Water-Related News

Big mission awaits Florida's new Blue Green Algae Task Force

Reducing harmful nutrients in state waters, through moves such as more monitoring and staffing, is an expected short-term goal of a new task force set up by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look at toxic algae fouling Florida waterways.

But with a brief timeline for the five-member Blue Green Algae Task Force to reach its initial findings, don’t expect proposals for massive state rule changes related to farming practices or moving away from septic systems.

Task force member Michael Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station, said rather than replace regulations, as some environmental groups contend is needed, a more realistic approach would focus on “fine-tuning” existing rules.

“In any field, if you make the rules too strong, too stringent, too unfair, they won’t be followed,” Parsons said. “I think there is a compromise between allowing people the flexibility to work within certain frameworks as well as getting the needed results or the intended results within that framework. You can’t force people to do things, but on the other hand, we do have goals we need to meet, so there has to be a compromise between the two.”

This year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone could be one of the biggest ever, NOAA says

A summertime Gulf of Mexico dead zone fueled by pollution flowing out of the Mississippi River watershed could be among the largest on record this year.

In a seasonal forecast issued this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said heavy spring rain over the watershed, which drains 37 states - or about 41 percent of the U.S. - was expected to flush large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the northern Gulf. That could create a dead zone covering more than 7,800 square miles.

It's too early to tell what influence the zone might have on seasonal red tides that form off the Florida shelf. Following a 2017 record-setting dead zone, a toxic red tide started in October that lasted for more than a year, littering southwest Florida beaches with dead marine life and eventually sweeping up the Atlantic coast.

"This is an atypical year given the really high discharges, so it would be something to keep an eye on," said NOAA oceanographer David Schuerer. 

Florida's ongoing struggle with non-native water hyacinth

As rivers go in the United States, the St. Johns is a rarity. From its headwaters near Vero Beach to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean 310-miles downstream, it is entirely confined within the borders of Florida and runs in the opposite direction of most large rivers, from south to north. And it’s slow, dropping only an inch per mile, making it one of the laziest rivers in North America.

The river can be insufferably hot, windless, and buggy in summer, so it’s much more enjoyable to explore in the winter months, which I did recently on a small sailboat. With every mile, the river’s appearance and that of the surrounding landscape altered as we passed through everything from swamps and marshes to dense forests of moss-covered live oaks and the buttressed trunks of stately cypress trees to downtown Jacksonville. Many of these were the same views that American naturalist William Bartram had as he explored the river in 1774.

Since pre-colonial times, the tannin-dyed waters of the St. Johns have always been used for transportation. Its wide and slow-moving expanse bisects the state and earned it the name Welaka, or “river of lakes,” by the Timucua Indians. Until creation of the railroads, it was the primary method to travel in Florida, and was used to transport goods to market and deliver mail. As people headed inland to develop farms and cattle ranches, towns sprang up along the riverbank, supplied by regular visits from steamboats.

Tawny water hid the many manatees we passed. The large aquatic mammals only revealed themselves through plumes of water as they pumped their flukes like Olympic swimmers. And as we progressed southward past sleepy river towns the salinity diminished until somewhere near Georgetown the river water became completely fresh. 

Lake levels

Even though the rainy season and the hurricane season is nearing, the County is in a very dry period. After a wet winter, rainfall in March was below average, April was slightly above average, and May started out wet but has turned out to be well below average. The lack of rainfall has been reflected in the lake levels.

As of this morning (May 28th) Lake Minnehaha, the reference lake for the Clermont Chain, is at 95.80 ft. MSL, 0.20 ft. (about 2 ½ inches) below the lower end of the regulatory range. The regulatory range is from 96.0 ft. to 97.50 ft. The combined flow from Big and Little Creeks into Lake Louisa is currently just less than 1 cfs (cubic ft. per second) or 278 gpm (gallons per minute). As a comparison, in October 2017 after Hurricane Irma, the combine flow from Big and Little Creeks was 659 cfs or 289,960 gpm. The Cherry Lake Dam is closed and will remain closed until lake levels rise to 97.0 ft. during the summer rainy season.

