Water-Related News

Lee County Dept. of Health issues Health Alert for multiple Caloosahatchee River locations

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LEE COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Lee County (DOH-Lee) has issued a Health Alert for the presence of blue-green algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee River — Alva Boat Ramp. This is in response to water samples taken on April 8, 2024. The public should exercise caution in and around Caloosahatchee River — Alva Boat Ramp.

DOH-Lee is also cautioning the public of the presence of blue-green algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee River — Palace Grande Canal, Caloosahatchee River — Walpole Canal, and Whiskey Creek — Winkler Road Canal. Blooms have the potential to produce toxins, and what triggers them to do so remains poorly understood. Since bloom conditions can change at any time, it is important to exercise caution as if the bloom were toxic, even if toxin presence has not yet been confirmed.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • You should not drink, swim, wade, water ski or engage in activities that may cause you to come in direct contact with waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Exercise caution when using personal watercraft or boating, to avoid stirring up or contacting the algae or the affected water.
  • Avoid getting affected water in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • You should keep pets and livestock away from the waters in this location.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish to appropriate temperature.
  • You should not eat shellfish from this location.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and partners collect algae samples from reported bloom locations for toxin analysis. Once completed, the results will be posted on the DEP Algal Bloom Dashboard, and can also be viewed on the Protecting Florida Together website, where you can sign up to be not

First-of-its-kind study shows Florida Wildlife Corridor eases worst impacts of climate change

From rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns to intense weather events such as hurricanes, Florida is experiencing significant climate-related challenges in tandem with skyrocketing insurance rates. As the state's population continues to surge by 1,000 new residents a day, it is projected to lose 3.5 million acres of land to development by 2070, threatening Florida's future ability to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services.

A first-of-its-kind study highlights how Florida can buffer itself against both climate change and population pressures by conserving the remaining 8 million acres of "opportunity areas" within the Florida Wildlife Corridor (FLWC). Currently, about 10 million acres of the expansive FLWC's 18 million acres are already conserved permanently.

This superhighway of interconnected acres of wildlands, working lands and waters is the only designated statewide corridor in the United States, and a world-class adaption plan facing down ground zero of climate change in an already warm location. Spanning from Alabama to the Everglades, the FLWC not only protects endangered species like the Florida panther, but also brings economic and climate benefits to local communities. About 90% of Floridians live within 20 miles of the corridor.

The new report, "The Florida Wildlife Corridor and Climate Change: Managing Florida's Natural and Human Landscapes for Prosperity and Resilience," is a joint project by Florida Atlantic University, Archbold Biological Station, Live Wildly Foundation and numerous collaborators. The report paints a holistic picture of how climate change and population growth will impact Florida's communities and natural resources, and how the FLWC, if it were fully enacted, can continue to moderate those impacts.

Bringing back the beach: Sand renourishment project underway in Sanibel

Sanibel has brought 400,000 pounds of sand to the beach, and it isn’t for sandcastles. It’s for the next hurricane season.

“It’s been a year and a half. We’re coming up on two-year anniversary, and we’re also coming up on hurricane season,” said Sanibel Mayor Richard Johnson, “So this beach BERM replacement project was critical for protection of the island and any wave action and wave attenuation, even if it does come up this high. “

$14 million dollars later, each berm stands at least 5 feet tall along the coast of the island.

“The berm certainly provides protection from overwash when we have storm events, or even sometimes just some really high tides,” said Holy Milbrady, Director of Natural Resources. “It’s the tide and the wind direction or are in the same way we can see flooding of those areas. So whether your condo, a residence, or a beach park, this project is really meant to benefit and provide protection.”

Switch to green wastewater infrastructure could reduce emissions and provide huge savings, new resea

University researchers have shown that a transition to green wastewater-treatment approaches in the U.S. that leverages the potential of carbon-financing could save a staggering $15.6 billion and just under 30 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions over 40 years.

The comprehensive findings from Colorado State University were highlighted in Nature Communications Earth & Environment in a first-of-its-kind study. The work from the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering explores the potential economic tradeoffs of switching to green infrastructure and technology solutions that go beyond existing gray-water treatment practices.

Built off data collected at over 22,000 facilities, the report provides comprehensive baseline metrics and explores the relationship among emissions, costs and treatment capabilities for utility operators and decision-makers.

Arsenic, other minerals may be back at old Dunbar sludge site

The decades old sludge site on South Street in Fort Myers was supposed to become a park. Now, the neighborhood’s long-awaited promise could be in jeopardy. Even though the sludge is gone, the arsenic and other unhealthy minerals may be back.

