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

Water-Related News

Myakka River headwaters watershed purchased for conservation

363 acres at headwaters of the Myakka River in Manatee County will be preserved

MANATEE COUNTY – The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast announced Wednesday the permanent protection of 363 acres at the headwaters of the Myakka River in Myakka City.

Seven creeks converge into one river, the Myakka, at the newly named Myakka Headwaters Preserve.

Clear water allows the creek bottoms to support submerged aquatic plants that are unable to grow in sunlight-blocked blackwaters found elsewhere on the Myakka.

The preserve is next to the 2,300-acre Flatford Swamp, the river’s largest forested wetland.

The Myakka River Land Fund of Manatee Community Foundation awarded $1.3 million for the permanent protection of the Myakka Headwaters Preserve. The fund is to purchase or restore environmentally significant lands within the Manatee County Myakka River Watershed.

“Safeguarding this rare property is essential to the health of everything downstream,” said Christine Johnson, president of Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. “We are grateful for the Myakka River Land Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation for protecting these rare lands for people and nature. Our quality of life depends on it.”

Florida wants to control wetlands permitting. Critics say it isn’t equipped to do the job

Florida’s bid to take over wetlands permitting across the state will undergo two virtual federal hearings beginning Wednesday.

The Clean Water Act requires federal permitting to preserve vanishing wetlands, which protect drinking water supplies, blunt damage from storms and hurricanes, and provide habitat for wildlife. Up until now, the permitting job has fallen on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But in August, the state applied to take over, alarming environmentalists who fear Florida’s smaller Department of Environmental Protection won’t be equipped to do the work.

Only two other states oversee their own wetlands permitting, Michigan and New Jersey, said Earthjustice attorney Tania Galloni.

“Those states also spent millions and millions of dollars to create their programs,” she said. “Florida is saying it could do it without asking the legislature for a single penny.”

Environmentalists worry the move will increase the loss of wetlands to development at a moment when Florida, already threatened by sea rise, can least afford it. In addition to recharging the state's aquifers, wetlands suck up huge amounts of carbon — between $2 and $3.4 billion worth just in Everglades National Park mangroves.

“This whole thing is about shortcuts,” Galloni said. “It's about shortcutting the time for consideration and the level of review. We need checks and balances.”

In its application, Florida says it intends to have its existing staff of 229 employees, who now handle environmental permitting across the state, take over the duties. The state says the its own environmental permitting overlaps with wetland permitting, so the additional permitting duties should only generate about 15 percent more work.

Florida also intends to re-assign 18 employees who earn about $35,000 a year to do the permitting, according to an analysis submitted with the application.

2021 Cortez Fishing Festival cancelled due to COVID-19

FISH festivalgoers

CORTEZ – The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) board decided unanimously to cancel the 39th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival next February due to COVID-19.

The two-day festival, a fundraiser for FISH and its primary project, the FISH Preserve, draws thousands of people each year to the snug north end of the historic fishing village of Cortez.

“Due to the uncertainties, we feel we have to be responsible, however, we’re going to work on a possible scaled-down alternative,” said John Stevely, one of the founders of the festival.

COVID scuttles fishing festivalJohn Stevely, one of the festival’s original organizers, was among those deciding to cancel the 2021 fishing festival Monday night. – Cindy Lane | Sun

The entrance to the festival is at the Florida Maritime Museum on 119th Street, which leads to a fish house and restaurant complex on Sarasota Bay with one main route in and out.

Once inside, people line up to sample seafood from dozens of food vendors, a challenge for social distancing, as is the possibility of monitoring whether only family groups are sitting together to eat at tables for eight to 10 people. In addition, “There are so many who would refuse to wear a mask outdoors,” Stevely said.

Other considerations were whether FISH could obtain a permit for the event, the health risk to 200 or so volunteers in their 60s, and whether the event could turn a profit if the number of participants was limited. The FISH board has historically been reluctant to raise the original $2 entrance fee, which, after 38 years, is now $5.

“We’ll come back with enthusiasm and we will get through these times,” Stevely said. “2022 will be bigger and better.”

SBEP: Your boating behavior can be a lifesaver

What’s better than a day out on the water? Our local bays, inlets, sandbars, and Gulf waters offer plenty to explore and enjoy. With the pandemic limiting activities outside the home, it’s no surprise that boating has increased, but unfortunately, so have human-caused accidents to wildlife. When we are on the water, it’s important to remember we are guests in the home of turtles, dolphins, sharks, rays, manatees, birds, and the many other species that live in and rely on the bay. The actions we take on the water can save lives...in more ways than one.

There are roughly 43,598 registered boats in Sarasota and Manatee counties. If you are a dolphin, a boat will pass within a little over a football field’s distance from you every six minutes. With increased numbers of boats in the water this year, calls to Mote Marine Lab’s Stranding Investigations Program are up by 30%. Mote, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have reported an increase in human-caused deaths for dolphins, turtles, and manatees. These deaths resulted from animals getting hit by boats, tangled in fishing gear, or eating plastic.

