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

Water-Related News

Ian could bring storm surge to Tampa Bay. Here’s what to know.

Florida’s west coast is uniquely vulnerable to storm surge.

As Hurricane Ian snakes toward the Sunshine State over the next few days, officials worry about a potentially dangerous storm surge along Florida’s west coast and panhandle.

Ian is expected to move over the warm waters of the Caribbean today and rapidly intensify before making its way into the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said Monday.

Forecasters said Ian could bring strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the west coast of Florida, including the Tampa Bay area beginning Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center has a hurricane watch and storm surge watch in place from Englewood to the Anclote River, which includes all of Tampa Bay.

As it moves around, Ian will leave many regions feeling its wrath, notably through storm surges. Here’s what you need to know about storm surge and its risks to Florida.

(This coverage is being provided by the Tampa Bay Times without a paywall as a public service.)

Do you know the main hazards caused by hurricanes and tropical weather?

As a potential hurricane looms for Southwest Florida and other places in Florida, the National Weather Service has determined that there are six main hazards caused by tropical weather systems.

According to the NWS: While hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property, tropical storms and depression also can be devastating.

The primary hazards from tropical cyclones (which include tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes) are:

  1. Storm surge
  2. Flooding
  3. Winds
  4. Tornadoes
  5. Waves

Sarasota County Schools to close Tuesday, Sept. 27, in preparation for Hurricane Ian

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Sarasota County schools will close Tuesday, Sept. 27, out of an abundance of caution and to allow for time to prepare schools that serve as emergency evacuation centers.

While there are no evacuations issued at this time, the county is expecting to announce an evacuation alert for Level A on Tuesday morning.

“As we continue monitoring Hurricane Ian’s track and potential impacts, residents are encouraged to review their emergency plans and prepare their go-kits,” said Jonathan Lewis Sarasota County Administrator.

To locate the nearest emergency evacuation center, visit scgov.net/beprepared.

“As the storm approaches, we are here to serve our community with our schools and personnel to provide sheltering. We will continue to communicate updates with employees and families throughout the storm as information becomes available. The latest information can be found on our website sarasotacountyschools.net/hurricaine and all our social media channels,” said Dr. Brennan Asplen, Superintendent of Schools.

Register for emergency notifications at alertsarasotacounty.com.

Stay in the know by monitoring local media stations, following @SRQCountyGov on Facebook and Twitter, or call the Sarasota County Contact Center by dialing 3-1-1.

Researchers will study how to best support Florida mangrove and coral reef ecosystems

At a time when developers are cutting down mangroves and building in such a way that's harming coral reefs, scientists will work with community members on solutions and policy changes.

A team of researchers led by the University of South Florida is getting $20 million from the National Science Foundation to develop solutions to protect and replenish coral reef and mangrove ecosystems.

Coral reefs and mangroves safeguard our coasts by reducing flooding, erosion and wave intensity during storms. They also provide habitat for marine life.

Mangroves serve as fish nurseries, and coral reefs help fish hideout, as well. So, in terms of the benefit to biodiversity, these are two really important ecosystems.

But mangroves are removed for development and coral reefs are threatened by pollution and rising temperatures.

Now, USF is collaborating with University of Miami, Boston University, Stanford University, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Virgin Islands and East Carolina University to combine natural features with artificial infrastructure to help these ecosystems thrive.

The scientists will look into hybrid models for coral reef and mangrove restoration, such as using concrete or cement to assist in mangrove planting so that they are protected and able to grow.

“If they're degraded systems or systems that have been destroyed in the past, are there ways in which one can restore those areas?” asked lead scientist Maya Trotz, a professor at USF’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“What would it cost? Who needs to be at the table to make sure that that intervention is protected and at work? How would you design those interventions so that local communities really have a say in what the design look like?”

She said over the next five years, her team will focus on Biscayne Bay in Miami because they want input from diverse community members.

"The idea of working closer with communities and collecting new information: Are there additional things that we should be considering when we start to talk about equity?" Trotz said.

They’ll also spend time analyzing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Complex in Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Workshops and meetings are planned in each location every year for residents to share their experiences and to add their input into conversations identifying solutions.

Although the research will be based out of South Florida and the Caribbean Sea, Trotz said the findings will translate to Florida's Gulf Coast and beyond.

“In Tampa Bay, we have mangroves, we have concerns about sea level rise, we have concerns about flooding and the risks to our properties,” Trotz said. “The lessons learned should be able to apply to any reef-lined or … mangrove-lined coastal system.”

Trotz so far has a team of about 20 but she’s currently hiring to double that number. The project is expected be completed by the end of August 2027.

