea level rise

Politicians in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. may choose to ignore the potential menace of sea level rise, but the United States military doesn’t have that luxury.

With nearly 562,000 installations on 4,800 sites scattered across the globe, America’s armed forces rely heavily on safe, secure infrastructure, free from outside threats. The Pentagon has come to recognize sea level rise as a direct threat to the 1,774 of their sites that occupy 95,471 miles of the world’s coastline, a threat that could change the course of armed service history.

“The Department of Defense pays attention to climate change and sea level rise because we have to think of stability in regions where we operate as we pay attention to what our future missions might be,” said John Conger, who served as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment. “It’s happening and we’re going to have to deal with it.” “How are we going to deal with it?” Conger asked.

This year, for the first time, the Secretary of Defense is conducting a military-wide climate change/sea level rise threat assessment.

Each of the five branches of service will be required to provide a list of its 10 most threatened installations and suggestions for mitigating against whatever dangers exist, said Conger, now a senior policy advisor for the Center for Climate and Security.

Stone crab fishery could be challenged by ocean acidification, study suggests

The first study on Florida stone crabs and ocean acidification was published this month by a Mote Marine Laboratory scientist and offers clues for relieving environmental stress on these tasty and economically valuable crabs.

The study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology provides the first evidence that stone crab embryos develop more slowly and fewer eggs hatch to larvae (babies) in controlled laboratory systems mimicking ocean acidification (OA) — a chemically induced decrease in ocean water pH at global to local levels that is being driven by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

News media can request a PDF copy of the study by contacting Hayley Rutger: 941-374-0081, hrutger@mote.org. The impact of OA to marine and estuarine species and habitats is worsened when combined with the impacts of nutrient-rich coastal runoff, sewage water inputs and loss of wetlands due to coastal development. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century.

Most stone crab fishing occurs in coastal habitats susceptible to OA along with other potential stressors including reduced oxygen levels and harmful algal blooms. The stone crab industry — centered along west Florida — was valued in 2015 at $36.7 million, but since 2000 the average annual commercial harvest has declined by about 25 percent.

Mote scientists are studying stone crabs under various environmental conditions, starting with acidified water, to help resource managers sustain this critical fishery.

Boca Grande Fishing Pier closed March 2-30

The Boca Grande Fishing Pier, 5810 Gasparilla Road, Placida, will close from March 2 to 30 to undergo a hand rail and side rail replacement. During the renovation visit Placida Fishing Pier, 13120 Pier Road, Englewood.

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

Red tide taking out larger fish, lingering in Lee

More dead fish are washing up on local beaches as a persistent red tide bloom festers in coastal Lee County waters.

Recent measurements have shown some areas here have 1 million or more cells per liter of red tide (Karenia brevis). That's more than enough red tide cells to cause fish, marine mammal and sea turtle kills and for the bloom to be detectable from space.

John Cassani, with Calusa Waterkeeper, said his group ran into several dead fish in different areas of south Lee over the weekend.

"(Some of our members) were out in Estero Bay (Sunday) and saw eight adult black drum, floaters, somewhere near San Carlos Pass," Cassani said. "Another reported them behind Junkanoo (on the Beach) restaurant. And we had a report of 25 miles offshore, seeing black drum and red drum. And we got one (report) about six or eight dead grouper on Fort Myers Beach, so something is going on."

Septic systems, fertilizer use top water quality concerns at workshop

The impact of overburdened septic tanks, use of fertilizer and lack of local mangrove mitigation were some of the concerns discussed today at the Captiva Community Panel's second public workshop.

As part of the process for updating the Captiva Code, the panel scheduled four workshops through February and March to obtain feedback from the community on subjects from beach issues and water quality, to traffic and development. An online survey for property owners will provide extra insight.

The first workshop, held on Feb. 13, centered around beach issues. This second one focused on the island's water quality and the quality of its adjacent waters, as well as shoreline protection issues.

Archaeologists discover 7,000-year-old burial site in the Gulf of Mexico

An unmarked Native American burial site more than 7,200 years old was discovered a quarter-mile off Manasota Key, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Wednesday.

The site near Venice was first discovered by an amateur diver in June 2016, who then reported possible human remains on the continental shelf to the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

It’s against the law to disturb any unmarked human burial sites, so underwater archaeologists had to use techniques such as sonar and magnetometry to investigate. After a year and a half of investigating, they could firmly say that the area that measures less than an acre was an inland, peat-bottomed, freshwater pond used for burial from the Early Archaic Period.

“Our hope is that this discovery leads to more knowledge and a greater understanding of Florida’s early people,” Detzner said.

Officials called the discovery “unprecedented.” Florida has a number of pond burial sites from the Archaic Period, including Little Salt Spring in Sarasota County. But it’s the first discovery of underwater preservation from the Archaic Period in the Americas, having made it through sea level rise in the last ice age. During this time period, the pond sat 9 feet above sea level.

