Water-Related News

Myakka River headwaters watershed purchased for conservation

363 acres at headwaters of the Myakka River in Manatee County will be preserved

MANATEE COUNTY – The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast announced Wednesday the permanent protection of 363 acres at the headwaters of the Myakka River in Myakka City.

Seven creeks converge into one river, the Myakka, at the newly named Myakka Headwaters Preserve.

Clear water allows the creek bottoms to support submerged aquatic plants that are unable to grow in sunlight-blocked blackwaters found elsewhere on the Myakka.

The preserve is next to the 2,300-acre Flatford Swamp, the river’s largest forested wetland.

The Myakka River Land Fund of Manatee Community Foundation awarded $1.3 million for the permanent protection of the Myakka Headwaters Preserve. The fund is to purchase or restore environmentally significant lands within the Manatee County Myakka River Watershed.

“Safeguarding this rare property is essential to the health of everything downstream,” said Christine Johnson, president of Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. “We are grateful for the Myakka River Land Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation for protecting these rare lands for people and nature. Our quality of life depends on it.”

Florida wants to control wetlands permitting. Critics say it isn’t equipped to do the job

Florida’s bid to take over wetlands permitting across the state will undergo two virtual federal hearings beginning Wednesday.

The Clean Water Act requires federal permitting to preserve vanishing wetlands, which protect drinking water supplies, blunt damage from storms and hurricanes, and provide habitat for wildlife. Up until now, the permitting job has fallen on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But in August, the state applied to take over, alarming environmentalists who fear Florida’s smaller Department of Environmental Protection won’t be equipped to do the work.

Only two other states oversee their own wetlands permitting, Michigan and New Jersey, said Earthjustice attorney Tania Galloni.

“Those states also spent millions and millions of dollars to create their programs,” she said. “Florida is saying it could do it without asking the legislature for a single penny.”

Environmentalists worry the move will increase the loss of wetlands to development at a moment when Florida, already threatened by sea rise, can least afford it. In addition to recharging the state's aquifers, wetlands suck up huge amounts of carbon — between $2 and $3.4 billion worth just in Everglades National Park mangroves.

“This whole thing is about shortcuts,” Galloni said. “It's about shortcutting the time for consideration and the level of review. We need checks and balances.”

In its application, Florida says it intends to have its existing staff of 229 employees, who now handle environmental permitting across the state, take over the duties. The state says the its own environmental permitting overlaps with wetland permitting, so the additional permitting duties should only generate about 15 percent more work.

Florida also intends to re-assign 18 employees who earn about $35,000 a year to do the permitting, according to an analysis submitted with the application.

District to hold virtual workshop on Lower Peace River flows in Charlotte and DeSoto

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) invites the public to a virtual workshop Thursday, Oct. 29, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The purpose of the virtual workshop is to allow for public comment on recommended minimum flows for the Lower Peace River in Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

In accordance with the directive in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Emergency Order to conduct all public meetings electronically, members of the public may join the meeting via Microsoft Teams through this link: https://bit.ly/2GjUvvv. The Google Chrome browser is recommended for best compatibility with Microsoft Teams. For telephone-only participation, dial 1-786-749-6127 and when prompted enter the conference ID: 838 375 52#.

Minimum flows are limits established by the District’s Governing Board, and required by state law, to protect flowing water bodies from significant harm caused by ground and surface water withdrawals.

The District’s experienced scientists use numerous tools to collect, develop and analyze data before recommending a minimum flow. Their work is then evaluated by an independent peer review panel. During the workshop, District staff will review the technical basis for the recommended minimum flows for the Lower Peace River. A draft 2020 report summarizing the recommended minimum flows is available for review and is posted at WaterMatters.org/documents-and-reports.

District staff anticipates presenting the recommended minimum flow for the Lower Peace River at the December Governing Board meeting, where the Governing Board may choose to initiate rulemaking for adoption of the minimum flow into District rules. Governing Board meetings are open to the public, and brief oral comments are permitted on meeting agenda items.

For more information regarding the recommended minimum flow, please contact Doug Leeper, MFLs Program Lead with the District’s Environmental Flows and Assessments Section at 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4272.

Written comments regarding the minimum flows are also welcome. They can be submitted via mail or email no later than Nov. 30, 2020, to Doug Leeper, at 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, FL 34604-6899 or doug.leeper@watermatters.org.

Mangrove trimming at Ponce Inlet and Sancho Panza Point

Beginning the week of October 19, 2020 through October 30, 2020 (weather and equipment operation permitting), the Ponce Inlet and Sancho Panza Point is scheduled to have the mangroves trimmed. The contractor will off load vegetation material at the vacant lot at the southerly end of Colony Point; then the material will be transported to another location by dump trucks.

