Water-Related News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangrove trimming at Ponce Inlet and Sancho Panza Point

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

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

FWC soliciting feedback on Lake O environmental issues

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

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

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

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

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

Lee County approves contracts for design of flood mitigation projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovative technology is being staged to be deployed if needed

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

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

Bonita Springs and Lee County apply for waterway law enforcement funding

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

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

Butterford Waterway Park boat ramp closed Oct. 12-26

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

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

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

Study will address how climate disasters impact GOM restoration projects

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

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

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

Lee County votes to eliminate mining opportunity in southeast Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition mounts against proposed fish farm off Sarasota coast

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

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

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

Bioreactor helps with water quality in Bonita Springs

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring the widespread impacts of ongoing nitrogen pollution

The release of reactive nitrogen into the environment is having severe and ongoing ecosystem, economic, and human health impacts. How can we reduce our nitrogen footprint?

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in the environment, but its natural cycling has been significantly altered by human activities, specifically the release of excessive and harmful amounts of nitrogen from various sources including fertilizers, animal and human wastes, fossil fuel combustion, and mining.

Nitrogen Overload: Environmental Degradation, Ramifications, and Economic Costs, a new book recently published by AGU (American Geophysical Union), seeks to improve our understanding of the negative impacts of so much excess reactive nitrogen in the environment.

Visit the link below for a summary of content from the book. In the article the author, Brian G. Katz, a scientist who has spent the past four decades investigating the transport and fate of nitrogen in groundwater, springs, surface waters, and the atmosphere, gives an overview of the main issues.

Lee County to host public meeting about flood-mitigation efforts

Lee County to host public meeting to inform the public about flood-mitigation efforts

FORT MYERS – Lee County is planning a public meeting to inform stakeholders and residents about the yearlong effort the county has nearly completed for Phase 3 of its post-Hurricane Irma flood-mitigation efforts.

The informational meeting will be formatted to accommodate Centers for Disease Control guidelines and will be held in half-hour time slots from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center, 16760 Bass Road, Fort Myers, FL 33908. Participants are asked to make a reservation by calling or emailing in advance at kwelton@leegov.com or 239-533-2282.

People who arrive without a reservation will be admitted as room capacity allows. Please bring a face covering to wear inside the meeting room. The county plans to create a video at the meeting for those who are unable to attend; the meeting will not be broadcast live.

County staff and engineering firms will be on hand to provide information about the study and its findings related to potential flood-mitigation projects, including East Lee County, Southeast Lee, South Fort Myers and Whiskey Creek. Information also will be available about a prior study completed for North Fort Myers.

The Lee Board of County Commissioners will schedule a work session in November to discuss the study. Visit www.leegov.com/bocc or www.leegov.com/flooding for updates as they become available, or follow Lee County Government on Facebook.

This study and process – called Phase 3: Southern Lee County Flood Mitigation Plan – is being developed by local storm water experts under the direction of Lee County Natural Resources. The Lee Board of County Commissioners in 2018 approved a contract for the engineering firms, who were selected via a procurement process, to do a yearlong assessment with recommendations for the Board looking at conceptual long-term flood-mitigation projects.

Prior county efforts included Phase 1, which cleaned up waterways and cleared flow ways post-Hurricane Irma, and Phase 2, which was a more-detailed post storm assessment. Phase 2 involved the county hiring several engineering firms and using residents’ and stakeholders’ observations and data from the rain event of August 2017 and the hurricane, which made landfall on Sept. 10, 2017.

Phase 2 resulted in flood assessment project reports for the following areas:

  • Imperial River/ Spring Creek/ Halfway Creek/ Estero River;
  • Ten Mile Canal/ Island Park/ Briarcliff/ Six Mile Cypress/Mullock Creek/Hendry Creek;
  • Orange River/ Hickey Creek/ Bedman Creek/Olga;
  • Bayshore Creek/ Popash Creek/ Stroud Creek;
  • and, Whiskey Creek/ Villas/ Pine Lake.

Before launching the Phase 3 study, the county held three public meetings at which hundreds of residents and business owners were able to ask questions, provide feedback and learn more about the flood history and flood projects in their respective parts of the county. Information obtained at the meetings was incorporated into Phase 3.

While engineers worked on the study, the county continued to clean, assess and maintain flow ways, ditches and canals.

Other efforts also continued, including:

  • The Board approved an interlocal agreement with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) that helps the county and district join forces on flood-mitigation efforts. Specifically, the agreement had the SFWMD take over management and maintenance of 13 natural flow ways and waterbodies;
  • The county obtained a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) grant for sediment and debris removal in two areas within the Ten Mile Canal;
  • The county repaired a water control structure at US 41 and Mullock Creek which was damaged during the storm:
  • The county worked with the East Mullock Water Control District to remove debris from ditches from the San Carlos Park area;
  • The county applied for and was awarded $7.1 million through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Rebuild Florida Infrastructure Repair Program for flood resiliency spending; it allows the county to step up the pace of drainage improvements in the Mullock Creek basin.
  • Lee County Department of Transportation has performed drainage enhancements along Island Park Road and in The Villas.
  • The county applied for a $10.3 million federal Community Development Block Grant earmarked for post-Hurricane Irma mitigation to build a filter marsh, reservoir and weirs on the GS-10 parcel north of Lehigh Acres. This CDBG-Mitigation proposal, approved by commissioners, is being reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

More information is available at www.leegov.com/flooding; click on the “Interactive Story Map” on the top left part of the landing page. Questions can be emailed to flood@leegov.com

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Lee County will not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in its services, programs, or activities. To request an auxiliary aid or service for effective communication or a reasonable modification to participate in the upcoming public meetings, contact Joan LaGuardia, 239-533-2314, Florida Relay Service 711, or jlaguardia@leegov.com. Accommodation will be provided at no cost to the requestor.

