Water-Related News

Florida’s new environmental Laws: A breakdown

Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed multiple environmental bills into law.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke to Jane West with the advocacy organization 1000 Friends of Florida about highlights from the legislative session:

The governor signed a measure requiring state financed projects to first undergo sea level impact projection studies, so how will this change the way our state builds?

Yeah, we were thrilled with this. We were highly supportive. This particular bill, it's just common sense. If we're going to have taxpayer dollars go towards the construction in areas that are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, so we're talking coastal areas, we ought to make sure that at the very least, we require that they undergo some sort of sea level impact projection study to see if those taxpayer dollars are going to basically wash out to sea or not. It's just common sense.

The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve was created after this session and Governor DeSantis signed off on it. Can you tell us where is it and what is it?

Sure, so if you've ever been scalloping over in the Gulf of Mexico, you know that it's highly reliant on viable seagrass beds. This is kind of like in the armpit of Florida, so to speak, and it's a huge swath of land. It is 800 square miles. It will protect, now that it has been signed into law, 400,000 acres of seagrass beds, which is just critically important for fish habitat and scalloping. So those are really robust industries in that part of the state.

It's referred to as the Nature Coast and oftentimes the Forgotten Coast, and it's a beautiful pristine part of Florida, but they absolutely depend on their working waterfront. And so this was an excellent measure. We haven't had an aquatic preserve adopted here in Florida for over three decades. So it was great to see this and it had a lot of support from the scallop industry, the recreational fishing industry, and so we were thrilled to see that this got adopted.

Overall, how did Florida's environment fare during this past legislative session?

Overall, we are starting to go in the right direction. There were some bills that we were concerned about, for example, we were worried about the funding for Florida Forever. And we were heartened to see that that stayed at $100 million. The governor did approve that. And we understand that, you know, that was vulnerable, especially in the middle of a pandemic, the resources are being cut across the board. DeSantis cut a billion dollars in in the budget, and we were pleased to see that Florida Forever withstood that budget cut, which is important.

As we continue to remain in some sort of locked-down circumstances, the ability to have those open spaces, that recreational space, is really important for future Floridians and our current situation with the pandemic.

However, there was a balance here. For example, Senate Bill 172, you know, nullify local bans on certain sunscreen chemicals to prevent damage to coral reefs. And that was a concern of ours. We were disappointed to see that that was passed because it undermines the authority of local governments to regulate activities within their borders known as Home Rule. So that was not great.

There's a lot of work left to do, but it looks like finally, we are starting to head in the right direction on our growth management and environmental laws here in Florida.

2020 Legislative Wrap-Up from 1000 Friends of Florida »

New technology delivers fast, easy results on water quality

Handheld platform technology uses single sample to test for a variety of contaminants

A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Likened to a pregnancy test, the handheld platform uses one sample to provide an easy-to-read positive or negative result. When the test detects a contaminant exceeding the EPA’s standards, it glows green.

Led by researchers at Northwestern University, the tests can sense 17 different contaminants, including toxic metals such as lead and copper, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and cleaning products. The platform — which is powered by cell-free synthetic biology — is so flexible that researchers can continually update it to sense more pollutants.

“Current water tests rely on a centralized laboratory that contains really expensive equipment and requires expertise to operate,” said Northwestern’s Julius Lucks, who led the study. “Sending in a sample can cost up to $150 and take several weeks to get results. We’re offering a technology that enables anyone to directly test their own water and know if they have contamination within minutes. It’s so simple to use that we can put it into the hands of the people who need it most.”

The research was published today (July 6) in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Lucks is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and a member of the Center for Synthetic Biology. Jaeyoung Jung and Khalid Alam, members of Lucks’ laboratory, are co-first authors of the paper.

CFWI rulemaking workshop scheduled for July 9th

The purpose of the workshop is to present new draft rules for consumptive use permitting in the CFWI region

The Florida Department of Environmental protection will hold a rule development workshop to create rules 62-41.300 through 62-41.305, F.A.C., and the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) Area Supplemental Applicant's Handbook on July 9, 2020 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm, EST via webinar. To register for the webinar, click here. For workshop materials and additional information, including the draft rule when available, visit the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) website.

If you have any questions, please contact OWP_Rulemaking@FloridaDEP.gov.

One of the goals of the CFWI is to establish consistent rules and regulations for the three water management districts to ensure the region’s current and future water needs are met while protecting the water resources and natural systems.

The workshop will cover rules in Chapter 62-41, which will be adopted into Florida Administrative Code. Workshop participants will be able to review the draft rules prior to the workshop and provide comments. Workshop agenda and draft rules will be posted to the DEP website.

To register for the webinar, click here.

Additionally, letters were recently sent to all permitted water users in the CFWI region about permit durations while rulemaking is in progress.

Strong public interest shown in draft CFWI 2020 Regional Water Supply plan

Strong public interest as plan moves through review process

Above-average webinar attendance and a groundswell of comments indicate strong public interest in the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) draft 2020 Regional Water Supply Plan (RWSP).

