Water-Related News

CFWI rulemaking workshop scheduled for July 9th

The purpose of the workshop is to present new draft rules for consumptive use permitting in the CFWI region

The Florida Department of Environmental protection will hold a rule development workshop to create rules 62-41.300 through 62-41.305, F.A.C., and the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) Area Supplemental Applicant's Handbook on July 9, 2020 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm, EST via webinar. To register for the webinar, click here. For workshop materials and additional information, including the draft rule when available, visit the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) website.

If you have any questions, please contact OWP_Rulemaking@FloridaDEP.gov.

One of the goals of the CFWI is to establish consistent rules and regulations for the three water management districts to ensure the region’s current and future water needs are met while protecting the water resources and natural systems.

The workshop will cover rules in Chapter 62-41, which will be adopted into Florida Administrative Code. Workshop participants will be able to review the draft rules prior to the workshop and provide comments. Workshop agenda and draft rules will be posted to the DEP website.

To register for the webinar, click here.

Additionally, letters were recently sent to all permitted water users in the CFWI region about permit durations while rulemaking is in progress.

Strong public interest shown in draft CFWI 2020 Regional Water Supply plan

Strong public interest as plan moves through review process

Above-average webinar attendance and a groundswell of comments indicate strong public interest in the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP).

“CFWI public workshop webinars generally draw about 20 or 30 people, but our April 23 webinar drew more than 200 people, and another 50 people attended our April 30 webinar,” said Tammy Bader-Gibbs, RWSP Team Lead. “In addition, we also received more than 200 different comments from 90 stakeholders before the May 15 deadline. All public comments and feedback are taken into consideration and will be included in the plan's appendix.”

Although the public comment deadline has passed, the CFWI RWSP remains available to view on the CFWI website. The plan identifies existing and projected water needs as well as projects and funding sources to meet those needs in the CFWI Planning Area over the next 20 years. The CFWI Planning Area consists of all of Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Polk counties and southern Lake County, covering approximately 5,300 square miles.

The CFWI 2020 RWSP has been developed collaboratively among the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns, Southwest and South Florida water management districts, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, public water supply utilities and other stakeholder groups.

After incorporating any appropriate changes or comments as a result of public review, the RWSP Team will bring the final draft of the 2020 CFWI RWSP back to the CFWI Steering Committee in October for approval.

In November, the governing boards of the three water management districts will consider the plan for approval, thereby establishing a water supply strategy for the fivecounty area for t

Florida researchers are studying metals in the Gulf of Mexico

Last summer, scientists with the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the University of South Florida started a project to find iron, copper, cobalt, cadmium, nickel, manganese, and zinc in the waters along Florida's west coast.

The goal is to find out how much of these trace metals come in and out at different times of the year, and how they affect phytoplankton, like Karenia Brevis, the organism that causes toxic red tide blooms.

Kristen Buck is a chemical oceanographer and associate professor at USF's College of Marine Science.

"As you change the dynamic of what nutrients are available, you get different organisms growing better or worse, and that fuels food webs, and it builds our system,” she said.

For example, a Trichodesmium algae bloom right now in the Gulf of Mexico could be getting fueled by iron-rich Saharan sands.

A new sculpture celebrates Southwest Florida’s watershed

A new sculpture towers 25 feet over McGregor Boulevard in front of the Alliance for the Arts, depicting the central vein of Southwest Florida’s ecosystem.

On June 23, workers installed the Caloosahatchee Water Wall by internationally acclaimed artist Michael Singer, whose is known for large scale site-specific works that model urban and ecological restoration. The wall’s features include a combination of technology and ecology that will also cleanse and aerate water from the Alliance pond.

The piece is to be the anchor of the Alliance’s public neighborhood ArtsPark, which will include a host of improvements across 2.2 acres of land and the pond in front of the main building. The Wall is the result of several years of planning, not to mention “blood, sweat, and a few tears, and some foul language,” said Alliance executive director Lydia Black. “We are enormously grateful for all the hands that participated in this project, from dream to installation.

Laishley Park boat ramp construction begins July 6th

Beginning Monday, July 6, 2020 through Friday, July 10, 2020 (weather permitting) work is scheduled to remove asphalt and replace with concrete on one side of Laishley Park boat ramp at a time.

The boat ramp construction will impact one side of the ramp. One side of the boat ramp will remain open at all times.

When in the area, motorists and pedestrians are encouraged to use extreme caution and be alert for workers in the right-of-ways.

