Water-Related News

After years of inaction, septic tanks once again focus in Florida

Florida has relied on septic tanks to treat sewage and wastewater for decades, but as the state has grown, the question of overuse and contamination has led lawmakers to push for increased oversight and a shift to sewers where possible.

After the toxic algae and red tide outbreak of 2018, that push is back.

“For too many years, politicians have talked about, 'We’ll fix the Indian River Lagoon,' and then nothing is ever done about it,” Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard County) said.

Fine is pushing for up to $50 million in matching funds to help remove septic tanks and connect sewer systems.

The area of the state that Fine represents has been dealing with septic issues for years. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the Indian River Lagoon comes from septic tanks.

In 2018, the Brevard County Commission passed an ordinance requiring all new septic systems on the barrier islands and inland areas within 200 feet of the lagoon to be built with more expensive, low-nitrogen septic systems. In addition, the county is using its half-cent sales tax to upgrade existing systems or connect people to sewer where available.

Florida is home to more than 3 million septic tanks, 600,000 of which are along the Indian River Lagoon. The state recommends owners have septic systems inspected every three years and pumped every three to five years. But that doesn’t always happen, and it is currently estimated that more than 10 percent of the septic systems in the state are failing, causing problems on both coasts.

FWC, partners continue investigation of freshwater turtle die-off

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and collaborators continue to investigate a die-off of freshwater turtles, and the FWC is asking the public to assist by providing information. In March 2018, the FWC began to receive reports of sick and dead Florida softshells and cooters in the St. Johns River. Approximately 300 sick or dead turtles have been reported that may be related to this ongoing mortality event. Sick and dead turtles have been found along the St. Johns River (SJR) watershed from the headwaters near Palm Bay in the south, to Crescent Lake and Palatka in the north. Additional reports of dead turtles have been received from Lake Apopka, Eustis, Windermere and Cocoa Beach.

To determine the cause of the turtle mortalities, the FWC began a collaborative investigation with the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (UF-CVM) Wildlife Aquatic Veterinary Disease Laboratory (WAVDL), UF-CVM Aquatic Amphibian and Reptile Pathology Program, Office of Protected Resources (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries), and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (BADDL). To date, 18 turtles collected by the FWC from the SJR watershed have been examined by wildlife veterinarians at FWC and UF laboratories in Gainesville. Initial findings suggested a viral infection contributed to the mortalities. Virologists at BADDL and WAVDL discovered a novel virus associated with diseased Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), peninsula cooters (Pseudemys peninsularis), and Florida red-bellied cooters (P. nelsoni). Toxins, including those produced by harmful algal blooms, were not detected in any turtles tested. There have been no reports of dead fish or other wildlife in conjunction with the turtle die-offs.

Investigators are planning additional studies to better understand this viral disease, the extent of its distribution in Florida, a

Miklos steps down as St. Johns WMD chair

John Miklos officially stepped down as chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s governing board on Tuesday, ending his controversial run as head of the agency.

Meanwhile, an ethics commission complaint against him is moving forward. The Florida Commission on Ethics notified Kimberly Buchheit, an Apopka surveyor, that her complaint filed in early February had been found sufficient for investigation and has been forwarded to the commission’s investigative section.

Shortly after the district’s board meeting began Tuesday in Palatka, Miklos pointed out the February announcement by Gov. Ron DeSantis that he would rescind all appointments made by his predecessor that had not yet been confirmed by the Florida Senate. After a few days of confusion following that announcement, it was determined that three St. Johns water district board members affected by the announcement — including Miklos — would continue to serve until the end of the session, or until they were replaced or reappointed.

Lake County Recognized By Keep America Beautiful for Adopt-a-Lake Program

TAVARES — Lake County’s Adopt-a-Lake program received the prestigious Keep America Beautiful National Community Improvement Award at the Keep America Beautiful National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

The award in the “End Littering” category recognized Lake County through the Keep Lake Beautiful Program as an organization committed to transforming public spaces into beautiful spaces.

