An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Florida senators want federal help on their red tide problem

Algal blooms driven by chemical runoff and a warming climate killed aquatic life, slammed the state's tourism industry

As Florida grapples with so-called red tides of algal blooms along its coasts and waterways, the state’s senators are pushing the federal government to come up with a plan to help control them.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will on Wednesday mark up a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott aiming to find a solution to the toxic algae that cost the state’s tourism industry millions of dollars each year.

The House in September passed a companion bill that was introduced by Rep. Brian Mast, R- Fla.

“I am encouraged by its continued progress in the Senate,” Rubio said in an emailed statement.

A spokeswoman said Scott is “proud to build on” his efforts to mitigate the effects of harmful algal blooms and red tide during his time as governor, and “will continue to work with his colleagues to protect Florida’s environment for generations to come.”

As the governor of Florida before he came to the Senate, Scott received partial blame from critics for the widespread algal blooms that inundated his state’s shores last year, noting his administration cut the state’s water management budget by $700 million.

The bill would direct a federal interagency panel to “develop a plan for reducing, mitigating, and controlling” harmful algal blooms and hypoxia (dangerously low aquatic oxygen levels) in South Florida. It’s similar to one Rubio introduced last year with former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Clean Water Act: Economic analysis could undermine Trump rule repeal

When the Trump administration finalized its repeal of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule last month, it also quietly updated an economic analysis of the repeal's costs and benefits.

The 195-page final analysis is nearly 10 times longer than the one that accompanied the Trump administration's initial proposal in 2017 to repeal the rule and estimates different costs and benefits of repealing the regulation, which clarified which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The updated analysis — which the public did not have the chance to comment on — could leave the repeal vulnerable to legal challenges, experts say.

"The agencies aren't required to do an economic analysis, but once they decide to do it, courts typically want them to do it right," Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau said. "If there are flaws in the analysis, and if the public hasn't had a chance to see it, that could fit into the box of arbitrary and capricious."

Already, a coalition of environmental groups have cited the new analysis in their legal challenge to the repeal filed last week.

Mangroves reduce flood damages during hurricanes, saving $billions

Mangroves significantly reduce annual and catastrophic damages from storms and are a strong first line of defense for coastal communities, according to a new study from researchers at UC Santa Cruz, the Nature Conservancy, and RMS. The study brought together a team of scientists from the engineering, insurance, and conservation sectors to quantify the effectiveness of mangroves in reducing flood risk to people and property.

Their report, Valuing The Flood Risk Reduction Benefits of Florida's Mangroves, concludes that mangroves in Florida prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25% in counties with mangroves. With coastal challenges created by growing populations, burgeoning development, and climate change, risks to people and property from flooding and storm surge are on the rise. Mangroves provide valuable flood protection and risk reduction benefits to these coastal areas, yet they are a threatened species.

The study used the risk insurance industry's latest and most rigorous high-resolution flood and loss catastrophe models and an extensive database of property exposure to estimate property damages from storms with and without mangroves in Florida. The report shows that mangroves significantly reduce flood levels during a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Irma.

High concentrations of red tide causing fish kills in Sarasota County

Red tide is getting worse in the Tampa Bay area, causing fish kills last week in parts of Sarasota County.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission collected water samples from Sarasota County this week and found high levels of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis.

Though red tide wasn't found in all areas of Sarasota County, very low to high concentrations of the organism were found in several areas off the shore. Scientists also found very low concentrations of red tide off Clearwater Beach.

Red tide was first detected off Sarasota County last week in medium concentrations. Fish kills were reported this week in Venice and Englewood.

Michelle Kerr, a spokesperson for FWC, says that the organism is natural to the Gulf of Mexico, but it can multiply uncontrollably, and that’s when it becomes dangerous.

Red tide and human health: Researchers study ‘Chronic Exposure’

Toxic red tide algae is starting to bloom along Florida’s west coast again. State wildlife officials say elevated levels have been detected recently from Pinellas to Collier counties, and people in Sarasota County have also been experiencing respiratory irritations.

Now, new research is looking into long-term health effects of the toxins, including neurological issues.

Sarasota civil engineer close to a biochar breakthrough in treating reclaimed water

Cleaner waters ahead for Manatee County as pilot program begins in Lakewood Ranch?

Sarasota’s Steve Suau, a civil engineer whose specialty is watershed management planning and water resources, is enjoying the newfound interest the public has for his job.

Red tide has a way of piquing the public’s interest.

“People now actually are interested in nitrogen and phosphorous,” Suau said from his Progressive Water Resources office. “I never thought I would see the day. Since we have had red tide outbreaks, everyone is interested in nutrients.”

