Water-Related News

Environmental groups say latest water bill bad for Florida

Environmental groups across the state are challenging the bill recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that is supposed to help clean up Florida's ailing waterways.

Proponents of Senate Bill 712, also called the Clean Waterways Act, say it will help the state better deal with blue-green algae blooms that have popped up across the Sunshine State in recent years.

Critics, however, say the bill fails to advance Florida's water quality standards and regulations and is actually worse than having no new water laws at all.

"It started out with good intentions, taking the Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations and trying to convert them into law," said Chuck O'Neal, with Speak Up Wekiva, one of several groups that have filed a legal challenge to the bill. "But as always happens it goes to Tallahassee and gets picked apart until what comes out is worse than the status quo."

SWFWMD receives FDEP funding for new monitoring well

Today [July 8th] the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) announced the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will provide $638,550 to a new, 880-foot deep monitoring well in the District’s Most Impacted Area (MIA) of the Southern Water Use Caution Area (SWUCA) in Hillsborough County. District scientists will use data collected from the new well to better assess aquifer system dynamics, enhance groundwater modeling and determine potential water withdrawal-related impacts to the SWUCA and MIA.

DEP Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock stated, “The District continues to be a trusted partner in our mission to protect Florida’s water quality and preserve our state’s natural resources. Today’s announcement is indicative of the Department’s valued partnership with the District and the importance of fostering a proactive approach to identifying critical infrastructure to bolster our combined environmental enhancement efforts.”

The SWUCA is an eight-county, 5,000 square mile area extending from Hillsborough and Polk counties in the north to Charlotte County in the south. It was established in response to District studies which indicated that overuse and the resulting saltwater intrusion threatened groundwater resources there.

The well is a valuable addition to the Coastal Groundwater Quality Monitoring Network that the District has maintained and sampled as a groundwater resource monitoring initiative since 1991. The network currently includes over 400 wells and monitors all aquifers used for water supply purposes in the District.

Florida’s new environmental Laws: A breakdown

Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed multiple environmental bills into law.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke to Jane West with the advocacy organization 1000 Friends of Florida about highlights from the legislative session:

The governor signed a measure requiring state financed projects to first undergo sea level impact projection studies, so how will this change the way our state builds?

Yeah, we were thrilled with this. We were highly supportive. This particular bill, it's just common sense. If we're going to have taxpayer dollars go towards the construction in areas that are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, so we're talking coastal areas, we ought to make sure that at the very least, we require that they undergo some sort of sea level impact projection study to see if those taxpayer dollars are going to basically wash out to sea or not. It's just common sense.

The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve was created after this session and Governor DeSantis signed off on it. Can you tell us where is it and what is it?

Sure, so if you've ever been scalloping over in the Gulf of Mexico, you know that it's highly reliant on viable seagrass beds. This is kind of like in the armpit of Florida, so to speak, and it's a huge swath of land. It is 800 square miles. It will protect, now that it has been signed into law, 400,000 acres of seagrass beds, which is just critically important for fish habitat and scalloping. So those are really robust industries in that part of the state.

It's referred to as the Nature Coast and oftentimes the Forgotten Coast, and it's a beautiful pristine part of Florida, but they absolutely depend on their working waterfront. And so this was an excellent measure. We haven't had an aquatic preserve adopted here in Florida for over three decades. So it was great to see this and it had a lot of support from the scallop industry, the recreational fishing industry, and so we were thrilled to see that this got adopted.

Overall, how did Florida's environment fare during this past legislative session?

Overall, we are starting to go in the right direction. There were some bills that we were concerned about, for example, we were worried about the funding for Florida Forever. And we were heartened to see that that stayed at $100 million. The governor did approve that. And we understand that, you know, that was vulnerable, especially in the middle of a pandemic, the resources are being cut across the board. DeSantis cut a billion dollars in in the budget, and we were pleased to see that Florida Forever withstood that budget cut, which is important.

As we continue to remain in some sort of locked-down circumstances, the ability to have those open spaces, that recreational space, is really important for future Floridians and our current situation with the pandemic.

However, there was a balance here. For example, Senate Bill 172, you know, nullify local bans on certain sunscreen chemicals to prevent damage to coral reefs. And that was a concern of ours. We were disappointed to see that that was passed because it undermines the authority of local governments to regulate activities within their borders known as Home Rule. So that was not great.

There's a lot of work left to do, but it looks like finally, we are starting to head in the right direction on our growth management and environmental laws here in Florida.