Enter the 2020 King Tides Photo Contest Oct. 14th-21st

King Tide Photo

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program needs help photographing king tides in your area Oct 14th - 21st!

From October 14th - 21st, many coastal areas around the U.S. will experience king tides, or extreme high and low tides. If you will be in Sarasota or Manatee counties, snap some photos for a chance to be featured on the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program's website and win prizes.

What are King Tides?

King Tides refer to the extreme high tides that occur when the moon is aligned with the earth and sun, and when it closest to the earth in its orbit. View past king tides.

Why Do We Document King Tides?

King Tides give us a preview of how and where higher seas will affect local landscapes, which is important for anticipating and addressing “hot spots” for flooding and salt water inundation. In addition, documenting these effects helps ground-truth local sea level rise models and predictions.

How To Enter:

Submit your best high and low tide photos for a chance to win a $50 first place prize or $25 second place prize. Since the peak high tide falls at night, prizes will go to the best photos in both DAY and NIGHT categories.

More details are at the link below

Study will address how climate disasters impact GOM restoration projects

This summer, the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine started work on a new study that will assess how climate disasters, oil spills, and long-term environmental changes such as sea level rise are affecting environmental restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. The study will help fulfill one of GRP’s top goals — monitoring progress and documenting how the Gulf is changing over time.

Restoration projects can provide a number of community benefits, from improving water quality, to supporting fisheries and recreation areas, to protecting against flooding. However, recent events like Hurricanes Sally and Laura have reminded us that the progress of these projects can be quickly undone.

Holly Greening, co-founder of CoastWise Partners and former executive director and senior scientist of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, is the chair of the committee undertaking the study. She answered several questions about what this study will accomplish.

SBEP awards $4,000 water quality monitoring grant to Suncoast Waterkeeper

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program’s Policy Board has awarded $4,000 to Suncoast Waterkeeper for the project “Swim Guide Water Quality Monitoring.”

SBEP announced that the program was approved for the grant because it supports the mission of the SBEP to restore and protect Sarasota Bay.

“Support from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program will help the public know where waters are safe for swimming, fishing and wildlife,” Board Chair Joe McClash said in a news release. “When there are high bacteria levels, we will alert public officials and work to find a solution.”

Suncoast Waterkeeper is an active environmental organization focused on water quality within Sarasota and Manatee counties. Water sampling is conducted on a weekly basis for enterococci bacteria, the protocol for saltwater recreational safety.

Sarasota County BCC agrees to protect “Quads Parcels”

Sarasota County, Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation agree to protect Quads parcels

Sarasota County, the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast announced today the protection of the 33-acre Quads parcels, which buffer the environmentally sensitive Celery Fields. Map. 3 Quad Parcels

The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved this unique public-private partnership, which provided the conservation easements on the northeast, southeast and southwest parcels to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and contracted with the Sarasota Audubon Society to manage the sites. The BCC agreed to place the parcels under a conservation easement last year.

"As our community continues to grow, open space become more and more important for the environment, our water quality and our way of life. This is a unique partnership, one that offers the opportunity to do something truly special. We appreciate the work of the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and we're excited to preserve this area for many years to come," said County Commission Chairman Michael Moran.

The 440-acre Celery Fields is a nationally recognized destination and a key piece of Sarasota County's stormwater management system. The site also offers numerous recreational opportunities including walking, running, hiking and other health and fitness activities.

“Sarasota Audubon is thrilled as this safeguards the existing wildlife habitat of the remarkable Celery Fields,” noted Jeanne Dubi, president of Sarasota Audubon Society. “And, we can create additional vegetation and foraging areas, as well as provide more public access for walking and hiking.”

Christine Johnson, president of Conservation Foundation, added, “We are excited to continue working with Sarasota Audubon Society on the next phase, improving these acres for nature and people. Once we have the plan we will fundraise to make it happen. We are very grateful to the county commission and to county staff for ensuring these 33 acres are protected forever. It’s a win for the county, for people, and for nature.”

More information about the Sarasota Audubon Society, and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, can be found by visiting their websites.

In addition, the Sarasota County Contact Center can be reached by calling (941) 861-5000, and information can also be found by visiting scgov.net.

Gulf fish farm gets federal approval to dump thousands of pounds of waste

Officials in Sarasota and Holmes Beach have been voicing opposition to Ocean Era's proposed Almaco jack fish farm for months.

The Environmental Protection Agency has authorized a request to discharge thousands of pounds of fish farm waste into the Gulf of Mexico. It's a key step to open a controversial pilot project 45 miles off Sarasota's coast.

Ocean Era Inc., formerly known as Kampachi Farms, plans for the floating fish farm to raise 20,000 Almaco jack.

The farm, named Velella Epsilon Aquatic Animal Production Facility, is the first ever authorized in federal waters, but city officials in Sarasota and Holmes Beach have been voicing opposition to this project for months.

Jaclyn Lopez with the Center for Biological Diversity said there's still a lot of data missing because this is a trial run.