For the Harris Chain of Lakes, all the lakes are below the regulatory levels. Lake Apopka is currently at 65.50 ft. which is 0.17 ft. (about 2.0 inches) below the regulatory level of 65.67 ft. Flow from Lake Apopka through the spillway is at 12 cfs as of noon today. The middle lakes (Beauclair, Carlton, Dora, Eustis and Harris) are currently at 61.95 ft which is 0.11 ft. (about 1½
inches) below the regulatory level of 62.06. Flow from the middle lakes through the Burrell lock and dam is at 18 cfs. For Lake Griffin, the lake is currently at 57.93 ft. which is 0.13 ft. (slightly more than 1½ inches) below the regulatory level of 58.06 ft. Flow from Lake Griffin through the Moss Bluff lock and dam is at 21 cfs.

Hurricane season begins June 1st and doesn’t end until November 1st. We watch the lake levels closely and will respond as necessary as the summer rainy season and the tropical storm season gets going.

State funding to flow for Florida springs

The Legislature is putting $100 million toward Florida’s ailing springs.

That’s after a WMFE story pointed out existing springs funding sat unspent.

The money was included in the state budget under the Legacy Florida Act, approved in 2016 to put water and land conservation funding toward the Everglades, springs and Lake Apopka.

The measure calls for an annual allocation of $50 million. Clay Henderson of Stetson University’s Water Institute says the budget also contains last year’s unspent funding— bringing the total to 100 million.

“We’ve really been in a holding pattern for the past year. The legislature approved this money, but it didn’t get approved by all the points along the way. But the Legislature fixed that, and so in the next year it appears we’re going to have $100 million for springs restoration, and that’s a good thing.”

Florida has more freshwater springs than any other place in the world. Restoration plans for 15 of the state’s most important springs face legal challenges from environmental groups.

With biosolids bills failing in Florida Legislature, DEP to develop own rules

With bills to regulate biosolids failing this year in the Florida Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to come up with a set of rules to keep the sewage sludge dumped on farmland from polluting the state's water.

Several people concerned with pollution caused by biosolids told TCPalm they hope DEP will develop regulations with teeth.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," said Bob Solari, chairman of the Indian River County Commission, which has twice enacted moratoriums on biosolids use in the wake of pollution at Blue Cypress Lake tied to sludge spread on nearby pastures.

Commissioners said they would have banned Class B biosolids outright but lacked the authority. Instead they looked to the state Legislature for help.

"It will take some work to make sure DEP gets things right," Solari said. "We'll be following them very closely."

Of the 340,000 dry tons of sewage sludge Florida produces each year, about:

  • 100,000 tons goes to landfills
  • 100,000 tons is partially treated and spread on land as Class B biosolids
  • 140,000 tons is combined with composted landscape material and chemically treated to produce 200,000 dry tons of Class AA biosolids, which is classified as "fertilizer" and can be used without regulation

Both Class B and Class AA contain about 5.5% nitrogen and 2.2% phosphorus. Combined, the two produce about 4 million pounds of nitrogen and about 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus, nutrients that feed toxic algae blooms.

The ill-fated bills — a Senate version by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and a House version by state Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican — called for statewide regulations on the use of Class B biosolids along the lines of

Lake County to host public workshop on Green Swamp land use regulations

Lake County is hosting a Green Swamp Land Use Workshop on Tuesday, June 11 at 5:30 p.m. inside the Board Chambers, located on the second floor of the County Administration Building, 315 W. Main St., Tavares.

During the public workshop, staff will give a presentation on various issues that the board has publicly discussed, including: possible transfer of development rights, allowed uses within open space, septic tank provisions, and low impact development guidelines.

This workshop will provide residents and stakeholders with an opportunity to express their views concerning the social, economic, and environmental impacts of future land use in the Green Swamp. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and to offer input to staff and county commissioners.

To view the meeting live online, visit https://lakecountyfl.gov/board_agendas/board_agendas_and_actions.aspx.