2020 Legislative Wrap-Up from 1000 Friends of Florida »

New technology delivers fast, easy results on water quality

Handheld platform technology uses single sample to test for a variety of contaminants

A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Likened to a pregnancy test, the handheld platform uses one sample to provide an easy-to-read positive or negative result. When the test detects a contaminant exceeding the EPA’s standards, it glows green.

Led by researchers at Northwestern University, the tests can sense 17 different contaminants, including toxic metals such as lead and copper, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and cleaning products. The platform — which is powered by cell-free synthetic biology — is so flexible that researchers can continually update it to sense more pollutants.

“Current water tests rely on a centralized laboratory that contains really expensive equipment and requires expertise to operate,” said Northwestern’s Julius Lucks, who led the study. “Sending in a sample can cost up to $150 and take several weeks to get results. We’re offering a technology that enables anyone to directly test their own water and know if they have contamination within minutes. It’s so simple to use that we can put it into the hands of the people who need it most.”

The research was published today (July 6) in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Lucks is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and a member of the Center for Synthetic Biology. Jaeyoung Jung and Khalid Alam, members of Lucks’ laboratory, are co-first authors of the paper.

Florida researchers are studying metals in the Gulf of Mexico

Last summer, scientists with the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the University of South Florida started a project to find iron, copper, cobalt, cadmium, nickel, manganese, and zinc in the waters along Florida's west coast.

The goal is to find out how much of these trace metals come in and out at different times of the year, and how they affect phytoplankton, like Karenia Brevis, the organism that causes toxic red tide blooms.

Kristen Buck is a chemical oceanographer and associate professor at USF's College of Marine Science.

"As you change the dynamic of what nutrients are available, you get different organisms growing better or worse, and that fuels food webs, and it builds our system,” she said.

For example, a Trichodesmium algae bloom right now in the Gulf of Mexico could be getting fueled by iron-rich Saharan sands.

New law gives Florida DEP gets new duties, including septic systems oversight

Under a new bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday [June 30th], the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will take on new duties as an agency. Notably, those duties will include regulating the more than two and a half million septic systems in the state.

DeSantis, speaking to press in Juno Beach, said DEP is inheriting that responsibility from another state agency:

“The Florida Department of Health, which currently oversees the state septic system regulations, only contemplates the human health impacts of septic systems, but not their environmental impact,” the governor said. “This legislation transfers the authority of septic tank inspection from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, to make sure environmental harm by septic systems is finally accounted for.”

The legislation also directs the state DEP to update regulations that apply to storm water systems. The governor says emphasis in storm water regulation has historically been on preventing flooding, and has neglected taking into account environmental impact.

DeSantis told reporters storm water systems throughout the state are based on “outdated science,” and allow pollutants to enter Florida waterways.

Algae bloom along Florida’s west coast is not red tide. So what is it?

State wildlife officials say a Trichodesmium algal bloom has been lingering off the coast of Southwest Florida the past few weeks.

It’s a cyanobacteria that always exists in the Gulf of Mexico. Blooms are a yearly occurrence with colors varying from golden brown, to green, and even pink.

Kate Hubbard leads the algal bloom research and monitoring program at the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. She said this bloom is now being reported from Pinellas County down to Collier County.

“We also had some levels that we found in Gasparilla Sound, and then also on the east coast in Flagler Beach,” she said. “That is interesting and helps us really turn to looking at ocean circulation.”

Hubbard said the Saharan winds are blowing iron-rich sands into the Gulf. Trichodesmium feeds off of that iron. Then it consumes nitrogen from the air and disperses nutrients into the water, which could potentially feed toxic red tide blooms—those don’t typically start until the end of the summer.

So other than possibly nourishing red tide, and also cutting off some oxygen to marine life in the water, Trichodesmium blooms are not known to be harmful.

Study: Saharan dust may help fuel red tide in the Gulf of Mexico

A large plume of Saharan dust from Africa, over 2,000 miles wide, is surging across the Caribbean Sea. It’ll push into the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the United States, including Florida, later this week and linger into next week.

The plumes coming off the coast of Africa are quite normal. These plumes of dust typically begin in mid-June and run through mid-August, peaking somewhere in the middle.

There are many benefits to Saharan dust. It helps to temporarily suppress or lower tropical activity, can lead to vibrant sunrises and sunsets, fertilize soil in the Amazon, and help maintain Caribbean beaches.

However, the dust isn’t all positive. According to a study partially funded by NASA, Saharan dust brings nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s West Coast that may kick off blooms of red tide.

This is largely due to iron, one of the minerals found in the dust. As the dust falls into the Gulf, it attracts a cyanobacteria called Trichodesmium. The bacteria uses that iron to convert any nitrogen in the water into a form that can be consumed by other marine organisms, including the algae that leads to red tide.