For additional information on this project, please contact David Meyers, Right-of-way Supervisor, City of Punta Gorda Public Works Department at (941) 575-5050 between the business hours of 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Ft. Myers water quality initiatives, Centennial Park projects receive state funds

FORT MYERS – The City of Fort Myers will begin three water quality initiatives with funding approved in the 2020-21 state budget signed today by Governor Ron DeSantis. Funding for the final phase restoration of Billy Creek was approved, along with planning projects for next generation stormwater systems for the Midtown area of the city. In addition, money was allocated to help the city’s septic tank abandonment initiative.

The city will also receive funds to refurbish Centennial Park, adding features for children with unique abilities. Replacement of the more than 25-year-old playground equipment, modernization of grounds and pathways, and focused, programmable spaces will promote community access to green spaces and play spaces for all ages and abilities on the scenic banks of the Caloosahatchee.

The budgeted amounts are as follows:

  • Final Phase, Billy Creek Restoration - $1,000,000
  • Midtown Water Quality Planning Initiative - $250,000
  • City of Fort Myers Septic Tank Abandonment - $100,000
  • Centennial Park upgrades for Children with Unique Abilities - $1,000,000

“In a year with a record number of vetoes, the City of Fort Myers owes a debt of gratitude to its legislative delegation, who championed and prioritized these local projects,” said City Manager Saeed Kazemi. “The grassroots citizen support we received for these initiatives was tremendous.”

Lake Rochelle hydrilla being treated

BARTOW – Teams from Polk County’s Parks and Natural Resources and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will conduct aquatic plant control on Lake Rochelle the week of June 30, weather permitting.

Polk County and the FWC will treat invasive hydrilla in the lake where it is encroaching on beneficial native submersed aquatic plants and may impact access to navigation.

To find out more about the herbicides being used and if there are any use restrictions associated with these treatments, visit MyFWC.com/Lake and click on the “Plant Mgmt Schedule of Operations” under the “Aquatic Plants” dropdown menu.

Polk County and the FWC manages hydrilla on a lake-by-lake basis using a collaborative approach. For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information, and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lake.

For questions or concerns regarding this treatment, contact Bryan Finder, Natural Areas coordinator for Polk County Parks and Natural Resources, at (863) 534-7377, or Charlie Thomson, regional biologist for FWC, at (863) 578-1121.

City of Punta Gorda earns APWA 2020 Public Works Project of the Year Award

PUNTA GORDA – The American Public Works Association (APWA) is proud to announce the City of Punta Gorda, Public Works – Canal Maintenance Division earned APWA’s 2020 Public Works Project of the Year Award. Award winners publicly developed, owned and maintained infrastructure projects that promote excellence in construction management and administration.

These Awards recognize the alliance between the managing agency, the contractor, the consultant, and their cooperative achievements.

Public Works Canal Maintenance Division earned APWA’s 2020 Public Works Project of the Year Award in the Disaster or Emergency Construction Repair category, in the Projects of $25 Million to $75 Million division. Public Works – Canal Maintenance Division worked to replace approximately 10.5 miles of seawalls damaged from Hurricane Irma within 18 months.

“APWA is proud to recognize these important projects that are planned, designed, and constructed to benefit all of the people in their communities. Public works projects are even more important during this time, as our communities face the difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said APWA President William (Bill) Spearman III, P.E. “It is always a time of celebration for these winners at PWX and I regret that I will not be able to shake their hands and congratulate them in person. I am extremely proud to associate with members who are willing to go above and beyond to ensure public works serves their communities to the highest degree possible.”

APWA will recognize this year’s Project of the Year Award winners in a video posted to www.apwa.net on August 31.

New law gives Florida DEP gets new duties, including septic systems oversight

Under a new bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday [June 30th], the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will take on new duties as an agency. Notably, those duties will include regulating the more than two and a half million septic systems in the state.

DeSantis, speaking to press in Juno Beach, said DEP is inheriting that responsibility from another state agency:

“The Florida Department of Health, which currently oversees the state septic system regulations, only contemplates the human health impacts of septic systems, but not their environmental impact,” the governor said. “This legislation transfers the authority of septic tank inspection from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, to make sure environmental harm by septic systems is finally accounted for.”

The legislation also directs the state DEP to update regulations that apply to storm water systems. The governor says emphasis in storm water regulation has historically been on preventing flooding, and has neglected taking into account environmental impact.

DeSantis told reporters storm water systems throughout the state are based on “outdated science,” and allow pollutants to enter Florida waterways.

Algae bloom along Florida’s west coast is not red tide. So what is it?

State wildlife officials say a Trichodesmium algal bloom has been lingering off the coast of Southwest Florida the past few weeks.

