Water-Related News

Florida looks to increase number of wetland mitigation banks, credits available to developers

The state has 131 wetlands mitigation banks available today.

Mitigation credits for wetlands, while still controversial among conservationists, remain a high-demand service in Florida. Meanwhile, the state only has so much space in existing banks.

Water quality officials told Florida lawmakers they intend to open another 30 sites on top of the 131 mitigation banks already in operation in Florida. Mitigation banks today cover almost 227,500 acres of land around the state.

“The bankers are out there hustling,” said Christine Wentzel, a regulatory manager for the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Developers under Florida law may offset the impacts of projects on wetlands by buying and maintaining areas near wetlands that can be restored to serve the same ecological purpose. In a presentation to the House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee, Wentzel discussed how credits are calculated and defended the value of the program to the state’s ecology.

The state looks to grow the available number of mitigation banks as state and federal environmental officials navigate a changing legal environment. The U.S. Supreme Court in May issued a ruling governing what waters fall under the full legal purview of the United States.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency last month issued new guidelines based on that, but officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) remain in communication about jurisdictional matters.

UCF students receive $25,000 EPA grant to develop toxin biosensor for drinking water

The biosensor will be an onsite, early detector of harmful blue-green algae blooms, which are known to cause health problems in humans.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $25,000 grant to a team of UCF engineering students for the development of a biosensor that can detect harmful algal toxins in drinking water sources.

The UCF Knights – environmental engineering majors Jennifer Hughes and Lance-Nicolas Rances and environmental engineering doctoral student Stephanie Stoll, along with associate professor and principal investigator Woo Hyoung Lee – are one of 21 student teams to receive the funding through the agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Program. This program is designed to support research that addresses environmental and public health challenges.

“I am thrilled and honored to have received this award for our research,” Hughes says. “For the past year, I have focused on microcystin-detecting biosensors, and it feels great to be recognized for my undergraduate research.”

Microcystins are the most common toxins found in fresh water, and the most harmful type is microcystin-LR (MC-LR). When high levels of MC-LR accumulate in water, they form a blue-green algae bloom that can disrupt the aquatic ecosystem by depleting oxygen, blocking sunlight and altering the nutrients that marine life feeds on. In Florida, blue-green algae is a common problem due to the warm temperatures, excess nutrients and stagnant water found in lakes, rivers or ponds. When ingested by humans, it can cause abdominal pain, a sore throat or gastrointestinal distress. At elevated levels, it could lead to damage of the liver or kidneys.

To test water sources for MC-LR, samples must be transported to a laboratory where they can be examined by trained technicians. The process can be both time-consuming and costly, but the UCF-developed biosensor could solve those problems.

The UCF-developed device would be portable, cost effective and located onsite, so that MC-LR blooms could be detected early on. The device will use an antibody to detect the harmful algae, and the students are currently fine-tuning its detecting capabilities.

Biden administration restores the power of states and tribes to review projects to protect waterways

States and Native American tribes will have greater authority to block energy projects such as natural gas pipelines that could pollute rivers and streams under a final rule issued Thursday by the Biden administration.

The rule, which takes effect in November, reverses a Trump-era action that limited the ability of states and tribes to review pipelines, dams and other federally regulated projects within their borders. The Environmental Protection Agency says the new regulation will empower local authorities to protect rivers and streams while supporting infrastructure projects that create jobs.

“We actually think this is going to be great for the country,” said Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water. “It’s going to allow us to balance the Biden administration goals of protecting our water resources and also supporting all kinds of infrastructure projects that this nation so desperately needs.”

But Fox acknowledged at a briefing that the water rule will be significantly slimmed down from an earlier proposal because of a Supreme Court ruling that weakened regulations protecting millions of acres of wetlands. That ruling, in a case known as Sackett v. EPA, sharply limited the federal government’s jurisdiction over wetlands, requiring that wetlands be more clearly connected to other waters such as oceans and rivers. Environmental advocates said the May decision would strip protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands.

The EPA removes federal protections for most of the country’s wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency removed federal protections for a majority of the country's wetlands on Tuesday to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The EPA and Department of the Army announced a final rule amending the definition of protected "waters of the United States" in light of the decision in Sackett v. EPA in May, which narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act and the agency's power to regulate waterways and wetlands.

Developers and environmental groups have for decades argued about the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act in protecting waterways and wetlands.

"While I am disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision in the Sackett case, EPA and Army have an obligation to apply this decision alongside our state co-regulators, Tribes, and partners," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

A 2006 Supreme Court decision determined that wetlands would be protected if they had a "significant nexus" to major waterways. This year's court decision undid that standard. The EPA's new rule "removes the significant nexus test from consideration when identifying tributaries and other waters as federally protected," the agency said.

In May, Justice Samuel Alito said the navigable U.S. waters regulated by the EPA under the Clean Water Act do not include many previously regulated wetlands. Writing the court's decision, he said the law includes only streams, oceans, rivers and lakes, and wetlands with a "continuous surface connection to those bodies."

What’s the connection between climate change and hurricanes?

Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida. Here are some ways climate change is reshaping tropical cyclones like it

It has been a summer of disasters–and many of them were made worse, or more intense, by human-caused climate change. Wildfires burned from coast to coast across Canada. Vermont was inundated by unprecedented floods. Phoenix's temperatures topped 100 ° F for a full month. And now Hurricane Idalia, the first major hurricane of the season, is ripping across Florida and into the Southeast.

Scientists know climate change influences hurricanes, but exactly how can be a little complicated. Here's a look at the links between a hotter world and big storms like Hurricane Idalia.

For answers to these questions, follow the link below:

  • Does climate change make hurricanes stronger?
  • Climate change makes them get bigger faster, right?
  • Does climate change make hurricanes happen more often?
  • What are some of the biggest risks from stronger hurricanes? Are those changing because of climate change?
  • Is hurricane season getting longer?
  • It has been pretty hot in the South and the Gulf region. How will that influence the rest of the season?

Lake County announces new septic tank conversion initiative

Lake County logo

LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Board of County Commissioners has announced a new program to help protect and restore the county's iconic lakes and natural waterways by removing septic tanks that leech chemicals into surrounding soil. For eligible homeowners, funding is available to remove septic tanks and connect properties to Lake County’s Distributed Wastewater Treatment System.

This conversion initiative is part of Lake County’s ongoing commitment to protecting the environment by limiting nitrates and chemicals affecting water quality. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has determined that septic tanks are a major source of nutrient pollution in the state’s natural waterways. Replacing residential septic systems with tanks connected to wastewater treatment systems is a needed solution to reduce the impact of these pollutants on our environment.

During the septic tank removal process, a new miniature wastewater treatment unit will be installed underground at a residence to provide sewer service. Connected homeowners will immediately begin receiving wastewater services from the County at a flat rate.

The initial cost to connect the wastewater treatment system will be covered by the county as funding permits. Once installed, services will cost $660 per year and will be included in the home’s property tax assessment.

To check for program eligibility, residents should visit: https://bit.ly/septicprogram.