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

Water-Related News

United Nations offers free online freshwater water quality courses

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a range of new water quality monitoring and assessment courses on its eLearning platform, ahead of World Water Day on 22 March.

These free, online self-paced courses by the UNEP GEMS/Water Capacity Development Centre (CDC) at the Environmental Research Institute at the University College Cork (UCC) are designed to complement the existing capacity development activities around water quality.

The courses provide a flexible learning approach for anyone interested in water quality or those who simply wish to know more about a particular aspect of managing and monitoring water quality without incurring the cost of a university-accredited course.

Current courses on offer include ‘An Introduction to Freshwater Quality Monitoring Programme Design’, ‘Quality Assurance for Freshwater Quality Monitoring’, ‘Water Quality Monitoring in Rivers and Lakes’ and ‘Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment of Groundwater,’ with further courses planned for release in 2022.

A range of other water quality monitoring and assessment offerings are available at the UNEP GEMS/Water CDC at UCC, including a university-accredited and certified online postgraduate diploma (PGDip), MSc, and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses.

See the UNEP GEMS/Water CDC webpage for further details.

Snook and redfish remain catch-and-release only through August

Extension of snook, redfish and spotted seatrout regulations in SW Florida through August 31

The following regulatory measures in southwest Florida for Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County will be extended through August 31, 2022:

  • Snook and redfish will remain catch-and-release.
  • Normal regulations for recreational spotted seatrout harvest have resumed with the addition of a six-fish recreational vessel limit. Commercial harvest has also resumed but harvest is held to the recreational three-fish bag and six-fish vessel limits.
  • These regulations are for all state waters south of State Road 64 in Manatee County, including Palma Sola Bay, through Gordon Pass in Collier County but not including the Braden River or any tributaries of the Manatee River.

The Commission is currently considering long-term regulation changes for redfish, which could take effect when harvest re-opens on Sept. 1, 2022. Normal regulations for snook and seatrout will resume on Sept. 1.

The catch-and-release measures for snook, redfish and spotted seatrout in all waters from Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County were put in place as part of the response to the prolonged 2017-2019 red tide event.

Learn more about regulations for these species by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine and clicking on “Recreational Regulations.

What you need to know ahead of the seasonal fertilizer bans

Numerous local governments restrict fertilizer use each year through the end of September.

ST. PETERSBURG – Florida's annual summer rainy season is about to begin, and that means fertilizer bans are soon kicking in, too.

Across the Tampa Bay region, numerous fertilizer bans begin June 1 and run through Sept. 30.

Such policies are in place in Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties, along with the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Pasco County has a fertilizer ordinance in place year-round to help prevent pollution and also help preserve local water quality.

People can still use products with double zeroes on the fertilizer label and use plants that are Florida-friendly. You can find more tips on how to have a Florida-friendly landscape on the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website.

Commission approves grant funding for Bobby Jones wetlands work

As work continues toward a fall reopening of the Bobby Jones Golf Club, Sarasota commissioners approve use of state wetlands grants.

Golfers are now only months away from playing Sarasota’s renovated Bobby Jones Golf Club. And thanks to the original drawings, it will play the way legendary course designer Donald Ross intended.

Meanwhile, as course renovation progresses toward a planned fall 2022 opening, work to improve wetlands and control stormwater at the site continues as the Sarasota City Commission during Monday's regular meeting approved two measures to deploy state grants for work associated with the project to rebuild the 36-hole course to its original 18-hole configuration.

Commissioners could have unceremoniously approved expenditures of nearly $5 million along with multiple other items on the consent agenda. Instead, Commissioner Jennifer Ahern-Koch requested the commission remove the items from the consent agenda — not to debate the merits, but rather to highlight progress being made on the project Commissioner Hagen Brody added will be transformational for the city’s District 3.

In addition to the golf course restoration, the $18.8 million project — funded by city bonds — will also include a nine-hole adjustable par 3 course and preserve 153 of the 261 acres for a public park with a variety of green space uses and wetlands conservation, all along one of the city’s primary east-west corridors.

FDEP invites stakeholders to participate in public meeting on TMDL prioritization

FDEP logo

To: All TMDL Stakeholders
From: Ansel Bubel, Environmental Administrator

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announces a public meeting beginning at 11 a.m. EDT on May 24, 2022, to receive comments on a proposed framework for prioritizing waters and setting two-year work plans for TMDL development. The framework will align with the statewide biennial assessment and will guide TMDL development for the next decade. Only the proposed priority setting process will be discussed at the public meeting. Another meeting will be held in the summer of 2022 to present the proposed TMDL development work plan for the next two years.

