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.

City of Tampa awarded $500K grant for resiliency planning and disaster readiness

The City of Tampa will receive a $500,000 grant from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity to help shape a stronger and more resilient future for Tampa.

The grant is part of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Mitigation Program to help Florida cities mitigate the effects of future natural disasters.

“This grant will help us build a stronger Tampa from the ground up. From ensuring new developments are built with resiliency in mind, to improving access to key resources like food, shelter, power and other lifelines for all residents, supporting a seamless evacuation plan for each neighborhood, investing in our infrastructure and more. These studies will ensure that as we grow, we continue growing in a strategic way, tackling vulnerabilities head-on and taking action to secure a more resilient future for our entire city,” says Mayor Jane Castor.

The City of Tampa plans to use the grant funds to conduct a study and analysis of Hurricane Evacuation Zones A and B to support resiliency planning and disaster readiness in these areas. Today, approximately 35% percent of the City’s population resides in the Hurricane A and B Evacuation Zones. These zones are especially vulnerable to flooding, sea-level rise, and other coastal threats.

The project will have 3 main scopes:

  • This first is to evaluate state, local, and regional land-use policies and development regulations (including hurricane evacuation, shelter requirements, building regulations, rebuilding practices and zoning requirements), and recommend changes (if needed) to reduce the risks posed by tropical storms and severe weather.
  • The study will also outline strategies to strengthen community lifelines during a disaster, including access to food, water, shelter, medical care, power and fuel, safety and security, communications, transportation, and more. This will be accomplished by bringing together key stakeholders like the Tampa Port Authority, Tampa General Hospital, University of Tampa, MacDill AFB, Tampa Downtown Partnership, Westshore Alliance, the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and others to collectively develop an integrated plan for improving resiliency in the face of tropical storm and other climate change events.
  • Lastly, the study will target two geographical areas (Palmetto Beach and South of Gandy) for community-level planning, focusing on identifying specific projects that support the economic and social development of each community. The lessons learned from these neighborhoods will be integrated into plans for other areas of the city.

The project will also evaluate the extent to which vulnerable and low-income communities are at risk during storm and flooding events, regardless of their location. Oftentimes these communities are not able to invest in resiliency efforts such as storm-proofing or hardening their homes and lack access to affordable alternative energy. In severe storm events, these populations may not have access to groceries, medicines and may experience loss of employment. The study will evaluate these vulnerabilities in order to plan strategic resiliency investments in these communities.

This grant will support the City of Tampa’s commitment to establishing Sustainability & Resilience as one of Mayor Jane Castor’s top priorities for the Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow vision plan.

Learn more about Sustainability & Resiliency initiatives at tampa.gov/green-tampa

Thonotosassa winemaker saves water with new technology

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — Wine doesn't just pour all by itself. It's a year round effort to make it at Keel Farms in Thonotosassa.

And this winery is using new technology to help save water for all of us.

Clay Keel's family has owned the farm for nearly 40 years. He's now taking it in a modern direction.

"I think as a farmer, I'm a bit more progressive than some of the others out there," Keel said.

Among the changes, Keel installed a new weather station. It reads soil probes that are placed in the ground. With that, Keel has real time information he can use to water his thousands of blueberry plants. That information is sent right to his phone, which is very important this time of the year when temperatures drop.

"When we have to worry about losing fruit to freezes, how much we're trying to protect the crop with water. We're able to forecast all of that and do it at a much more precise level," Keel explained.

With the new technology and information, that saves water for all of us.

Tampa study aims to prepare city for 8 feet of sea-level rise in 80 years

On Tuesday, the City of Tampa gave an update to an ongoing study looking at the impact of sea-level rise in the region. The City expects up to 8 feet of sea-level rise by the year 2100 and hopes to shape regulations and policy to be ready for it.

“We’ve measured 7.8 inches of sea-level rise at the St. Petersburg tide gauge since we first started reporting sea levels back in 1946,” Burke said.