“These imaginative, inspirational and transformative community leaders help bring to life creative, resourceful and meaningful programs in their communities,” said Keep America Beautiful President and CEO Helen Lowman. “It’s my privilege to recognize Lake County and the Adopt-a-Lake program for such valuable, mission-based work that helps their community be more socially connected, environmentally healthy and economically sound.”

Lake County’s Adopt-a-Lake Program is comprised of three separate components: Water-quality monitoring, public education and pollution prevention. Volunteers can elect which components of the program best fit their desired level of participation.

For more information about the Adopt-a-Lake Program or other Keep Lake Beautiful volunteer opportunities, visit www.lakecountyfl.gov/klb, or contact the Keep Lake Beautiful office at 352-253-1660 or at KLB@lakecountyfl.gov.

Prescribed burn at Lake Norris Conservation Area, 3/14

MAITLAND — The St. Johns River Water Management District is conducting a 295-acre prescribed burn on the western pastures of Lake Norris Conservation Area in Lake County. The purpose of the burn is to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations.

Prescribed fire is the use of carefully planned fire purposefully set under stringent conditions to manage the fire’s effects. Its benefits include restoring and maintaining natural communities, reducing chances of destructive wildfires, perpetuating fire-adapted plants and animals, cycling nutrients, controlling tree diseases and opening scenic vistas. Prescribed fires help prevent wildfires by burning off fuels that naturally build up over time, while also helping to control the growth of woody shrubs.

Before conducting a burn, the district ensures that wind and other weather conditions are correct for managing the fire and minimizing the impacts of smoke to residents and traffic.

Experts testify on algae solutions at Florida Congressional delegation meeting

More funding, more planning, more coordination.

Those were the calls from experts Wednesday morning as the Florida congressional delegation held a hearing on dealing with the state’s algae problem and other water issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of the year for the Florida delegation, co-chaired by Reps. Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan. The bipartisan group also reiterated their opposition to offshore drilling in Florida’s waters.

Secretary Noah Valenstein of the Department of Environmental Protection flew in from Tallahassee to testify at the Wednesday meeting.

Also on hand were Adam Gelber, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Interior; Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium; and Garrett Wallace, the Florida Government Relations Manager of The Nature Conservancy.

One issue that came up during the discussion on freshwater blue-green algae was the review process currently being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers to revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which dictates the water levels of the lake.

Opinion: 5 things Florida must do to protect our waterways

Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, Guest columnists

Bob Graham is a former governor of Florida and U.S. senator. Lee Constantine is a Seminole County commissioner and former state senator and state representative.

Protecting and conserving Florida’s water is an economic as well as environmental issue, not one defined by geography or party lines. Both of us, a Democrat from Miami Lakes and a Republican from Altamonte Springs, have made protecting and restoring Florida’s waters a cornerstone of our public service. Today, we redouble our efforts to safeguard Florida’s most valuable resource.

Spurred by outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae leading to another summer of dramatic loss in revenue and decline of water quality and quantity in Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes, the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), a coalition of over 80 conservation-minded groups, released “A Water Policy for Florida.” This position statement provides an overview of many of the existing threats to our waters and a pathway for their successful conservation, restoration and protection statewide.

The FCC lays out five critical steps that must be undertaken immediately by our policymakers to safeguard our waters:

America uses 322 billion gallons of water each day. Here’s where it goes.

As climate change, urban development, irrigation and other factors are altering the availability of water, it’s important to understand how we use water on a daily basis in the U.S. — and where the opportunities are for using it more wisely.

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides an overview of water withdrawals across the country.

The report includes a few surprises. For example, did you know Idaho withdraws the most water nationwide for aquaculture? That Arkansas — the 33rd most-populous state — withdraws the fifth most water, mainly for crop irrigation? Or that power plants are the largest users of water in the country?

