Water-Related News

Study calls for expansive help for Florida's springs

New research shows stemming nutrient pollution alone won’t save Florida’s springs.

A joint study by the University of Florida and the St. Johns River Water Management District found nutrient pollution isn’t the only factor behind algae blooms in Florida springs.

Casey Fitzgerald of the St. Johns River Water Management District says the springs suffer from slower water flows and that light and temperature also are important factors.

“And we discovered once established these very large mats of nuisance algae that rest on the bottom persist because very few aquatic animals actually feed on them, and they are actually a biological dead end. So they aren’t adding anything positive to the ecosystem.”

Florida is home to more large springs than any other state in the nation.

Federal wetlands protections threatened by bill advancing in FL legislature

A Florida Senate committee, Wednesday, advanced a bill (SB 1402) which aims to place a longstanding federal program that protects wetlands through the Clean Water Act under state control.

Right now, under the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers holds permitting authority when it comes to proposed developments on environmentally sensitive wetlands in Florida. This designation is known as “Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority” under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

However, a companion bills moving rapidly in both chambers of the Florida Legislature would put such decisions in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Bill sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, R-Logwood, said that if approved by the EPA, the legislation would eliminate a redundancy in the development permitting process for freshwater wetlands.

“This is permitted by federal law so that the state can administer, without duplication, with federal law itself, the Section 404 permits, but the actual implementation of this and the execution of this will be done as if the DEP is acting as the Corps of Engineers, and will be done in accordance with the requirements of federal law,” said Sen. Simmons. “There will be no lessening of the requirements for these dredge permits.”

Environmental advocates oppose the bill over concerns that it will fast track permitting for development of wetlands. They point to the importance of Florida’s wetland ecosystems as critical habitat for endangered species, as a source of fresh drinking water, and as a vital aspect to Florida’s natural infrastructure in the event of hurricanes and floods. One acre of wetlands can store about one million gallons of water. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Amber Crooks said she’s also concerned about the DEP’s ability to take on the additional work.

“Love Our Lakes” event seeks volunteers to clean county waterbodies

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TAVARES —The Lake County Adopt-a-Lake Program is inviting volunteers to the Love our Lakes cleanup event at two locations in Tavares on Saturday, Feb. 24. Check-in will begin at 8:30 a.m. at both the Hickory Point Recreational Facility boat ramp, 27341 State Road 19, and at the Wooton Park boat ramp, 100 E. Ruby St.

The county’s volunteer Adopt-a-Lake Program is partnering again this year with Keep Lake Beautiful, the Lake County Water Authority and the city of Tavares to coordinate the lake cleanup event, which will target Lake Beauclair, Lake Dora, the Dora Canal, Lake Eustis, Dead River, Lake Harris and Little Lake Harris.

Volunteers should bring their own boats, or may walk along shorelines. Trash bags and grabbers, water, gloves and T-shirts will be provided. Participants should dress comfortably and bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent, if needed.

A short informational session about invasive snails and various hands-on activities for children will be offered at each location. The 2018 Adopt-a-Lake calendar will also be available for a $5 donation.

RSVPs are encouraged by Friday, Feb. 16 by calling 352-253-1659.

The Adopt–a–Lake Program encourages local civic organizations, individuals and fraternal and business groups to adopt a segment of a lake’s shoreline. The program is comprised of three separate components: Water-quality monitoring, public education and pollution prevention.

For more information about Lake County’s Adopt-a-Lake Program, or to become a volunteer, visit www.lakecountyfl.gov/adoptlake or contact Cathie Catasus at 352-253-1659 or ccatasus@lakecountyfl.gov.

DEP to drop controversial water pollution regulations and start over

Florida regulators are withdrawing a set of controversial standards for how much pollution can be dumped into the state’s waterways.

The standards drew strong opposition from environmental groups, local governments and Native American tribes. Now the Department of Environmental Protection says it will start over and work with one of those groups to produce new pollution standards.

"DEP has identified an opportunity to partner with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to gather additional data as we move forward to protect Florida’s water," agency spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times .

She said that with their help, the DEP wants to "update the state’s water quality criteria to ensure the department is relying on the latest science."

Attorneys for the Seminole Tribe did not return a call seeking comment Friday. No one at the Miccosukee Tribe offices answered the phone.

