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

Water-Related News

Red Tide respiratory forecast is expanding with federal grants

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast has received $653,960 to “get more microscopes in more hands on more beaches.” The funds will also help to expand detection of other toxic algae species.

Thanks to federal grants, a forecast that helps predict where red tide will produce respiratory issues will reach more Gulf Coast beaches.

State wildlife officials reported Wednesday that a red tide bloom is still causing problems in Southwest Florida.

High concentrations are being found in Lee and Collier counties. Fish kills and respiratory irritations related to the bloom have been reported offshore of Lee and Collier, as well.

Red tide can cause coughing, runny nose and eye irritation.

To see if their beaches are safe, residents and beachgoers can check an online respiratory forecast from the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast helps people along the coast know where and when to expect those symptoms.

It was initially established and tested in Pinellas County in 2018. Today, it includes more than 20 Gulf Coast beaches.

Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer who led the development of the forecast, said it’s been demanding and exhausting work to take water samples every day and transport them back to a laboratory to then study them under a microscope.

But a press release said they’ve built a system called HABscope, a portable microscope system that uses video and artificial intelligence to quickly analyze water samples for near real-time cell counts of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

A microscope, with an iPod touch attached to it, can be taken directly to the beach and be monitored by a volunteer citizen scientist right then and there.

The program recently received federal grants from NOAA NCCOS MERHAB and IOOS to expand its coverage and make improvements over the next three years.

"One part of this program is to get that effort up and running and running smoothly so we have a reliable set of volunteers who can return the data. The other is we're expanding it to Texas. They also get these red tides, they're not just in Florida," said Stumpf.

The goal is to be able to monitor every beach every day, he said.

"Part of the offer too is to make it the system stable enough that GCOOS can continue running it into the future. This is a transition of getting all the research pieces put together in a way that it's actually sustainable, so it could run long term,” said Stumpf.

He said they hope to better detail where the blooms are, where high concentrations are, and the wind patterns for the coming 36 hours.

Although, the red tide organism Karenia brevis is not the only harmful algae the group plans to monitor with this grant money, said Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS and an environmental health scientist who conducted the first studies about red tide bloom impacts on human health.

Pyrodinium bahamense is another toxic dinoflagellate that occurs in Florida’s estuaries,” said Kirkpatrick in a press release.

“It produces saxitoxin — one of the deadliest natural toxins in the world — and it can be a public health risk in recreational fisheries. It can also cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which causes closures of shellfish harvesting. If we can use HABscope to test for other toxins, we can increase the benefits to the public across even more sectors.”

Environmental groups ask judge to throw out EPA decision to let Florida oversee wetlands permitting

Seven environmental groups asked a judge Thursday to throw out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the state control of wetlands permitting.

The environmental groups say Florida's application was riddled with errors and the EPA violated the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when it handed Florida control of wetlands permitting last month.

“There are such unreasonable things in the way EPA has acted in this case that I'd be surprised if any other EPA looking at it would have reached the same conclusion,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Florida Office.

Wetlands clean and recharge the state’s water supply and Florida has lost more wetlands than any other state in the country — more than 9 million acres, according to federal estimates. Florida asked the EPA to take over issuing permits for about 11 million remaining acres of wetlands in August and became just the third state in the U.S. to administer the cumbersome process. Michigan took control of its wetlands permitting in 1984 and New Jersey assumed control in 1994.

Florida began seriously considering assuming control in 2005, when state legislators voted to move forward with the plan. But the attempt stalled later that year when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded it would be better off expanding its own program and taking over the federal permitting would bog down the process.

Sarasota County approves utility extensions to Palmer Ranch, future developments

SARASOTA COUNTY — Sarasota County commissioners have approved a massive reclaimed water project designed to bring services to future development and golf courses south of State Road 681.

The $3.5 million joint effort with the Southwest Florida Water Management District entails extending reclaimed services to Palmer Ranch, Calusa Lakes Development, Calusa Lakes Golf Course and Mission Valley Golf & Country Club.

This was just one major utility project approved by the commission on Tuesday. Others included an effort to lay the groundwork for major upgrades to two of the county’s three reclaimed water treatment facilities and addressing aging infrastructure issues in Sarasota and Venice.

The utility overhauls were unanimously approved without comment. Commissioner Nancy Detert was absent.

Mike Mylett, the county’s utility director, said in an email that the line is being extended in advance of the construction of new and future communities that are anticipated to be high-volume customers.

One-third of America’s rivers have changed color since 1984

America’s rivers are changing color — and people are behind many of the shifts, a new study said.

One-third of the tens of thousands of mile-long (two kilometer-long) river segments in the United States have noticeably shifted color in satellite images since 1984. That includes 11,629 miles (18,715 kilometers) that became greener, or went toward the violet end of the color spectrum, according to a study in this week’s journal Geographical Research Letters. Some river segments became more red.

Only about 5% of U.S. river mileage is considered blue — a color often equated with pristine waters by the general public. About two-thirds of American rivers are yellow, which signals they have lots of soil in them.

But 28% of the rivers are green, which often indicates they are choked with algae. And researchers found 2% of U.S. rivers over the years shifted from dominantly yellow to distinctly green.

“If things are becoming more green, that’s a problem,” said study lead author John Gardner, a University of Pittsburgh geology and environmental sciences professor. Although some green tint to rivers can be normal, Gardener said, it often means large algae blooms that cause oxygen loss and can produce toxins.