Mystery disease killing Florida's only coral reef

Off the coast of Southeast Florida, a mysterious new disease is killing coral reefs, turning them white and leaving nothing but a skeleton behind.

More than half of the state’s 330-year-old Coral Reef Tract, which stretches across 175 miles in the Florida Keys, is infected with the disease. It’s called “white syndrome” by scientists because white stripes or spots cover the coral, and it was discovered in fall 2014.

Throughout 2017, the disease spread to a point where half the coral at some sites were affected, even some that had been considered the most resilient and important for reef building, according to a newsletter by the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, which helps raise awareness about Florida’s reefs.

The causes of the disease are still unknown, though researchers believe it may be due to a combination of factors, including water quality, said Ana Zangroniz, a Miami-Dade-based University of Florida Florida Sea Grant agent.

Coral reefs are important hotspots for many fish, producing almost one-third of the world’s marine fish species, despite covering only 1 percent of the ocean floor. Invertebrates such as jellyfish, lobster and crabs, fish, and sea turtles all rely on coral reefs for food, shelter or both, Zangroniz said.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects challenge to EPA water regulation

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away a challenge led by states and environmental groups to an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that lets government agencies transfer water between different bodies, such as rivers and lakes, without needing to protect against pollution.

The nine justices left in place a lower court ruling upholding the EPA’s “water transfers rule,” issued in 2008 by Republican former President George W. Bush’s administration, that exempted such transfers from a national water discharge program aimed at curbing pollution.

Under the landmark Clean Water Act, permits are required for the “discharge of any pollutant” into “navigable waters.” Opponents of the EPA rule said water transfers can pollute otherwise pristine water bodies and should require permits.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled that the EPA had acted reasonably in 2008 in adopting the rule over the objections of environmental groups.

A coalition of seven states led by New York and environmental groups led by Riverkeeper Inc appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

The appeals court overturned a 2014 ruling by a federal judge in New York who ordered the agency to go back to the drawing board on one aspect of the 2008 regulation, which exempts transfers from the national water discharge permit program that is administered by the EPA.

Some local government entities, such as the South Florida Water Management District and New York City, supported the regulation in part because obtaining permits and staying compliant is costly. They said no permits should be required because water is merely being transferred from one place to another and pollutants are not being added.

Business interests that depend on government-funded water management systems also supported the rule.

Federal wetlands protections threatened by bill advancing in Florida legislature

A Florida Senate committee, Wednesday, advanced a bill (SB 1402) which aims to place a longstanding federal program that protects wetlands through the Clean Water Act under state control.

Right now, under the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers holds permitting authority when it comes to proposed developments on environmentally sensitive wetlands in Florida. This designation is known as “Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority” under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

However, a companion bills moving rapidly in both chambers of the Florida Legislature would put such decisions in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Bill sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, R-Logwood, said that if approved by the EPA, the legislation would eliminate a redundancy in the development permitting process for freshwater wetlands.

“This is permitted by federal law so that the state can administer, without duplication, with federal law itself, the Section 404 permits, but the actual implementation of this and the execution of this will be done as if the DEP is acting as the Corps of Engineers, and will be done in accordance with the requirements of federal law,” said Sen. Simmons. “There will be no lessening of the requirements for these dredge permits.”

Environmental advocates oppose the bill over concerns that it will fast track permitting for development of wetlands. They point to the importance of Florida’s wetland ecosystems as critical habitat for endangered species, as a source of fresh drinking water, and as a vital aspect to Florida’s natural infrastructure in the event of hurricanes and floods. One acre of wetlands can store about one million gallons of water. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Amber Crooks said she’s also concerned about the DEP’s ability to take on the additional work.

2018 Environmental Summit announces agenda for Day 1

Make Connections at the 2018 Environmental Summit

It’s all connected: our environment, economy and quality of life; healthy habitats and thriving fish and wildlife; strong science, education and balanced policy; our environmental legacy and a resilient future.

Big Impact

The Sarasota Manatee environmental community last convened in 2012 — the results continue to reverberate in the community. The meeting inspired collaborations leading to the preservation of Robinson Preserve Annex, expansion of the Science and Environment Council as a collaborative catalyst, and a new era of cooperation and collaboration in research, restoration, and community engagement in the Phillippi Creek basin.

Connect. Engage. Activate.

Join area scientists, planners, managers, fishers, farmers, business people, students, elected officials, and the environmentally curious to connect, engage and activate.

Get ready for a fast-paced, engaging program with expert panel discussions and provocative lightning talks that weave connections between our environmental heritage and a resilient future, between the health of natural habitats and our quality of life. Two full-day sessions at New College of Florida April 26-27.