It’s a cyanobacteria that always exists in the Gulf of Mexico. Blooms are a yearly occurrence with colors varying from golden brown, to green, and even pink.

Kate Hubbard leads the algal bloom research and monitoring program at the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. She said this bloom is now being reported from Pinellas County down to Collier County.

“We also had some levels that we found in Gasparilla Sound, and then also on the east coast in Flagler Beach,” she said. “That is interesting and helps us really turn to looking at ocean circulation.”

Hubbard said the Saharan winds are blowing iron-rich sands into the Gulf. Trichodesmium feeds off of that iron. Then it consumes nitrogen from the air and disperses nutrients into the water, which could potentially feed toxic red tide blooms—those don’t typically start until the end of the summer.

So other than possibly nourishing red tide, and also cutting off some oxygen to marine life in the water, Trichodesmium blooms are not known to be harmful.

Governor vetoes more than $21 million for Sarasota-Manatee projects

The governor vetoed at least 20 funding requests from the two-county region.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed more than $21 million in state funding Monday for projects in Sarasota and Manatee counties aimed at everything from boosting water quality to expanding higher education offerings.

The governor vetoed at least 20 funding requests in the two-county region.

Water and science-related projects that were vetoed included:

  • $1.5 million — Mote Marine Laboratory STEM Education (HB 9239) (Senate Form 2366)
  • $1,220,000 — New College of Florida - Master in Data Science & Analytics
  • $950,000 — Manatee County Water Quality Improvement with Native Oysters and Clams (HB 3829) (Senate Form 1173)
  • $100,000 — Sarasota County Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility Recharge Wells (HB 2509) (Senate Form 1101)
  • $200,000 — Venice New Water Booster Station and System Improvements Including Emergency Interconnect
  • $142,000 — Longboat Key Assessment of Sea Level Rise and Recurring Storm Flooding Phase 3 and 4 (HB 3827) (Senate Form 2572)
  • $900,000 — Manatee County Palmetto Green Bridge Fishing Pier Replacement (HB 3831) (Senate Form 2443)

Researchers investigating water flows on oyster reef restoration

Recently, Florida Gulf Coast University and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation researchers took their first cruise for a new collaborative project that is investigating how high flows from the Caloosahatchee may have an adverse impact on oyster reef restoration.

Planning for this summer's research collaboration on bivalve larval transport began in February. The project extends previous work from a Master of Science thesis project by Bass Dye and advised by Dr. Felix Jose, with FGCU. The thesis focused on the complex currents in San Carlos Bay and the pathways developed a predictive model for the transport of free-swimming larvae. SCCF Marine Lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt served on the committee for the thesis, which was completed in 2018.

Corps: Discharges more likely if Lake O keeps rising so quickly

Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie River could be likely this summer if the lake continues to rise quickly, the Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.

The lake's elevation has risen more than a foot in the last month to 12 feet, 4 inches Monday morning.

"It's way too early to say if we'll need to make releases to the St. Lucie River," Col. Andrew Kelly, the Corps commander for Florida, said during a phone-in news conference Monday afternoon, but "the rising lake gives us pause."

There's no specific lake elevation that would cause the Corps to start discharges, Kelly said.

But discharges could be possible, he added, "if we were to see the lake level continue to increase at the rate it is now and get into the 13- to 14-foot range early in the rainy season."

The rainy season typically starts around June 1; this year it started May 15. Dry season typically starts in October.

Study: Saharan dust may help fuel red tide in the Gulf of Mexico

A large plume of Saharan dust from Africa, over 2,000 miles wide, is surging across the Caribbean Sea. It’ll push into the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the United States, including Florida, later this week and linger into next week.

The plumes coming off the coast of Africa are quite normal. These plumes of dust typically begin in mid-June and run through mid-August, peaking somewhere in the middle.

There are many benefits to Saharan dust. It helps to temporarily suppress or lower tropical activity, can lead to vibrant sunrises and sunsets, fertilize soil in the Amazon, and help maintain Caribbean beaches.

However, the dust isn’t all positive. According to a study partially funded by NASA, Saharan dust brings nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s West Coast that may kick off blooms of red tide.

This is largely due to iron, one of the minerals found in the dust. As the dust falls into the Gulf, it attracts a cyanobacteria, called Trichodesmium. The bacteria uses that iron to convert any nitrogen in the water into a form that can be consumed by other marine organisms, including the algae that leads to red tide.

The study found that in June 1999 dust from the Sahara Desert made its way across the ocean and reached parts of Florida in late July. By October, and after a 300% increase of this biologically-accessible nitrogen, a huge bloom of toxic red algae had formed within the study area, an 8,100 square mile region between Tampa Bay and Fort Myers.

