Water-Related News

FGCU researcher: Masks can also protect us from Red Tide

It turns out those masks we’ve gotten accustomed to wearing have another benefit, besides reducing the spread of COVID-19.

It seems those COVID masks might just be the thing to mitigate the harm of respiratory irritation due to red tide. Dr. Mike Parsons, professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University, explains that the cells that make up the toxic dinoflagellate can actually break up in the surf, and become a part of the sea spray. People can then breathe the toxin in, and that can lead to various levels of respiratory irritation, including an itchy, scratchy throat and a burning sensation.

"Being particles, these masks could actually filter out or remove these toxin laden droplets from the water. And that could help to reduce the exposure of people down on the beach or near the water to the toxins," Parsons said.

Parsons notes that people with asthma or COPD might be at greater risk of irritation from the red tide. Wearing a mask, he says, would reduce the symptomology and reduce their exposure to the toxin. He also recommends masks for those who spend a lot of time working near the water who might be exposed.

"You have lifeguards, you have waiters and waitresses and other restaurant staff, people working at hotels, the tourists and so if they're on the beach, and they're there for prolonged periods of time, you know, there is some anecdotal evidence of people just feeling a little bit more rundown when they're being exposed to the red tide toxin," he said.

Parsons says wearing a mask might help in those situations too.

EPA announces additional $9.6 million for beach water monitoring, notifications

EPA officials announced Monday the agency will award $9.6 million in grants to states, tribes and territories to monitor beach water for bacteria.

The funds will also be used to develop programs to notify both the agency and the public about water quality, officials said. Four tribes will collaborate with the EPA in carrying out the programs: the Swinomish, Makah, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, each of which are set to receive $50,000.

“Strong partnerships are essential to protecting public health and the environment,” EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox said in a statement. “With this funding, EPA’s partners can improve water quality monitoring efforts to better protect health and wellness.”

Red Tide has now reached Hillsborough as blooms persist in southwest Florida

 

Along with toxic red tide blooms, a nontoxic cyanobacteria that blooms annually in the Gulf of Mexico has also been reported in the past week or so.

Red tide algae blooms have been detected recently in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in its Friday report that low concentrations of the red tide organism Karenia brevis were detected in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Fish kills related to red tide have been reported in Manatee, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier. Respiratory irritations were also recorded in those counties, including in Sarasota.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said in its Piney Point update Sunday that it's continuing to work with the FWC and the Florida Department of Health to monitor algal blooms and water quality. More than 200 million gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater was dumped into Port Manatee to avert a disastrous reservoir collapse at the old phosphate plant.

In Southwest Florida, patches of the marine cyanobacterium called Trichodesmium have recently been reported. This algae bloom occurs each year, and is said to not be toxic. It resembles sawdust, but can change color as it decomposes.

FWC launches new statewide Fishing Pier Finder

Are you looking for a place to fish from shore? Check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) new Florida Fishing Pier Finder, an interactive map that allows anglers to find publicly-accessed fishing piers, jetties and fishing-specific bridges in freshwater and saltwater locations throughout the state. It is best viewed using a computer or tablet with a larger screen.

Visit MyFWC.com/PierFinder to search for a location by county, city, feature name and type of feature (such as a bridge or pier). These structures give anglers who enjoy fishing from shore or do not have a boat an opportunity to catch a variety of species. Some fishable structures extend a few feet into the water, while others extend 2,000 or more feet into the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. A majority of these structures are free to use. For those fishing piers where a fee is required, almost all have a pier license that covers anglers, resident and non-resident, that fish on the pier.

“I am thrilled with the FWC’s new Florida Fishing Pier Finder. This innovative platform helps anglers find areas where they can enjoy the diverse fishing opportunities found here in Florida, the Fishing Capital of the World,” said FWC Commissioner Gary Lester. “Providing shore-based anglers with easy-to-use location information for fishing piers, bridges and jetties increases access options and possibilities for new and experienced anglers.”