The gated lot across the street from Jordon Brown’s home in Dunbar hasn’t changed much in his life. He used to play in it s a kid. But as an adult, he learned his childhood playground was a lime sludge dump site.

“We used to play in the woods but we didn’t know we were playing on toxins,” Brown said. “Now we know.”

While arsenic naturally occurs in the environment, groundwater samples in 2017 showed arsenic levels in excess of residential standards. The City of Fort Myers had the lime sludge cleaned up in 2018 and early 2019. Then, promised the community City View Park in its place along South Street and Henderson Avenue.

Berm project starting on north end of Fort Myers Beach

The beeping sound of construction vehicles is a sound of progress on Fort Myers Beach.

The berm project on the north end of the island started on Monday.

“It’s a great feeling to finally have these things coming to fruition,” said Chadd Chustz, Environmental Projects Manager for the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

The 53,000 tons of sand will be used for the berm being built from Crescent Park near Margaritaville to Bowditch Point Park.

The berm will provide properties along the beach some protection from storm surge impacts.

“This project was to try and get some sand in quickly before storm season,” Chustz said.

Since season is slowing down, the dump trucks won’t create traffic on the island.

UF/IFAS launches landscape water use survey

The survey is designed to enhance water conservation efforts, programs statewide

Looking for ways to help save on your household water bill? Wondering how often to irrigate the lawn? Perhaps you are looking at the use of technologies that will help you gauge when and how often to irrigate.

A team of University of Florida researchers at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has released the Landscape Water Use Survey, which is aimed at homeowners and land managers statewide. The responses will help scientists understand how much the average resident irrigates the landscape and how people learn how to conserve water.

“Every drop counts, and we are hoping to collect data from participants statewide to help us find additional ways to reduce water pollution and further promote water conservation,” said Kimberly Moore, professor of sustainable horticulture and associate director the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC). “With the help of survey participants, who will remain anonymous, we will use this information to develop online training videos and continue to make improvements in water conservation messaging and programs for the public at the state and local levels.”

The 30-question survey, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, gives participants the opportunity to share where they stand on various water conservation issues, including their perception of their water bill, how often and when they irrigate their lawn, whether and what type of technology is incorporated into water usage and more.

U.S. District judge nails down decision in wetlands case

TALLAHASSEE — In a case closely watched by business and environmental groups, a U.S. district judge Friday finalized his rejection of a 2020 move by the federal government to shift permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Judge Randolph Moss issued a 27-page opinion that, as he acknowledged, likely will set the stage for the case to go to an appeals court. The opinion came after a Feb. 15 ruling in which Moss vacated the transfer of permitting authority because he said federal officials had not followed required steps before making the 2020 decision.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has argued that the Feb. 15 ruling could put more than 1,000 permit applications in “regulatory limbo.” But Moss wrote Friday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to review permits as the legal dispute continues.

The 2020 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made Florida only the third state, after Michigan and New Jersey, to receive the permitting authority, which is usually held by the Army Corps.

Lee County DOH issues Health Caution for Caloosahatchee River: Alva Boat Ramp and Inlet Drive

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April 10, 2024

LEE COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Lee County (DOH-Lee) is cautioning the public of the presence of blue-green algae blooms in Caloosahatchee River — Alva Boat Ramp and Caloosahatchee River — Inlet Drive. Blooms have the potential to produce toxins, and what triggers them to do so remains poorly understood. Since bloom conditions can change at any time, it is important to exercise caution as if the bloom were toxic, even if toxin presence has not yet been confirmed.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • You should not drink, swim, wade, water ski or engage in activities that may cause you to come in direct contact with waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Exercise caution when using personal watercraft or boating, to avoid stirring up or contacting the algae or the affected water.
  • Avoid getting affected water in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • You should keep pets and livestock away from the waters in this location.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish to appropriate temperature.
  • You should not eat shellfish from this location.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and partners collect algae samples from reported bloom locations for toxin analysis. Once completed, the results will be posted on the DEP Algal Bloom Dashboard, and can also be viewed on the Protecting Florida Together website, where you can sign up to be notified of the latest conditions.

City of Fort Myers to survey property owners to identify lead pipes in water system

City of Fort Myers will implement a three-step strategy to move toward compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements.

The EPA describes the rule improvements as a major advancement in protecting children and adults from the health effects from being exposed to lead in drinking water. The rule improvements pertain to the lead in the line that connects the city’s water main to the home.

Exposure to lead in drinking water can cause serious health effects in all age groups, agency officials said. The EPA cites decreases in IQ and attention span and new or worsened learning and behavior problems in infants and children as possible health effects from lead exposure.