The blooms go through cycles — they start offshore and as they move near shore, they intensify and can be detected and monitored. Florida sees a red tide bloom nearly every year, but not every bloom is devastating.

Manatee Commission to deny ‘Concession’ development plan

The commission voted 6-1 for the county attorney to prepare a written denial ahead of the next land use meeting.

The Manatee County Commission will deny a proposal from The Concession to build 22 homes on 17 acres of land in eastern Manatee County at its next land use meeting.

After debate that lasted nearly all day, the commission voted 6-1 to direct the county attorney to prepare a written denial ahead of its July 22 land use meeting. Commissioner Priscilla Trace was the only dissenter.

Resident after resident took to the podium on Tuesday to reject what they called “urban sprawl.” Clustering 22 homes on 17 acres, they said, wasn’t compatible with neighboring areas, where residential lots spread across five, 10 or even 15 acres.

The project, they argued, would exacerbate existing flooding issues, threaten their access to historic equestrian routes and disrupt the rural character of the surrounding area. The proposal came amid plans to eventually expand that portion of State Road 70 to four lanes.

Fort Myers Beach capital plan includes mooring field expansion

Local Planning Agency approves five-year $18M capital plan

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Local Planning Agency (LPA) approved a five-year capital improvement plan presented to them this month with more than $18 million in projects as presented by town planner Jason Green. The projects range from those the town council has begun work on to those the council would still need to take action.

More than $16 million of the funding has been identified as unfunded while more than $2 million has funding that has been set aside, according to the plan.

The funded projects include more than $800,000 from town impact fees for sidewalk construction work downtown, $360,000 from a grant for a light at the intersection of Old San Carlos Boulevard and Estero Boulevard, and $255,000 for the design and construction of Bay Oaks ball field lights.

The funded part of the plan also includes $120,600 for an additional 19 mooring systems at the town's mooring field from general revenue. The town board has approved spending $87,000 with Bonita Springs-based Coastal Engineering Consultants for mooring field replacement.

DOH issues advisory for Davis Boat Ramp due to blue-green algae

The Department of Health is issuing a health advisory for the Davis Boat Ramp after finding blue-green algae in its sampling.

It’s a sight people at the boat ramp say they didn’t want to see — blue-green algae in the water.

You couldn’t really see it as much this afternoon, but Friday morning they said it was bad.

An FGCU Water School professor says the algae tends to sink down to the bottom in the afternoon and comes back up to soak up the sunshine in the morning.

“It’s here. It’s definitely here and it wasn’t here a week ago,” said Chris Berti of Fort Myers.

The algae is a concern for boaters like him. He says he’s noticed the blue-green algae just about every day this week.

So far, he says it’s minimal but it has progressively grown, stirring up memories from a few years ago.

Study: Florida has thousands more high-risk properties than FEMA says

Cape Coral and Tampa are the first and second most-exposed cities in the state, the disaster modeling found.

About 114,000 more Florida properties are at risk of flooding in a 100-year storm than the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently estimates, according to a model released Monday by a nonprofit arguing the country has undersold its vulnerability to disasters.

Tampa is the second-most exposed city in the state, says the First Street Foundation, with 43,111 properties that could flood in such an event — the seventh most at-risk in the country. No. 1 in the United States is Cape Coral, according to the analysis, with more than 90,000 at-risk properties.

The foundation’s flood tool is meant to highlight gaps in federal insurance maps and give home buyers what First Street promises is a better view of vulnerability. The data include property-specific reports that are accessible online for users to search their address — and will soon also be displayed on realtor.com, one of the largest real estate listing websites in the country, the company said.

SCCF Marine Lab finds sea slugs may restore seagrass beds

Recently, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Lab provided an update on annual seagrass surveys in the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In the report, staff explained that last year during surveys they discovered dense concentrations of sea slugs called Oxynoe.

"In fact, they were the highest density of that type sea slug ever found," Research Associate Mark Thompson said.

The sea slugs were known to live exclusively on Caulerpa algae, which had overgrown and eliminated the seagrass which had previously been abundant in the western and eastern impoundments of the refuge. The sparse research conducted on Oxynoe suggested that if they reach high enough numbers, they could actually reduce the amount of Caulerpa algae in an area.

Bonita Springs will renew beach renourishment agreement with Lee County

The Bonita Springs City Council has decided to renew its interlocal agreement with Lee county which is set to expire November 9,2020. The agreement, which focuses on beach nourishment, is an ongoing program to combat sand erosion through periodic sand replenishment from a donating source. If not, routinely maintained erosion could spread quickly creating a direct negative impact on our beaches and beach front communities.