Public participation is solicited without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion, disability, or family status. Persons who require language translation or interpretive services, which are provided at no cost, or those requiring special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) may request assistance by contacting Fred Martin, Lake County Title VI/Nondiscrimination and ADA Coordinator, at 352-343-9653 or fmartin@lakecountyfl.gov at least seven days prior to the meeting.

District’s Blue School Grant Program accepting applications now through Sept. 6

Now entering the fourth year of its Blue School Grant Program, the St. Johns River Water Management District anticipates offering up to $20,000 in grants for education projects that enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources through hands-on learning. The application period runs May 31–Sept. 6, giving teachers all summer to prepare their project proposals for the 2019–2020 grants.

“Blue School Grants are a great way for the district to support student development in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields with our partnering local schools,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “We have funded 33 projects in the last three funding cycles, and I’m eager to see the next round of interesting, imaginative project ideas that could inspire students to pursue a lifelong passion for science.”

Up to $2,000 per teacher per school will be awarded to middle and high school teachers to enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources. Public and charter school teachers within the district’s boundaries are eligible to apply.

Grants may be awarded in three areas: fresh water resources field study, water conserving landscape projects, or water conservation community/school awareness campaigns.

Lake Apopka water quality project will use a 2,000-foot-wide, lake-bottom sump

The St. Johns River Water Management District has recently completed dredging to create a 2,000-foot-wide sump, or depression, on the bottom of Lake Apopka. The sump is designed to help collect nutrient-laden sediment and improve water quality in the lake.

“Our focus remains centered on projects that bring us closer to our goal of restoring the lake’s ecosystem,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “Improved water quality provides conditions that are allowing native submerged plants to recolonize the lake’s bottom. As these plants expand, they will provide the habitat necessary for the recovery of the lake’s historic bass fishery.”

This is the first time a sump has been dredged in Lake Apopka. The sump, which is about 2,000 feet wide with a maximum depth of about 5 feet, is expected to collect about 500,000 cubic yards of nutrient-laden sediment. That amount of sediment would be enough to cover a 100-acre area at 3 feet high.

The project is unique from previous dredging projects because the lake-bottom sump will collect sediment over time. District staff will monitor the accumulation in the sump, and maintenance may be scheduled to remove newly accumulated sediment from the sump. Collecting and eventually removing the material is expected to reduce turbidity in Lake Apopka and help improve water quality.

Clermont OKs $2.49 million for boat ramp

CLERMONT — The long wait for a bigger and better public boat ramp is about to come to an end.

On Tuesday night [May 28th], the City Council unanimously approved a $2.49 million contract with Traverse Group Inc. for construction of the boat ramp. According to officials, area boaters can expect the new launching venue and bathroom facility — located just east of Waterfront Park — to be up and running by the end of the year.

The Clermont-based Traverse Group will begin construction next month. The company’s bid beat out two others bids.

Plans to move the existing boat ramp from its current location began years ago when the city began mapping out a master plan for its downtown area. The purpose for the move was to shift motorized watercraft away from the non-motorized watercraft that launch from the Clermont Boat House, which is home to the Lake County Rowing Club and the Clermont Sailing Club. It is also located adjacent to the Victory Pointe stormwater treatment plant and Triathlon Beach, which diminished boat ramp parking spots.

Florida's dirty water tops list of woes for new chief science officer

Florida's ongoing water woes tops the list of problems to be tackled by the state's new chief science officer.

In his first press briefing Friday, Tom Frazer, an aquatic ecologist and director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, said he plans on convening a new blue green algae task force in early June. Armed with money newly approved by lawmakers, the group plans to find smaller projects that might have a more immediate fix for water quality issues in and around Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

"We do have a number of available funds to implement projects in [drainage basins] and we need to prioritize those and move forward on the best ones possible," Frazer said.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis named Frazer the state's first chief science officer to help address spiraling environmental issues. Algae blooms now regularly foul the Treasure Coast and Caloosahatchee estuary, and pollution has worsened water quality in Central Florida springs and South Florida's Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay. DeSantis has pledged to spend $2.5 billion over the next four years to improve water and earlier this month, lawmakers approved a budget that included $682 million in spending over the next year.