Smaller releases of polluted Lake O water are okay with conservation group

“Officials are forecasting (dozens of) named storms, the highest forecast ever released,” Bell said. “Conditions contributing to these more intense predictions were temperatures above all historical averages, and the change from El Nino to Nino, a strong African westerly jet stream, and the changes in the locations and strength of steering winds locally.”

As soon as lake water releases into the Caloosahatchee River were paused, “conditions have gotten very, very, very, quickly dry and the canal is almost entirely stagnate,” Bell said, adding that the Army Corps decided to take preventative measures and resume flows to the west.

Dave Andrews, the director of Captains For Clean Water, whose members just a week ago were writing nasty reflections on the heavy releases of the same water to the Army Corps, is now welcoming the water, albeit at less of a rush.

“It helps balance the salinity in the upper estuary, which is ultimately beneficial for the water quality in the Caloosahatchee,” Andrews said. “Getting water out of the lake within the healthy flow envelope is a good thing because Lake Okeechobee is too high right now, so lowering it by sending beneficial flows, that is really a benefit to us in helping to avoid a potentially toxic summer like we saw in 2018.”

Health officials issue Blue-Green Algae Bloom Alert for Lake Conine

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April 9, 2024

WINTER HAVEN – The Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk) has issued a Health Alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in Lake Conine. This is in response to a water sample taken on April 2, 2024. The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Conine.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish to appropriate temperature.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.
For updates, please visit the FDEP Algal Bloom Dashboard.

SCCF study shows need to reduce nutrient runoff from watershed

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation reported that a new publication from its Marine Lab on nutrient sources and water management shows that Lake Okeechobee releases have a negative impact on downstream water quality, but water runoff from the local watershed has a greater negative effect.

The recently published peer-reviewed article discusses increases in nutrient concentrations related to watershed runoff and regulatory releases.

“We analyzed nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary (CRE), a waterway that receives released water from Lake Okeechobee to understand whether there were relationships between Lake Okeechobee water releases and nutrient concentrations in the CRE,” lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt said. “We found that released water had a negative impact on downstream water quality, but that water runoff from the surrounding land area, or the watershed, had a greater negative effect.”

The lead author is from North Carolina State University, with other co-authors from the University of Florida and University of South Florida. The article was featured in the March issue of Water Resources Research.

CHNEP annual photo contest is underway! Deadline for submissions is July 1st

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The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP) annual photo contest is now underway. CHNEP welcomes you to share your photographic talents and love of nature by submitting images for the 2025 Nature Calendar.

? The CHNEP annual nature calendar showcases the beauty and diversity of our program area and is distributed to thousands all over Southwest Florida. Please join in the fun and help us spread the word!?

Click here for a flyer to download and share!

There are two ways to submit JPEG, PNG, RAW, or TIFF versions of your images and forms:

  • Submit your photos and model release though the form link below
  • Mail a thumb drive and forms to CHNEP: CHNEP Calendar, 1050 Loveland Blvd. Port Charlotte, FL 33980. (Please ensure your name and contact information are included in the package.)

Submission Rules:

  • Limit 3 photo submissions per person. Note: a separate survey will need to be filled out for each submission.
  • Submissions must be provided in the following file formats: JPEG, PNG, RAW, or TIFF
  • Images should have a resolution of 300 PPI (pixels per inch) or greater, and be NO LESS THAN 6MB.
  • Please do not submit photos that contain a watermark.
  • Images must be taken within the CHNEP program area which spans Central and Southwest Florida - please see the area map at the bottom of this page.
  • Images of animals in distress will not be considered. Entries of non-native plants and animals will not be considered. The CHNEP is a partnership to protect the native and natural environment of Central and Southwest Florida. Our calendar is consistent with this purpose.

Please direct all questions to Andrea Vale at avale@chnep.org or (941)-

Get ready and get involved in the Invasive Fish Roundup, April 26-28 in Fort Myers

Lionfish, tiger prawns, zebra mussels oh my! What does each one of these aquatic critters have in common?

They are all nonnative species that have been spotted in the United States, and when introduced into ecosystems outside of their native range, can negatively impact humans, the environment or the economy — giving them the notorious label of “invasive.”

You can help by participating in this year’s invasive fish roundup, April 26- 28 in Fort Myers.

This year’s event is gearing up to be the best yet. Participating anglers can receive prizes, and during the weigh-in on April 28, there will be plenty of fun, educational stations and activities. Spread awareness of invasive species today, and for information about the invasive freshwater fish roundup and the rules for participating, visit https://bit.ly/ 2024CISMA.

We all know an example of an invasive species, but what exactly are these organisms that cause over $120 billion annually in damage to the U.S. economy? Invasive species are nonnative by definition and occur outside their geographic range. These organisms were introduced by people either intentionally or unintentionally and can harm the environment, economy or humans.