“I hope that from this study, we have a better way to build research and action within communities to address issues related to protecting their coasts, that integrate nature-based solutions in a more holistic way than is probably done right now,” Trotz said.

“At a time when we're also seeing a lot of developments and a lot of development that is pretty much cutting these mangroves down, and that are building in such a way that they're harming coral reefs … it's sort of like, how do you amplify that importance to developers, and the persons who are part of that development before it's too late when we still do have some of these ecosystems in existence?”

Longboat plans flooding projects with final ARPA funding

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The final $1.8 million given to the town will go toward floodwater projects in Buttonwood and Sleepy Lagoon neighborhoods.

Longboat Key received the second half of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds Aug. 15, which the Town Commission officially adopted into the town’s budget last week.

ARPA was signed into law March 11, 2021, providing $350 billion to state and local governments. The town was awarded $3,654,228 and received the first half of the funds in September 2021.

The town is only allowed to use the funding on eligible projects, which fall into four categories.

  1. Government services to the extent of lost public sector revenue
  2. Public health and negative economic impacts
  3. Premium pay for essential workers
  4. Improvements in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure

Based on guidance from town auditors, the commission amended the ARPA Special Revenue Fund in March, transferring the first half to the general fund. The second half of the relief funds go directly into the general fund, increasing the unappropriated fund balance by over $3.6 million.

At a recent commission meeting, Town Manager Tom Harmer reminded the six commissioners present about the funding and how they previously decided to allocate it.

During the November 2021 commission retreat, commissioners opted to use funding to aid in improving two long-term issues: the underwater sewer line from the island to the mainland, along with sea level rise and stormwater management control projects.

“Now that we have received this final payment, it is placed based on what commission direction previously was,” Harmer said.

For the sewer line project, the first half of the funding was moved into the wastewater capital fund to cover the project.

Last week's commission approval moved the remaining ARPA funding to the streets fund for stormwater management control projects, which include the sea level rise study, Buttonwood Harbor neighborhood and Sleepy Lagoon neighborhood studies.

Venice Myakka River Park closed due to flooding

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Venice Myakka River Park at 7501 Laurel Rd. E. has been temporarily closed due to flooding, according to Sarasota County Parks and Recreation officials.

County staff will continue to monitor the park and the Myakka River, and will reopen the park once floodwaters recede.

Gulf Gate community cleanup set for Oct. 1

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SARASOTA COUNTY – It's time to clean out the garage and gather discarded household items, appliances, junk and tree trimmings as Sarasota County hosts a free community cleanup in the Gulf Gate area from 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Oct. 1.

Dumpsters for residential customers will be available at the following location:

7112 Curtis Ave., across from the Gulf Gate Public Library.

Hazardous materials may be taken to the Sarasota County Chemical Collection Center 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The centers are located at 8750 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota; and 250 S. Jackson Road, Venice.

SBEP Ecosystem Health Report Card shows improved water quality

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According to the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) Sarasota Bay Ecosystem Health Report Card, Sarasota County's water quality has been improving since 2018. The report card tracks a combination of four chemical and biological indicators of water quality and ecosystem health. Each indicator gives us a different perspective about the extent to which high nutrient levels might be affecting area bays.

The annual SBEP report card was highlighted during the Sept. 13 Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) under Commissioner Moran's reports, stating "in some cases, our water quality is the best its been in 15 years." Commissioner Moran represents the BCC on the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Board.

The SBEP report card highlights continued improved water quality and health in Big Sarasota Bay, Roberts Bay, Little Sarasota Bay and Blackburn Bay.

Visit the link below for more information and to view the report card.

Warm Mineral Springs habitat restoration will help manatees

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), with the support of several partner organizations, has begun a habitat restoration project focused on improving habitat for manatees in the downstream outflow of Warm Mineral Springs in the city of North Port, Sarasota County. This area is considered the most important natural manatee warm-water refuge along Florida’s southwest coast.

Dredging and bank stabilization within Warm Mineral Springs Creek is expected to improve manatee access to warm-water habitat during the colder months, increase the volume of warm-water habitat, remove excess sediment and restore the natural characteristics of the creek.

More than 125 Florida manatees have been documented using Warm Mineral Springs Creek as a refuge in the winter months.

“Improving manatee habitat is critical now more than ever as manatees along the Atlantic Coast are experiencing an Unusual Mortality Event,” said Maria Merrill with the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Management. “While this project is on the opposite coast from the Unusual Mortality Event, the project directly benefits Florida’s manatee population by improving critically important warm-water habitat.”

