Water-Related News

Fixing 100 years of Florida’s development barriers could improve water quality

Maybe we can't turn the clock back on how human development has harmed water quality, but some are trying to correct past mistakes.

A new project is gearing up that environmentalists believe will mark a step backwards in time for water quality in Southwest Florida.

Paid for by a federal lawsuit against BP for its Deep Horizon oil spill, the plan is about moving water over hundreds of square miles into Charlotte Harbor. The first step is to find out what's going on now, and how far off we are from the way things were before development took over.

The newest study area begins out in Cecil Webb Wildlife Management Area east of I-75. West on the Gulf of Mexico side of I-75, is Yucca Pens Wildlife Management Area. Scientists have already collected water flow data in Yucca Pens. Adding data from Cecil Webb will complete the picture and allow corrections to start.

The practical goal is to get water out of the Webb wildlife area where it apparently backs up, and get it to Yucca Pens, which is drying up. In the long run, project designers believe improving the vast plain of water flow could fix a problem in Charlotte Harbor that has killed off critical plants and animals like sea grass and oysters. The problem is too much salt during certain times of the year and too little in other times.

Who is behind this study?

The champion for the study is the nonprofit Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Program based in Punta Gorda. CHNEP got the project going after it was dormant for more than 10 years, said Executive Director Jennifer Hecker. State environmental regulators either don't have the money or the mission to do this kind of project, Hecker said, so they will be monitoring the project instead and channeling funds from the federal government.

Red Tide toll prompts state to limit some fishing to catch-and-release

The affected area extends from Pasco County to Collier County

For 16 months, a Red Tide algae bloom hammered Florida’s waterways and beaches, killing fish, manatees and other sea life. As a result, last year state wildlife officials required anglers in this region who were going after snook, redfish and sea trout to release what they caught.

That regulation was set to expire on May 31. But on Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed with a staff recommendation to prolong the regulation requiring catch-and-release for another year. That means it would continue through June 1, 2021.

The area where anglers are not allowed to catch and keep those fish runs from the Hernando-Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County, including the entirety of Tampa Bay.

Such a ban is necessary to give those species a chance to recover from the massive losses they suffered during the algae bloom, wildlife biologists said.

Florida moving ahead to take over federal wetlands permitting

Environmental groups cry foul over a developer-backed effort that began under Rick Scott.

For decades Florida’s developers have pushed for the state to take over from the federal government issuing permits for filling wetlands. On Wednesday, the state took a crucial step toward fulfilling that wish — much to the dismay of the state’s environmental groups.

The state Department of Environmental Protection published a pair of legal notices for changes to its regulations that lay the groundwork for the state’s takeover of wetlands permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Only two other states have taken that step.

“This rule is just one step in the process for the state to assume authority to administer the dredge and fill permitting program under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” the state’s notice says. The move is subject to the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental groups ranging from the Florida Wildlife Federation to the Miami Riverkeeper blasted the proposal, which they predict will lead to a weakening of protection for the state’s marshes, bogs, swamps and other wetlands.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the proper capacity to take over the wetlands permitting that has been run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for decades," said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the Florida office of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. "It can’t even manage to enforce the environmental laws already under its purview.”

Cape Coral fined thousands for ripping up mangroves

The City of Cape Coral is getting fined thousands of dollars on Wednesday for ripping out protected mangroves at Four Mile Cove.

Alyn Kay used to work for the South Florida Water Management District. As an expert in landscape architecture and erosion control, he calls what is happening with the mangroves at Four Mile Cove, a “massacre.”

WINK News went out on a boat with Kay and Joe Cruz, who lives along the Coral Pointe Canal to get a closer look at the damage workers caused in August 2019.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection stepped in and stopped all work after learning Cape Coral crews had ripped out an estimate of over 6,000 sq. feet of mangroves.

Florida's chief science officer says we need to reduce carbon emissions

“Ultimately we’re going to have to reduce carbon emissions to reduce warming and its effects,” Florida Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazer said Tuesday before a speech in Sarasota.

Florida’s new chief science officer spoke about the need to reduce nutrient pollution that is contributing to water quality problems and reduce carbon emissions that are warming the planet during a swing through Sarasota Tuesday [Feb. 4th].

Gov. Ron DeSantis created the position of chief science officer shortly after being sworn in, and University of Florida professor Thomas Frazer is the first person to hold the job.