Increased interest or not, Suau has for years been investigating ways to produce cleaner waters in Florida. Now in partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the University of Florida and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Suau is about to embark on a pilot program that could have worldwide implications when it comes to cleaner waterways.

Although filtration systems using biochar (made from heating carbon-based materials such as wood, crop residue or animal manure in the absense of oxygen), sawdust and wood chips have been tested for years, Suau believes he has found a way to engineer biochar that would maximize its effectiveness to absorb contaminants.

SWFWMD awards education grants to Manatee and Sarasota County schools

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) awarded $119,000 in grants to 65 schools within the District as part of the Splash! school grant program. The program provides up to $3,000 per school to enhance student knowledge of freshwater resources in grades K-12.

Splash! grants encourage hands-on student learning through STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities as well as engagement of the greater school community through awareness campaigns. Each school district allocates a portion of their annual youth education funding provided by the District to support the Splash! grants in their county.

The District awarded grants to the following schools/teachers in Manatee and Sarasota counties:

  • Ashton Elementary School - Kelly Griffith
  • Bayshore High School - John Silva
  • Booker High School - Toni Riebe
  • Brookside Middle School - Katie Hill
  • Marjorie G. Kinnan Elementary School - Meggan Lutes
  • Louise R. Johnson K-8 School of International Studies - Deborah Peters
  • Manatee High School - Boontarika Elswick
  • Myakka City Elementary School - Anna Kuehn
  • Phillippi Shores Elementary School - Suzette Trapani
  • Toledo Blade Elementary School - Madeleine Tarsek
  • Venice Middle School - Beth Mayberry

Grants are available for freshwater resources field studies, water-conserving garden projects, community or school awareness campaigns and on-site workshops. Last year’s Splash! grants brought water resources education to nearly 10,487 students throughout the District. For

2019-2020 Bay Wise Kayak Tour Schedule Announced

Join the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program for sustainable kayak eco-tours throughout the Sarasota Bay watershed and discover the habitats and wildlife that make Sarasota Bay an "Estuary of National Significance".

Eco-tours run from November through April with professional guide Brad Tanner. The trips are free, but participants need to bring their own kayak and gear or rent from the many outfitters throughout Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Each trip lasts two to three hours. Space is limited to 15 individuals per outing.

Registration for upcoming tours begins one month in advance of each tour date. 

Schedule: https://sarasotabay.org/bay-wise-kayak-tours-2019-2020/

MOTE-FWC red tide initiative announces new applied research grant opportunity

Mote Marine Laboratory announced the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative’s first competitive grant opportunity for scientists working to fight red tide impacts on Nov. 7 during the 10th U.S. Symposium on Harmful Algae in Orange Beach, Alabama.

The Initiative is a partnership between Mote—a 64-year nonprofit leader of independent and entrepreneurial marine science including decades of red tide research and monitoring—and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC’s) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute—the primary state-government entity focused on Florida red tide. Florida red tides are harmful algal blooms caused by higher-than-normal concentrations of Karenia brevis, microscopic algae native to the Gulf of Mexico. Florida red tide toxins can cause widespread mortality of fish and marine wildlife and cause respiratory irritation in people. The Initiative establishes an independent, coordinated effort among public and private research entities to develop prevention, control and mitigation technologies and approaches that will decrease Florida red tide impacts on the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida.

The new Initiative, 379.2273 Florida Statutes, was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in June 2019 and provides a $3-million appropriation for six years ($18-million total). There will be six opportunities for scientists to submit competitive grant proposals from 2019–2025, and applicants have the opportunity to partner with Mote scientists and utilize Mote facilities, infrastructure and technology.

Neighborhood initiative grants now available

Sarasota County's Neighborhood Services team is preparing to educate and inspire residents for the next round of neighborhood initiative grant opportunities, which assists neighborhoods in improving their leadership, character, safety, health or environment.

The past year included projects such as an entry sign overhaul at Englewood Isles, storm drain marking in Gulf Gate, the removal of invasive plant species in Orchid Oaks, the installation of a pollinator garden in Palmer Ranch and aquatic plantings in Lakeshore Village. The grants award up to $10,000 in matching funds to a single neighborhood.

Applicants looking to pursue a neighborhood grant must attend a two-hour application seminar to be eligible. Five seminars will be offered between Nov. 25 and Dec. 17, at locations throughout Sarasota County.

For more information, or to register for an application seminar, call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.  

Appeals court ruling okays Mosaic mining expansion in Central Florida

An appeals court panel voted 2-1 this week to reject the arguments of environmental groups trying to overturn a federal permit that would allow Mosaic phosphate company to proceed with mining on more than 50,000 acres of Central Florida.