The Florida Fishing Pier Finder was created through funding from the federal Sport Fish Restoration program, which collects taxes from purchases of fishing equipment and motorboat fuel to fund projects that provide enhanced fishing opportunities. Learn more at MyFWC.com/SFR.

So, what are you waiting for? With a wealth of different ways to fish Florida waters, we encourage you to check out the new Florida Fishing Pier Finder and make some fishing memories! Interested in learning more about how to fish in Florida? Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click “Learn to Fish.” Questions? Contact Marine@MyFWC.com.

Your purchase of fishing equipment, motorboat fuel and a fishing license supports outreach and education efforts like this article and the new Florida Fishing Pier Finder.

Governor announces $148M in local resilience funding

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that more than $148 million has been awarded to communities through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program.

The program is administered by DEO and will assist local governments to develop large-scale infrastructure projects to make communities more resilient to future disasters, including storm water improvements.

“My administration remains committed to providing the resources necessary for Florida communities to build back stronger and be more resilient to future storms,” said Gov. DeSantis, reported the state of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity website. “This transformational mitigation funding will go a long way in helping Florida’s communities invest in their futures through critical infrastructure improvements.”

The funds are allocated to the state through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) program, reported the state of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity website.

Litter Gitters deployed in Bay Area waterways to remove trash

TAMPA – A new device being deployed into area waterways could help to remove trash and protect the environment.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program and other local environmental groups are working with Osprey Initiative to install the first Litter Gitters in the Tampa Bay area.

The device works as a trash trap to intercept litter and funnel it into a cage.

The trash can then be collected, recycled, and analyzed. Local groups will be able to use the data to identify where the waste is coming from and how to minimize pollution.

The effort is part of the Trash Free Waters Program.

So far three have been deployed between Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties.

RESTORE Council Approves Florida Funding

TALLAHASSEE – On April 28th, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (RESTORE Council) has approved over $83 million in funding for restoration efforts benefiting Florida.

The funding has been approved as part of the Council-Selected Restoration Component Funded Priorities List (FPL) 3b, developed through collaboration among the RESTORE Council’s state and federal members with input from Gulf of Mexico stakeholders. FPL 3b includes 20 activities that will address a range of ecosystem needs.

The $302 million FPL 3b includes $69 million for large-scale Florida programs to address water quality and quantity, habitat acquisition and conservation, and coastal resilience. Other approved activities include $5 million for longleaf pine and hydrology restoration within the Apalachicola watershed, as well as $9 million for Gulf-wide programs that provide multi-state benefits.

“In the wake of an environmental disaster as severe as the BP oil spill, remediation and recovery funding is critical to continuing research and restoration,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. “The Gulf is an incredibly interconnected system, and our restoration efforts have been successful because of the many different groups involved. The continued collaboration between state and federal partners will restore economies, ecosystems and way of life in the Gulf."

FPL 3b includes $140,456,250 for ecosystem restoration activities that RESTORE Council members will implement in the near term, and an additional $161,543,750 budgeted for priority activities that the RESTORE Council will evaluate in the future.

The RESTORE Council was established in 2012 by the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), a federal law enacted in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The RESTORE Council consists of the governors of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, along with the secretaries of the U.S. departments of agriculture, the Army, commerce, homeland security, the Interior and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional information on the projects and programs included in FPL 3b, as well as prior FPL activities can be found at RestoreTheGulf.gov.

Research shows long-term recovery possible for areas impacted by seagrass die-off

Nearly 10,000 acres of lush seagrass vanished from Florida Bay between 1987 and 1991, leading to massive ecological changes in the region near the Florida Keys. Abundance of the seagrass, Thalassia testudinum, more commonly known as turtlegrass, a foundation species of the Florida Bay ecosystem, decreased extensively during what is considered to be one of the largest declines in seagrass cover in recent history.

