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

Water-Related News

Photographer: Inland development is destroying Florida–s coastal freshwater wetlands

The object of Benjamin Dimmitt's pictorial and editorial attention has deteriorated significantly over the last few decades.

With the exception of its northern border with Alabama and Georgia, Florida is entirely surrounded by water. The state’s world famous sandy beaches make up about 825 miles of that coastline, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But wetlands comprise several hundred more miles of the Florida coast. And contrary to popular belief, the majority of those wetlands are not salt water, but fresh water. Their source is the outflow from the gigantic Floridan Aquifer that underlies Florida. But as Florida’s population has grown, the size and condition of those wetlands seems to be on the decline. That’s the subject of a new book by noted naturalist and photographer Benjamin Dimmitt. It’s entitled: “An Unflinching Look: Elegy for Wetlands.” In it he documents – in both words and images – the profound changes in the Chassahowitzka National Refuge on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Quick Point Nature Preserve gets boardwalk repairs, new signage

One of Longboat Key’s final frontiers of undeveloped land, Quick Point Nature Preserve, is a hidden gem — and in need of a site refresh.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program recently began the site refresh in the Longboat Key preserve, which is part of a larger goal of enhancing three parks across Manatee and Sarasota counties: Quick Point, Sarasota Bay Walk on City Island and Leffis Key Preserve.

Quick Point is a 34-acre restoration site located on the southern tip of Longboat Key, easily accessible by residents of the Key and Sarasota.

“Longboat Key is so heavily developed,” SBEP Operations Manager Heather Moody said. “To actually be able to get out in nature and enjoy an unobstructed view of the Bay like that is definitely unique.”

Moody has been with the organization for a little over two years. When the three refresh projects were brought up, Moody said it was the perfect fit for her background in environmental education and park management.

The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation was the primary donors for Quick Point’s site refresh, granting $25,000 for the project. The SBEP contributed $23,000 from their funds as well.

USF’s ‘Flood Hub’ is helping the state look into resiliency needs

Resilience in the face of increasingly extreme weather is on the minds this week of those attending the annual Gulf of Mexico Alliance Conference in Tampa. And much of the work on resiliency will be done at the University of South Florida.

Many of us have heard the warnings about coastal flooding increasing because of strengthening storms and hurricanes. But before work can be done to address resilience in the face of these threats, we have to know what roads, buildings and utilities are at risk.

That's where the new Florida Flood Hub comes in. It was recently established at the USF College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg.

Once it is fully operational, Wes Brooks - Florida's chief resilience officer - says the hub will identify what's most vulnerable to flooding statewide.

“I believe that Florida will be the first state in the country - and certainly the largest for some time, I would suspect - to have assessed the flood vulnerability of virtually every single piece of infrastructure and critical asset that there is with the state's borders,” Brooks said.

Brooks told conference members that the hub will be a central repository for flood models and information.

“Once fully operational, the flood hub will also provide a statewide picture of flood risk in a clear and consistent manner that can be used for transparent and fair decision making,” he said, “while also significantly lowering the technical burden on local governments - like here in Tampa - to incorporate forward-looking flood data and municipal planning.”

Brooks adds that more than 230 planning grants have been awarded to counties and cities throughout the state.

Speakers at the conference also said the work will become critical as extreme weather becomes the "new normal."

Report: Florida received D– in coastal management and sea level rise preparations

The Surfrider Foundation took a look at how states are preparing for sea level rise, erosion and future infrastructure.

Florida's beaches span hundreds of miles, providing entertainment and an escape for folks to relax.

But our coastlines are under nearly constant threat, and according to a new report by The Surfrider Foundation, our beaches are degrading more and more every year.

The Surfrider Foundation took a look at how states are preparing for sea level rise, erosion, and future infrastructure.

The foundation's latest report shows that Florida decreased from a C– in 2022 to a D– in 2023 for these categories.

Local scientists attribute the issues to rising sea levels and more intense storms.

The Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory panel predicts that the Tampa Bay Area could experience sea level rise of up to 2.5 feet by 2050.

"We have choices to adapt or to maladapt," said Maya Burke with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

FEMA releases updated flood maps for Sarasota County

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SARASOTA COUNTY – Sarasota County will host a series of open houses for citizens to be informed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) new flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) for Sarasota County, which go into effect March 27.

All county property owners are invited to attend one of the public meetings to learn about their own flood risk, view the newly updated FIRMs and learn how individual properties may be impacted by the changes.