If the organism is not from here and is not causing harm, you’ve got yourself a nonnative, which, when kept under the right conditions, can be harmless to our pets, favorite foods and prized landscaping.

Health Caution issued for Caloosahatchee River -- Telegraph Creek and Hancock Creek -- Moody River

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LEE COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Lee County (DOH-Lee) is cautioning the public of the presence of blue-green algae blooms in Caloosahatchee River — Telegraph Creek and Hancock Creek — Moody River. Blooms have the potential to produce toxins, and what triggers them to do so remains poorly understood. Since bloom conditions can change at any time, it is important to exercise caution as if the bloom were toxic, even if toxin presence has not yet been confirmed.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • You should not drink, swim, wade, water ski or engage in activities that may cause you to come in direct contact with waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Exercise caution when using personal watercraft or boating, to avoid stirring up or contacting the algae or the affected water.
  • Avoid getting affected water in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • You should keep pets and livestock away from the waters in this location.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish to appropriate temperature.
  • You should not eat shellfish from this location.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and partners collect algae samples from reported bloom locations for toxin analysis. Once completed, the results will be posted on the DEP Algal Bloom Dashboard, and can also be viewed on the Protecting Florida Together website, where you can sign up to be notified of the latest conditions.

Florida Legislature lets local governments make their own fertilizer rules, bans again

Florida cities and counties once again may pass new fertilizer ordinances and strengthen existing ones, including summer rainy season bans, since the Legislature did not extend a one-year moratorium on such home rule.

Lawmakers took no action on the moratorium during the 2024 January-March legislation session, after enacting the controversial moratorium in what critics called a "sneak attack" during the 2023 March-May legislative session.

In February, a coalition of 57 elected officials from municipalities that already had enacted local fertilizer ordinances urged lawmakers to let the moratorium expire, according to a letter they sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner.

"As leaders charged with protecting our constituents, keeping Florida’s waterways clean is a top priority," the letter reads. "Water quality is of utmost importance to our health, our environment and our economy. From the beaches to the bays, Florida’s tourism industry and local businesses require clean water."

Lee County Commissioners address FEMA National Flood Insurance Program determination

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FORT MYERS – The Lee Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday discussed the county’s response to the FEMA verbal notification late last week that it would eliminate Community Rating System current discounts on National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) premiums.

The board voted to grant “any and all tools” needed by County staff to investigate and work to address the FEMA determination.

To view the discussion, go to https://youtu.be/OZIy7wwuHws

Army Corps puts two-week hold on polluted Lake O water flowing into Caloosahatchee

The Army Corps of Engineers has stopped releasing 3.5 million gallons of water daily from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River for two weeks to allow the environment to recover.

Recover from what? And why, if it’s known the environment is being harmed by the releases, are the releases happening at all after holding water in the Big Lake for most of the winter months?

It’s well-established that water released from Lake Okeechobee is polluted with nutrients like phosphate and nitrogen, much of which critics contend come from large agricultural operations near the lake such as Big Sugar and other farmers.

During the past six weeks, the Army Corps has released tens of billions of gallons of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, lowering the lake level by nearly a foot. Water has been sent at millions of gallons-a-day velocities westward down the Caloosahatchee River, eastward down the St. Lucie River, and in one smaller river.

Cost of watering lawns in Florida? Not so bad compared to other states

California has the top 3 most expensive cities in lawn hydration.

Drive down any residential neighborhood in Florida and sprinkler systems watering thirsty lawns are a common sight. It’s simply part of Sunshine State living.

But when it comes to the cost of watering lawns, Florida is pretty affordable compared to other cities in the U.S. According to a new report by Lawnlove.com, a lawn care website, there was only one Florida metro area — Lakeland/Winter Haven, listed at No. 24 — that landed in the top 25 when it comes to the most costly places to hydrate lawns.

The study released this month considered three factors in compiling the list of most expensive cities to water lawns. Lawnlove.com considered lawn care cost, lawn irrigation cost and yard size. According to those factors, the most expensive place to water lawns in the U.S. is in Sacramento, California.

In fact, California accounted for the top three cities that were the most expensive to water lawns, with Vasalia and Bakersfield completing the trio of costliest places to hydrate property.

California had a total of six cities listed in the top 25 most expensive places to water lawns.

Finding ways to anchor dunes, Naples Botanical Garden looks at how different plants grow and survive

Helping dunes stand as protective sentinels along the Southwest Florida coast is more than just plopping plants in the sand.

Each week, a team of conservationists led by Naples Botanical Garden visits Collier County beaches to collect seeds and cuttings from shoreline plants that, eventually, will yield hundreds of thousands of plants needed to restore the coast.