Researchers from the University of South Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington documented the response of seagrasses after the die-off. Their detailed data collection for over 20 years across the large area of impact has provided unique insight into seagrass resiliency or the ability of a coastal ecosystem to recover after the extensive loss. This study, published in Scientific Reports, is extremely timely as the work provides a framework for how future recovery of a new seagrass die-off, recorded in 2015 in the same location, may still be possible.

Seagrass plays an important role across much of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, providing critical habitat and feeding grounds for many species of fish, turtles and other wildlife. They're considered to be one of the most productive ecosystems in the world and in Florida Bay contribute to a sport fishing industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

USF Distinguished University Professor Susan Bell first learned of the 1987 large-scale seagrass die-off in Florida when she got a call from a long-time fisherman friend who noticed the seagrass disappearing and large amounts of dead seagrass. Bell notified colleagues at FWC, who began to detail what was happening across a roughly 15 square mile stretch of the bay.

Senate passes bipartisan $35B water infrastructure bill

A bipartisan bill to boost funding for states' water infrastructure passed the Senate 89-2 Thursday, sending it to the House of Representatives.

The measure, the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, would put $35 billion toward state water infrastructure programs. It authorizes gradual increases in funding for state water infrastructure systems from fiscal 2022 through 2026, beginning with $2.4 billion and ending with $3.25 billion.

The bill also establishes an operational sustainability program for smaller water systems such as those under the jurisdiction of Native American tribes, and authorizes $50 million annually for fiscal years 2022-2026.

It also creates a separate grant program for large and midsize drinking water systems, with 50 percent of the funding required to go to systems that serve between 10,000 and 100,000 people. The other half must be used for systems serving populations of at least 100,000.

The bill would nearly double funding for grants aimed at removing lead from drinking water, from $60 million to $100 million per year. The Biden administration, as part of its infrastructure plan, has pledged to replace the entirety of the nation’s lead pipes. Lead in drinking water has been linked to brain and neurological damage in children, including in the case of Flint, Mich., which saw its water supply contaminated by lead.

Lithia Springs swimming area to reopen May 3rd

The spring-fed swimming area at Lithia Springs Conservation Park will open on Monday, May 3rd. The reopening will include capacity limits and social distancing measures.

The swimming area has been closed for more than a year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The reopening comes with important caveats: Capacity limits and social distancing measures.

Swimming times will be divided into two, 4-hour swimming time limits, with a maximum capacity of 200 swimmers in each time slot. The first time slot will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the second slot will be from 2-6 p.m. The hour in between will allow staff to sanitize the area.

Guests will be advised to practice social distancing while in lines or moving around the property. Masks are recommended when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Lithia Springs Conservation Park, 3932 Lithia Springs Road, is a 160-acre park along the banks of the Alafia River. In addition to the spring-fed swimming area, the park includes diverse plant communities, cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, picnic tables, and more than 40 campsites.

Tampa PIPES program aims to reduce “non-revenue water”

Water losses averaged about 12.8% in the last fiscal year. That's more than 2.6 billion gallons.

TAMPA — Billions of gallons of treated water are lost every year in Tampa, and it's driving up customers' water bills.

The city is now working to stop those losses, but it may take years to see major improvements.

Tampa's drinking water comes from the Hillsborough River. It is filtered, pumped into reservoirs, treated with chemicals then sent through a network of underground pipes serving 145,000 residential and commercial customers.

But each day, millions of gallons are never measured by water meters or billed to customers, resulting in water loss.

"There is a cost to it, and it's real, and it's in the millions," said Tampa Water Department Director Chuck Weber.

There’s no free water

Weber says most of the losses are the result of leaking pipes.

“There’s no free water. Water isn’t free. It costs money to treat it. So in some way, in some form, ultimately the ratepayers are paying for that water that is lost in the system,” Weber said.

A few water-main breaks make the news, shutting down roads and sometimes even forcing residents to boil water.