The chief causes of color changes are farm fertilizer run-off, dams, efforts to fight soil erosion and man-made climate change, which increases water temperature and rain-related run-off, the study authors said.

“We change our rivers a lot. A lot of that has to do with human activity,” said study co-author Tamlin Pavelsky, a professor of global hydrology at the University of North Carolina.

Why are so many Florida manatees dying?

A preliminary state tally for 2020 found 619 manatees were killed, up from last year and the second highest number in the last five years.

Add manatee deaths to the list of bad things that happened in 2020.

Despite the COVID-19 shutdown that may have briefly given the lumbering sea cows a break from heavy boat traffic, deaths climbed to 619 last year, according to a preliminary tally from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s the second highest number in five years, behind 2018 when a lethal red tide blanketed the Gulf Coast and killed more than 200.

“As soon as [people] realized that you could socially distance on the water, it swung the other way,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. “It went from a bit of a respite to almost literally an overkill.”

Because of the shutdown, necropsies were not performed on about a third of the dead manatees, Rose said. That left biologists to guess the cause of death. But he said they estimate boat strikes killed just over 100, in keeping with the number of boating deaths in recent years.

Rose said that suggests that other worrisome trends — poor water quality and loss of habitat — could be playing a role in increasing numbers.

“Boating is still a critically important factor for manatees, but sadly — and one that as an aquatic biologist and someone working in the field for about 50 years I really didn't think we were going to see — is the levels of concern for the habitat itself,” he said. “With all the red tide, brown tides, blue green algal blooms and just the problems that Florida is facing in terms of water quality and quantity, it's starting to have a very significant impact on loss of seagrass and and food resources for manatees.”

Manatees were removed from the endangered speci

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program announces 2021 Bay Partners Grants

Sarasota Bay Partners Grants support community stewardship of Sarasota Bay

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program will accept applications for Sarasota Bay Partners Grants until Monday, March 1, 2021. Groups may apply for up to $4,000 to support environmental restoration or education projects focused on restoring Sarasota-Manatee bays and engaging communities in bay restoration. Most organizations, schools, businesses, neighborhood associations, and other groups are eligible to receive a grant as long as the project takes place in the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program study area.

Visit the Apply for a Grant page on the SBEP website for program information and application materials. Sarasota Bay Estuary Program staff are happy to answer questions and provide application assistance – please email Darcy Young, Director of Planning and Communications or call (941) 955-8085.

Hudson Bayou project wins stormwater award

A Southwest Florida Water Management District restoration project in Sarasota County recently won an award from the Florida Stormwater Association (FSA).

The Hudson Bayou In-Stream Restoration and Water Quality Improvements Project recently received a 2020 Excellence Award from FSA. The award recognizes projects with an outstanding commitment to stormwater management practices that benefit the environment and residents.

This project treats stormwater from about an 800-acre urbanized watershed. Located within Sarasota High School property, the project was in cooperation between the District and Sarasota County.

The project will result in the reduction of total nitrogen and suspended solids discharging to Sarasota Bay, a District Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Priority waterbody.

Also, the project restored the channelized shoreline along a portion of Hudson Bayou that flows through the historic Sarasota High School property.

The restoration included removal of non-native and nuisance plants, building filter marshes and littoral shelves, and replanting with native plants to improve water quality and habitat within the watershed.

“It is an asset to Sarasota Bay for its water quality and natural system benefits,” said Lizanne Garcia, lead project manager. "The project also is visually appealing and provides a natural area in the middle of the City of Sarasota that may be enjoyed by the students and faculty of Sarasota High School.”

Beer Can Island dredging and renourishment planned

LONGBOAT KEY – Manatee County and the Town of Longboat Key are partnering on a beach renourishment project that includes the construction of five permeable rock groins. The town also has a planned emergency dredging project on Greer Island, also known as Beer Can Island, at the northern tip of the key.

These projects were presented and discussed at the Tuesday, Dec. 15, Manatee County Commission meeting, with representatives from the Town of Longboat Key on hand. There was also discussion about a separate FEMA-funded and county-managed beach renourishment project planned for Coquina Beach, in Bradenton Beach, at the south end of Anna Maria Island.

Fried asks new EPA head to reconsider wetlands move

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked incoming Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to reconsider a recent EPA decision that shifted federal permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Fried released a letter Wednesday that she sent to Regan, who has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the EPA. Supporters this month praised the Trump administration’s decision to shift the permitting authority to Florida, saying it would help reduce duplicative state and federal permitting and give Florida more control over such decisions.

Florida is only the third state, joining Michigan and New Jersey, that have received the authority, according to the EPA. But some environmentalists have long opposed the move, arguing it would reduce protections for wetlands.

Venice residents asked to take resilience survey on flood risk

Through a study funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Resilient Coastlines Program, the City of Venice is working with Taylor Engineering to perform resilience planning. This project includes a vulnerability assessment for City infrastructure. This assessment consists of three analyses:

  • Exposure – the amount of contact an asset has with a source of stress
  • Sensitivity – the degree of impact and whether there are existing sources of stress; and
  • Adaptive capacity – the asset’s ability to adjust, repair or respond

After this assessment has been conducted, adaption and resilient strategies will be developed for at-risk structures.

The City wants to hear from its citizens, in order to create a more resilient future. Please assist the City by completing a brief Resilience Survey on Understanding Your Flood Risk. This survey can be found at: https://arcg.is/u05Hb.