The City’s role has been to provide a cost share along with overall project development, management and delivery. Upon State and Federal reimbursements, the remaining costs, which are referenced to as local cost share, will be apportioned between the City at 38.28% and the County at 61.72%.

SFWMD rescinds Lee County irrigation restrictions

Recent rains and efforts by residents to conserve water have resulted in increased water levels

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is rescinding the current District-issued irrigation restrictions for residential and landscape, golf course, recreational and agricultural water users in Lee County. Irrigation restrictions by local cities and Lee County still apply. 

Effective June 19, the one-day-a-week irrigation restrictions will be rescinded as a result of rainfall that Lee County began to receive in the latter part of May.

Monitoring of water conditions throughout Lee County indicate surface and groundwater levels have significantly improved. Between April 25 and June 18, Lee County has received more than 12 inches of rainfall and monitoring shows a continued improvement of aquifers within the county. 

South Floridians are reminded that though irrigation restrictions are lifted, residents and businesses need to do their part to conserve water year-round.

Residents are also encouraged to allow Mother Nature to irrigate their lawns during the rainy season and turn their automatic irrigation systems off until the dry season begins (usually late October or early November)

Fort Myers Beach set to raise stormwater, water rates

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council unanimously approved moving forward with a $5 a month per-unit increase to its stormwater rate to $25.98 while also moving forward a process to raise its water rates.

The announcements follow presentations given to the town council in May outlining significant increases in capital needs for its ongoing stormwater project improvements.

Back in May, the town's consultants said about $10.1 million was borrowed to finance phase two of the Estero Boulevard side street and stormwater improvements.

An additional $15 million in capital needs were identified over the next few years:

  • Tier 1 stormwater improvements: $7.98 million
  • North Estero Phase 2, Part 2: $4.356 million
  • North Estero Phase 2, Part 1: $2.66 million

The council was told it would need to borrow $21.6 million.

Caloosahatchee pipeline project gets under way

The Caloosahatchee Connect project, which will link the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers with a reclaimed water main to be built underneath the Caloosahatchee is expected to give Cape residents more access to water for irrigation as well as improve water quality in the river.

The project has been years in planning and residents on both sides of the river hailed the $15 million project -- to be funded primarly with grant money -- when announced in September of 2018.

Now that its start is nearing, though, not everyone is happy.

Residents who live in the Everest Parkway neighborhood and nearby fear what they say will be disruption during the expected six to eight months of construction.

The uplands portion of the reclaimed water main is being designed along the north side of Everest Parkway. It will be installed in the public right-of-way between the northern asphalt edge of Everest Parkway and the right-of-way line before going to the Everest Water Reclamation Facility.

Temporary detours, road closures and one-way traffic should be anticipated along Everest Parkway throughout construction.

Lake Winterset Hydrilla Treatment, 6/18

BARTOW – Hydrilla treatments will take place June 18 on Lake Winterset in Winter Haven as crews from Polk County’s Parks and Natural Resources plan to spray for the invasive plant.

The herbicide ProcellaCOR will be applied by airboat in a band around the edge of the lake to the inshore areas where hydrilla is present. Hydrilla in this area is encroaching on beneficial native plants and may impact access to navigation. This herbicide is approved for use in lakes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Hydrilla is an invasive aquatic plant easily spread by boats throughout the state’s lakes and rivers. It can clog waterways, making recreational activities difficult or impossible, and competes with beneficial native plants. Managing and treating it is necessary for the health of Florida’s waters and to enable continued recreational boating and other aquatic activities.

Water Use Restrictions:

  • Fourteen days for irrigation of landscape vegetation or other forms of non-agricultural irrigation, applies throughout the entire lake.
  • Turf may be irrigated immediately after treatment. No restrictions for swimming or fishing.

For questions or concerns regarding this treatment, contact Bryan Finder, Natural Areas coordinator for Polk County Parks and Natural Resources, at (863) 534-7377, or Charlie Thomson, regional biologist for FWC, at (863) 578-1120.

SWFWMD draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan available

SWFWMD logo

The Southwest Florida Water Management District's (District) draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) is now available on the District’s website for review and comment by stakeholders and the public. The plan identifies existing and projected water demands across all water use categories, available potential water sources, and projects and funding sources to meet those demands within the District’s four planning regions over the next 20 years.

Two online webinar workshops will be held in June to provide opportunities for the public and stakeholders to learn more and comment on the draft plan. All public comments and feedback are taken into consideration and may be included in the final plan document. The comment period ends July 15 at 5 p.m.