But Weber says most leaks are far less dramatic.

Hillsborough County and partners work to remove derelict vessels from waterways

Boat being removed

Burned Sailboat's Blackened Hull Raised, Towed Ashore, Destroyed

The Salty Hobo sank near former boat "graveyard" where County has removed more than two dozen vessels

Watching a crew salvage his burned, sunken sailboat from the bottom of the Alafia River, Barry Mills says he's lucky to be alive.

He was aboard on April 15 when an anchor holding the seaworthy 37-foot Irwin sloop broke loose and the vessel rode an in-coming tide toward the U.S. 41 bridge. Working below deck, he was unaware Salty Hobo was adrift until moments before the tip of its 47-foot-high mask struck a 7,600-volt overhead power line. Mills scrambled into his dinghy as the boat exploded in flames.

The sailboat sank while firefighters doused the flames. It settled to the muddy bottom, coming to rest upright in about 11 feet of water, on the south side of the river's navigational channel.

On April 28 a team of divers and support personnel raised the burned hull with inflatable bags, towed it to the close-by Williams Park Boat Ramp, and crushed it into disposable chunks. The coordinated effort involved Hillsborough and Tampa law enforcement officials and state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers.

Hillsborough County's Code Enforcement, Marine Safety Unit, and Conservation & Environmental Lands Management departments handled disposal operations. In addition to the sailboat the County has removed 25 vessels - sailboats, motor yachts, barges - from a boat "graveyard" adjacent to Williams Park and the Mosaic phosphate plant. Many of the vessels were half-sunken, stripped of valuables, and beyond repair.

The county has hired a salvage company to remove two large steel-hulled vessels from the location using state grants from boater registration fees.

Getting rid of the boats not only eliminates eyesores, it gets rid of potential hazards to navigation and possible environmental problems such as spilled fuel and wastewater.

While the interagency team was assembled to raise and haul away Salty Hobo, it also removed Island Girl, a dilapidated sailboat. A front-end loader pushed the listing craft off a beach, and the Marine Safety Unit towed it to the ramp, where it was dismantled and sent to a landfill. Metal parts, such as the mast and railings, will be recycled. Authorities also properly dispose of any fuel, rubber, engine parts, and other potentially hazardous materials they come across.

To see photos of the Salty Hobo and Island Girl, click the link below

Declines in Tampa Bay seagrass observed in 2020

For the first time since 2012, seagrass acreage in Tampa Bay fell below the recovery goal established by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program nearly 25 years ago.

Caulerpa

TAMPA BAY – Provisional results released earlier this month by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) show that Tampa Bay now harbors 35,240 acres of seagrass. Between 2018 and 2020, seagrasses throughout Tampa Bay declined by 13%, or 5,411 acres. The majority of those losses occurred in Old Tampa Bay, which was down 3,200 acres. Losses were also reported in Hillsborough Bay (-525 acres) and the Manatee River (-150 acres). Lower Tampa Bay reported little to no change in mapped seagrass acreage. These estimates are based on imagery collected during the winter of 2019-2020, before the emergency discharges from Piney Point began in spring 2021.

The surveys used to estimate seagrass acreages are coordinated by scientists with the SWFWMD. Aerial photos are taken every two years in winter, when bay waters are clearest. The digital imagery is plotted, analyzed and ground-truthed to verify accuracy. SWFWMD has used this comprehensive process to track trends in seagrass extent in Florida estuaries since 1988. To complement the aerial surveys, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) coordinates a monitoring program that further describes the bay’s seagrass resources. An interactive dashboard tracks changes in seagrass species, health, and abundance. In Old Tampa Bay, bay managers have been concerned about recurring summertime algae blooms and water clarity trends for several years. There, on-the-ground assessments show that rooted macroalgae (Caulerpa prolifera) are replacing seagrasses.

