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

Water-Related News

Sarasota County receives $125,000 resiliency grant

SARASOTA – Today, Senator Joe Gruters joined DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein to celebrate the award of a $125,000 resiliency grant to improve the management of Sarasota County beaches. This funding will aid the development of a comprehensive vulnerability study and subsequent resilience plan that will allow federal, state and local officials to collaboratively and strategically plan for sea level rise along sandy shorelines of Sarasota County.

Sarasota County is home to nearly 35 miles of sandy shorelines, of which 24.2 miles have been designated as critically eroding. The county does not currently have a resilience plan for coastal management that addresses current conditions, existing management strategies and projected sea level rise.

“I am pleased to be here today to celebrate this historic step for beach management in Sarasota County and across our state,” said Senator Gruters. “Beaches are economic drivers for the state and are part of our way of life, and recognizing this, we continue to make restoration of our beaches a priority. It is no surprise that this region will be leading the way in addressing the importance of incorporating sea level rise into our beach management strategy as well as a regional approach to this effort.”

“DEP is proud to be able to provide grant funding to support this important study,” said Secretary Valenstein. “Under the Governor’s leadership, DEP is making it a priority to support our coastal communities in the planning and preparation for the 2 to 3 feet of sea level rise our state is expected to experience by 2060.”

A comprehensive study has never been completed before that focuses specifically on the effects of sea level rise on future coastal management practices. The strategic plan that will be developed with the aid of this state funding, combined with existing coastal management practices, will allow partner agencies

EPA agreement brings Florida a step closer to issuing certain Clean Water Act permits

TALLAHASSEE?–?U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker and Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) representing the next step, and one of a number of required elements, for Florida to assume responsibility for issuing certain Clean Water Act permits. The state intends to include the MOA in its formal request to EPA for authorization to administer the Clean Water Act Section 404 program.

This action follows a complex rulemaking process at the state level, including years of discussions with EPA and constituency groups during the development process. The Clean Water Act provides for an interested state or tribe to administer its own program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material to certain waters of the United States in lieu of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Florida is most familiar with its state aquatic resources and associated local conditions, issues and needs,” said Mary S. Walker, EPA Region 4 Administrator. “This MOA represents a significant step forward in Florida’s efforts to assume responsibility for issuing permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material to certain waters, and we look forward to working with FDEP as the process continues.”

“We are proud to have reached this next phase in the assumption process,” said FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “State assumption of the 404 Program will enhance the protection of Florida’s wetlands by affording the state greater control in guarding its natural resources while complying with federal law.”

The Agreement sets forth the respective responsibilities of Florida and the EPA to administer and enforce the Clean Water Act Section 404 program and is a required component of any formal request to assume the program. The Agreement signed today is one of only three that has ever been executed by the EPA and a state or tribe,

Proposed fish farm remains unfazed by federal court’s NOAA opinion

As a proposed finfish farm awaits word on its demonstration pen in the Gulf of Mexico, a federal appeals court upheld a decision revoking authority from a federal agency to permit and regulate offshore fisheries.

The opinion Monday comes after a 2018 federal district ruling. The Gulf Fishermen's Association claimed aquaculture regulations fall outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service authority.

Environmental groups who brought the litigation call the opinion a victory in their efforts to stop offshore fish farming from gaining ground in the U.S. However, Neil Sims, founder and CEO of aquaculture company Ocean Era, said the court's decision won't hinder his progress and means one less permit for an offshore finfish farm.

Sims said the decision could leave a gap in the regulation of the industry. His company's efforts to build Velella Epsilon, a demonstration pen about 45 miles southwest of Sarasota in the Gulf, remain undeterred.

Longboat Key looks to advance redundant pipe project

After June's sewage break, the town is waiting to hear back from the state about a potential fine and corrective action.

The town of Longboat Key and its independent contractor Environmental Science Associates are continuing to test the Sarasota Bay waters after June’s sewage pipe break.

ESA principal associate Dr. David Tomasko wrote in a July 24 email to Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman that he believes crews should conduct one more round of testing at the water-sampling sites near the sewage break.

“As you can see, the samples along the transect show the lowest values recorded, on average, over the past sampling events,” Tomasko wrote.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said the town will consult with ESA on whether further testing is needed based on results showing the “lowest bacteriological results to date.”

“We are going to rely on our environmental consultant,” Harmer said. “They are indicating that they think that the testing has been productive and based on the results, that we can start to transition from the ongoing testing.”

Sarasota County earns American Public Works Association accreditation

Sarasota County's Public Works, Public Utilities, and Capital Projects departments recently earned the American Public Works Association (APWA) Accreditation, joining only 15 other public works agencies in Florida to obtain the same designation.