Frazer, who has a PhD in biological sciences, primarily has been tasked with addressing water quality issues, which he described during a speech to The Argus Foundation Tuesday as “probably the most pressing problem in our state.”

But Frazer also made it clear that climate change is a big problem that needs to be addressed, and reducing carbon emissions is critical. That’s a message that has not been heard out of the executive branch in Florida in nearly a decade.

FGCU researchers install filtration devices to collect air particles from HABs

We may not have blue-green algae around now, but we should be ready if it comes back.

That’s why FGCU researchers are testing toxin levels now so they can compare what we breathe in when there are actually algae in the water.

Thanks to funding from the Florida Department of Health, researchers installed filtration devices in hopes of collecting air particles that develop from harmful algal blooms.

“The idea is we’ll be doing this over several years,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, a professor at the Water School at FGCU.

Something council member Jessica Cosden says has been a slow but worthwhile effort. “It was slow but it happened. We’re getting the information, we’re answering these questions we were just unable to answer. Two years ago, we just didn’t have the answers.”

FGCU’s research complements that of Florida Atlantic University. FGCU will focus on toxins in the air while FAU will see how it impacts the human body.

Lee County accepts Powell Creek grant

The Lee County Board of County Commissioner last week accepted a state grant of $774,000 from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for construction of water quality improvements to the Powell Creek bypass canal.

The 10.5-acre project site is southwest of Old Bridge Road, near the Caloosahatchee River, and is designed to improve water quality in the Powell Creek bypass canal.

The project will divert water through a detention area /filter marsh to remove nutrients before the water flows into the Caloosahatchee River, which has a Total Maximum Daily Load for nitrogen.

"This project continues the board's commitment to clean up the water that runs off our own landscape that contributes to our water quality issues," Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said. "We're under a mandate from the state to reduce the nitrogen that goes into the Caloosahatchee, and all these projects help."

The Caloosahatchee Estuary Basin Management Action Plan adopted November 2012, includes this project as part of its goal to reduce elevated nitrogen levels in the estuary.

Small-acre preserves provide wildlife habitat, water treatment areas within communities

Florida has millions of acres protected in federal and state preserves.

But across fast-growing Southwest Florida, thousands of acres are also preserved in presumed perpetuity behind the gates of private communities.

Alone, 80 acres here and 100 acres there might not have much of an environmental effect, but taken together, the tracts provide water recharge areas, storm water systems and habitat for wildlife ranging from raccoons and foxes to nesting birds and alligators.

“(Preserves) provide a lot of value and function for species,” said Jim Beever, a member of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. “Even smaller preserves can do a lot of good for species without large ranges like gopher tortoises and species that can get around in the air. They’re very valuable for things like the bald eagle.”

These preserve areas are typically planned in advance, before the first skeletons of new homes are raised. Beever has worked on these types of preserve areas in Southwest Florida for decades and said each plan for a new preserve is site specific.

Researchers release playbook for combating red tide, other deadly algae

Seventy-five researchers from Florida and around the country met in St. Petersburg in August to build a consensus document regarding harmful algal blooms.

SARASOTA — A symposium of the nation’s top experts in harmful algal blooms has created a playbook for addressing deadly algae in Florida.

The consensus findings of 75 researchers, titled “State of the Science for Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida,” notes that there is a dire need for better public communication and data gaps in research with the two most common harmful algal blooms, or “HABs” — the red-tide organism, Karenia brevis, and blue-green algae also called cyanobacteria.

Researchers met Aug. 20-21 at the United States Geological Survey in St. Petersburg.

Among the topics is confusion in the use of bloom terms, such as “red tide,” “blue-green algae” and “cyanobacteria,” which the public does not readily understand, the report states. It also said there are mixed messages regarding human health concerns, aerosol exposure and seafood safety, the causes of blooms, bloom interrelatedness, as well as bloom response and control measures.

“The goal was to make sure we are all on the same page,” said Betty Staugler, a Florida Sea Grant agent for UF/IFAS Extension-Charlotte County. “Consistency is super important. There’s enough misinformation out there, and we really wanted to come to have a more unified voice.”

The consensus document focuses on five primary topics: how blooms begin, develop and end; bloom prediction and modeling; how blooms are detected and monitored; how blooms might be controlled or reduced; and how blooms affect public health.

Florida DEP brings stormwater discussion to Naples Botanical Garden

Stormwater management may seem like a dry issue, but Southwest Florida residents' attention on water quality turns nutrient removal and flood prevention into everyday topics.