Tampa Bay has come a long way since the early 1980s, when the SWFWMD mapped a mere 21,653 acres of seagrass in the bay. Much of the bay’s environmental recovery came as a result of persistent efforts to control nutrient pollution. Those investments paid off after the bay reached a record high of 41,655 acres of seagrass habitat in 2016. As a result, TBEP’s Habitat Master Plan (2020 Update) established a new restoration goal for seagrass: maintaining at least 40,000 acres of seagrass within Tampa Bay. “We know that the bay can support extensive seagrass meadows,” noted TBEP Ecologist Gary Raulerson. “This represents a slight increase from the previous goal of 38,000 acres. The new goal is intended to protect the progress we’ve already made and is consistent with the community’s history of setting ambitious goals.” This year’s results are a clarion call for bay managers. Seagrasses are important because they are essential fish nursery habitats. They are a major food source for marine wildlife, including manatees and sea turtles. They also trap sediments, improve water clarity, and offset the impacts of climate change. Improving water quality for the benefit of increasing seagrass coverage in Tampa Bay has been a hallmark achievement of the TBEP, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. TBEP and its partners are committed to investigating and addressing the complex causes of the observed 2020 declines in seagrass resources in Tampa Bay.

Photo source: Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Legislature agrees to budget $100M in federal relief for Piney Point

The House signed off on a Senate plan to use American Rescue Plan money.

The Florida House has agreed to a plan to budget $100 million from the American Rescue Plan for the Piney Point site.

The Senate on Wednesday proposed using that portion of an anticipated $10 billion in federal spending to cover the cost of cleanup at the former phosphorus plant in Manatee County.

The House on Friday morning announced it would agree to the deal as part of the first back-and-forth regarding American Rescue Plan dollars.

President Joe Biden signed the federal relief bill last month.

The Piney Point site became a priority when a breach in one of three reservoirs in early April forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes at risk of flash floods if the gypsum stack surrounding the reservoir collapsed. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency earlier this month at the site.

Manatee County preservation of coastal habitat helps to mitigate climate change

Salt marshes are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They create habitat for wildlife, protect shorelines from erosion, reduce flooding, and protect water quality by filtering runoff.

About a dozen volunteers wearing rubber boots and slathered in sunscreen have come to Robinson Preserve along the south shore of the Manatee River in Northwest Bradenton to plant saltmarsh grass along new areas of tidal basin.

Damon Moore, a Division Manager with Manatee County's Parks & Natural Resources, gathered this crew at a marsh grass nursery created a decade ago at this 600-plus acre park.

The first part of bolstering this important coastal habitat is digging up the cordgrass before transplanting it to bare shoreline elsewhere in the preserve.

Armed with shovels and large buckets, the volunteers march ankle-deep into a mudflat thick with spongy muck. The crew — nicknamed the RIP Squad — are starting what could be a seven-year long process of creating a mangrove forest designed to protect the area from the impacts of climate change.

It will take about a year for these plantings to fully coalesce, then, through natural succession, the marsh grasses will capture mangrove seeds on the tides.

Volunteer Brenda Nusbaum is originally from Ohio, and now lives in Lakewood Ranch.

"Since I've been in Florida, I've learned about the importance of the mangroves as far as filtration, and protecting our water and carbon dioxide," she said. "And the salt marshes are so critical because of the things that are released in the bay. They have to be filtered out or there won't be anything left."

Similar saltmarsh restoration projects in Manatee County at Emerson Point Preserve and Perico Bayou show how these habitats are the foundation of the coastal food chain. The plants feed small animals which, in turn, feed larger animals such as birds, crabs, and fish.

Restoration efforts improved water quality in the surrounding areas, and the native habitats supported nesting for multiple protected bird species as well as spawning waters for snook and tarpon.

Saltmarsh cordgrasses are extremely hardy, grow in salt-tolerant conditions, and are easy to pull in transport. They also greatly reduce pollutants in the water by filtering out excess nutrients and chemicals.