For additional information on this project, please contact Canal Maintenance Supervisor, Cathy Miller, Punta Gorda Public Works Department at (941) 575-5050 between the business hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

FWC soliciting feedback on Lake O environmental issues

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for your help in the best way to care for Lake Okeechobee.

It is looking for your opinions on things like fish and wildlife in and around the lake.

The FWC has set up a web page where you can give feedback on how it’s dealing with things like blue-green algae. Invasive plants, and other water-quality issues.

The agency will then use your information to develop a new plan to improve the lake.

You can submit your suggestions on the FWC web page here.

Lee County approves contracts for design of flood mitigation projects

FORT MYERS – The Lee Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve contracts for the design of two flood-mitigation projects in south Fort Myers.

The projects are part of the Board’s ongoing commitment to flood mitigation and water quality. The projects will design:

  • Improvements for the Iona Drainage District Canal H-7. The canal is located just south of College Parkway between Florida Southwestern College and Cleveland Avenue. The area serviced by the canal experienced flooding from multiple rain events including Invest 92-L and Hurricane Irma in 2017. The contract was awarded to Kimley-Horn and Associates for $268,745. The project design is funded in part by a grant from the Florida Department of Emergency Management.
  • Modifications, such as upsizing and/or adding drainage pipes, to the drainage network along the southern end of Ten Mile Canal in the Lee County U.S. 41 Industrial Park area. This area also experienced severe flooding during Invest 92-L and Hurricane Irma in 2017. The contract with Kisinger Campo & Associates Corp is for $246,082. The project design is funded in part by a grant from the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

Both projects are part of the Phase 3: Southern Lee County Flood Mitigation Plan, which is being developed by local storm water experts under the direction of Lee County Natural Resources. Earlier this month, the county held a public meeting to inform stakeholders about the effort.

FDEP amends consent order to Charlotte County in wake of wastewater issues

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued an amended consent order to Charlotte County that supersedes the original consent order executed on March 15, 2018, after the sanitary sewer overflows associated with Hurricane Irma.

The consent order is in response to several recent FDEP concerns including,

  • Unauthorized discharges/sanitary sewer overflows from March 15, 2018, through June 30, 2020, from wastewater collection systems, water reclamation facilities, or the reclaimed system
  • Anomalies associated with monitoring wells at the East Port and Burnt Store Water Reclamation Facility
  • Effluent sample results from East Port and Burnt Store WRF

Charlotte County has been directed to take corrective actions of installing generators at 10 lift stations and purchasing eight portable generators which will be funded by a FEMA grant. Completion of the Loveland Master Lift Station project, which is scheduled to be completed by fall 2021 and completion of sewer force main replacements for Coliseum, which is complete and Deep Creek, which is scheduled to be completed by fall 2021. Additional corrective action taken over the past two years includes replacement of the Forest Nelson Boulevard sewer force main, and the ongoing work on Olean Boulevard. The county will be electing to complete an in-kind project of the Quesada sewer force main replacement rather than a fine of $138,531.36. The Quesada sewer force main unexpectedly broke twice this summer. Due to these breaks, the utility was working on a replacement plan when the consent order was delivered. The list of required corrective actions must be completed on or before Dec. 31, 2024.

“Water quality is a top priority for the county and the goal is to have zero spills of wastewater and reclaimed water. Unfortunately, due to the size and age of the system along with influences outside our control, spills are sometimes unavoidable,” said Utilities Department Director Craig Rudy. “Each spill is unique, and the department evaluates each one to determine the cause. Charlotte County Utilities is proactive in replacing aging equipment, and this year’s replacement program is budgeted for $17 million dollars. Additionally, the utility continues to look for areas to improve and train staff to reduce the overall spills. Staff is already investigating the other FDEP concerns at our water reclamation facilities.”

Of the 103 unauthorized discharges/sanitary sewer overflows during the 27-month period, 92 were wastewater and 11 reclaimed. Additional analysis shows that 27% were due to contractor error, 25% were due to infrastructure failure such as a main line break due to age or deterioration, 14% were caused by vehicles, 14% were due to electrical component failure and the remaining 20% includes less frequent causes. “Contractor error is our top source of spills and staff has begun researching how to hold these contractors liable,” said Rudy. “The county continues to work with FDEP and will provide quarterly status reports until Dec. 2024.”

Governor announces prep for HAB mitigation in response to Lake O discharges

Innovative technology is being staged to be deployed if needed

TALLAHASSEE – On Oct. 14, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that in anticipation of harmful discharges released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) are preparing for the use of innovative technology to mitigate blue-green algae if needed, following the recent announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

Although algal bloom conditions on Lake Okeechobee have improved in recent weeks and there is no concerning presence of an algal bloom on the lake near discharge structures, Governor DeSantis has directed DEP and SFWMD to be ready to respond to protect South Florida estuaries and communities.