All the Way Up

But projections show that number is about to go way up. While the last 75 years might’ve seen less than a foot of rise, Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel shows the next 75 will see at least two feet of rise. And that’s on the low end. Burke said there’s a 96-percent chance it’ll be higher. The recommended projection is 8.5 feet of rise in a little under 80 years. Humans can largely thank themselves.

“We are explicitly acknowledging the connection between our human behaviors, our choices,” Burke said. “And those effects that we’re likely to see with respect to sea-level change.”

Curbing greenhouse gas emissions could mitigate rise. The 8.5-feet projection assumes emissions stay at the current level and accounts for ice sheet instabilities. It’s the high end for the “very likely” scenario. According to those projections, sea level around the bay area could rise nearly two feet by 2040 and close to four by 2060.

Tampa renews push for reusing wastewater

Update: Tampa Mayor Jane Castor delays wastewater reuse project

More than a year after scrapping a controversial toliet-to-tap plan, the city has a new proposal.

TAMPA — Out with the TAP, in with the PURE.

It’s been more than a year since Tampa gave up trying to sell a plan — dubbed the Tampa Augmentation Project or TAP — to convert wastewater to drinking water in the face of environmental and City Council opposition.

The struggle to persuade critics to get over their aversion to a project they dubbed “toilet-to-tap,” has taken on a new dimension and a new acronym — PURE — to stand in for a program that promises to “purify usable resources for the environment.”

There are some key differences between the old and new plans. PURE proposes to clean sewage to drinking water quality before injecting into the aquifer, something that critics feared TAP wouldn’t do.

And the final product will be dumped into a reservoir on the Hillsborough River below the intake for the city’s water supply, meaning the converted wastewater would only likely enter the city’s water supply during periods of drought when the water didn’t flow over the dam downstream from the David L. Tippen Water plant.

The extra 50 million gallons a day, on average, would replenish the water levels in the river and help wash out the creeping salination of Sulphur Springs, issues that city officials said concerned the Southwest Florida Management District, the agency that controls the city’s permit. That permit is up for renewal in 2023.

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.

Look-up tool helps Hillsborough County residents know when to water

Conservation measures limit lawn and landscape watering to specific days and times based on the property address

When are my watering days?

It's a question many may be asking.

In unincorporated Hillsborough County there are two sets of water use restrictions, depending on the property location. A new address look up tool can help individuals find the correct days and times for a specific address.

Most properties north of the Alafia River follow the year-round, twice-a-week schedule:

  • Mondays and Thursdays for addresses ending in 0, 1, 2, or 3; Tuesdays and Fridays for those ending in 4, 5, or 6; and Wednesdays and Saturdays for addresses ending in 7, 8, or 9.
  • Except for hand-watering and low-volume irrigation, landscape watering must take place before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. on allowable days – either from midnight to 8 a.m., or from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Most properties south of the Alafia River are under a temporary one-day-a-week schedule and special morning irrigation hours until Dec. 31, 2022:

  • Mondays for addresses ending in 0 or 1; Tuesdays for those ending in 2 or 3; Wednesdays for those ending in 4 or 5; Thursdays for those ending in 6 or 7; Fridays for those ending in 8 or 9; and Saturdays for properties with no or a mixed address.
  • Except for hand-watering and low-volume irrigation, landscape watering must take place either between 8:30 a.m. and noon, or from 6 p.m. to midnight on the allowable day.

These restrictions apply to most water sources, including private wells, ponds, or lakes used as alternate irrigation supplies. Reclaimed water can be used for irrigation any day of the week, but it is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Hillsborough County Code Enforcement regularly enforces County ordinances for watering restrictions. Observed violations may result in citations starting at $100.

Residents of Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Plant City should check those cities' websites for any different restrictions.

Project applications sought for Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund

TBERF logo

Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund Request for 2021 Proposals

TBERF-2021 seeks applications for cost-effective projects that will protect, restore or enhance the natural resources of Tampa Bay and its contributing watershed.

This includes projects that address on-the-ground habitat restoration; water quality improvement; applied research and monitoring; and community-based social marketing campaigns.

