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

Water-Related News

Stormwater improvement project underway in Venice

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, City of Venice contractor Spectrum Underground will begin mobilization for the Live Oak Stormwater Improvements Project.

This project will remove and replace the existing stormwater system along Live Oak St. from Groveland Ave. to Gulf Coast Blvd.

The project also includes the installation of a 6-inch water main for future connections.

The construction will last roughly 7 months and will require periodic lane closures.

For more information, please contact Assistant City Engineer Jon Kramer at JKramer@Venicegov.com or 941-882-7410.

Lido Key awaits renourishment project

On Feb. 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will review bids from contractors interested in managing a planned Lido Key shoreline renourishment project.

Depending on what those bids say, the City of Sarasota could have to pay more than it anticipated to support the dredging of Big Pass.

According to an item removed from the Monday’s City Commission agenda, the Lido renourishment project is expected to cost $19.6 million.

Under a funding agreement, the city would pay $6.9 million, and the Army Corps would fund the remainder of the project expenses. But if the actual bids come in higher than the budgeted costs, the agenda item states the Army Corps does not have authorization to allocate additional funding toward the project — which means the city would have to cover any extra expenses.

“Beach University” returns to Siesta Key in March

As the only institute of higher learning with 100-percent acceptance rate, Beach University will start welcoming students again in March.

Although Beach University is not an official college, the environmental education program is free and open to the public. All are welcome to attend the hour-long outdoor sessions with exceptional instructors and hands-on curriculum. All courses relate to the coastal environment and how to best care for the ecology. This year's classes cover sharks, habitat restoration, shells, manatees, invasive vegetation and the battle to preserve our beaches.

Beach University will return with weekly classes each Thursday and Saturday in March beginning March 5. All classes are 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Road on Siesta Key. The classes are free and all held at the main pavilion.

No registration is required. Seating is limited, attendees are encouraged to bring their own chair.

For more information, call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.

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

The affected area extends from Pasco County to Collier County

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

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

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

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

Florida moving ahead to take over federal wetlands permitting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researchers release playbook for combating red tide, other deadly algae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gov. DeSantis, Cabinet say yes to conservation deal in Sarasota County

State leaders have agreed to acquire more than 5,000 acres of land in Sarasota County for conservation.

Environmentalists have long had their eyes on Orange Hammock Ranch in North Port because of its proximity to other preserved lands in the Myakka River watershed.

Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, says the property is a pristine habitat.

“It not only has wetlands that help filter water for the drinking water supply of the city of North Port, but it also has globally imperiled habitat called Dry Prairie on it,” she said. “It’s been impeccably maintained and is also home to many imperiled species like the indigo snake, the gopher tortoise, and the scrub jay. It’s even been known to have panther come across it.”

Officials approved acquiring the property for $21 million through the Florida Forever Conservation program with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast pledging to contribute $1.5 million through fundraising. The nonprofit has until June to raise the money.

“This piece of property has been on both developers as well as conservationist’s lists for some time,” said Johnson. “It was once slated for a housing development called ‘Isles of Athena’ but the landowner went bankrupt,” she continued. “Then another landowner purchased it and also went bankrupt. Now it’s owned by a partnership and they were willing to sell it to the Department of Environment Protection for a nice price.”

The property was identified by Sarasota County in 1998 as a critical natural protection area, and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast first added the property to the State’s Florida Forever list of land acquisition priorities in 2013.

The property will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and will eventually be open t

SBEP study contributes to regional understanding of tidal creeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of Sarasota considers opposing proposed fish farm

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

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

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

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

CHNEP seeking volunteers to coordinate horseshoe crab monitoring

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

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

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

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

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

Residents weigh in on proposed fish farm off Sarasota coast

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

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

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

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

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

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