Adding to the ongoing dialogue, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection hosted a "monthly meetup" at the Naples Botanical Garden on Wednesday. Three presenters at the workshop discussed challenges the area faces in managing stormwater and potential solutions to remove nutrients.

Steve Preston, of Collier County's stormwater management team, described the initial attempts to deal with stormwater in Southwest Florida as a "ditch and drain" approach.

"Instead of just ditching and draining, we’ve got the control structures in canals to stop water," Preston said of today's practices. "Think of the canals as elongated reservoirs."

Controlling the water within the canals through these structures provides the opportunity for flood control, wetlands preservation and stormwater treatment, he said.

SBEP study contributes to regional understanding of tidal creeks

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) recently completed its second regional study on tidal creek nutrient dynamics. Both studies were funded through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Wetlands Program Development Grant program. The first study resulted in the development of a nutrient management framework for southwest Florida tidal creeks. This follow-up study focused on:

  • validating outcomes of the initial study,
  • refining the nutrient management framework and
  • identifying additional indicators of tidal creek condition to refine nutrient targets and thresholds that protect the biological integrity of these critical natural resources.

The current study also produced additional indicators to help managers pinpoint potential causes of nutrient imbalance. These indicators include:

  • A chlorophyll to nitrogen threshold ratio no greater than 15, above which indicates creeks that may be physically altered or have their hydrologic connection to the estuary cut off.
  • A trophic state index score less than 60, which places a creek in the “fair” category for estuarine waters. A macrophye index (similar to Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s rapid periphyton index) based a frequency of occurrence of less than 50% of samples with macrophytes present.
  • A total nitrogen annual geometric average concentration of 1.1 mg/l, based on a weight-of-evidence that higher concentrations are associated with an increased frequency of creeks in the “caution” category.
  • A nitrate ratio less than one between source (fresh) and estuarine water. This indicates that dissolved inorganic nitrogen should be assimilated quickly within the tidal p

Will experimental fish farm pave the way for privatizing federal waters?

The United States imports 90 percent of its seafood, most of it farmed and mostly from China.

By nearly any accounting, the United States has lagged in fish production even as demand has grown. In the early 1990s, the United States and Norway had similar marine aquaculture output. Now, the Scandinavian nation, with only 1.6 percent of the American population, raises about seven times as much fish. Worldwide demand for high-quality farmed seafood is rapidly increasing.

Experts predict two-thirds of edible fish will be farmed by 2030, but they frequently disagree on the best means for doing so.

This debate will come to a head Tuesday at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., the upshot of which may have significant implications for federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public permit hearing at 5:30 p.m. to consider final approval of the proposed Velella Epsilon aquaculture project.

If approved, it would be the first finfish aquaculture project in the gulf, capable of raising 20,000 almaco jack (a species similar to an amberjack) each year. It also would be the first in federal waters in the contiguous United States.

The prospective demonstration farm from Hawaii-based Ocean Era has engendered strong opposition from local residents and environmental groups, who worry that setting a chain-link mesh pen in open water 45 miles southwest of Sarasota would upset the ecosystem and establish a precedent of privatizing federal waters, paving the way for more farms.

What impact will relaxing of federal water regulations have on SWFL waterways?

Just what impact will the relaxing of some federal water regulations have on the Southwest Florida rivers, streams and wetlands? On Thursday, President Trump announced the changes originally put into place to stop pollution and development.

We’ve seen what can happen to the water here with the toxic blue-green algae outbreaks. Many blame septic tanks and fertilizer for it, but we talked with the experts.

Changes are in the works when it comes to our waterways.

“So it continues our pendulum back and forth,” said Dr. Don Duke, professor of environmental studies at FGCU. “How much protection for the environment, how much money should we spend on it.”

New rules laid out by the federal government mean fewer regulations protecting our waterways, but benefits for growers and businesses. It also means more power at the state level.

City of Sarasota considers opposing proposed fish farm

Sarasota city commissioners are considering a letter that offers a “strong and formal opposition” to a pilot project by Kampachi Farms

SARASOTA — Sarasota city commissioners are considering whether to send a letter that condemns a controversial precedent-setting fish farm planned for waters off the coast of Sarasota to the federal regulators who will decide whether to authorize it.

Commissioners may have a “strong and formal opposition” to a pilot project by Kampachi Farms that plans to anchor a chain-link mesh pen offshore of Southwest Florida, according to a draft letter addressed to Kip Tyler, an environmental engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The project aims to raise 20,000 almaco jack about 45 miles southwest of Sarasota County.