Wildlife officials want more mechanical harvesting, fewer chemicals applied to lakes, rivers

Wildlife managers are trying to find ways around spraying chemicals in freshwater systems to control invasive plants, but in some cases that may be impossible.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met this week in Gainesville and discussed a current spraying moratorium the agency enacted earlier this month.

"It’s the biggest part of our program and the reason is it works the best," said Kip Frohlich, a senior staffer for FWC. "We’ve gotten the best control over hyacinth and water lettuce (by spraying chemicals)."  

Florida’s legislators expected to focus heavily on water this session

Florida water advocates have hoped for several years that lawmakers will address water quality issues plaguing the state. For years, environmentalists deemed each annual legislative session to be "the year of water."

Lawmakers promised to clean Florida’s polluted waters by securing funding, finishing restoration projects and addressing pollution sources. Yet — aside from the EAA reservoir in 2017 — each session has ended with few major changes.

2018 saw one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever — dueling toxic red tide and toxic blue-green algae on both coasts and in Indian River County's Blue Cypress Lake.

Now environmentalists across the state wonder if this will be the year that the Legislature heavily focuses on improving the state's water quality.

Legislators in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle are proposing wide-ranging bills that focus on funding water quality and treatment projects, but few bills have been filed that address pollution or nutrient runoff.

Can we address climate change without sacrificing water quality?

Strategies for limiting climate change must take into account their potential impact on water quality through nutrient overload, according to a new study from Carnegie’s Eva Sinha and Anna Michalak published by Nature Communications. Some efforts at reducing carbon emissions could actually increase the risk of water quality impairments, they found.

Rainfall and other precipitation wash nutrients from human activities like agriculture into waterways. When waterways get overloaded with nutrients, a dangerous phenomenon called eutrophication can occur, which can sometime lead to toxin-producing algal blooms or low-oxygen dead zones called hypoxia.

For several years, Sinha and Michalak have been studying the effects of nitrogen runoff and the ways that expected changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change could lead to severe water quality impairments.

In this latest work, they analyzed how an array of different societal decisions about land use, development, agriculture, and climate mitigation could affect the already complex equation of projecting future risks to water quality throughout the continental U.S. They then factored in how climate change-related differences in precipitation patterns would additionally contribute to this overall water quality risk.  

Florida delegation focuses on water quality issues

Members of the Florida congressional delegation will be focusing on water quality in the coming days.

On Friday, the two chairs of the Florida delegation–Democrat U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan–announced they would hold a meeting on “some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State” which will include “red tide, harmful algal blooms, offshore drilling and other water quality issues.”

Buchanan weighed in on Friday morning as to why the meeting was being held.

“Florida’s pristine beaches and rivers are what attract countless visitors to our state each year,” Buchanan said. “It is critical that our bipartisan delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans, waterways, beaches are clean and healthy.

Lake Commission denies Eustis hauling permit

The Lake County Commission on Tuesday morning unanimously denied a controversial proposal with Blackwater Creek Wetlands Mitigation.

After the vote, the board received a standing ovation to dozens of people who turned out to oppose it.

The proposal would have let Blackwater haul sand from the Lake Norris Conservation Area in Eustis and paid the county a little more than a third of a cent per cubic yard. The expected revenue is $62,900, according to county documents.

The agreement would have required Blackwater to resurface Hart Ranch Road before, and potentially after, the company finishes. In addition, the company would have had to pay flagmen or crossing guards to help local school children cross area roads, would have had to limit hauling trips to 200 per day, round trip, and would have been able to haul only between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The mitigation company already has an agreement with St. John’s River Water Management District to haul material from the area, but the hauling proposal specifically required commission approval.

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide

A team of scientists led by Christopher Free, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has published an investigation of how warming waters may affect the productivity of fisheries. The results appear in the journal Science.