In support of the restoration work, the FWC will be providing additional informational signs to the area to help reduce disturbance and harassment of manatees at this important warm-water habitat.

This project would not be possible without support from Florida’s Legislators and Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as agency partners including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sarasota County Government, The Nature Conservancy, Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership, the City of North Port, the National Wildlife Federation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

To learn more about some of the FWC’s priority manatee habitat restoration projects, go to MyFWC.com/AquaticHabitat and click on “Manatee Habitat Projects.”

Florida scientists will study how homeowners affect the water quality of stormwater ponds

When residents purchase "waterfront properties," many don't realize the function of their nearby stormwater ponds and actually cause them harm by removing plants and mowing the grass too close to the edge.

Florida researchers are tasked with identifying the benefits of stormwater ponds, and how homeowners are interacting with them.

A team of scientists with the University of Florida have been granted $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation to study stormwater ponds and the people living around them for the next four years or so across the state. They’ll document environmental, social and economic benefits, collectively called ecosystem services.

“We want to have an ecosystem in there that can function and … reduce that nitrogen and phosphorus from heading out into these natural bodies of water,” Michelle Atkinson, an extension agent in Manatee County for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said. “Are aesthetic preferences impacting those environmental functions? That's what we don't know for sure. We have suspicions. We have our hypothesis, but we want to prove it.”

According to the UF press release, the researchers will conduct field work, focus groups, surveys and data collection both at the state level and in two communities in Manatee and St. Lucie counties that have a large number of stormwater ponds and where algae blooms have been a recent problem. The results could apply to other parts of the country.

Atkinson said she wants people to view these ponds as amenities and put some value to them.

“That’s what we're going to try to do is quantify some of those ecosystem services that our ponds do. By adding plants or managing a different way, can we put a value on those services, something that homeowners will feel important enough to want to protect? And say, ‘yes, let's do this in our community, because it's the right thing to do.’”

She said she hopes management changes come as a result of this study — whether it's voluntary from homeowners, or enforced by government.

Report: Sea level rise will affect the property lines of Florida’s coastal counties

Rising seas will shift tidal boundaries, leading to the loss of taxable properties, according to a new study. This is expected to impact the tax base of hundreds of U.S. coastal counties, with Florida being the state most affected.

A new analysis released Thursday highlights how sea level rise will change private property boundaries along coastal areas.

Using the latest climate models and current emissions data, researchers with Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that analyzes and reports on climate science, have determined that private property owners across the U.S. will lose an area the size of New Jersey by the year 2050.

“By mid-century, more than 648,000 individual tax parcels, totaling as many as 4.4 million acres, are projected to be at least partly below the relevant tidal boundary level,” according to the report. “Of those, more than 48,000 properties may be entirely below the relevant boundary level. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas have the largest number of affected parcels.”

Don Bain, an engineer and senior advisor for Climate Central, said Florida has the most properties that will be impacted — more than 140,000 by 2050.

His team generated more than 250 individual county reports to identify any potential movements of public-private property boundaries. He said the losses will result in less property tax revenue.

Click here to find analysis results in your county

Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park closed due to flooding

Due to portions of the park and trails being underwater, the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, 6968 Reisterstown Road, will be closed to the public until further notice. To be notified when it is re-opened, please follow North Port Parks & Recreation on Facebook. To find an alternative park to explore, visit NorthPortFL.gov/MyLocalParks.

For more information, please call 941-429-PARK(7275) or email Parks@NorthPortFL.gov.

Study shows fertilizer ordinances improve water quality (but timing matters)

GAINESVILLE – A new University of Florida study has found that local residential fertilizer ordinances help improve water quality in nearby lakes, but the timing of fertilizer restrictions influences how effective they are.

Using 30 years of water quality data gathered by the UF/IFAS LAKEWATCH program from 1987 to 2018, scientists found that lakes in areas with winter fertilizer bans had the most improvement over time in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients found in fertilizers.

These lakes also showed larger increases in water clarity and decreases in chlorophyll since the implementation of fertilizer bans. These measurements can also indicate lower nutrient levels, as excess nutrients can feed algae blooms that lead to turbid waters with higher levels of chlorophyll.

“To date, this is the most comprehensive study of fertilizer ordinances’ impact on water quality, not just in Florida but also nationally, and it would not have been possible without the efforts of our LAKEWATCH community scientists,” said Sam Smidt, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of soil, water and ecosystem sciences and the senior author of the study.

Sarasota County OKs sharing costs for New Pass study

A partnership with WCIND will examine shoaling in preparation for a possible dredging project.

Sarasota County commissioners last week agreed to move ahead on their end of a potential agreement with the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) to begin looking at silt accumulations in New Pass.