The May 24 meeting is scheduled at the following location, and via webinar:

2600 Blair Stone Road
Bob Martinez Center, Room 609
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Registration is open for the webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the webinar. The meeting agenda and framework document are available online.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, any person requiring special accommodations to participate in this workshop is asked to advise the agency at least 48 hours before the workshop by contacting Johna Costantino at 850-245-7508. If you have a speech or hearing impairment, please contact the agency using the Florida Relay Service, 800-955-8771 (TDD) or 800-955-8770 (voice).

Water quality at Sarasota Bay is improving, an environmental group says

A new report by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program indicates that water chemistry in the bay is generally good.

For most areas of the bay there was an increase in water transparency -- an important component for the development of healthy seagrass.

Dave Tomasko, Director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, acknowledges that the news may seem counterintuitive due to the recent loss of seagrass beds.

“And that's because the seagrasses disappear faster than they reappear,” he said. “So, it’s a lot easier to lose 2,000 acres of seagrass than it is to recover it. But you can't get seagrass to recover unless you get your water quality right first."

In 2021, the environmental group created a health report card to track water quality conditions in each of the bay's five segments.

It found improvement, despite lingering impacts from severe red tides in 2016 and 2018 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Researchers used four measurements to assess conditions. To create the report card, they compared the indicators in a given year to a reference period of time from 2006-2012 when water quality and seagrass coverage was generally good across all bay segments.

The most notable recovery is in the southern part of the bay.

Tomasko attributes the improvement to better management of wastewater.

"We had problems with overflows from a wastewater treatment plant in prior years that was hundreds of millions of gallons of high nutrient wastewater,” he said. “That hasn't happened in a while. Local governments and their partners have really stepped up their game and so we're seeing big improvements in terms of how we treat wastewater, how we treat stormwater."

Tomasko says water quality in the upper part of Sarasota Bay has also improved. But recovery of seagrass beds there will take longer due to losses caused by discharges from the Piney Point phosphate plant, along with earlier red tide events.

A new study shows the Piney Point spill likely made red tide worse

The spill essentially "fed" red tide by dumping nitrogen into the waters, fueling algae blooms and killing millions of fish and marine life.

A new study shows that the wastewater dumped into Tampa Bay last year from the Piney Point phosphate plant likely made the subsequent outbreak of red tide much worse. It says a year's worth of nutrients flowed into the bay in 10 days.

The study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin shows that about 180 metric tons of nitrogen poured into the bay from a leak at the phosphate plant. Those nutrients fueled the growth of algae called cyanobacteria. It essentially "fed" red tide when it entered Tampa Bay from the Gulf several weeks later — killing millions of fish and marine life.

"What we think happened is because the nutrients were around, it was available for the red tide," said Marcus Beck of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, , the study's lead author. "It just created this set of conditions that prompted the growth of the red tide to levels that we hadn't really seen in the bay — in that part of the bay, specifically — since 1971."

Since Tampa Bay is considered a "closed system" with only one outlet into the Gulf of Mexico, he said that meant putting that much nitrogen into the system, it would fuel algae blooms.

"The level of red tide that we saw, the concentrations that we saw this year, that was very abnormal," Beck said, "and with Piney Point, it wasn't too much of a stretch to suggest that that was the causative factor that was likely stimulating the growth in the bay in July."

The state has approved a plan for the remaining water at Piney Point to be injected deep underground. But some fear a heavy hurricane season could cause the stack to overflow once again.

Highlights of the study:

  • 186 metric tons of total nitrogen from wastewater were added to Tampa Bay
  • An initial diatom bloom was observed near the release site
  • Filamentous cyanobacteria were observed at high biomass
  • Karenia brevis (red tide) was at high concentrations, co-occurring with fish kills
  • Seagrasses were unimpacted during the six-month study period

Piney Point Timeline

Water managers in ever-growing Southwest Florida work to ensure the drinking water supply is safe

Southwest Florida prepares to meet the future water needs as 1,000 people move into the Sunshine State every day. Access to drinkable water has already reached a crisis level in places worldwide, which nonprofits and celebrities are working to fix.

The lack of access to drinkable water is devastating communities around the world, and Southwest Florida's water managers are working to make sure the same thing never happens here.

“We turn on our tap and water just comes out of the faucet,” said Robert Lucius Jr., who oversees a 60,000-acre watershed that spans Lee and Collier counties.

“We don’t really give it much thought."

In other parts of the world, however, having water to drink is always on everyone's mind.

UNICEF found in 2020 that about one-quarter of the world’s population does not have a reliable source of drinking water at home, and half do not have properly working sanitation systems. In places, the demand for water is outpacing the growth rate two-fold. In Africa and Southeast Asia, the United Nations reports clean water is either scarce or completely unavailable.