On a recent Tuesday, they were joined by the Collier Community Foundation, the project’s primary funder. Lindsey Touchette, the Foundation’s vice president of community engagement, knelt in a windswept strip of Keewaydin Island and dug into a patch of grass.

“It doesn’t want to come out,” she said. Giving her a hand, a conservationist from Naples Botanical Garden offered her a weeding knife, and she twisted it into the soil until a clump of grass let loose.

Chad Washburn, the Garden’s vice president of conservation, looked over her shoulder and remarked, “We may need 50,000 of this plant.”

That didn't mean Touchette — or anyone else on the joint Garden/Foundation venture — had to spend the day unearthing endless bundles of saltmeadow cordgrass (Sporobolus pumilus). The conservationists will take a few handfuls of grass, return to the botanical garden and multiply it.

Judge: PACE home resilience loans must be included on tax rolls statewide

The spotlight turns on tax collectors and local governments — will they once again defy the judge?

A Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled that the Florida PACE Funding Agency program can be administered statewide, clearing the way for Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys to have access to affordable financing to protect their homes against hurricanes and rising sea levels.

But with hurricane season looming in less than two months and millions of dollars of PACE projects stuck in limbo, the spotlight turns on tax collectors and local governments — will they once again defy the judge?

Some financial experts are concerned that the continued defiance of the judge by the tax collectors could call into question ratings on the state’s municipal bonds whose repayment depends on the tax collectors fulfilling their duties.

The Leon Circuit Court judge’s ruling comes on the heels of legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Florida House and Senate that would make the PACE program even better than it already is. SB 770, which is awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis, includes key new provisions that enhance consumer protections, including reducing the maximum term of financing from 30 to 20 years, adding an ability-to-pay test and requiring that only 20 percent or less of the home’s value can be financed.

The new legislation also has an environmental benefit, allowing local governments to approve homeowners to leverage the PACE program for septic-to-sewer conversions, which will improve Florida’s water quality and protect springs and drinking water sources.

[Editor's note: PACE loans are funded by the State of Florida, with repayments collected as part of local property tax payments.]

USACE to stop Lake Okeechobee Releases

Lake Okeechobee will start the wet season around 14.5 feet (above sea level) according to estimates shared by Col. James Booth, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District in a March 29 media call.

Booth said during the 2023-2024 wet season, the El Nino weather pattern brought above average rainfall. In a normal dry season, Lake Okeechobee drops about 3 feet due to evapotranspiration (a combination of evaporation and plant transpiration). This past winter, the lake level did not drop and even started to rise.

According to RECOVER, the lake’s normal ecological envelope ranges from 12 feet at the end of the dry season to 15 feet at the end of the wet season. The lake’s recovery envelope uses a low of 11.5 to 12.5 and a high of 14.5 to 15.5. RECOVER (REstoration COordination & VERification) is a multi-agency team of scientists, modelers, planners and resource specialists who organize and apply scientific and technical information in ways that are essential in supporting the objectives of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

U.S. losing valuable wetlands at alarming rate

The losses threaten flood control, wildlife habitat and clean water

Roughly 670,000 acres of salt marshes and swamps — greater than the land area of Rhode Island — disappeared between 2009 and 2019 in the contiguous 48 states, a Congressional report released last week shows, threatening key flood controls, wildlife habitats and access to clean water.

Mandated by Congress, the recent Wetlands Status and Trends report is the sixth such document since 1954. It is published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Wetland loss leads to the reduced health, safety and prosperity of all Americans,” wrote U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in the report’s preface. “When wetlands are lost, society loses services such as clean water; slowing of coastal erosion; protection against flooding, drought and fire; resilience to climate change and sea level rise.” There are also losses in fish, wildlife and plant habitats.

Not only is the U.S. losing sheer acreage of wetlands, but the rate of loss has also increased by 50% since the turn of the century, or about 21,000 acres per year. The remaining wetlands are being transformed into ponds, mudflats and sand bars; these are known as non-vegetated wetlands — a change that alters “wetland function and lead to the reduction of wetland benefits, like the mitigation of severe storms and sea level rise, and water quality improvement …” the report reads.

It’s likely that the loss of wetlands will accelerate over the next decade. Fish and Wildlife’s recent study period ran from 2009 through 2019 — before the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision that stripped environmental protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands nationwide. (In North Carolina 2.5 million acres lost environmental protection because of the decision, as well as the legislature’s passage of the 2023 Farm Act that cemented it into state law.)

Private companies could also offset water pollution with new credits

Passed by the Florida Legislature, SB 1532 allows private companies to buy the new water quality enhancement credits originally intended only for government agencies.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is working on draft language for a new water quality credit trading program, after members of the public asked questions about the program and raised some concerns at a rulemaking workshop last week.

