Water-Related News

Red tide and algae blooms: Florida waters in crisis

TAMPA — Florida's water pollution crisis is reaching a breaking point, and the race to pass comprehensive legislation to fix our statewide problems is moving as slow as the environmental catastrophe unfolding in our bays, rivers, natural springs, and lagoons every day.

The question concerned citizens, charter boat captains, some politicians, and environmentalists are asking? How many tons of dead fish, how many manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and majestic tarpons do we have to clean up before Florida implements a systemic change from the top down.

Everyone who lives in Florida or visits Florida is part of the problem. No person is less innocent or guilty than the other, and scientists hope that we recognize and fix the problem; before it's too late.

Public meeting scheduled for Oct. 6th on Manatee County Piney Point injection well permit

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP's) Drinking Water and Aquifer Protection Program, announces an open house public meeting to which all persons are invited.

During this public meeting, representatives of both DEP and the applicant (Manatee County) will be available to answer questions and provide information about the draft Underground Injection Control Class I Injection Well System Construction and Testing Permit for the Manatee County Utilities' Piney Point injection well (UIC Permit No. 0322708-002-UC/1I, WACS Facility ID: 101607), located at 3105 Buckeye Road, Palmetto, in Manatee County, Florida.

This draft permit would authorize the construction and operational testing of one non-hazardous Class I injection well (IW-1) and one dual-zone monitor well (DZMW-1) for the disposal of industrial wastewater from the Manatee County Piney Point Facility following an extensive review of plans by DEP, including engineering and geology professionals.

DATE AND TIME:   Oct. 6, 2021, 4–7 p.m. (EDT).
PLACE:   Manatee County Central Library, Auditorium, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd., West Bradenton, Florida.
PURPOSE:   To receive public comments on the above referenced draft UIC permit for the Manatee County Utilities' Piney Point site.

Agenda, permit application and related application information

For more information, you may contact Annette G. Roberts:
Contact Name: Roberts, Annette
Contact Email: annette.g.roberts@floridadep.gov
Contact Phone: 850-245-8336

Fighting red tide with nature: Could clams be the key to fighting red tide?

Red tide is a part of living on the Gulf coast.

While it’s clearing up in Southwest Florida, research is underway to lessen its impact in the future.

After looking at the history and the issue, Florida TaxWatch found the state should consider reintroducing southern hard clams to Southwest Florida estuaries.

“This is just one important tool in the toolkit that should be used. And it could also further, you know, enhance areas like the Tampa Bay region, and help coastal restoration activities,” Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

FGCU Water School’s James Douglass said clams and oysters can help cut down the algae levels in the water.

“If they’re healthy, should be able to do that filtering and we need to take care of our oysters and clams, our natural oysters and clams to make sure they can do their job,” Douglass said.

Tampa Bay loses 6,350 acres of seagrass over past two years

The numbers provided to the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission are worse than estimates in April.

The amount of healthy seagrass in Tampa Bay is lower than previously estimated.

Thursday, a Southwest Florida Water Management District official said Tampa Bay had seen a 16 percent decline in seagrass, or more than 6,350 acres, over two years ending in 2020. That’s higher than estimates released in April that measured a 13 percent drop.

“That sends up an alarm that something is going on that we need to pay attention to,” said Chris Anastasiou, chief scientist of the water district’s surface water improvement and management program.

His comments came Thursday during a presentation to the Hillsborough County commissioners sitting as the Environmental Protection Commission.

The numbers released in April were provisional, Susanna Martinez Tarokh, a spokeswoman for the water management district, told the Times. The amount of lost seagrass was revised upward after field verification work in Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay, she said.

The final mapping data showed seagrass acres declined from 40,651 in 2018 to 34,298 in 2020 according to measurements taken from the Manatee River north to Old Tampa Bay.

ManaSota 88 asks Manatee County to withdraw deep well injection application

BRADENTON — MansaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is urging the Manatee County Commission to withdraw its application for an Underground Injection Control Well at Piney Point.

The organization's chairman, Glenn Compton, sent the following letter to commissioners on Monday.

Dear Commissioners:

ManaSota-88 respectfully requests that the Manatee Board of County Commissioners withdraw the application for an Underground Injection Control Well at Piney Point and place this item on the agenda for the next Manatee County Board of County Commission meeting.

ManaSota-88 continues to oppose construction of any deep injection well in the vicinity of the former Piney Point Phosphate Plant.

There are ways to help protect manatees in SWFL

International Manatee Day is a time to focus on important members of our ecosystem in Southwest Florida and how to protect them. Manatee deaths have already passed a record in 2021, and the year isn’t over yet.

There are steps that can be taken in the water and on land to help protect manatees.

By easing up on fertilizers and other yard chemicals, people can help reduce pollutants entering our waterways and killing the food manatees need to survive.

Manatee deaths in Florida are at an all-time high with at least 929 deaths so far this year.

Hillsborough commission kills stormwater fee hike for 2022

A commission majority allocates $2.4 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to cover the one-year break.

TAMPA — The Hillsborough Commission, after approving higher utility and trash rates earlier this year, decided Wednesday a $5-per-home increase in the stormwater fee was too much for the public to swallow.

On a 4-3 vote, the commission agreed to kill the fee increase for the coming year and allocate federal COVID-19 relief dollars to cover the $2.4 million the stormwater assessment increase would have generated.

The assessment raises $31.3 million a year and the county uses that money, plus $20 million from its general revenue budget, to replace pipes, clean ditches, repair culverts and make other improvements to curb potential flooding.

“We know that is not enough,” County Administrator Bonnie Wise said about the stormwater budget.