Damon Moore manages ecological restoration in Manatee County. He says it may take seven years to establish a mangrove forest — but when that happens, there’s an even bigger impact on the environment.

Guidelines for 2021 sea turtle nesting season

The 2021 Sea Turtle Nesting Season starts on May 1st and runs through October 31st from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Below are some guidelines you should follow to make sure this nesting season is a safe one for our marine wildlife.

Guidelines for 2021 Sea Turtle Nesting Season

  • Shut off or shield lights that are visible from the beach. Close drapes or blinds after dark. Use 25 watt yellow-bug lights where exterior lighting is necessary. Avoid using flashlights or fishing lanterns on the beach. Fires are not permitted. Lee County has a Sea Turtle Conservation Code which is enforced. For information regarding lighting, or to report a lighting violation, please call Lee County Division of Environmental Sciences (239) 533-8353.
  • Remove beach litter. Balloons, plastic bags, foam and other non-degradable pollutants cause the deaths of many sea turtles who mistake them for food.
  • Quietly observe a nesting turtle from a distance. Do not shine any lights on or around her — she may abandon her effort to nest. No flash photography. Stay behind the turtle so that she cannot see you.
  • Do not harass a turtle by touching her or prodding her to move. Stay out of the way as she crawls back to the water.
  • Stack or remove beach furniture.
  • Keep pets on a leash, away from sea turtles and their nests.
  • Leave sea turtle nest identification markers in place on the beach.
  • Leave nest sites undisturbed. If you find a hatchling wandering in daylight, place it on moist sand in a dry container, shade it and call Turtle Time, Inc. immediately: (239)-481-5566.

To report dead or injured sea turtles, or, if you have accidentally hooked a sea turtle that is small enough to rescue, contact:

  • Statewide: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 1-888-404-FWCC
  • In Lee County: Turtle Time, Inc. (239)-481-5566
  • In Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties: Clearwater Marine Aquarium (727) 441-1790
  • In Manatee County: Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch (941) 778-5638
  • In Manatee and Sarasota Counties: Mote Marine Laboratory 888-345-2335
  • In Charlotte County: Coastal Wildlife Club (941) 212-2214

Deep well injection project approved for Piney Point

MANATEE COUNTY — Manatee County Commissioners Tuesday voted 6-1 to authorize a deep well injection project at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant.

The construction agreement was given to Youngquist Brothers, Inc. and the project is restricted to not exceed $9,350,000. The project is also based on the completion time of 330 days.

It could be weeks or even months until we understand the environmental impact of the release of millions of gallons of wastewater from Piney Point in Tampa Bay.

Earlier this month, crews were able to patch and seal the leak at the former phosphate plant but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's attention now turns to "bloom conditions."

DEP said water samples from various locations around the previous discharge site, Port Manatee and out into Tampa Bay will continue daily with the results posted online.

The agency says it will continue to monitor any future environmental impacts.

Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Awards Program now accepting applications

CLEARWATER – Awards season is open for residents and businesses with attractive, water-efficient landscapes. Applications are accepted online at awards.tampabaywaterwise.org through June 30. Winners receive a custom mosaic garden stone, recognition by local elected officials and neighborhood bragging rights.

Getting a coveted award stone requires balancing Florida-friendly landscape elements with attractive design, minimal maintenance, and efficient irrigation techniques that result in reduced water use. Landscapes must be established for at least 12 months to be eligible for an award.

Tampa Bay Water, in partnership with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) County Extension Offices and Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program, is looking to recognize residents, local businesses and community organizations that are committed to conserving water resources and protecting the environment. All entries are reviewed by representatives of the University of Florida IFAS County Extension, followed by on-site evaluations.

“We work with the community through the Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Awards program to encourage efficient use of our water resources and to protect our drinking water sources from pollution,” said Amelia Brown, demand management program manager for Tampa Bay Water.