“In simple terms, we lost,” said Jacki Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity, which joined with the People for Protecting Peace River, ManaSota-88 and Suncoast Waterkeeper in suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She said the four groups are now considering whether to appeal Monday’s ruling.

The Mosaic permits cover parts of Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee, and Polk counties. Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron said the company was pleased with the ruling, which “demonstrates the strength and validity of our ... permit and the robust environmental review that accompanied it.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued the permit, did not respond to a request for comment.

DeSantis rolls out water quality website

With the state of the water a paramount issue in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis was at Lover's Key State Park on Fort Myers Beach Tuesday to tout a new website that folks can check to see the latest news on the safety of their water.

The website is ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov and it is up and running. It provides updates on water quality issues from red tide to algal bloom and health notifications.

The website currently focuses on three bodies of water, the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River. Eventually, it will include all of Florida's waterways, DeSantis said.

Southwest Florida residents can check the red tide along the Caloosahatchee River from here to Sanibel and Boca Grande. Currently, the map on Fort Myers Beach has a caution sign which states, "Red Tide Algae may be in these waters. Avoid this beach if you have chronic respiratory problems. Keep pets away from water and dead fish. Do not swim near or touch dead fish."

Red Tide back but not as bad -- so far

A Red Tide algae bloom that began off Collier County’s beaches in late September has been inching its way up the coast during October, killing fish and choking beachgoers. On Wednesday, state scientists said the algae was detected in “very low concentrations” off of Pinellas County.

The most recent tests show that the higher concentrations that constitute a bloom have reached an area near Venice, south of Sarasota.

“Bloom concentrations ... were observed in five samples from Sarasota County, two samples from Charlotte County, seven samples from and offshore of Lee County and nine samples from and offshore of Collier County,” the latest Red Tide report from the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

Reports of fish kills have come in from Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, and people have reported breathing problems from the beaches in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

Ainger Creek Boat Ramp closed Nov. 12-26

Ainger Creek boat ramp, 2011 Placida Road, Englewood will be closed Nov. 12-26 for repairs. During this time please use surrounding boat ramps at Lemon Bay Sunrise Rotary Park at 1000 S. McCall Road, Englewood or Placida Park boat ramp at 6499 Boca Grande Causeway, Placida.

For information, contact Travis Perdue at 941-764-4130 or Travis.Perdue@CharlotteCountyFL.gov. 

Maintenance dredging of the Gulf ICW in Venice-closures 11/4

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintenance dredging project to maintain the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Venice is under way. The project involves removal of shoaled sediment and use of the dredged material on the beach and nearshore area to take advantage of ecosystem restoration opportunities. The project is scheduled to run for several months and be completed before the end of the calendar year.

Work near Venice involves maintenance dredging within an approximately 5-mile stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Over time, coastal processes have resulted in significant shoaling and deposition of sediment within the waterway, and maintaining long-term navigation requires the removal of these sediments.

UPCOMING CLOSURES: The morning of Monday, Nov. 4, the South Jetty walkway will be temporarily closed so the Army Corps of Engineers contractor can place the dredging pipe across the Jetty. A bridge span will be put in place to allow pedestrian traffic over the pipe while construction takes place. This will take most of the morning on Nov. 4 to construct. Once this is completed, the walkway to the Jetty will remain open during the project. Humphris Park at the South Jetty will remain open during this process; only the walkway will be temporary closed.

Also the morning of Nov. 4, at approximately 6 a.m. the contractor will be using the Venice Beach north lot to offload equipment. The north lot will temporarily close to allow 2 tractor trailers hauling a loader, bulldozer and mats to offload. Once the equipment is offloaded, it will immediately be moved from the lot using the north lot beach access. The equipment will then be walked down the beach to the renourishment site.  

SWFWMD aims to reduce risk of wildfires by scheduling prescribed fires for Sarasota County

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 October through December 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 500 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 plant diversity
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat
  • Maintaining access for public recreation

How Southwest Florida' s business community got woke about water

For too long in Florida, environmental advocacy was viewed as the domain of tree-huggers and eco-nuts.

Full-time environmentalists carried the torch for cleaner water and more open spaces, occasionally scoring a policy win — but more often losing ground as armies of industry lobbyists shaped the legislative agenda in Tallahassee.

Then, in 2018, thousands of businesses in Southwest Florida banded together to push for clean water.

Spurred by a deadly confluence of red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms, they educated themselves on water quality. They found a unified voice to push for stricter pollution limits.

As the kids say, they got woke.

And it had a tangible impact on Florida politics.  