These FIRMs will include a Limit of Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA) line. Post-storm field visits and laboratory tests throughout coastal flood hazard areas have consistently confirmed that wave heights as low as 1.5 feet can cause significant damage to structures that are constructed without considering coastal hazards. This LiMWA is the inland limit of the area expected to receive 1.5-foot or greater breaking waves during the 1-percent annual-chance flood event.

FEMA's previous FIRM maps only had two coastal flood zones. VE Zones where the flood elevation includes wave heights equal to or greater than 3-feet and AE Zones where the flood elevation includes wave heights less than 3-feet.

Flood risks change due to construction and development growth, environmental impacts, floodplains widening or shifting and other factors over time. FEMA's FIRMs are updated periodically to reflect these changes.

Citizens may view FIRMs online, which go into effect March, 27, at scgov.net/floodmaps and visit the interactive map for more information.

Representatives from Sarasota County, and the cities of Venice, North Port, Sarasota and Longboat Key, will be available during open houses to answer questions. All residents are encouraged to attend one of these informational sessions.

No formal presentations will be given; residents may attend the workshops whenever it is convenient for their schedule. Attendees do not need to make an appointment, but should remember to bring their elevation certificates, if possible.

Public meetings with city and county representatives will be held at the following locations:

  • 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 14, at the Fruitville Library, 100 Apex Road, Sarasota.
  • 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the Frances T. Bourne Jacaranda Library, 4143 Woodmere Park Blvd., Venice.

An additional online presentation is planned for the following:

FEMA's new flood maps will become effective Wednesday, March 27, at scgov.net/floodmaps

Please note that these changes do not affect hurricane evacuation levels, which may be viewed here or at www.scgov.net/beprepared.

Standard homeowners’, business owners’ and renters’ insurance policies don’t cover flood damage, making flood insurance an important consideration for everyone. Visit www.floodsmart.gov or call 1-888-379-9531 for more information or to locate a local insurance agent.

For additional information, please call 311 or visit www.scgov.net/floodmaps

Crucial system of ocean currents is heading for a collapse due to climate change

A vital system of ocean currents could collapse within a few decades if the world continues to pump out planet-heating pollution, scientists are warning – an event that would be catastrophic for global weather and “affect every person on the planet.”

A new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature, found that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current – of which the Gulf Stream is a part – could collapse around the middle of the century, or even as early as 2025.

Scientists uninvolved with this study told CNN the exact tipping point for the critical system is uncertain, and that measurements of the currents have so far showed little trend or change. But they agreed these results are alarming and provide new evidence that the tipping point could occur sooner than previously thought.

The AMOC is a complex tangle of currents that works like a giant global conveyor belt. It transports warm water from the tropics toward the North Atlantic, where the water cools, becomes saltier and sinks deep into the ocean, before spreading southwards.

It plays a crucial role in the climate system, helping regulate global weather patterns. Its collapse would have enormous implications, including much more extreme winters and sea level rises affecting parts of Europe and the US, and a shifting of the monsoon in the tropics.

New NASA mission could help Lake Okeechobee, red tide in Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA will be taking images of bodies of water on Earth and using that information and data to predict how healthy, or unhealthy, water surfaces are.

NASA is elevating what it means to take photos of Earth. The newly launched satellite is a game-changer, according to the agency.

They’ll be taking images of bodies of water, and that information and data will then be used to predict how healthy, or unhealthy, water surfaces are.

The program is called PACE, which stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud ocean Ecosystem mission.

“PACE is going to see earth in a way we’ve never seen before, in so many different colors,” Ivona Cetinic, an oceanographer with NASA’s PACE, said. “I’m hoping this data will get to everybody and help them understand how beautiful our home planet is.”

NASA said this will enhance how they study water and the environment, including algae blooms and red tide, which are issues found in South Florida.

FEMA issues new flood maps for Sarasota County

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Sarasota County will host public meetings to discuss the new flood maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has issued, affecting North Port property owners. New flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) could impact your insurance requirements and premiums.

Sarasota County has compiled resources to help you determine whether your property or business has been affected by the new FIRMs and how you can find more information.

Attend one of several open houses where FEMA and local officials will answer questions about the proposed changes:

  • Monday, Feb. 12, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. S, Venice.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 14, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Fruitville Library, 100 Apex Road, Sarasota.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Francis T. Bourne Jacaranda Library, 4143 Woodmere Park Blvd., Venice.
  • Wednesday, March 13, from 5 to 6 p.m., held virtually over ZOOM (ID 832 9202 7798).

For more information, or to view the new flood maps, visit NorthPortFL.gov/FloodMaps.

Sarasota County to consider ordinance create an anchoring limitation area in Venice

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The Board of County Commissioners of Sarasota County, Florida, announces a public meeting to which all persons are invited.