The program paves a new path for Florida entities to offset their pollution, by buying and trading the “water enhancement credits” and operating water quality enhancement areas, or WQEAs.

A WQEA, or “natural system,” is defined in the draft language as “a designed, constructed, or altered ecological system supporting aquatic and wetland-dependent natural resources.”

Environmental lawyer and current Waterkeepers Florida Chair Jen Lomberk said she’s concerned a lack of reliable water quality monitoring data could jeopardize the program, which would rely on modeling. The current draft rule mentions nothing about actual water sampling.

“This means that they are essentially predicting water quality changes, rather than actually going out and sampling to confirm what is happening,” Lomberk said. “Models are only as good as the way that they're designed and the data that they’re based on.”

Concerns over Lake Okeechobee discharges underscore need for Everglades restoration

Concerns over Lake Okeechobee discharges underscore need for Everglades restoration

PEMBROKE PARK – Communities on both Florida coasts are bracing for impact as they monitor the billions of gallons of water being discharged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Lake Okeechobee since mid-February.

The discharges flow east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River, to alleviate the higher-than-normal water levels caused by one very wet dry season fueled by El Nino. But as the outflows increase, so do the fears of red tide and other harmful algae blooms.

“Because of these releases we’re seeing a really high amount of tannic water which is brown tea-colored water, that’s making its way into the estuary,” explained Codty Pierce, Chief Waterkeeper for Calusa Waterkeeper.

The polluted water is laden with fertilizer runoff from Central Florida farmland and other sources of dangerous nutrients north of the lake such as septic contamination.

Lake Okeechobee water is heading to Florida’s coasts. What that means for red tide.

The organism that causes red tide was found at trace levels in three counties last week.

It didn’t take long for the aerial images to emerge.

Just days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said El Niño rains meant it needed to release Lake Okeechobee water into Florida estuaries, clean water advocates took to the sky to document the damage.

The images show plumes of murky lake water clashing with normally clear and sparkling waters. On the east coast, aerial imagery earlier this month showed lake water flowing out of the St. Lucie inlet and colliding with the Atlantic Ocean. On the west coast, the water poured out of the Caloosahatchee River and collided with the Gulf of Mexico.

The short-term consequences of Lake Okeechobee discharges are already becoming clear: In the St. Lucie River, salinity levels have dropped, putting oysters and other marine life at risk. If high volumes of lake water continue into April, oyster and fish spawning in the Caloosahatchee could be harmed, environmental nonprofits worry.

Mote Marine Laboratory provides critical role for potential rescue of endangered smalltooth sawfish

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Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is providing a critical role for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in their response effort to address smalltooth sawfish erratic behavior and mortality in the Florida Keys.

Over the past few months, sightings of “spinning” fish have been reported in South Florida. Along with this abnormal behavior, there have also been reports of fish deaths, including 28 smalltooth sawfish as of March 24. Approximately 109 sawfish ranging from 10-14 feet in length have been affected.

The death of smalltooth sawfish in South Florida could have devastating consequences for this critically endangered ray and negatively impact population recovery that has been occurring since the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2003.

Scientists do not yet know what is causing the erratic behavior. NOAA has initiated an emergency response effort with FWC, Mote Marine Laboratory, and other partners including Havenworth Coastal Conservation, Dynasty Marine Associates, Inc., and Ripley’s Aquariums, to possibly rescue, rehabilitate, and release smalltooth sawfish impacted by this mortality event. Investigations into the abnormal fish behavior and deaths by FWC are ongoing and Mote staff, working with FWC, have collected important samples from live distressed sawfish.

Fertilizer restriction begins April 1 in North Port

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NORTH PORT – The City of North Port is reminding residents that fertilizer application on turf grass is prohibited starting April 1 through Sept. 30 each year.

Excess fertilizers in our waterways can cause detrimental algal blooms. These nutrient pollutants can also affect the regional watershed.

"Please help the City of North Port protect its water resources from excess fertilizers in rain runoff," said Stormwater Manager Elizabeth Wong. "Everyone can do their part and join in the regional effort to improve water quality."

The City Commission approved an updated fertilizer ordinance last year, with the restrictive period starting earlier to better coincide with the start of rainy season. The City also promotes voluntary non-use of fertilizer year-round to further protect our waterways and drinking water supply.

To learn more, view this video on City's YouTube page, or visit NorthPortFL.gov/Fertilizer.

NOAA announces plans to begin rescuing sick sawfish amid a mysterious die-off

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday it will take the unprecedented step of catching and caring for sick sawfish in an effort to prevent ongoing deaths.