The pollution regulations that are being withdrawn marked the first update to the state’s water quality standards in 24 years. When they were first unveiled in 2016, critics said they would allow polluters to increase the level of toxic chemicals they dump into Florida bays, rivers and lakes. Those most at risk would be children and people who eat a lot of seafood.

The 2016 standards, which were strongly supported by business and manufacturing interests, called for increasing the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals and also raising the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens.

Marsh Park boat ramp temporarily closed

The Marsh Park boat ramp in Lake County will be temporarily closed Feb. 8 to March 30, to allow for the removal of 10.1 acres of floating vegetation and mud tussock from the south end of Lake Yale.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working in cooperation with Lake County Water Authority and Lake County Office of Parks & Trails to complete this project, which will benefit the lake by improving fish and wildlife habitat. This project will also allow better boater access out of Marsh Park during fluctuating water levels.

Boaters can find alternative access points at the ramps at Thomas Boat Landing External Website and Lake Yale Boat Ramp Road. External Website These boat ramps, along with other local public boat ramps, can be found by using the FWC’s Boat Ramp Finder External Website at MyFWC.com/BoatRamps. The Boat Ramp Finder provides descriptive information, maps and photographs for hundreds of public boat ramps throughout Florida.

Floods are getting worse, and 2,500 chemical sites lie in the water’s path

Anchored in flood-prone areas in every American state are more than 2,500 sites that handle toxic chemicals, a New York Times analysis of federal floodplain and industrial data shows. About 1,400 are located in areas at highest risk of flooding.

As flood danger grows — the consequence of a warming climate — the risk is that there will be more toxic spills like the one that struck Baytown, Tex., where Hurricane Harvey swamped a chemicals plant, releasing lye. Or like the ones at a Florida fertilizer plant that leaked phosphoric acid and an Ohio refinery that released benzene.

Flooding nationwide is likely to worsen because of climate change, an exhaustive scientific report by the federal government warned last year. Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency.

At the same time, rising sea levels combined with more frequent and extensive flooding from coastal storms like hurricanes may increase the risk to chemical facilities near waterways.

The Times analysis looked at sites listed in the federal Toxic Release Inventory, which covers more than 21,600 facilities across the country that handle large amounts of toxic chemicals harmful to health or the environment.

Of those sites, more than 1,400 were in locations the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers to have a high risk of flooding. An additional 1,100 sites were in areas of moderate risk. Other industrial complexes lie just outside these defined flood-risk zones, obscuring their vulnerability as flood patterns shift and expand.

35 manatee deaths in January blamed on cold weather

Cold waters in January caused the deaths of 35 manatees across Florida, wildlife officials say.

The animals died due to cold stress syndrome brought on by low water temperatures, the Bradenton Herald reports. The deaths occurred between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, according to a preliminary report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Officials say there were five times as many manatee deaths last month compared to the same timeframe in 2017, the Associated Press reports. However, it’s still much less than the 151 manatees killed by a cold snap in January 2010.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that water temperatures never climbed above 67.1 degrees at Port Manatee in January, according to the Herald. The average temperature was 57.6 degrees.

Cold stress syndrome can occur when marine mammals are immersed in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time. Manatees begin to experience hypothermia, which causes their organs to fail and their skin to slough off.

In total, 87 manatees were found dead across the Sunshine State last month, the Herald reports. The deaths are measured in eight categories, ranging from natural to undetermined.

Wildlife officials told the AP that boat collisions killed 10 of the animals statewide last month.

Senate committee approves statewide fracking ban

A controversial method of extracting natural gas would be banned statewide under a bill approved by a Senate panel Monday.

But while the Senate is moving forward on a ban on fracking — a process whereby a mixture of water and chemicals is forced deep underground at high pressure to release natural gas — its chances look slim in the House.

Anti-fracking activists say the possibility of fracking fluids polluting groundwater is high in Florida, where slabs of limestone could make it easier for leaking chemicals from fracking sites to seep upward and pollute the aquifer that South Florida uses for drinking water.

The bill sponsor, state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, held up a chunk of porous, 125,000-year-old limestone from Miami-Dade County and said, “This is what our state is built on, and this is the reason for this bill.”

Advocates for fracking disagree.

“You’re sending a message to the rest of the country that fracking is not good, and I think that’s the wrong message,” said Eric Hamilton, of the Florida Petroleum Council, which lobbies for fossil fuel interests. “It may not be advantageous to use it at this time, but as we find additional reservoirs, it may be a technology we can rely on. And it can be done safely.”