DATE AND TIME: March 5, 2024, at 9 a.m. or as soon thereafter as possible to receive all testimony and evidence to consider and act upon the adoption of proposed Ordinance 2024-008.

PLACE: Robert L. Anderson Administration Center, Commission Chambers, 4000 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice, Florida.

GENERAL SUBJECT MATTER TO BE CONSIDERED: This is a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Sarasota County, FL pertaining to an anchoring limitation area in Sarasota County, to consider amendments to Chapter 130, Article III of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances, establishing an anchoring limitation area within the City of Venice, FL; and providing for severability, inclusion in the code, and an effective date.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, any person requiring special accommodations to participate in this meeting is asked to advise the agency at least five days before the meeting by contacting:

Sarasota ADA/Civil Rights Coordinator, 1660 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34236
Phone: 941-861-5000
TTY 7-1-1 or 1-800-955-8771
Email: adacoordinator@scgov.net

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Joseph Kraus at 941-726-4016 or jkraus@scgov.net.

Sarasota County to move forward on Roberts Bay anchoring area

VENICE — The city may be a couple of months away from getting help in controlling the mooring of vessels in the Higel Basin of Roberts Bay.

A proposed Sarasota County ordinance would create an “anchoring limitation area” in the basin that would generally preclude mooring a boat for more than 45 consecutive days in a six-month period. A vessel would have to be “absent from the site or location” for at least 24 hours to start a new 45-day anchoring period, it says.

New pathway recommended for future of Warm Mineral Springs Park

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NORTH PORT – The City of North Port’s negotiation team has recommended the City cease the negotiations for a potential public-private partnership with WMS Development Group LLC for the future of Warm Mineral Springs Park.

As the team conducted extensive due diligence, the developers revised their proposal to no longer take on the operation of the springs, citing rising costs for insurance and staffing expenses. Both parties came to the mutual decision that operations of the park should remain with the Parks & Recreation Department.

As a result, staff will be proposing a Phase I revitalization of the 20 acres around the springs performed by the City that would include a suitable admission building and permanent restrooms. In anticipation of this possible outcome, staff had the foresight to add staffing in the current fiscal year’s budget for the operations of the park.

While negotiations did not result in a successful public-private partnership, the City is in a better position to assess and evaluate future plans for the adjoining 60 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the park. Valuable knowledge was gained thanks to the due diligence of staff and contracted subject matter experts:

  • A threatened and endangered species survey by Pritchett Steinbeck Group, Inc., provided guidance on potential habitat restoration. The City’s newly created Natural Resources Division can also assist with environmental planning and protection efforts.
  • An extensive geotechnical survey by Ardaman and Associates, anticipated to be completed in May, will provide answers to many questions regarding the suitability of development near the springs and will guide future decisions for the parcel.
  • An evaluation of the real estate and financial analysis of the Warm Mineral Springs Development Group’s proposal conducted by CBRE, Inc., provided insight into market conditions, construction costs and potential economic impact through commercial opportunities and revenue streams. City staff are also evaluating an impact model that may be useful for future economic development considerations.
  • A comprehensive real estate valuation analysis by Hettema Saba, LLC, found the annual triple net market rent value for the operational portion of the springs is $495,000 and the market value for the undeveloped land is valued at $16.4 million.

“The City remains open to future opportunities that align with our shared vision for the future of this part of our community,” said City Manager Jerome Fletcher. “We are committed to making Warm Mineral Springs Park an asset we can all be proud of. The extensive research and analysis done during negotiations also gives us the confidence to move forward exploring a possible Phase II for the remaining acreage and the potential benefits it could bring to our taxpayers.”

For more information visit NorthPortFL.gov/WMSPMasterPlan.

UCF researchers estimate cost to tourism of 2018 red tide at $2.7 billion

A new study from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management has found that the loss to tourism-related businesses due to the 2018 Florida red tide bloom is estimated at approximately $2.7 billion.

The research, performed in collaboration with the University of South Florida and Florida A&M University, was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Management. The work offers a profound understanding of the economic impacts of harmful algae blooms (HABs) on Florida’s tourism sector.

One of the most striking conclusions of the study is the relationship between the severity of red tide blooms and their economic impact on tourism.

Contrary to expectations, the study reveals that low concentrations of red tide can have disproportionate economic impacts compared to more intense blooms.

This finding underscores the importance of how red tide information is communicated and perceived, influencing its economic fallout.

“The magnitude of losses from red tide show how important it is for the Federal and State governments to allocate appropriate resources for response and recovery to harmful algae blooms in our coastal communities,” says Sergio Alvarez, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at Rosen College.