As the number of endangered sawfish deathscontinues to rise in the Lower Keys, federal wildlife officials announced plans Wednesday to take the unprecedented step of trying to rescue sick fish.

“An effort of this kind has never been done before in the United States. The logistics are complex,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement.

Starting next week, the agency said it will begin catching sawfish showing signs of distress to try to prevent more deaths. As of March 24, 28 rare smalltooth sawfish had been confirmed dead, with 109 affected by an ailment scientists have not yet been able to identify. The first death was reported in late January, amid widespread reports of dozens of other species in the Lower Keys spinning and showing signs of distress.

“We suspect that total mortalities are greater, since sawfish are negatively buoyant and thus unlikely to float after death,” NOAA Fisheries’ sawfish recovery coordinator Adam Brame said in the statement. “Given the limited population size of smalltooth sawfish, the mortality of at least two dozen sawfish could have an impact on the recovery of this species.”

NOAA said it will work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Havenworth Coastal Conservation, Ripley’s Aquariums, Mote Marine Lab and Dynasty Marine Associates to catch the fish. Rescued fish will be taken to the groups’ facilities while FWC officials continue to investigate what’s causing other species to become sick.

Public invited to help plan the future of the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb WMA

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invites you to attend the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area (Babcock/Webb WMA) 10-year Land Management Plan public hearing on Wednesday, March 27. The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. at Schandler Hall Park, 419 Florence Ave, in Fort Myers.

The Babcock/Webb WMA encompasses approximately 83,832 acres in Charlotte and Lee counties and, along with the adjacent Babcock Ranch Preserve, conserves the largest and highest quality native slash pine forest remaining in south Florida. Its flatwoods, marshes and prairies provide important habitat for wildlife, such as gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers and Florida bonneted bats. The Babcock/Webb WMA is one of Florida’s oldest and largest publicly owned wildlife management areas and offers many opportunities for public recreation, including shooting, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, bird watching, hiking, biking, primitive camping and horseback riding.

“The Babcock/Webb WMA was purchased to ensure the preservation of fish, wildlife, and other natural and cultural resources for future generations, and to provide fish and wildlife-based outdoor recreation opportunities to the public,” said Nicholas H. Coppock, FWC land conservation planner. “This Land Management Plan will specify how we intend to accomplish that goal.”

To obtain a copy of the draft elements of the Land Management Plan for the Babcock/Webb WMA, contact Coppock at 850-487-5988 or email Nicholas.Coppock@MyFWC.com.

The public is encouraged to attend and will have the opportunity to comment on and ask questions regarding the Land Management Plan. Maps, drawings and other information will be available on display.

As sawfish deaths mount, researchers scramble to respond, records show

Overwhelmed experts are baffled over a trail of sick or dead sawfish that has stretched across 78 miles of shallow water in the Keys. The mystery is also stressing dozens of other fish species.

As dead sawfish began washing onshore in the Lower Keys this winter, state researchers and wildlife officers raced to respond to the mounting number of endangered fish thrashing on beaches, circling flats and uncharacteristically jerking their toothy rostrums out of the water.

One was spotted near Marathon in a channel once used for a James Bond movie scene. The same day another appeared miles away, south of the Key West airport, then even farther away, in the remote Mule Keys.

On social media, pictures from the Southernmost Point in Key West competed with videos of smalltooth sawfish pitching onto beaches and swimming into seawalls near the popular tourist town.

Then late last week, videos posted on YouTube looked showed a large sawfish swinging its rostrum out of the water in Boynton Inlet, looking eerily similar to images from the Keys.

Altogether, the trail of sick or dead sawfish in the Keys stretched across 78 miles of shallow water, from Boca Grande to Long Key State Park, according to records from Jan. 30 to March 5 released to WLRN. By mid-February, records show, reports began flooding a state hotline, sometimes up to six a day.

Nearly all the dead sawfish have had necropsies performed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s sawfish research program based at its Charlotte Harbor field laboratory. Lead scientist Gregg Poulakis, who has referred questions to FWC media staff, has been investigating the fish for more than a decade.

“They're going to open them up and start looking into their internal organs,” Grubbs said. “You might look at their digestive tract. You might look at the liver, gallbladder and kidneys. Do they look normal? Maybe you'll take bile from the gallbladder. Those are your filtration organs so those are the ones that are going to filter any toxins.”

Tear reported at the Mosaic phosphate mine in Polk County

The tear in a gypstack is the latest in a series of environmental mishaps at the New Wales phosphate plant, near Mulberry.

A tear has been confirmed in a phosphate mine that straddles the Hillsborough-Polk county line.

Mosaic first reported a possible tear in a gypsum stack at its New Wales mine to state environmental officials in October.