Bonita Springs and Lee County apply for waterway law enforcement funding

City Council approved the submittal of a Lee County Natural Resources Division/WCIND Waterway Development Program Proposal Form for Sub-grantees in the amount of $40,000.00. The grant provides matching funds to continue marine law enforcement activities along the Imperial River and in Estero Bay. The funding amount requested was $40,000.00 to accommodate the hourly rate in boat fuel and maintenance.

The West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) has approved the requested grant in the amount of $40,000.00 for support of the marine unit of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to provide on-water patrol. The patrol unit will continue to primarily patrol waters in the Imperial River and Estero Bay. The City’s proposed FY20-21 budget will provide the matching funds required by the grant for $40,000.00

Butterford Waterway Park boat ramp closed Oct. 12-26

The Butterford Waterway Park boat ramp will be closed for repairs and paving of the driveway Oct. 12-26.

Butterford Waterway Park is located at 13555 Marathon Blvd. in Port Charlotte.

For information, contact Vicki Chichura at 941-623-1054 or Vicki.Chichura@CharlotteCountyFL.gov.

Study will address how climate disasters impact GOM restoration projects

This summer, the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine started work on a new study that will assess how climate disasters, oil spills, and long-term environmental changes such as sea level rise are affecting environmental restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. The study will help fulfill one of GRP’s top goals — monitoring progress and documenting how the Gulf is changing over time.

Restoration projects can provide a number of community benefits, from improving water quality, to supporting fisheries and recreation areas, to protecting against flooding. However, recent events like Hurricanes Sally and Laura have reminded us that the progress of these projects can be quickly undone.

Holly Greening, co-founder of CoastWise Partners and former executive director and senior scientist of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, is the chair of the committee undertaking the study. She answered several questions about what this study will accomplish.

Lee County votes to eliminate mining opportunity in southeast Lee

FORT MYERS – On Oct. 6th, the Board of Lee County Commissioners voted to approve a settlement agreement with the agricultural company FFD that would eliminate mining as a possible land use on a 5,200-acre parcel in southeast Lee County.

The agreement now sets in motion a three-hearing process at which citizens can provide public comment – one before the Hearing Examiner and two before county commissioners. Dates are to be determined.

The settlement, which has been the subject of negotiation for more than three years, conveys the company's mining rights to the county in perpetuity. The property is in the county’s Density Reduction Groundwater Resource (DR/GR) area.

The agreement means a minimum of 65% of the property shall be devoted to open space (3,385 acres), of which 2,916 acres must be placed in a conservation easement at no cost to the county.

The owner would also be responsible for restoring natural flow ways for water through nearby environmental areas such as Flint Pen Strand, a Conservation 20/20 preserve. The property is also near CREW, the Corkscrew Regional System Watershed, which is critical to water flow. The agreement means a completed connection for a flow way would exist between these conservation lands and the development known as The Place, which also has abundant conservation easements and open space.

With the agreement placing 2,916 acres in a conservation easement, that ensures the land will forever be protected from development without the county having to purchase it as it does Conservation 2020 properties, such as the nearby Larry Kiker Preserve.

Additionally, the agreement saves Lee County taxpayers $60 million in potential liability, had the county gone to court and lost.

The agreement sets forth a Process for Approval of Development for the FFD property, which means homes could be constructed with a density that is consistent with all other BoCC-approved developments in this part of the county, which is referred to as the Environmental Enhancement & Preservation Communities Overlay.

For more information, visit www.leegov.com or follow Lee County Government on Facebook.

Opposition mounts against proposed fish farm off Sarasota coast

Because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not hold a public hearing on the construction of a controversial fin fish farm 45 miles off the coast of Sarasota, opponents took it upon themselves to be heard.

The mayor of the coastal city of Sarasota, a beach wedding photographer, environmentalists, fishermen and dozens of others testified in a virtual ad hoc meeting on Wednesday hosted by the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Opponents said the proposed offshore fish farm demonstration pen by a Hawaii-based company, the first such project in the Gulf of Mexico, would create pollution in the form of fish waste, spread diseases to wild fish populations and increase competition with fishing companies that depend on wild catches.

Bioreactor helps with water quality in Bonita Springs

It’s not often you’d want to take a second look at a parking lot, but there’s one in Bonita Springs worth a doubletake.

Trouble is, without X-ray vision, you won’t notice what makes it unique.

Off Felts Avenue in Bonita Springs is what, at a glance, looks like a plain old parking lot. It’s the ingenuity below its surface that’s catching attention.

“Kind of think of a radiator with coils that go up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, back and forth,” said Mayor Peter Simmons.

A bioreactor filled with ground-up trees, or woodchips, helps clean up stormwater runoff.