Preference will be given to proposals that apply open science principles and are aligned with conservation objectives and priorities described in the RFP.

More information and application materials are available at the link below.

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

Study shows positive effect of restoration

A recent study of Southwest Florida Water Management District restoration projects showed restoring coastal wetlands has a positive impact on populations of juvenile sportfish.

The Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund paid for a study that focused on how restoring coastal wetlands improved habitat for juvenile sportfish and compared the use of natural, impacted and restored sites along Tampa Bay shorelines. Sites defined as impacted had modifications such as dredged canal or ditch but no further changes. But restored sites had landscape changes that helped support aquatic communities.

The study found that the restored and natural sites displayed a greater number of sportfish than the impacted sites, suggesting changes to habitat can affect the number of juvenile sportfish.

“It’s exciting and validating to have this information; it shows that our coastal restoration techniques are providing valuable sportfish habitat,” said Jaime Swindasz, staff environmental scientist.

Assessing the growth of juvenile sportfish can provide helpful insight into habitat suitability and the cost-benefit of future restoration projects.

The study evaluated the Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration, Terra Ceia Restoration and Cockroach Bay Restoration.

“Overall density of sportfish at the restoration sites were comparable to or higher than natural sites that have been shown to serve as sportfish nurseries in Tampa Bay,” the study said.

For example, the Rock Ponds Restoration site contained high densities of snook, fast growth rates and overall good conditions. This suggests that coastal wetland restoration using a habitat mosaic approach helps to improve nursery function for juvenile sportfish, which adds ecological and economic benefits to these projects.

Tampa addresses chronic flooding as climate challenges loom

As $251 million in stormwater improvements proceed, city engineers grapple with rising seas.

TAMPA — As a crane noisily lowered an enormous pipe into a 12-foot hole along West Gray Street recently, Mobility Director Vik Bhide said this work would provide relief to a huge area of ...To continue reading, subscribe to The Tampa Bay Times.

Yet as dramatic as the pipe project looks, it’s only the beginning of what Tampa needs to protect itself from changing climate. Rising seas could eventually erase the massive $251 million program in stormwater improvements approved by the City Council in 2016 unless more is done.

Property owners have already paid five years of fees from that 2016 assessment that will soon reach nearly $90 a year for the owner of an average-sized home. Over the next 25 years, those fees will help pay for the large-scale overhaul. And, Bhide said, the city hopes to piggyback on the extensive water and sewer repairs being done all over the city as part of its $2.9 billion infrastructure repair plan, which was approved last year.

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.

Hillsborough plan would reduce home-building tied to wetlands

A proposed ordinance eliminates extra credit for developers whose land includes protected wetlands

TAMPA — A Hillsborough County commissioner says an ongoing public policy debate calls to mind an old adage poking fun at individual gullibility.

“I’ve got some swamp land in Florida to sel...To continue reading, subscribe to The Tampa Bay Times.

Undevelopable, but not unprofitable. Under county rules, developers gain credits to construct extra houses elsewhere on their property if some of their land is too wet to build upon.

“There is no reason why we should be giving development credits for swamp land,” Smith told the rest of the commission earlier this month.

Commissioners enacting new water restrictions for South Hillsborough on January 4

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — Hillsborough leaders are issuing a warning, saying that new housing developments are going up faster than Tampa Bay Water can handle the demand in Southern Hillsborough County. Now, county commissioners have approved water restrictions for that area that start on January 4.

Commissioners say families are already feeling the effects of problems like low-water pressure during high-demand times. Now, commissioners say there is a constant threat of boil water notices, which happen when water pressure dips too low.

"The new development is just one more price our residents pay for this county allowing development to overwhelm our infrastructure," said Commissioner Mariella Smith in a recent meeting of the county commission.

In addition, county leaders say the low water pressure problems could end up affecting the ability of fire crews to put out a fire in those areas.