The public webinars will take place:

  • June 24 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

This meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams. Please copy and paste the following URL into your browser, https://bit.ly/3cJFaOI and follow the instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use the web interface for Teams. Google Chrome is the recommended browser for best compatibility. Members of the public can also call into the meeting at (888) 585-9008 using the conference code 346-054-201.

  • June 30 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

This meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams. Please copy and paste the following URL into your browser, https://bit.ly/2BUzG79 and follow the instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use the web interface for Teams. Google Chrome is the recommended browser for best compatibility. Members of the public can also call into the meeting at (888) 585-9008 using the conference code 346-054-201.

The Draft 2020 RWSP has been developed in collaboration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Suwannee River, St. Johns River and South Florida water management districts, public water supply utilities and other stakeholder groups. The District includes four planning regions that consist of all or part of 16 counties in west-central Florida, covering approximately 10,000 square miles.

The final plan will be presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval in November. To view the draft plan, please click here.

The Draft 2020 RWSP is in the process of being converted to an ADA compliant document. The Final 2020 RWSP will be ADA compliant. If you need assistance, please contact the District at (352) 796-7211 or 1-800-423-1476.

C-44 backflow feeds algae bloom in Lake O

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — Lake Okeechobee area anglers, water managers and environmentalists are keeping a careful watch on algae blooms in the big lake.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite imagery from the week of June 10 shows algae bloom potential in about 60 percent of Lake Okeechobee, with the highest bloom potential on the east side of the lake. (More recent satellite images were obscured by cloud cover.)

At the June 11 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District board, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch said she flew recently over the lake and noted a visible algae bloom on the east side. She said there has been a heavy backflow into the lake from the C-44 Canal on the east side of the lake. The freshwater from basin runoff would have been detrimental to the St. Lucie River had it been released east through the St. Lucie Lock, she said. While the nutrient load from the C-44 backflow contributes to the excess nutrient load in the lake, Lake O is already eutrophic, she said. (The C-44 basin runoff is about twice as high in phosphorus as is the lake water on average, according to SFWMD data.)

Water from the C-44 (also known as the St. Lucie Canal) can flow east to the St. Lucie River through the St. Lucie Lock and Dam or back flow west into Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca.

Cristobal brings harmless red drift algae to local beaches

It's slippery, slimy and a little funky smelling, but red drift algae that is piling up on local beaches is not a hazard to wildlife or people.

A type of seaweed, red drift algae grows on the bottom off local beaches.

"It’s not toxic like red tide," said Rick Bartleson, a chemist and water quality scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel. "You don’t want to eat it. Some people eat seaweed salad but you don’t eat this off the beach because it’s full of bacteria. So if a pelican poops on it, the bacteria from the poop will continue to survive on the algae."

Red drift algae grows on harder bottom surfaces and gets uprooted and dislodged when strong currents and waves pound the shores, which happened nearly two weeks ago when Tropical Storm Cristobal passed through the Gulf of Mexico.

Red tide is caused by an organism called Karenia brevis and is found naturally at background levels in the Gulf of Mexico.

FGCU releases preliminary findings on Estero River water quality

Florida Gulf Coast University has been keeping tabs on the Estero River to see what might be lurking in the water.

What have they found so far?

“It did verify that the Estero River has elevated concentrations of bacteria, something enough that we should pay attention to,” said Dr. Don Duke, professor of environmental studies.

The Village of Estero is in the early stages of figuring out how to solve it.

“This isn’t just an Estero problem; it’s a problem around the whole United States, it’s a major problem for Florida,” said Mayor Bill Ribble.

Duke updated council members on FGCU’s ongoing research.

“The issue with the indicator bacteria that I mentioned is that these bacteria grow in the colons of warm-blooded animals. Humans of course are some of those animals, but birds, mammals, pets, livestock also can contribute some of those same indicators.”

One of the possible sources: septic tanks.

“We can’t afford not to do this,” Ribble said, meaning the village is looking at communities where switching from septic to sewer is feasible.

CCP covers sea-level rise report, sewer study and no wake signs

The Captiva Community Panel was presented with the findings from a sea-level rise vulnerability assessment at its recent meeting, as well as heard updates on a comprehensive engineering study for a possible central sewer system and ways to reinstall manatee zone signs in the Roosevelt Channel.

On June 9, CCP Sea Level Rise Committee Chair Linda Laird was joined by consultant Dr. Cheryl Hapke, with Coastal Science Solutions, in presenting the completed resiliency assessment for Captiva.