DEP Secretary tours Piney Point, Vows its safety as summer rains threaten

Newly appointed DEP secretary Shawn Hamilton says Piney Point can only handle another 11 inches of rain. But water is being piped out now, and a plan is in place if a hurricane threatens.

Shawn Hamilton has been appointed as the new secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Wednesday, Hamilton toured the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant along Tampa Bay.

There, he met with Tampa bankruptcy attorney Herb Donica, the new court-appointed receiver who will oversee the site's closure.

There are still about 261 million gallons of wastewater held at Piney Point, and summer rains are once again threatening to overflow its banks.

Here's part of his interview with WUSF's Steve Newborn:

HAMILTON: Well, first of all, just going back with being with the agency for over 13 years, being involved for that time and so many different parts of our diverse mission, it's just truly an honor to serve in this capacity. But for our priorities, it's to continue to execute on the governor's vision for the environment in the state of Florida and bring those efforts and projects to the fullest extent possible to completion. That will remain the focus.

One of the focuses is Piney Point. DEP has said that the site can only handle 11 or so more inches of rain. So what's the update, and what's the plan to remove some of that excess water, if we have to do that?

I had a chance to spend some time at the site today, to get a chance to meet with the receiver, but also get a sense for current site conditions. And you know, we're in a better spot than we were a few weeks ago.

But this being Florida, rains are inevitable and we're in the rainy season. Right now, the site's at about that 11-inch mark. But since the last update, we've deployed some intermediate water management systems that actively dispose of water. And so for the most part, we're in a good spot, with a favorable rain pattern and tropics up to this point, it has allowed us more time.

Court vacates NWPR, is still weighing WOTUS restoration

A federal judge on Monday tossed out a Trump-era rule that rolled back water pollution protections, but is still weighing whether to restore Obama-era protections or simply undo the Trump rollback to return to pre-Obama regulations. In a court order, Judge Rosemary Márquez, an Obama appointee, vacated the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR), which governed which bodies of water get protection from pollution. Márquez remanded the rule for reconsideration to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Trump administration in 2019 repealed an Obama-era rule known as the Waters of the United States Rule, which expanded federal protections for smaller waterways.

And last year, the former administration put forward an additional rule, the NWPR, that reversed some protections, including for wetlands, that had been in place for decades.

The 2020 rule is the one that Márquez tossed and gave parties to a lawsuit challenging it 30 days to file proposals about what to do about the repeal rule.

The decision comes as the Biden administration seeks to revise the rule and asked the court to send the Trump rule back to it for reconsideration.

Tampa Bay Water on liquid oxygen, shortages, and the pandemic

Tampa Bay Water's acting chief operating officer discusses the impact of COVID-19 to the local water supply, and what part part liquid oxygen plays in that.

Liquid oxygen — often used to treat tap water — is in short supply because it's needed for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

WUSF's Daylina Miller spoke with Tampa Bay Water Acting Chief Operating Officer Jack Thornburgh about what that means for the area's water supply.

Daylina Miller: Cities like Tampa and Orlando are asking residents to cut down on unnecessary water use because the hospitals need liquid oxygen for COVID-19 patients. What is liquid oxygen and how's it used for treating water?

Jack Thornburgh: "Liquid oxygen is used in our plant to generate ozone. And ozone is a very powerful disinfectant that has a very short lifespan. So it can be used in places where normally chlorine would be used or some people call, you know, bleach, sodium hypochlorite. But the benefit of it is it has such a short lifespan and it's very powerful, and it doesn't combine with other compounds that make it not good for human consumption. So it is a preferable disinfectant."

Miller: Tampa Bay water announced recently that liquid oxygen would be replaced temporarily by bleach for treatment. But drinking water would still be meeting local, state and federal regulations. Can you tell us more about that?

Tampa Water Department temporarily changing water treatment method to chlorine disinfection

Starting August 26th, the Tampa Water Department will temporarily change its water disinfection process to chlorine due to a lack of liquid oxygen delivery to the David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility. Tampa drinking water will continue to meet all local, state, and federal regulations and remains safe to drink.

The Water Department uses liquid oxygen to create ozone, a powerful disinfectant that is added to the water to destroy bacteria, viruses, and other organisms. However liquid oxygen is currently under very high demand at local hospitals due to the COVID pandemic and deliveries are being diverted to local hospitals. The Water Department will now change its primary disinfection method to chlorine and will continue to use chloramine (a mix of ammonia and chlorine) for secondary disinfection as usual. Potential changes that customers may experience include a slight difference in taste or odor.

At this time, the Water Department has sufficient water to meet customer needs and does not anticipate implementing water restrictions.

In Gibsonton, engineers want to return an old fish farm to nature

The restoration is seen as a necessary, if small, piece of conservation on Tampa Bay’s heavily developed shore.

GIBSONTON — Before invasive shrubs swallowed the land, the lot near the edge of Tampa Bay was home to a couple hundred ponds full of tropical fish, the type that fill glass aquariums.

Then the farm’s owner abandoned the property, and Brazilian peppertree crept over the ground off Kracker Avenue, obscuring the narrow old pools in a thick, green tangle. This summer, heavy equipment operators have started to bulldoze the site west of U.S. 41 S.

They are transforming the land — this time not for business, but for nature.

“Our opportunities are getting fewer and fewer each year,” said Nancy Norton, who works on coastal restoration for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud.

So much of Tampa Bay has been paved over, dug up and built upon that finding a stretch of shoreline to conserve, even one as messy as the 25-acre Kracker Avenue site, is considered a triumph.

Concrete seawalls and subdivisions have replaced wetlands all over, Norton said. “Where those wading birds and the nurseries for fish used to have space, they’ve lost that.”