The dearth of clean water is deadly. Nearly half of the roughly 2.2 billion people who struggle to find enough clean water to drink will die of thirst, disease caused by ingesting tainted water, or the unsanitary conditions that are becoming endemic in water-starved countries. The UN found that more people worldwide have access to a cell phone than do a toilet.

The World Water Council, World Resources Institute, and Global Water Leaders join charities like Water.org and charity: water in working in most of the drought-plagued places in the world. Kristen Bell, Jay-Z and Matt Damon are among a group of Hollywood heavyweights who have thrown their substantial clout behind the effort to ensure everyone on the planet has access to fresh water.

Bell raised almost $70,000 for charity: water, a New York nonprofit focused on providing drinking water to developing countries. Rapper Jay-Z created a documentary in 2007, “Diary of Jay-Z: Water For Life,” and worked with MTV and the UN to develop an clean-water advocacy campaign. Damon co-founded Water.org, which works to help families in struggling countries build sanitation systems and maintain a clean water supply.

“Access to water is access to education, access to work, access above all to the kind of future we want for our own families and all the members of our human family," Damon said on his organization's website. “You cannot solve poverty without solving water and sanitation.”

Increasing populations as well as climate change are but two of the things contributing to water woes, around the world and in Florida. More people mean more of a need for fresh water on a planet with a finite amount of it, and more than 1,000 people move into the Sunshine State every day. A warming planet means hotter air temperatures that increase evaporation, robbing reservoirs of drinking water.

The water woes in Southwest Florida are not nearly as bad as they are in other parts of the world, but not enough water still causes a host of problems in the region. Countless hours are spent by the region’s water managers divvying up the supply so the situation here doesn’t ever approach the struggles other parts of the world are having. And plans are being made now for decades in the future so water woes won’t sneak up on Southwest Florida’s residents.

Fishermen and scientists probe phosphate's connection to Florida red tides

Florida Commercial Waterman Conservation (FCWC) was founded in 2018.

A gap between real-time data and the academic resources that can steer policy inspired the idea to enlist fishermen, who have the holistic knowledge of the ocean, as data collectors, says Chris Kelble, director of the Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems Division at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

“Casey [Streeter] volunteered for a research cruise with me. The idea for the nonprofit stemmed from us sitting on the deck of the boat talking one night in between stations where we were taking water samples. He was instrumental in helping guide where to sample, because he knew exactly where the worst places were,” Kelble says. “Our goal this spring is to be able to communicate and let folks know about the likelihood of there being significant hypoxia. If there are excess nutrients coming off the land, this promotes red tide.”

FCWC is composed of half a dozen local volunteers and fishermen, in addition to Streeter. “We have mostly been focusing our testing in our immediate areas of southwest Florida,” he says, “but we did have a boat test off of Tampa during the red tide last year and as far north as Panama City. We would like to grow this program to all regions of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Sea Turtle Nesting Season begins May 1st

Help hatchlings beat the odds during sea turtle nesting season

Sarasota County beaches are home to the largest population of nesting sea turtles on Florida's Gulf Coast from May 1 through Oct. 31.

Residents and visitors can help sea turtles during nesting season by reducing light pollution at night and eliminating obstacles along beaches.

The Sarasota County Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance (MTPO), adopted in 1997, outlines the requirements to help sea turtles beat the odds by eliminating white light visible from the beach and nesting obstacles. Residents and visitors can accomplish this by using long-wavelength bulbs such as red or amber LEDs with shielded fixtures, and by removing beach furniture and recreational items nightly.

“Sarasota County averages more than 200 sea turtle nests per mile along coastal shorelines, but only one out of every 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood,” said UF/IFAS Marine and Coastal Sea Grant Agent Armando Ubeda.

Ubeda added that while most hatchlings die from predators, the majority die from exhaustion or starvation caused by disorienting bright, artificial lights steering them away from the water.

Jaclyn Irwin, Sarasota County wildlife specialist, also added that in addition to using appropriate lighting and removing recreational items, avoiding the use of flashlights, knocking down sandcastles, filling in holes, and taking belongings and trash with you are great ways to enhance sea turtle nesting habitat.

Community members are also reminded not to disturb sea turtles or their nests and can report injured or distressed sea turtles to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Climate change fueled extreme rainfall during the record 2020 hurricane reason

Human-induced climate change fueled one of the most active North Atlantic hurricane seasons on record in 2020, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

The study analyzed the 2020 season and the impact of human activity on climate change. It found that hourly hurricane rainfall totals were up to 10% higher when compared to hurricanes that took place in the pre-industrial era in 1850, according to a news release from Stony Brook University.