"I'm very very impressed with the report," Laird said, explaining that it encompasses what will be impacted and affected based on the different levels of sea rise the island is anticipated to see.

SWFWMD schedules prescribed fires in Charlotte County

SWFWMD logo

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns June through September on Prairie/Shell Creek in Charlotte County.

Prairie/Shell Creek is located on the west side of U.S. Highway 17, approximately 5 miles northeast of Punta Gorda. Prairie/Shell Creek lies between U.S. 17 and the Peace River.

Approximately 260 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

View the video at the link below to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

2020 CHNEP Watershed Summit videos available

CHNEP logo

Missed the Summit? Now you can watch it all at your leisure.

The 2020 CHNEP Watershed Summit, sponsored by the Florida Section of the American Water Resources Association and FGCU Media, was held on June 1-2. The Summit, which is usually an in-person event, was held virtually to protect the health of participants because of the COVID-19 virus.

Videos of 34 presentations are now available for viewing online. Visit the CHNEP website to see a list of the presentations in each session. Each listed presentation is linked to its associated video. The Summit included four sessions:

  • Water Quality Improvement
  • Hydrological Restoration
  • Fish, Wildlife & Habitat Protection
  • Public Engagement for Protecting Our Water & Wildlife

Visit the CHNEP's YouTube channel to view presentations from past CHNEP Watershed Summits. The Video Library page on this Water Atlas also has videos on conservation topics.

SWFWMD schedules prescribed fires in Sarasota County

SWFWMD logo

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns June through September at Myakka River - Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and Myakka River - Schewe Tract in Sarasota County.

Myakka River - Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and Myakka River - Schewe Tract are located west of North Port, east of the Myakka River, and north and south of Interstate 75. Approximately 600 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

View the video at the link below to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

SFWMD approves $6M increase for Caloosahatchee reservoir

The cost of the largest Everglades restoration project for the Lee County area went up by $6 million Thursday after South Florida Water Management District governing board members approved the increase.

In total, the Caloosahatchee River reservoir, often called the C-43 project by engineers, will cost more than $600 million and is currently under construction.

The board approved the increase unanimously.

The increase was necessary because contractor expenses went up recently. The project is costing about $500,000 a day to build, according to district records.

The reservoir will capture 170,000 acre-feet, or about 55 billion gallons, of water from the river, store that water and then release it during dry times. 

Algae monitored in Okeechobee Waterway

Once again summer heat has brought seasonal algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee. Fishermen report algae suspended in the water column, especially on the south end of the lake.

Algae and cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algae) are part of the lake’s natural ecosystem. The microscopic organisms are always present in all freshwater (unless it is sterile). Excess nutrient loading of phosphorus and nitrogen, little water movement and summer heat set the stage for algae and cyanobacteria to multiply rapidly into a visible “bloom.”

Some of the cyanobacteria common in Lake Okeechobee waterways are capable of producing toxins. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 25% of cyanobacteria can produce toxins; however, even cyanobacteria capable of producing toxins do not always do so.

Cloud cover blocked most of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite imagery for Lake Okeechobee last week.

Satellite imagery from May 29 showed light bloom potential on approximately 15% of Lake Okeechobee.

Calusa Waterkeeper tests for source of Billy's Creek contamination

Fecal bacteria contamination in Billy’s Creek has been a concern for years, and a local group, Calusa Waterkeeper, is working to fix the problem. They hope new testing will help determine where the bacteria is coming from.

Billy’s Creek winds from Fort Myers to the Caloosahatchee, but fecal bacteria has been plaguing this waterway for at least two decades.

A City of Fort Myers Central Wastewater Treatment Facility sits along the river off Michigan Avenue, behind the Fort Myers Cemetery.

Ed Shinouskis, a ranger with the Calusa Waterkeeper said, “When my wife Chris and I moved down here four years ago, we thought we were moving to paradise … Lo and behold, we realized that there’s quite a few environmental issues.”

Shinouskis grew up in Flint, Michigan and says he’s familiar with water quality issues.

He and his wife help Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani sample fecal bacteria in Billy’s Creek.

“We thought this would be a great way to give back to the community.” Shinouskis said, “So if it’s all sewage or treated wastewater or agricultural waste, or pollution, nutrient pollution, we can determine the origin, specific origin of that source.”

And the sampling has deeper meaning going beneath the surface.

Nonnel Galaviz-Johnson, Billy’s Creek outreach coordinator explains that “The communities around Billy’s Creek are predominantly black and Hispanic, and so this is a social justice issue as well. And they know what’s best for their communities, so we’re trying to work with them and help restore the creek.”