The study found that in June 1999 dust from the Sahara Desert made its way across the ocean and reached parts of Florida in late July. By October, and after a 300% increase of this biologically-accessible nitrogen, a huge bloom of toxic red algae had formed within the study area, an 8,100 square mile region between Tampa Bay and Fort Myers.

The blooms go through cycles — they start offshore and as they move near shore, they intensify and can be detected and monitored. Florida sees a red tide bloom nearly every year, but not every bloom is devastating.

Hillsborough County Extension seeks participants in soil moisture study

Save Money Conserve Water Grow a Healthier Lawn

Soil moisture sensor study needs participants. Do you qualify?

Do you ever see a sprinkler watering a lawn when it's raining out, and think: what a waste of water? Well, it is. That's why Hillsborough County Extension Service is calling for residents and businesses to participate in a soil moisture sensor study. Qualified participants will receive a free soil moisture sensor or rain sensor with installation, a value of more than $150. Either device could save you money on your water bill, conserve precious potable water, and help you get a healthier lawn.

If you're tired of seeing your cash go down the drain to keep your lawn looking lush, see if you qualify to participate in the study.

  • Are you a Hillsborough County water customer?
  • Are you a business or homeowner south of State Road 60?
  • Do you have an automatic in-ground irrigation system?
  • Do you use potable water for landscape irrigation?
  • Does your water usage exceed 15,000 gallons a month?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, call (813) 744-5519, ext. 54142, or email StaplesP@HCFLGov.net to learn how you can be part of the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County Soil Moisture Sensor study.

The Soil Moisture Sensor study is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Hillsborough County Public Utilities. It is conducted by the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County.

Study: Florida has thousands more high-risk properties than FEMA says

Cape Coral and Tampa are the first and second most-exposed cities in the state, the disaster modeling found.

About 114,000 more Florida properties are at risk of flooding in a 100-year storm than the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently estimates, according to a model released Monday by a nonprofit arguing the country has undersold its vulnerability to disasters.

Tampa is the second-most exposed city in the state, says the First Street Foundation, with 43,111 properties that could flood in such an event — the seventh most at-risk in the country. No. 1 in the United States is Cape Coral, according to the analysis, with more than 90,000 at-risk properties.

The foundation’s flood tool is meant to highlight gaps in federal insurance maps and give home buyers what First Street promises is a better view of vulnerability. The data include property-specific reports that are accessible online for users to search their address — and will soon also be displayed on realtor.com, one of the largest real estate listing websites in the country, the company said.

SWFWMD draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan available

SWFWMD logo

The Southwest Florida Water Management District's (District) draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP) is now available on the District’s website for review and comment by stakeholders and the public. The plan identifies existing and projected water demands across all water use categories, available potential water sources, and projects and funding sources to meet those demands within the District’s four planning regions over the next 20 years.

Two online webinar workshops will be held in June to provide opportunities for the public and stakeholders to learn more and comment on the draft plan. All public comments and feedback are taken into consideration and may be included in the final plan document. The comment period ends July 15 at 5 p.m.

The public webinars will take place:

  • June 24 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

This meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams. Please copy and paste the following URL into your browser, https://bit.ly/3cJFaOI and follow the instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use the web interface for Teams. Google Chrome is the recommended browser for best compatibility. Members of the public can also call into the meeting at (888) 585-9008 using the conference code 346-054-201.

  • June 30 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

This meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams. Please copy and paste the following URL into your browser, https://bit.ly/2BUzG79 and follow the instructions to connect to the meeting. Please use the web interface for Teams. Google Chrome is the recommended browser for best compatibility. Members of the public can also call into the meeting at (888) 585-9008 using the conference code 346-054-201.

The Draft 2020 RWSP has been developed in collaboration with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Suwannee River, St. Johns River and South Florida water management districts, public water supply utilities and other stakeholder groups. The District includes four planning regions that consist of all or part of 16 counties in west-central Florida, covering approximately 10,000 square miles.

The final plan will be presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval in November. To view the draft plan, please click here.

The Draft 2020 RWSP is in the process of being converted to an ADA compliant document. The Final 2020 RWSP will be ADA compliant. If you need assistance, please contact the District at (352) 796-7211 or 1-800-423-1476.

SWFWMD schedules prescribed fires in Hillsborough County

SWFWMD logo

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns June through September on the Lower Hillsborough Flood Detention Area (LHFDA) in Hillsborough County.

The LHFDA is located south of Cross Creek Boulevard between U.S. Highway 301 and Morris Bridge Road near Thonotosassa. Approximately 300 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

View the video at the link below to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.