Mote launches stone crab research, education project with new grant

Mote Marine Laboratory is launching a new research and education project aimed at examining which coastal habitats might help stone crabs—a $30-million seafood staple in Florida—survive the growing threat of ocean acidification, thanks to a new grant from Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund.

The $70,000 grant will be matched by Mote and support the latest of several Mote studies to shed light on the 30% decrease in Florida’s yearly stone crab catch since 2000. So far, Mote’s controlled lab studies point out that ocean acidification and high levels of Florida red tide can each have significant impacts on stone crabs throughout different stages of their life cycle.

Female stone crabs brood their eggs—carry them until hatching—in coastal environments vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA), a worldwide decrease in ocean water pH driven by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH estimated to be three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century due to nutrient-rich runoff, a potential threat for sensitive coastal species.

Scallopalooza early-bird pricing available until Dec. 20th

Sarasota Bay Watch invites you to Scallopalooza, It's Clamtastic!

Early Bird pricing is in effect now through Dec. 20th.

This event will celebrate and support our community-driven shellfish restoration. Sarasota Bay Watch is working to clear and clean our waters utilizing hardshell clams. These shellfish resist the effects of red tide while naturally filtering nutrients and algae from our waters. If you love the water and appreciate its importance for this area, this is the event for you. Please, join us!

Location::
The Hyatt Regency Sarasota
1000 Blvd of the Arts, Sarasota, FL

Date/Time: February 15, 2020 6 PM

Go to www.sarasotabaywatch.org for tickets

Individual tickets: $90
Tables for 10: $850

Sponsorship Opportunities are Available
Show your support for local restoration!
Go to www.sarasotabaywatch.org to become a sponsor.

Need to contact event organizers? rondaryan@sarasotabaywatch.org or 941-232-2363

Sarasota Bay Watch believes that "A Healthy Bay is Everybody's Business". Please, make it your business too!

Pinellas County bans water horses

PALMA SOLA CAUSEWAY – Pinellas County commissioners have banned horses from aquatic preserves in the county, impacting a popular tourism business that also rents horses at Palma Sola causeway in Manatee County.

C Ponies offers rides in an aquatic preserve in Tampa Bay near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Pinellas County, and in Palma Sola Bay and along its narrow causeway beach in Manatee County. Activities include beach rides, water rides and “horse surfing,” standing on horses while they swim. Other horse rental businesses in Pinellas County also are affected.

“We only have one body of water to protect. We only have one planet to save. Once it’s destroyed, it’s destroyed,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a former competitive horseback rider.

The commission pinned its 5-1 decision Tuesday on evidence – including aerial photos – that horses trample fragile seagrass in the aquatic preserve, and that horse manure and urine pose a risk to human health.

Citing support for the ordinance from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and the City of St. Petersburg, the commission also prohibited the unpermitted damage of seagrass in aquatic preserves.

SWFWMD seeking volunteers for seagrass/water clarity observations

At the most recent meeting of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program's Technical Advisory Committee, Dr. Chris Anastasiou announced that the Southwest Florida Water Management District will begin conducting aerial seagrass surveys for the gulf coast (Levy to Charlotte counties) beginning this November.

Volunteer observers are needed to provide water clarity observations. Observers must be available on potential flight days to take a photo and report on water clarity conditions (>2m necessary) using a secchi disk or visual estimate. Observations should be taken every day and shared with the SWFWMD via web upload by 0830AM.

Please share within your networks and contact Chris with any questions if you are interested in helping with this important effort:

Cell: (813) 310-6809
Office: (813) 985-7481 x2029
Chris.anastasiou@swfwmd.state.fl

Upside-down jellyfish congregate around Lido Key

If you’ve been snorkeling or wading around Lido Key this past spring, you may have noticed some odd, cauliflower-like animals on the bay bottom. These are a type of jellyfish called the upside-down jellyfish (or Cassiopea species). As the name suggests, these creatures usually don’t swim in open water like most other jellyfish. Instead, Cassiopea spend their adult lives on the seafloor with their “arms” facing upward.

Army Corps dredging Venice ICW

Construction will begin around Oct. 15, 2019, on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintenance dredging project to maintain the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Venice. The project involves removal of shoaled sediment and use of the dredged material on the beach and nearshore area to take advantage of ecosystem restoration opportunities. The project is scheduled to run for several months and be completed before the end of the calendar year.

Work near Venice involves maintenance dredging within an approximately 5-mile stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Over time, coastal processes have resulted in significant shoaling and deposition of sediment within the waterway, and maintaining long-term navigation requires the removal of these sediments.

The Army Corps of Engineers has a Fact Sheet on the project that includes a map. For more information, please email Jim Yocum, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, at James.A.Yocum@usace.army.mil