The second phase of this study is slated for September where the Calusa Waterkeeper will compare the seasonal impacts on Billy’s Creek and the Caloosahatchee.

According to the City of Fort Myers, they spend in excess of $100,000 on testing, maintenance and upkeep of the creek and the related Billy Creek Filter Marsh and Ford Street Preserve systems.

City spokeswoman Stephanie Schaffer said in a statement: “The filter marsh and preserve both intercept seasonal runoff and remove potential pollutants prior to discharge to the Caloosahatchee. The City spent $1M on the partial dredging of Billy Creek last year, with another $1M for project completion allocated by the legislature, pending approval by the governor.

“The City can only rely on testing samples taken by South Florida Water Management District, Lee County and FDEP to evaluate water quality.”

Summer storms mean runoff, but you can help reduce its negative impacts

Editorial by Don Rainey, regional water agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Southwest District.

During seasonal storms in Florida, rain strikes surfaces such as rooftops, sidewalks and driveways, and within minutes, water will form puddles — and along comes stormwater runoff. At its core, stormwater is simply excess rainfall that does not infiltrate the ground or immediately evaporate back into the atmosphere.

Stormwater runoff uses the path of least resistance to reach its destination. It is a collection of rainfall from the surrounding hard surfaces, lawn and plant beds that flows above ground to a nearby body of water. Stormwater runoff is not just water. It transports nutrients from rainwater, sediment, and other materials found in the urban landscape.

As the runoff moves across saturated surfaces, it transports dissolved plant nutrients, possible pesticides, pet waste, sediment and other debris. Think of stormwater runoff as a soup, consisting of “ingredients” such as dissolved particulates and sometimes harmful pathogens that will move to a body of water. When concentration levels within this mixture exceed the ability for natural systems — such as ponds and wetlands — to utilize, absorb or break down pollutants, we must take steps to address the issue.

In some areas of Florida, stormwater runoff flows directly into a large body of water without treatment, immediately affecting the water quality. Untreated stormwater can negatively impact natural ecosystems for future generations.

Fortunately, a plant-based lawn and landscape not only help filter contaminants and remove sediment, they also provide an infiltration area to recharge the water supply.

As a homeowner, you can protect water quality by addressing runoff from your property. Simply start with your roof and driveway — usually the largest connected hard surface and runoff generator on your property. Redirect your downspouts to a rain bar

State targeting pollution in northern Everglades, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers

A state agency is working toward better detecting and documenting pollution in the northern portion of the Everglades as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

The South Florida Water Management District held a workshop Wednesday [June 3rd] to take public input on rule changes that will target lands that are polluting the system.

Phosphorus and nitrogen running off farmlands and developed areas are causing the problems.

These nutrients feed algae blooms, can discolor the water to the point of killing marine grasses and disrupt the natural balance of South Florida's ecosystem.

"There is a gap between the current water bodies compared to where the (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) says they need to be," said Steffany Olson, with the water management district.

The two rivers were artificially connected to Lake Okeechobee to drain the Everglades for farming and development.

Southwest Florida fertilizer ordinances aim to curb nutrient pollution, stop algae blooms

Ordinances across Southwest Florida create blackout periods in hopes of reducing pollution in area waterways and stop harmful algae blooms.

Rainy season is underway in Southwest Florida and with it comes an effort from local governments to curb excess nutrients in the area’s waters.

Lee and Collier counties, as well as the cities that lay within, have implemented fertilizer ordinances in hopes of curbing harmful algal blooms and reducing the nutrient pollution in storm water runoff.

The need to reduce nutrients was highlighted in 2018 when Southwest Florida was hit by blue-green algae and red tide at the same time, devastating wildlife and the local economy. Then governor Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, declared states of emergency for multiple counties over the outbreaks.

The algae are natural but are fed by nutrients from farms, yards and wastewater from leaky pipes or septic tanks.

On Sanibel, red tide blooms and red drift algae prompted the city to issue its own fertilizer ordinance.

“Poor water quality not only impacts wildlife habitat and the quality of life for island residents, but it can directly impact our local economy by reducing property values and the overall experience of visitors to our island,” said Holly Milbrandt, the city’s deputy director of natural resources.

The city adopted its ordinance in 2007 as “part of a multi-pronged effort by the City of Sanibel to reduce nutrient leaching and runoff that lead to algae blooms and poor water quality,” she said.

Milbrandt said the need for community education is a priority, saying one of the goals of the ordinance is “to develop a strong awareness of the connection between activities in yards, streets, and stormwater systems and natural water bodies among all those who live and work in the City of Sanibel.”