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

Water-Related News

Caloosahatchee River discharges and the duration of red tide events

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From Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director Dave Tomasko:

Earlier this week, I received notification that a manuscript my co-authors and I produced was accepted for publication in the upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Florida Scientist”. The title of the paper is “An evaluation of the relationships between the duration of red tide (Karenia brevis) blooms and watershed nitrogen loads in Southwest Florida (USA)”. My four co-authors include Lenny Landau and Steve Suau (both highly talented and creative local engineers), Dr. Miles Medina (a brilliant statistician) and Jennifer Hecker, the Director of the Coastal and Heartland Estuary Program.

A few years ago, there was a bit more controversy regarding what role – if any – humans have on red tides. While that may have been an appropriate view a few years ago, anyone who currently thinks that humans don’t play a role in red tide events either isn’t familiar with recent studies or is just being stubborn for some reason. Ten or twenty years ago, it was appropriate to be skeptical of such a link, but not over the past few years.

For example, the SBEP’s Technical Library includes this paper, which showed a relationship between the intensification of red tide events and Caloosahatchee River loads, as well as evidence that a substantial amount of nitrogen loads out of the Caloosahatchee can be traced back to nitrogen loads coming into Lake O from the north.

Also in our technical library is this paper, which showed a link between the red tide event in middle Tampa Bay in 2021 and nitrogen loads associated with the releases from the Piney Point facility back in 2021.

So what was unusual about this recent study? Well, we wanted to see if we could develop a robust, predictable and quantifiable relationship between human activities and the duration of red tide events.

Florida's outdated urban drainage systems cause more flooding, but there' a natural solution

In the 1900s, swamps and low-lying areas were drained to create more space for development and farming.

Florida has a lot of altered drainage networks, like ditches and canals, but at a recent resiliency summit in Clearwater, it became clear that these are increasingly becoming obsolete and can actually make flooding worse.

There are 80,000 linear miles of stream channels in Florida, and almost two-thirds of those are ditches and canals.

These water systems were originally put in to drain parts of the state for development.

But John Kiefer, an environmental engineer with Black & Veatch who moderated a panel discussion on the subject at the Regional Resiliency Summit, said these are not stable.

"They require perennial maintenance, otherwise they erode — sometimes catastrophically, sometimes chronically," Kiefer told the audience in one of the breakout rooms at the Hilton Clearwater Beach.

He said the eroding sediment could plug up openings, compounding the flooding that's already increasing from climate change.

Along with sea level rise, warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the land and oceans, creating more frequent and heavier rain events.

Kiefer also said altering the landscape causes problems for wildlife, so some fish don't have access to proper water bodies, for instance.

"So, what is the cure? Well, the cure can follow a gradient from near to natural solutions to highly engineered ones," Kiefer said.

These systems can be re-patterned so they process water and sediment more naturally.

Take Sarasota County's Phillippi Creek Watershed, for example.

Kiefer said 95 of the 100 miles of canals there are eligible for this kind of restoration, but a project like this could cost $2 million per mile.

New Sarasota County Neighborhood Best Practices program provides tools to build healthy communities

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Developed by UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County experts, the free, online Neighborhood Best Practices series offers multiple self-help modules that address frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about managing common-area resources.

“Launching the Neighborhood Best Practices online program marks a significant step forward in our community's access to education, offering resources and expertise to foster sustainable practices to enrich our neighborhoods,” said Ashley Ellis, Sarasota County Extension residential horticulture agent.

Balancing resource management for community benefit and environmental protection—along with keeping costs in check—can be challenging for neighborhoods due to various factors, such as limited technical knowledge, differing opinions on strategies, changes in board leadership and even navigating regulations.

The Neighborhood Best Practices educational series provides a valuable resource to help homeowners associations and residents alike work toward that balance.

Governor announces investments in Wildlife Corridor, red tide mitigation

For the second day in a row, DeSantis focused on environmental investments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation to boost red tide research and direct funding toward expanding Florida’s Wildlife Corridor.

“With the investments we’re getting, we’re on our way to linking these areas so that we can promote safe and stabilized species movements,” DeSantis said.

The Governor signed the legislation in Naples, a region Senate President Kathleen Passidomo represents. Environmental investments had been chief priorities for Passidomo during the past two Legislative Sessions.

DeSantis at the event stressed the need to preserve Florida’s environment for future generations to enjoy. The announcements Tuesday came a day after DeSantis also promised a $1.5 billion investment in Everglades restoration and other water improvement projects.

In fighting red tide algal blooms, DeSantis signed mitigation legislation (HB 1565) extending a partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and More Marine Laboratory in Sarasota to study prevention and mitigation technologies.