Sarasota County Commission seeks changes in stormwater rates, programs

County staff hopes to implement a new stormwater rate system by fiscal year 2022.

County commissioners have often highlighted water quality as one of their top priorities.

Commissioners and county staff plan to take several steps that will help achieve part of that goal in the next few years.

In the past month, commissioners have directed staff to seek changes to the county’s stormwater rates and stormwater programs to improve the quality of stormwater in watersheds, as well as implement changes to sewage valves to allow fewer sewage spills.

County staff is seeking changes to the county’s Stormwater Environmental Utility Division, with the hopes of improving the quality of the stormwater that ends up in the county’s watersheds and Sarasota Bay.County commissioners have often highlighted water quality as one of their top priorities.

Commissioners and county staff plan to take several steps that will help achieve part of that goal in the next few years.

In the past month, commissioners have directed staff to seek changes to the county’s stormwater rates and stormwater programs to improve the quality of stormwater in watersheds, as well as implement changes to sewage valves to allow fewer sewage spills.

County staff is seeking changes to the county’s Stormwater Environmental Utility Division, with the hopes of improving the quality of the stormwater that ends up in the county’s watersheds and Sarasota Bay.

Opposition mounts against proposed fish farm off Sarasota coast

Because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not hold a public hearing on the construction of a controversial fin fish farm 45 miles off the coast of Sarasota, opponents took it upon themselves to be heard.

The mayor of the coastal city of Sarasota, a beach wedding photographer, environmentalists, fishermen and dozens of others testified in a virtual ad hoc meeting on Wednesday hosted by the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Opponents said the proposed offshore fish farm demonstration pen by a Hawaii-based company, the first such project in the Gulf of Mexico, would create pollution in the form of fish waste, spread diseases to wild fish populations and increase competition with fishing companies that depend on wild catches.

Longboat Key fined for raw sewage spill in June

LONGBOAT KEY – The Town of Longboat can either spend $262,000 in fines for spilling millions of gallons of sewage, or choose an in-kind environmental enhancement project costing 1½ times more than that fine.

The State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection presented Longboat Key with the Consent Order Tuesday that requires them to submit a Sewer Overflow Response Plan, provide mitigation to offset impacts and provide a corrective plan, in addition to monetary penalties.

Longboat Key will have to provide ongoing updates to the state.

“We received the Proposed Order yesterday (Monday) and we are reviewing it,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “Our Town attorney has called for an attorney-client session tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon with the Town Commission to brief them and obtain their direction related to the proposed order.”

In June, an independent consultant said the town’s only force main sewer line on the mainland side of Sarasota Bay spilled 11 million gallons, lowered from an original estimate of nearly 26 million gallons.

Exploring the widespread impacts of ongoing nitrogen pollution

The release of reactive nitrogen into the environment is having severe and ongoing ecosystem, economic, and human health impacts. How can we reduce our nitrogen footprint?

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in the environment, but its natural cycling has been significantly altered by human activities, specifically the release of excessive and harmful amounts of nitrogen from various sources including fertilizers, animal and human wastes, fossil fuel combustion, and mining.

Nitrogen Overload: Environmental Degradation, Ramifications, and Economic Costs, a new book recently published by AGU (American Geophysical Union), seeks to improve our understanding of the negative impacts of so much excess reactive nitrogen in the environment.

Visit the link below for a summary of content from the book. In the article the author, Brian G. Katz, a scientist who has spent the past four decades investigating the transport and fate of nitrogen in groundwater, springs, surface waters, and the atmosphere, gives an overview of the main issues.

North Port claims 1st place as most “water wise” city in the nation

winner logos

Congratulations are in order for the City of North Port. The Wyland Foundation recently announced the winners in the 9th Annual Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation with the City of North Port taking first place in its population category!

This year, during the month of August, cities across the United States took part in the challenge which offers a unique and compelling way to motivate residents to conserve water. Residents participated on behalf of their city by completing a series of online conservation pledges at www.mywaterpledge.com that encourage positive behavior changes. Cities that collect the most pledges within their population category win the title of most water-wise city in the nation.

“It’s incredible to see how much our community cares for our environment. For several years, the City of North Port has participated in the Wyland Mayor’s Challenge and the response has increased year after year! I can’t tell you how honored I am to represent our city which is so committed to water conservation and being stewards of its resources,” stated City of North Port Mayor, Debbie McDowell.

Participants who took the water pledge agreed to perform simple tasks to save water such as: Turning off sprinkler systems when it rains, fix plumbing leaks around the home, plant Florida friendly landscaping, and shorten shower times.

City of North Port Utilities Director Rick Newkirk said, “Our team works hard to efficiently produce and deliver fresh, clean water to our customers every day. We’re very lucky to work in a city that recognizes the value of water and realizes that conservation helps us all in the long run.”

The City of North Port congratulates and sincerely thanks all area residents who participated in this year’s challenge and demonstrated their support for conserving our area resources.