The bill appears to be dead on arrival in the House.

Tavares in final stages of stormwater improvement plan

TAVARES — Construction of Tavares’ Ruby Street Stormwater Improvement and Beautification Plan is in its final stages, with all its components expected to be finished in about two months.

That includes the transformation of 8-acres in downtown Tavares into a passive park and nature preserve complete with wooden bridges to walk along and lush landscaping atop man-made ponds designed to treat stormwater runoff before discharging it into Lake Dora.

The $5.6 million project also encompasses underground piping, drainage upgrades and a Miami curb and gutter system on Ruby Street that will not only serve to collect stormwater from the city’s roads and transport it to the ponds but solve flooding issues the downtown area has been experiencing for years.

There are also aesthetic changes being made along Ruby Street leading to the ponds by way of decorative red and amber pavers in a herringbone pattern that are being used to hide the stormwater collection system.

The bricks will be completely laid in the next few weeks.

Marsh Park boat ramp to be closed through March 30th

Notice: Marsh Park boat ramp will be close during the tussock harvesting project on Lake Yale between February 8th and March 30th.

FWC is working in cooperation with the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) and Lake County (Office of Parks and Trails) to remove 10.1 acres of floating vegetation (tussocks) from the south end of Lake Yale (Marsh Park area).

Harvesting will start on February 8th and continue until March 30th, during which time the boat ramp at Marsh Park will be closed.

Alternative Access:

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive reopens after completion of hurricane repairs

More than seven miles of additional trails to reopen Feb. 2 at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

PALM BAY — The St. Johns River Water Management District is reopening seven and a half miles of additional trails, including the western end of the Loop Trail on Feb. 2.

A four-mile section of the Loop Trail between Lake Level Canal and the Apopka Beauclair Canal will reopen on February 2 (shown in Orange). An additional three and a half miles of minor trails will be used to create a seven-mile long loop that begins at the North Shore Trailhead. Those trails link up with the non-motorized trails west of the Apopka Beauclair Canal that were opened previously.

Other portions of the Loop Trail require more extensive earthwork. Sections of the Loop Trail between Lake Level Canal and Magnolia Park are likely to remain closed for months while the levees on which the trail is located are actually raised to help manage future storms.

The district has conducted extensive repairs to the wildlife drive following flooding damage caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The wildlife drive was closed while eroded areas were filled and the drive was graded. Sections of the drive were reopened in December but some areas remained closed.

Housed within the district’s 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore restoration area, the wildlife drive opened in May 2015. Its success is attributed to not only housing a diverse bird population but also providing unprecedented access to the unique area.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is open year-round between sunrise and sunset on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays, including Christmas Day. There is no cost to visit the wildlife drive.

Trail guides, maps and more information about recreational opportunities on lands owned and managed by the district are available at www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation.

Supreme Court rules that challenges to WOTUS should be filed in district courts

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that challenges to the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” rule must be filed in federal district courts, as opposed to the federal appeals courts.

The ruling marked the first opinion of the month. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion, which was filled with water puns, though she was not on the bench Monday.

The court heard oral arguments in the case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, in October.

The Supreme Court met to weigh in on which courts had jurisdiction for lawsuits challenging WOTUS, not to decide the merits of the 2015 water rule, which vastly expanded the definition of a waterway that can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The definition of a waterway under the rule includes everything from a simple drainage ditch to streams and rivers. That means many more areas would fall under EPA's enforcement jurisdiction and control, from farmers to individual homeowners to oil companies, critics of the rule say.

The National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit challenging WOTUS in federal district courts after agencies promulgated the rule, and the cases were then consolidated and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the 6th Circuit.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 ruled that appeals courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the water rule.

Research finds discrepancies between satellite, global model estimates of land water storage

Research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that calculations of water storage in many river basins from commonly used global computer models differ markedly from independent storage estimates from GRACE satellites.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 22, raise questions about global models that have been used in recent years to help assess water resources and potentially influence management decisions.

The study used measurements from GRACE satellites from 2002 to 2014 to determine water storage changes in 186 river basins around the world and compared the results with simulations made by seven commonly used models.

The GRACE satellites, operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, measure changes in the force of gravity across the Earth, a value influenced by changes in water storage in an area. The computer models used by government agencies and universities were developed to assess historical and/or scenario-based fluxes in the hydrological cycle, such as stream flow, evapotranspiration and storage changes, including soil moisture and groundwater.