The APWA accreditation validates the county's commitment toward innovation, improvement, and meeting the needs of today while preparing for tomorrow. The accreditation process ensured county standards were enhanced to meet the highest industry practices and aligned with each department's performance measures.

"This is a significant accomplishment for Sarasota County and the staff who uphold their dedication to providing exceptional service. By adopting new technologies, staff have provided our community with the knowledge, resources and technology to keep moving forward through the impacts of COVID-19," said County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. "Most importantly, earning the accreditation demonstrates the county's desire to continually improve, learn and enhance our service."

Sarasota County is also the first county within the APWA Suncoast branch to achieve this accreditation, and the sixth county organization within the state. The accreditation process was completed in 614 days, including developing a visual suite of materials that APWA will incorporate into the accreditation tool kit moving forward.

The APWA accreditation program provides a platform for recognizing verified public works agencies for compliance with recommended practices. The voluntary accreditation encourages self-improvement through performance, educational programs and community pride. The APWA includes personnel from local, county, state/province, federal agencies and private sector with a worldwide membership of more than 30,000 professionals.

There are almost 24,000 public works agencies between the United States and Canada, and only 159 with APWA accreditation worldwide.

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

North Port again participating in water conservation challenge

The City of North Port joins nationwide challenge to be most “water wise”

Debbie McDowell, Mayor of the City of North Port, is joining mayors across the country in asking residents to make a long-term commitment to manage water resources more wisely by taking part in the annual Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation — and in return residents can win $3,000 toward their Home Utility Payments, water saving fixtures, and hundreds of other prizes. Plus, one lucky charity from a winning city will receive a 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to serve the community.

The annual challenge, August 1 - 31, is a non-profit national community service campaign that encourages leaders to inspire their residents to make a series of simple pledges at mywaterpledge.com to use water more efficiently, reduce pollution, and save energy.

Last year, the City of North Port placed 3rd in the nation of cities of similar size. Residents from over 3,800 cities in all 50 U.S. states pledged to reduce their annual consumption of freshwater by 3 billion gallons, reduce waste sent to landfills by 79.9 million pounds, and prevent more than 177,000 pounds of hazardous waste from entering our watersheds. The Challenge goes beyond recent drought issues and looks at the ways our water use will affect the future of our communities — from how we grow food to reducing polluted runoff.

The Mayor stated, "Water is so vital to our community. From our economy, to our lifestyle and recreational opportunities, to our health, we depend on water in North Port. By conserving water, as well as protecting our waterways from pollutants such as fertilizer, we are preserving the health of our City. Let’s take the pledge, North Port! Let’s be the #1 Water Smarter City!”

To participate, please visit www.mywaterpledge.com, and then make a series of online pledges to conserve water on behalf of the City of North Port. Residents who take the pledge have a chance to win $3,000 toward their home utility bills, and hundreds more eco-friendly prizes. In addition, residents can nominate a deserving charity from their city to receive a 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE. Students and teachers are encouraged to take part, as well.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force: Alert public when algal toxins detected

How much toxicity does it take to make a blue-green algae bloom hazardous?

The World Health Organization says 10 parts per billion of the toxin microcystin is hazardous to touch. The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the threshold at 8 parts per billion.

But the Florida Blue-Green Algae Task Force agreed Wednesday [July 30] people need to be warned when any toxins are in the water.

"A simple detection of toxins is enough to prompt a health alert," Florida Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer, who leads the panel, said during the Zoom meeting.

The task force was discussing whether Florida needs to establish a state threshold for hazardous levels of microcystin such as those used by the WHO and EPA and looking at signs developed by the Florida Department of Health and state Department of Environmental Protection to warn people of toxic algae blooms in water bodies.

"There's no safe exposure to toxins," said task force member James Sullivan, executive director of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce. "If there's a reliable detection (of toxins in the water), the number doesn't mean anything. To be the most cautious for the public, if you detect toxins, you put out an advisory."

Timeline of the recent Longboat Key sewage spill

LONGBOAT KEY — The 20-inch diameter iron sewer line, submerged beneath the Sarasota Bay, was supposed to be delivering thousands of gallons of wastewater every 15 minutes from the Town of Longboat Key to a Manatee County water treatment facility on the mainland.

On June 18, Jeff Blosser, the lead operator at Manatee County’s Southwest Water Reclamation Facility in Bradenton, sent an urgent email to his utility counterparts on the barrier island: “Yesterday at 5:30 p.m. our flow reading from LBK dropped to zero and has stayed there.”

Blosser checked the meter and other equipment. He asked: Was there something wrong on Longboat Key’s end that would account for the sudden change?