Commissioners will debate sending the letter at Monday’s [Feb. 6th] regular meeting at City Hall. The draft letter is proposed by Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, who attended a hearing this week at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. That meeting was part of the EPA’s permitting process to determine if discharges from the fish will adversely affect the water. Kampachi Farms will need several additional permits, should the EPA greenlight the project.

CHNEP seeking volunteers to coordinate horseshoe crab monitoring

The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP) is seeking one or more Volunteer Coordinator(s) for its Horseshoe Crab Monitoring project in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier Counties.

In 2015, the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and the University of Florida launched a citizen science initiative which trained volunteers to assist biologists in surveying, tagging, and re-sighting Florida’s nesting horseshoe crab populations using a standardized scientific protocol. The program has been so successful that FWRI is expanding its efforts to a statewide level.

Volunteer Coordinator(s) responsibilities (training and assistance will be provided):

  • Using tide charts and moon phases, create a schedule to monitor for horseshoe crabs spawning events
  • Prepare datasheets and sampling kits
  • Recruit and manage volunteer citizen scientists
  • Lead survey walks, oversee tagging, and educate others about the program
  • Enter data in a timely fashion

Contact outreach@chnep.org and Berlynna Heres at Berlynna.Heres@myfwc.com for more information on this position.

Residents weigh in on proposed fish farm off Sarasota coast

The project would allow Kampachi Farms to place 20,000 Almaco jack in a pen suspended in the Gulf of Mexico.

Red tide fears led the discussion as hundreds of Florida residents gathered at Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium on Tuesday night [Jan. 28th] to express support or disdain for a fish farm proposed to be assembled and run off the Sarasota coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

A Hawaii-based company, Kampachi Farms, wants to host 20,000 almaco jack in a pen suspended below the Gulf of Mexico. To do so, it would need a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA held a hearing on the topic, attracting more than 100 people and 60 registered speakers. Most of them opposed the project.

The project would place a pen about 45 miles southwest of Sarasota and produce a maximum annual harvest of 88,000 pounds, according to the permit draft. If approved, it would be the first finfish aquaculture project in the Gulf of Mexico and the first in federal waters in the contiguous United States.

Many residents expressed concerns that project would upset the Gulf ecosystem and pave the way for future farms by setting a precedent.

Manasota Key beach renourishment begins Feb. 1st

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – The Manasota Key beach renourishment project will begin Feb. 1.

During this project there will be staging and delivery areas on the northern end of Englewood Beach, 2100 North Beach Road, Englewood and the southern portion of Chadwick Park, 1857 Gulf Blvd., Englewood.

The beach will be open but patrons are encouraged to be cautious around these areas.

For information, contact Matthew Logan at 941-575-3610 or Matthew.Logan@CharlotteCountyFL.gov.

Breathe easy despite red tide with HABscope

From Betty Staugler, Charlotte County Sea Grant Agent

With red tide giving us a much-needed reprieve in Southwest Florida, it’s a good time to think about the future. Red tides have occurred in Florida in 57 of the last 66 years, so we should expect future events. But red tide shouldn’t mean we have to avoid all of the things we enjoy doing on the Florida coast.

A new tool has been developed to forecast red tide-related respiratory conditions, and it’s being expanded to as many beaches as possible — actually, the goal is every beach, every day. This decision tool will allow beachgoers to determine where and when conditions are likely to be most favorable for visiting beaches during a red tide event.

Why is this needed? Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tides, produces a toxin called brevetoxin. Brevetoxins may be released into the air when wind and wave actions cause the algal cells to break open.

Healthy individuals may experience some irritation on exposure, but these symptoms typically subside once they leave the impacted area. Aerosolized brevetoxins can, however, result in more severe and prolonged breathing problems for individuals with respiratory diseases, such as COPD or asthma.

Aerosol impacts vary widely from one beach to another and over the course of a day. This is due to the interaction of prevailing winds with tides and currents, which tends to bring blooms onshore in localized patches. Consequently, beaches just a mile or two apart may experience very different toxic aerosol levels.

The best protection from K. brevis toxic aerosol exposure is improved information in the form of easily accessible daily, beach-specific respiratory forecasts. This is why HABscope (http://bit.ly/2R5g4B9) was developed.

HABscope uses trained citizen sc