“In addition, coastal tourism businesses should consider harmful algae as a very real risk to the economic sustainability of their operations,” he says. “It is essential that we find appropriate risk management tools for individuals, businesses, and communities that may suffer the economic impacts of harmful algae blooms.”

Sarasota Bay water quality is better... Why?

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Director’s Note from Dave Tomasko: Honing in on the basis for recent trends…

Over the past two or so years, we have been informing you that we were seeing signs of improvement in the bay’s water quality and ecosystem health. We have discussed our findings with our Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and Management and Policy Boards. In fact, each of these Director’s Notes is sent to our TAC and CAC, so that if our interpretation of results is viewed as problematic, we expect folks to speak up. Rest assured, we have plenty of smart and engaged people on both committees who would not hesitate to point out an error in our logic (which is good). And while we may not have unanimity in acceptance of our conclusions, we certainly have a consensus.

Last fall, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) informed us that their own independent analysis of water quality concluded that recent improvements were sufficient – both in terms of the magnitude of the change and the duration of the improvements – that none of the open water portions of Sarasota Bay were considered to be out of compliance with their established water quality standards for nutrients. This is a big change from prior years, as a review of data ending in 2020 concluded that nutrient impairment existed for the entire stretch of the bay from Ringling Boulevard down to Venice Inlet.

The question is, “how did this happen?" Well, our review of rainfall and pollutant loads – as a whole – did not find that rainfall was driving this trend. Yes, it was VERY dry in 2023. But improvements sufficient to bring about the de-listing by FDEP occurred based on data collected before 2023.

As a third-party review, we used one of our consultants to verify (or not) the conclusion about the improvements in water quality, and to try and help us figure out how this happened.

Mote launches sustainable farming program with Sarasota County

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Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is proud to announce the Beginning Farmer Education Program in partnership with UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County with the goal of creating the future Florida workforce in food, agriculture, and natural resources. The 8-week program provides the next generation of farmers with hands-on work experience and practical education under the mentorship of Mote scientists, extension educators, successful entrepreneurs, and local producers.

Many Florida communities have a need for access to sustainably grown, healthy, nutritious food, including seafood, as year after year, wild fisheries continue to fall short of feeding Earth’s growing population—with nearly 60% fished to capacity and 34% overfished.

“Mote continues to successfully demonstrate how to raise seafood away from the coast while recycling 100% of the salt water—and we’ve built upon that core technology to do much, much more,” said Manager of Mote's Marine & Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program, Dr. Nicole Rhody. “Mote’s progress reveals how precisely our research targets urgent, pressing questions in our national conversation on food security and sustainable seafood resources. We hope this program combines what we know about taking environmentally-friendly aquaculture to a commercial scale and how we can apply those methods by enhancing the success of new farm start-ups, to help increase access to more locally grown foods.”

The Beginning Farmer Education Program participants gain practical skills from agricultural extension agents in areas such as crop cultivation, soil health, irrigation, pest and disease control, equipment operation, and harvesting techniques. Participants can learn more from Mote scientists about aquaponics—which links together aquaculture and hydroponic vegetable production—to raise fish and grow edible plants in a symbiotic, closed-loop system. Participants will also gain an understanding of different business models, along with opportunities to connect with local supply chains and network with schools, local farmers, restaurants, etc.

Study: White House rule dramatically deregulates wetlands, streams and drinking water

The 1972 Clean Water Act protects the "waters of the United States" but does not precisely define which streams and wetlands this phrase covers, leaving it to presidential administrations, regulators, and courts to decide. As a result, the exact coverage of Clean Water Act rules is difficult to estimate.

New research led by a team at the University of California, Berkeley, used machine learning to more accurately predict which waterways are protected by the Act. The analysis found that a 2020 Trump administration rule removed Clean Water Act protection for one-fourth of U.S. wetlands and one-fifth of U.S. streams, and also deregulated 30% of watersheds that supply drinking water to household taps. The research was published in Science.

"Using machine learning to understand these rules helps decode the DNA of environmental policy," said author Joseph Shapiro, an associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley. "We can finally understand what the Clean Water Act actually protects.

Prior analyses assumed that streams and wetlands sharing certain geophysical characteristics were regulated, without scrutinizing data on what was actually regulated—an approach the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers called, "highly unreliable."

The researchers trained a machine learning model to predict 150,000 jurisdictional decisions by the Army Corps. Each Corps decision interprets the Clean Water Act for one site and rule. The model predicts regulation across the U.S. under the Trump rule and its predecessor, the Supreme Court's "Rapanos" ruling, which had previously guided Corps decisions.