There was.

At 8:45 a.m., just hours before Blosser sent the email, flow readings on Longboat Key plunged from 990 gallons per 15 minutes to zero.

But Longboat Key and Manatee County officials did not begin to decipher the problem until June 29, nearly two weeks after those flow readings, according to records obtained by the Herald-Tribune.

That’s when they discovered that the main sewer transmission line between Longboat and Manatee had ruptured, spilling an estimated 26 million gallons of sewage where the pipe heads ashore from Sarasota Bay.

Beach renourishment planned for South Siesta Key

Turtle Beach was hit by the effects of Hurricane Hermine in 2016, causing erosion.

Trucks full of sand is not a new sight for residents of Sarasota County, but it is one that could be repeated on Turtle Beach within the next four years.

In early June, county commissioners unanimously approved an initiative that would help fill in shoreline eroded by Hurricane Hermine in fall 2016.

South Siesta Key originally was restored through an offshore dredging project in 2006. The second nourishment was completed in May 2016, but Hurricane Hermine affected the project area in September 2016.

Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s environmental protection division, said the hurricane disrupted much of the new sand and left the beach in need of another renourishment.

In the past few months, Herman said there has been a “scalloping effect” along the beaches, where certain points of the beach have eroded more quickly than others.

Learn how to collect rainwater with Sarasota County’s virtual workshops

Sarasota County’s Rain Barrel program is hosting three virtual workshops on the benefits of owning rain barrels and conserving water.

Did you know that rainwater is one of several ways harmful chemical runoff enters Sarasota’s Bay and the Gulf Coast each year? Besides reducing lawn watering and fertilizer use, homeowners can also install rain barrels to reduce runoff, which collect and filter up to 55 gallons of rainwater. This summer, Sarasota County’s Rain Barrel program is offering free virtual workshops on how to install rain barrels on your property. Three separate workshops will take place on the county’s website on Saturday, July 18, August 15 and September 19. Participants can also purchase their own rain barrel kits, and pick them up at one of several convenient locations offered by the county.

Register using Eventbrite.com »

UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences horticulture specialist Wilma Holley will be hosting the workshops, and shares what participants can expect.

“The workshops will give a synopsis of rain barrel benefits, how to install your kit, Florida-friendly landscaping principles and the different ways that collected rainwater can be used,” says Holley. Each barrel contains a filter at the top, making water clean enough to water certain plants in your yard, wash your car or even fill the dog’s water bowl. Pumps and spigots can also be attached to barrels, allowing water to flow through a hose. The workshop will also discuss UF/IFAS’ extension purposes, and ways the program supports the community.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program seeking executive director

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) is seeking qualified applicants for the Executive Director position.

The successful applicant will have demonstrated experience in effectively managing multi-entity environmental, scientific and/or engineering programs; fostering and maintaining collaborative approaches to complex environmental issues; the ability to facilitate consensus among diverse and sometimes conflicting stakeholders; success in raising funds from public and private sectors, including federal, state and local grants; and the ability to manage an effective and talented staff.

Please download the document below for the full position description:
SBEP Executive Director Position Announcement »

EPA limits states’ power to review projects that affect water quality

SAN FRANCISCO — For almost 50 years, states and tribal governments have played an outsized role in deciding whether projects that can harm water quality should receive federal permits — a role that is about to change under a new rule finalized by the Trump administration Monday.

The “Clean Water Act 401 Certification Rule” narrows what issues state and tribal governments may consider when determining if a project, such as one that involves discharging pollution into a river or stream, will comply with state water quality standards. State or tribal approval is a prerequisite for obtaining a federal permit under the Clean Water Act.

The new rule curtailing states’ review power is intended to advance President Donald Trump’s goal of promoting “efficient permitting” and reducing “regulatory uncertainties” as outlined in his April 2019 executive order on “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth.” This rule is one of the first major overhauls of the water quality certification process established by the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Environmental groups say latest water bill bad for Florida

Environmental groups across the state are challenging the bill recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that is supposed to help clean up Florida's ailing waterways.

Proponents of Senate Bill 712, also called the Clean Waterways Act, say it will help the state better deal with blue-green algae blooms that have popped up across the Sunshine State in recent years.

Critics, however, say the bill fails to advance Florida's water quality standards and regulations and is actually worse than having no new water laws at all.

"It started out with good intentions, taking the Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations and trying to convert them into law," said Chuck O'Neal, with Speak Up Wekiva, one of several groups that have filed a legal challenge to the bill. "But as always happens it goes to Tallahassee and gets picked apart until what comes out is worse than the status quo."