View the official ordinance on new water restrictions in South County

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council awards stormwater education grants

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have selected the recipients of the FY2021 Stormwater Outreach and Education funding. This funding from FDOT aims to further public involvement, education, and outreach efforts to improve the quality of stormwater runoff in the Tampa Bay region. Projects develop and implement creative public outreach programs and a variety of educational materials, such as door hangers, drain murals, and hands-on activities for children.

This year, funds were distributed across 13 projects, totaling $90,000. Awardees included Carlton Manor, Hampton Terrace, Keep Pasco Beautiful, MOSI, Pasco County, the city of St. Petersburg, and others. Many projects were tailored to this year’s target audiences: 1) construction and development industry; 2) Homeowner Associations; 3) lawn care and landscaping companies; 4) tourism and hospitality. Notable projects include hospitality educational programs through both Keep Pinellas Beautiful and Keep Pasco Beautiful, community rain garden signage from the Gulfport Sustainability Committee, stormwater educational signage for seven public parks in the city of Largo, and outreach materials for a fertilizer ordinance public awareness campaign in Pasco County.

See the full list of FY2021 funding recipients.

Visit the Stormwater Outreach & Education Funding page to learn more: http://www.tbrpc.org/stormwaterfunding/

Tampa Bay Water to fund programs to protect drinking water sources

Six organizations receive $58,900 in grants and sponsorships

CLEARWATER – Tampa Bay Water will distribute $58,900 in grant and sponsorship funds to help Tampa Bay area non-profits and schools protect the region’s sources of drinking water. The utility is partnering with the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, Glazer Children’s Museum, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Pasco County Schools and Pinellas County Schools on projects that educate families and students through exhibits, lesson plans and environmental education programs.

“We’re partnering with organizations that share our commitment to protect and conserve our water resources,” said Michelle Stom, chief communications officer for Tampa Bay Water. “These programs not only help protect our drinking water and environment; they are also a great public service to families throughout Tampa Bay.”

Tampa Bay Water will fund four organizations through its Source Water Protection Mini-grant program and two organizations through sponsorships. The receiving organizations are the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Pinellas County Schools, Pasco County School District, and the Glazer Children's Museum.

To see details of the funded projects, visit the link below.

Commissioners enacting new water restrictions for South Hillsborough on January 4

View the official ordinance on new water restrictions in South County »

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — Hillsborough leaders are issuing a warning, saying that new housing developments are going up faster than Tampa Bay Water can handle the demand in Southern Hillsborough County. Now, county commissioners have approved water restrictions for that area that start on January 4.

Commissioners say families are already feeling the effects of problems like low-water pressure during high-demand times. Now, commissioners say there is a constant threat of boil water notices, which happen when water pressure dips too low.

"The new development is just one more price our residents pay for this county allowing development to overwhelm our infrastructure," said Commissioner Mariella Smith in a recent meeting of the county commission.

In addition, county leaders say the low water pressure problems could end up affecting the ability of fire crews to put out a fire in those areas.

"The last thing we want is the fire hydrant not to flow when you've got your houses on fire," said Commissioner Kimberly Overman.

Now, county leaders have taken the next step to address what they are calling a "water crisis" by enacting water restrictions that start on January 4, 2021 for families in the South Hillsborough County service area for Tampa Bay Water.

Generally, this is for families living south of the Alafia River, in areas like Riverview, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach, Wimauma and more.

Tampa launches pilot water improvement program with high hopes

The $1.9 million year-long pilot study will feature a water purification process, the first of its kind in the United States.

TAMPA — Dr. Jacimaria Batista is an expert on water, particularly municipal water systems.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas civil and environmental engineering professor reviewed Tampa’s design report for a $1.9 million year-long pilot study on suspended ion exchange — a water treatment process in which resins bind to impurities to remove them from water.

Her immediate reaction was the academically — and courteous — equivalent of “yuck”.

Tampa’s water as it comes out of the tap now, mostly originating in the Hillsborough River, wasn’t going to win any appearance awards.

“Your water quality is pretty bad. You have a lot of color,” Batista said, by way of explaining why Florida’s third-largest city might end up spending between $95 million and $130 million on a cutting-edge technology that hasn’t been used in the United States.