In a letter dated Dec. 14, Mosaic officials confirmed they found a tear after a drop in water pressure was reported. Company officials said they have discovered a cavity below the gypsum stack and are working to repair the tear.

It is unknown how much of the water in the gypsum stack -- which contains mostly rainwater -- seeped underground. But state officials said a nearby recovery well has been dug to keep the water from seeping underground.

In 2016, one of the deepest sinkholes ever recorded in Florida opened beneath the New Wales Plant. More than 200 million gallons of polluted water spiraled into the underground aquifer. It took the company two years to seal the opening.

FDEP invites public input on new water quality credit program

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is inviting the public to a rulemaking workshop Thursday [March 21st] to share feedback on a proposed water quality credit trading program.

The program would allow government entities to buy “enhancement credits” to compensate for negative impacts to water quality from development projects. An “enhancement credit” represents a quantity of pollutant removed as a standard unit of measurement, per Florida Statute.

Florida’s existing mitigation banking program relies on similar credits intended to offset negative wetland impacts from development. But Gabrielle Milch of St. Johns Riverkeeper has concerns about both programs, saying they're designed to prioritize speedy development approvals when environmental health should come first and foremost.

“It's easier to keep pollution out of the water than it is to take it out of the water,” Milch said, also adding “it's a lot cheaper.”

Milch previously worked for the St. Johns River Water Management District, where she says her role included helping oversee and enforce development permitting regulations.

Back then, in the 1980s, Milch says development permitting in Florida wasn’t perfect. But she thinks it’s worse today: “more generalized and more streamlined,” allowing for rapid, potentially unvetted development.”

FDEP’s move to establish the new program follows state lawmakers’ unanimous approval of HB 965 in 2022, authorizing the creation of water quality enhancement areas (WQEAs), for which credits may be used to compensate for a lack of water quality treatment available onsite.

Report: Sarasota Bay ecosystem gets clean bill of health

Is water quality the only indicator of a healthy ecosystem? Not quite.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program recently published its 2023 Ecosystem Health Report Card, which showed that all bays in the area are in good standing with their ecosystem health. The chart also shows a larger trend of the bays, from a period of stability to a decline, back to now a recovery.

Dave Tomasko, executive director for SBEP, said that water quality is one factor in determining ecosystem health, but there's more to consider.

“People use the words water quality and ecosystem health like they’re the same thing, and they’re not,” Tomasko said.

Water quality is like dipping a bottle into the bay and looking at what's in it, he said. But looking at the full picture requires looking at data about nitrogen, chlorophyll, seagrasses and macroalgae.

Macroalgae are the large seaweeds that commonly grow on the bottom of the bay or found floating. Those plants are valuable food sources for animals like manatees and sea turtles.

But when macroalgae blooms occur, it decreases the amount of oxygen in the water which is harmful for marine life.

“If we don’t collect this information, we’re going to miss one of the big problems,” Tomasko said.

Tomasko said the SBEP came up with the idea for the Ecosystem Health Report Card around 2021, and were able to use historical data to create the chart going back to 2006.

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Lake Okeechobee level drops below 16 feet

Drier weather helped Lake Okeechobee drop below 16 feet in mid-March.

For the seven-day period March 11-17, there was no direct rainfall into the big lake, according to the South Florida Water Management update released March 20.

Surface inflows from the north into Lake O totaled 21,800 acre feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to send water south from Lake Kissimmee to keep that lake’s water level low enough to make repairs to a water control structure.

Most of the water that left the lake March 11-17 was via evapotranspiration, a combination of evaporation and plant transpiration. The lake lost 46,300 acre feet via evapotranspiration over the seven-day period. In that same period, 18,530 acre feet flowed south for irrigation and water supply. 6,320 acre feet flowed east to the St. Lucie River; and 27,960 acre feet flowed west to the Caloosahatchee River.

SCCF Documents Decrease in Salinity Due to Lake O Discharges

Researchers from Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation's Marine Laboratory collected samples surrounding the Chiquita Lock on Feb. 28 as part of an ongoing monthly survey monitoring the quality of the water coming from Cape Coral’s canal system.

The sampling was done 11 days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started making damaging releases to the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee.

“We noticed there was already an effect on the lower estuary where the Chiquita Lock is located,” said Research Associate Leah Reidenbach. “The salinity was significantly lower than it had been during the previous four months of sampling which is unusual during the dry season.”

Researchers also observed that the salinity in the river was lower than in the canals.

“Usually, the canals are a freshwater source to the lower estuary, as the water mainly comes from runoff whereas the Caloosahatchee estuary experiences tidal inflows of saltwater,” said Reidenbach.

SCCF has been monitoring the damaging releases from Lake Okeechobee, which began on Feb. 17.