"The impacts of climate change are actually already here," said Stony Brook's Kevin Reed, who led the study. "They're actually changing not only our day-to-day weather, but they're changing the extreme weather events."

There were a record-breaking 30 named storms during the 2020 hurricane season. Twelve of them made landfall in the continental U.S.

These powerful storms are damaging and the economic costs are staggering.

Hurricanes are fueled in part by moisture linked to warm ocean temperatures. Over the last century, higher amounts of greenhouse gases due to human emissions have raised both land and ocean temperatures.

Sarasota researcher predicts 22 named storms, 5 major hurricanes in 2022

The Climate Adaptation Center, headed by researcher Bob Bunting, released its annual forecast for hurricane season on Friday.

SARASOTA — Tampa Bay residents have a tendency to brush aside concerns about hurricane season as annual forecasts arrive each spring.

Bob Bunting understands why so many are carefree: A major hurricane hasn’t struck the region in more than 100 years. But Bunting, a hurricane researcher and chief executive officer for the Climate Adaptation Center in Sarasota, says that’s a dangerous way to approach hurricane season any year, but especially as of late.

That’s because storm seasons are becoming longer and fiercer on average, he said, meaning Tampa Bay’s centurylong string of luck could end sooner rather than later. And, with the Climate Adaptation Center forecasting 2022 to be a seventh straight above-average season, the “big” storm could strike as soon as this year.

Sarasota Bay Watch will hold a clam release this week

The organization releases clams into Sarasota Bay due to their natural abilities to filter excess nutrients.

For more information about Sarasota Bay Watch, including volunteering or donating information, visit the organization’s website.

The Sarasota Bay Watch is working towards its goal of releasing one million clams into the bay this year.

They will continue their mission as Earth Day approaches, with a clam cleaning event on Friday and a release event on Saturday.

The organization releases clams into Sarasota Bay due to their natural abilities to filter excess nutrients.

Sarasota Bay Watch member Rhonda Ryan said this can help decrease red algae blooms among other benefits.

“We believe that by putting clams in the water, we're hoping to improve the clarity of the water and the water quality,” she said.

She added that this process is standard for clams.

“They take in water and they push out clean water,” she said. “That's how they get their food, and we know that in water that has a lot of algae, the clams will take that water in. And then essentially, they can clear that water in a certain amount of time.”

An event to clean and prepare the clams for release will be held Friday at 10 a.m. in East Palmetto.

“This is a way of sort of cleaning out the clams, getting rid of dead shells that might interfere with some of the scientific studies that we're doing, and getting rid of some of those other animals that are in the baskets,” said Ryan.

Following this, the clams will be released into the Bay starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the 10th Street boat ramp (1059 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236).

The organization picks sites to release the clams and track their growth strategically, with help from other scientific institutions.

Ryan said that this includes using acoustic receivers and recorders to listen to the sounds of animals and see which predators are in the water.

“Aquaculture needs to have this kind of information if aquaculture is going to succeed,” she said.

She said that the organization is always looking for volunteers, like people who can help clean out clams or take their boats to help release clams.

Ryan adds that high school students can add volunteering hours for this as well.

Green infrastructure helps cities with climate change. So why isn’t there more of it?

Federal agencies are beginning to hand out billions of dollars in infrastructure spending, the largest investment ever made in the country's water system. Much of it will go to improving pipes, drains and stormwater systems. But some scientists and urban planners are pushing to fund projects that are better adapted to the changing climate.

Instead of just gray infrastructure, supporters say the answer is green.

Green infrastructure, whether it's large rain gardens or plants along a street median, has the same purpose as big storm sewers: to manage large amounts of water that can build up during heavy rains. Plants and soil absorb and slow runoff from rainstorms, while a stormwater drain captures water that runs down a street gutter and diverts it underground into pipes.

On a hotter planet, storms are getting more intense, and rainfall is often heavier. Flooding is on the rise in many cities. Stormwater systems are being increasingly overwhelmed by extreme rainfall. In the Northeast, the heaviest storms produce 55% more rain today compared to 1958. Last year, dozens of people drowned there when the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded basements, streets and cars.

Still, most cities face major backlogs in maintaining the aging gray infrastructure they already have, amounting to billions of dollars nationwide. In the rush to secure federal funding to fill that void, some worry that green infrastructure will be left by the wayside.

"What good is a pristine road that's flooded?" says Marccus Hendricks, assistant professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland. "Elevating the priority of green infrastructure and stormwater systems is critical."