Requests should be made at least five business days in advance.

North Port claims 1st place as most “water wise” city in the nation

winner logos

Congratulations are in order for the City of North Port. The Wyland Foundation recently announced the winners in the 9th Annual Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation with the City of North Port taking first place in its population category!

This year, during the month of August, cities across the United States took part in the challenge which offers a unique and compelling way to motivate residents to conserve water. Residents participated on behalf of their city by completing a series of online conservation pledges at www.mywaterpledge.com that encourage positive behavior changes. Cities that collect the most pledges within their population category win the title of most water-wise city in the nation.

“It’s incredible to see how much our community cares for our environment. For several years, the City of North Port has participated in the Wyland Mayor’s Challenge and the response has increased year after year! I can’t tell you how honored I am to represent our city which is so committed to water conservation and being stewards of its resources,” stated City of North Port Mayor, Debbie McDowell.

Participants who took the water pledge agreed to perform simple tasks to save water such as: Turning off sprinkler systems when it rains, fix plumbing leaks around the home, plant Florida friendly landscaping, and shorten shower times.

City of North Port Utilities Director Rick Newkirk said, “Our team works hard to efficiently produce and deliver fresh, clean water to our customers every day. We’re very lucky to work in a city that recognizes the value of water and realizes that conservation helps us all in the long run.”

The City of North Port congratulates and sincerely thanks all area residents who participated in this year’s challenge and demonstrated their support for conserving our area resources.

Lake Hatchineha canals to receive spray treatment

BARTOW – Spraying for invasive aquatic weeds in Lake Hatchineha’s canals will begin the week of Sept. 28, as weather allows, by Polk County’s Parks and Natural Resources division.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has approved a treatment plan for the invasive floating plants, which include water lettuce and water hyacinth. Floating plants have historically been managed under the FWC Invasive Plant Management program conducted by Polk County. The approved treatment plan instructs Polk County crews to treat the Hatchineha canals where water lettuce and water hyacinths are present.

These are invasive aquatic species that can cause navigation issues and serves as a breeding site for mosquitoes. For more information please contact Polk County Parks & Natural Resources at 863-534-7377.

Rapidly rising Lake O increases likelihood of releases to coastal estuaries

JACKSONVILLE — If Lake Okeechobee, at 15.1 feet above sea level on Friday, continues to rise, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may start releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Lake Okeechobee rose by about 1 foot in the past month, Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, told reporters in a telephone media conference on Friday, Sept. 18.

“It has been a pretty interesting season for us who have been dealing with this,” said Kelly.

“We began wet season with everything very, very, very dry,” he said.

“We were trying to conserve water the best we could. As of today, with a foot of rise in the past month, we are looking at the need to make releases to the estuaries probably soon,” he continued. Soon ... but not yet.

“We made the decision this week not to execute releases,” Kelly explained. Next week’s decision might be different.

“Everything below the lake is just full,” he said. “There isn’t a whole lot of room to move water south of the lake.

Ultrasonic buoys latest weapon in fight against blue-green algae

A new tool will soon be deployed in Florida in an attempt to eliminate blue-green algae in freshwater systems.

Florida Gulf Coast University’s Everglades Wetland Research Park in Naples received a $1 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to introduce buoys equipped with sonic technology meant to kill harmful cyanobacteria.

“An ultrasonic wave goes through the water and disturbs algal cells, especially some of the blue-green algae,” said Bill Mitsch, director of the research park. “(The algae) thereby loses its ability to stay in the water column and drops to bottom of the lake.”

Mitsch and his team at the research park will set out nine buoys in lakes throughout the Treviso Bay Naples community this December. It’s a small-scale pilot test to see if the technology works.

“Basically, since we have fertilizers in our water, all these lakes are going to eventually have algal blooms,” he said. “If you have a lake and it’s getting water from urban runoff or especially agricultural runoff, you’re going to have a green lake. There’s no getting around it.”

Brown water begins to plague water off Sanibel Lighthouse

Water releases from Lake Okeechobee flow down the river into the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico every year, releases often increasing during the rainy season. The more rain we get, the more water is usually released from the lake preventing overflows from the aging Herbert Hoover Dike. During drier seasons, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works to maintain the water level of the dike in an effort slow releases in the summer months.

The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) released aerial video southeast of Sanibel’s Lighthouse Point from September 21, 2020; In the video, there is a line of brown water, showing where the freshwater meets the usual blue water from the Gulf of Mexico.

The brown water is from natural tannins produced by plants and soil that stains the water, according to the scientists at SCCF. Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Sally dumped about a foot of rain across parts of the Caloosahatchee River watershed, which increased freshwater releases.

Bioreactor that removes Imperial River pollutants earns statewide award

Chambers of wood chips and pea gravel underneath a downtown parking lot could be Bonita Springs’ best weapon to combat pollutants in the Imperial River.

And that innovative tool is getting an upgrade.

The bioreactor, hidden under a parking lot at Felts Avenue and Abernathy Street, stops hundreds of pounds of nitrates from reaching the river every year. Nitrates are linked to blue-green algal blooms, according to Florida Gulf Coast University experts.

The bioreactor was the first of its kind in the state when installed in 2015 at a cost of $450,000. Rainwater from the downtown area is funneled into the chambers before spilling into the Imperial River.