Scientists tracking environmental impacts from Piney Point wastewater release

Wastewater released from the former Piney Point fertilizer plant property has made its way to the uplands, back bays, estuaries and marshes along the eastern shores of Tampa Bay, putting a substantial amount of nitrogen in the water that could have detrimental effects on some of the region’s most sensitive and unique habitats.

Environmental advocates say Tampa Bay is an environmental success story in many ways, having recovered significantly from decades of pollution. Now they worry the bay’s recovery could be set back by the Piney Point disaster.

Teams of scientists are keeping a close watch on the bay as they work to understand the impacts of so much polluted water flowing into the ecosystem.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials authorized the release of roughly 215 million gallons of wastewater from the Piney Point facility starting March 31 in an emergency response to a leak in a containment pond liner. That leak eventually became a breach, led to the evacuation of hundreds of Manatee County residents from their homes and businesses, local and state-level emergency declarations and the mobilization of a $200 million effort to close Piney Point once and for all.

State funding announced to permanently close Piney Point gyp stack

MANATEE COUNTY – Flanked by County Commissioners and Manatee County delegation members, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this morning announced that unprecedented state resources will be used to address the process water at Piney Point.

The Governor today directed $15.4 million within the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) budget to be reallocated to Piney Point for "innovative technologies to pre-treat water at the site for nutrients, in the event further discharges are needed."

He said rigorous water quality monitoring will continue in order to fully measure the ecological impacts of the process water that has been discharged into Piney Creek and, ultimately, Tampa Bay near Port Manatee.

"We want this to be the last chapter of the Piney Point story, so today I'm directing DEP to create a plan to close the site," DeSantis told local media this morning from Piney Point. "I have requested that DEP's team of engineers and scientists develop plans for the permanent closure of this site including identifying the necessary resources to do so."

Beyond DeSantis's initial $15.4 million commitment, Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said he is working closely with the Governor and DEP staff to formulate an appropriations request of $100 million for legislators to consider as a first installment payment this year. If more is needed, Florida lawmakers will include any additional needs as part of next year's budget.

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said his team of scientists and engineers is closely measuring the environmental impacts of the uncontrolled discharge at Piney Point so that "we can fully hold (property owner) HRK fully accountable."

DeSantis commended the state and local teams that responded around the clock to successfully address the threat to public safety and manage the uncontrolled discharge of process water into Piney Creek. Dr. Scott Hopes, Manatee County Administrator, thanked the Governor for taking decisive action to mitigate the risk to public safety and the environment.

Update on Piney Point gyp stack situation from DEP

Piney Point Update - April 18, 2021

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continues to monitor the small detachment discovered underneath the steel plate placed over the liner seam separation on the east wall of the NGS-South compartment. Field operations teams are fully engaged in repair activities. There have been no observed increases in the flow rate and it remains contained within the on-site stormwater collection system.

Key status updates and response activities:

  • Discharges to Port Manatee remain ceased. DEP is working rigorously to get innovative technologies up and running as quickly as possible. It remains DEP's priority, if possible, to ensure any future necessary discharges are pre-treated to minimize ecological impacts.
  • DEP is making preparations to manage increased stormwater onsite ahead of early week forecasts of rain and wind.
  • Approximately 197 million gallons remain in the NGS-South compartment. Elevation and volume will likely fluctuate as innovative technologies are deployed to initiate water treatment.
  • DEP continues to monitor and sample surrounding waterways following previous discharges. At this time, bloom conditions have been observed in the localized area of previous discharges. To date, results have ranged from non-detect to trace (0.34 ppb) levels of cyanotoxins. DEP’s interactive water quality dashboard details sampling locations and corresponding results to evaluate any environmental impact. Results will continue to be posted as soon as they are available.
  • There are no reported fish kills in the area.

Residents can find the latest information on the status of the site and response activities at ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov/PineyPointUpdate.