The agreement paves the way for cooperative funding between the county and WCIND to perform a study on the boating channel that links Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2018, boaters and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said the channel is becoming increasingly shallow because of the silt and sediment, to the point of affecting navigation.

Sarasota County plans to contribute no more than $25,000, with $60,000 coming from WCIND.

Once data from the study is developed, a project to dredge the channel to acceptable depths could kick off by 2024.

National Estuaries Week is Sept. 17-24. How will you celebrate?

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Join the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program as it celebrates National Estuaries Week 2022! Throughout September, SBEP will be offering various events and opprtunities to #WadeIn to your local bays and waterways!

National Estuaries Week is celebrated every year around the U.S. to showcase the value our bays and estuaries provide to our local communities. An estuary is an area where freshwater and saltwater meet. On the Gulf Coast of Florida, our estuaries provide habitat for over 70% of important commercial and recreational fish species, including snapper, grouper, red drum, snook, and mullet. They support our wildlife populations of birds, dolphins, and manatees. They are a main driver for our economy, uplifting property values and supporting tourism and water-related jobs. Bay habitats like mangroves and seagrasses can help reduce erosion and storm damage, and the beauty and recreational opportunities of our bays add to the overall quality of life here in Florida.

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program to release update to CCMP

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program to Unveil Five-Year Plan aimed at Protecting and Restoring Sarasota Bay

SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) will unveil an update to its Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) at its upcoming Policy Board meeting on September 16, 2022.

The CCMP serves as a blueprint to guide future decisions and actions and addresses a wide range of environmental management and protection issues including water quality, habitat, wildlife, and public access to Bay resources. SBEP last updated its CCMP in 2014.

The updated plan includes a robust list of action items centered around:

  • Improving water quality and the timing, quantity, and distribution of freshwater flow to the estuary.
  • Restoring shoreline, wetland, and bay environments.
  • Engaging, educating, and encouraging environmental stewardship of Sarasota Bay and increasing community connections to the estuary through low impact recreational use and enjoyment.

“Sarasota Bay was, until fairly recently, a success story. Compared to conditions in the late 1980s, our nutrient loads were down about 50%, our water quality showed multiple signs of improvement, and we had gained about 50% more seagrass. However, our bays have suffered some recent setbacks that require us to re-examine our path forward. This CCMP update gives us the framework to do just that,” said David Tomasko, Executive Director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

The SBEP Policy Board meeting is scheduled to start at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2022 at The Bay Park Conservancy Community Center. The public and members of the media are encouraged to attend and learn about SBEP and its plan for a thriving Bay.

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Human link to Red Tide highlights need for better water monitoring

Scientists have long tried to understand the connection between nitrogen pollution and the infamous toxic algal blooms.

When the ominous rust-colored cloud of Red Tide begins to saturate coastal waters in Southwest Florida, it means beach closures. Asthma attacks. Itchy skin and watery eyes. Dead fish and a wretched smell that can spoil the salty breeze.

Now, scientists know it means pollution made the scourge worse.

New research from University of Florida scientists is “providing clarity in what was previously a muddied landscape,” said environmental engineer Christine Angelini, a co-author of the study.

While Red Tides occur naturally, scientists have long debated the degree to which they are worsened by high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen from human sources agricultural and urban. Scientists previously had found a correlation between so-called nutrient loads and Red Tide. But the new research offers some of the strongest evidence yet that humans directly influence the severity of the toxic blooms.

Red tide projections indicate no toxic blooms in the near future, but that could change

In the next few months, scientists will be monitoring the current, temperature and tropical storm activity, as these factors can shift red tide blooms.

The Gulf of Mexico has been spared from red tide so far this year. The typical season for these toxic algae blooms is from late summer into fall.

"When we typically see the most blooms, just looking back historically, that would typically be in September, October, November,” said Kate Hubbard, who leads the red tide program at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. She’s also the director for the FWC Center for Red Tide Research.

Hubbard said her team, along with the University of South Florida and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is trying to forecast this year's situation.

"For this year, we would hope that it would be a short bloom — that's what we always hope. No bloom would be welcome," Hubbard said. "But in terms of where we're at what conditions are doing, we're still in the window where we might see something pop up pretty much at any time."

In the next few months, the scientists will be monitoring the Gulf of Mexico loop current, which can upwell nutrients from the continental shelf to nearshore waters. Nutrients feed the red tide microorganism Karenia brevis, which can lead to high concentrations considered bloom levels.

They’ll also be on the lookout for any changes in the water caused by drops in temperature through the fall, along with any tropical activity. These factors and more can either feed or suppress blooms.