The study looked at historical abundance data for 124 species in 38 regions, which represents roughly one-third of the reported global catch. The researchers compared this data to records of ocean temperature and found that 8 percent of populations were significantly negatively impacted by warming, while 4 percent saw positive impacts. Overall, though, the losses outweigh the gains.

"We were surprised how strongly fish populations around the world have already been affected by warming," said Free, "and that, among the populations we studied, the climate 'losers' outweigh the climate 'winners.'"

Region had the greatest influence on how fish responded to rising temperatures, according to the study. Species in the same region tended to respond in similar ways. Fishes in the same families also showed similarities in how they responded to changes. The researchers reasoned that related species would have similar traits and lifecycles, giving them similar strengths and vulnerabilities.

When examining how the availability of fish for food has changed from 1930 to 2010, the researchers saw the greatest losses in productivity in the Sea of Japan, North Sea, Iberian Coastal, Kuroshio Current and Celtic-Biscay Shelf ecoregions. On the other hand, the greatest gains occurred in the Labrador-Newfoundland region, Baltic Sea, Indian Ocean and Northeastern United States.

State buys 83 acres in north Lake County for conservation

Gov. Ron DeSantis this week approved the purchase of 83 acres on Lake Norris as part the state’s Florida Forever program.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Cabinet unanimously agreed to purchase the five contiguous lakefront parcels near Paisley for $540,000.

“Florida’s array of natural resources is key to the identity of our state,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I thank the Florida Cabinet for their support in approving these land acquisitions and look forward to continuing to work with them to protect and conserve what makes Florida so special.”

The land, owned by Brian A. Richards, will connect the Seminole State Forest to the Bear Track Preserve, which is owned by the Lake County Water Authority.

In a meeting last summer, the LCWA committed up to $225,000 toward the purchase of Richards’ land.

Lake Water Authority hosting night hike on March 8

LEESBURG — The Lake County Water Authority is holding a Bats and Fireflies Party from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on March 8 at the Flat Island Preserve in Leesburg.

Watch bats take flight and fireflies explore the fields on a short night hike. Afterwards, relax by a campfire to make and enjoy some s’mores.

RSVP with the Lake County Water Authority at 352-324-6141 ext. 0.

Space is limited to 20 people. Participants are advised to bring bug spray, a flashlight and a folding chair.

Clermont honored for drinking water quality

The City of Clermont’s Environmental Services Department recently earned a state award for its drinking water plant, an honor conferred on less than 1 percent of all plants in the state.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recognized the city’s East Drinking Water System with the 2018 Plant Operations Excellence award.

Clermont received the honor for the seventh year in a row and was one of just eight total drinking water plants selected out of the 1,621 community water systems in Florida – and the only one in Central Florida.

“I am extremely proud of the entire Water Team for receiving this prestigious award,” Environmental Services Director Dennis Westrick said. “It exemplifies their dedication to the public water supply industry, proving that they go above and beyond to ensure that water customers in Clermont are provided with safe, reliable drinking water. This award demonstrates that the city lives up to the commitment to provide exceptional services that enhance the quality of life for the Clermont community.”

FWC Commissioners direct staff to move forward with improvements to Aquatic Plant Management Program

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today heard a staff update regarding the agency’s longstanding Aquatic Plant Management Program.

Commissioners directed staff to move forward with significant changes informed by stakeholder input. These enhancements include:

  • Expanding the creation of habitat management plans for individual lakes.
  • Forming a Technical Assistance Group consisting of staff, partners and stakeholders.
  • Improving timing of herbicide-based invasive aquatic plant removal treatments.
  • Increasing coordination with manual invasive aquatic plant harvesting companies.
  • Exploring new methods and technologies to oversee invasive plant herbicide application contractors.
  • Developing pilot projects to explore better integrated plant management tools.

“Invasive plants are a serious threat to Florida’s waterbodies, and we know from history that they can cause considerable harm in a short amount of time. We are resuming our management program with a commitment to these enhancements,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton, “and will solicit alternative methods, working with research partners and others - especially in south and south central Florida.”