“CFWI public workshop webinars generally draw about 20 or 30 people, but our April 23 webinar drew more than 200 people, and another 50 people attended our April 30 webinar,” said Tammy Bader-Gibbs, RWSP Team Lead. “In addition, we also received more than 200 different comments from 90 stakeholders before the May 15 deadline. All public comments and feedback are taken into consideration and will be included in the plan's appendix.”

Although the public comment deadline has passed, the CFWI RWSP remains available to view on the CFWI website. The plan identifies existing and projected water needs as well as projects and funding sources to meet those needs in the CFWI Planning Area over the next 20 years. The CFWI Planning Area consists of all of Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Polk counties and southern Lake County, covering approximately 5,300 square miles.

The CFWI 2020 RWSP has been developed collaboratively among the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns, Southwest and South Florida water management districts, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, public water supply utilities and other stakeholder groups.

After incorporating any appropriate changes or comments as a result of public review, the RWSP Team will bring the final draft of the 2020 CFWI RWSP back to the CFWI Steering Committee in October for approval.

In November, the governing boards of the three water management districts will consider the plan for approval, thereby establishing a water supply strategy for the fivecounty area for t

SWFWMD schedules prescribed fires in Polk, Lake and Pasco Counties

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Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns June through September at the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, which includes the Green Swamp East Tract in Polk, Sumter and Lake counties, the Hampton Tract in Polk County, and the Green Swamp West Tract in Pasco County.

The Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve is located north of U.S. Highway 98 along Highway 471 and Rockridge Road between Lakeland and Dade City. Approximately 11,800 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

View the video at the link below to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

New law gives Florida DEP gets new duties, including septic systems oversight

Under a new bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday [June 30th], the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will take on new duties as an agency. Notably, those duties will include regulating the more than two and a half million septic systems in the state.

DeSantis, speaking to press in Juno Beach, said DEP is inheriting that responsibility from another state agency:

“The Florida Department of Health, which currently oversees the state septic system regulations, only contemplates the human health impacts of septic systems, but not their environmental impact,” the governor said. “This legislation transfers the authority of septic tank inspection from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, to make sure environmental harm by septic systems is finally accounted for.”

The legislation also directs the state DEP to update regulations that apply to storm water systems. The governor says emphasis in storm water regulation has historically been on preventing flooding, and has neglected taking into account environmental impact.

DeSantis told reporters storm water systems throughout the state are based on “outdated science,” and allow pollutants to enter Florida waterways.

Study: Florida has thousands more high-risk properties than FEMA says

Cape Coral and Tampa are the first and second most-exposed cities in the state, the disaster modeling found.

About 114,000 more Florida properties are at risk of flooding in a 100-year storm than the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently estimates, according to a model released Monday by a nonprofit arguing the country has undersold its vulnerability to disasters.

Tampa is the second-most exposed city in the state, says the First Street Foundation, with 43,111 properties that could flood in such an event — the seventh most at-risk in the country. No. 1 in the United States is Cape Coral, according to the analysis, with more than 90,000 at-risk properties.

The foundation’s flood tool is meant to highlight gaps in federal insurance maps and give home buyers what First Street promises is a better view of vulnerability. The data include property-specific reports that are accessible online for users to search their address — and will soon also be displayed on realtor.com, one of the largest real estate listing websites in the country, the company said.

FWC conducts aquatic plant control on Lake Harris

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will conduct aquatic plant control on the Little Lake Harris portion of Lake Harris the week of June 22, weather permitting. The FWC will treat invasive hydrilla in the Lake County waterbody in areas where it is encroaching on beneficial native submersed aquatic plants and may impact access to navigation.

To find out more about the herbicides being used and if there are any use restrictions associated with these treatments, visit MyFWC.com/Lake and click on the “Plant Mgmt Schedule of Operations” under the “Aquatic Plants” dropdown menu.

The FWC manages hydrilla on a lake-by-lake basis using a collaborative approach. The FWC makes management decisions after comparing the benefits that low to moderate levels of hydrilla can provide for fish and wildlife, and the desires of various stakeholder groups against the impact this invasive plant can have on native plant communities, access and navigation, flood control, and management costs.

For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information, and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lake.

For more information about the treatment, contact Nathalie Visscher, FWC invasive plant management biologist, at 321-228-3364.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive reopens to vehicles

MAITLAND — The St. Johns River Water Management District’s Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is reopening to vehicular access on Friday, June 12, with updated hours and additional measures to keep both guests and wildlife safe.

People driving through are asked to remain in their vehicles. The North Shore property and trails continue to be open to hikers and bicyclists.

The drive will be open to vehicles Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. The Lust Road gate will open at 7 a.m. and will close at 3 p.m. All vehicles must exit the drive by 5 p.m. This will allow time for restroom facilities to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized at the end of each day.

Restrooms will be available for emergency use. Visitors are strongly encouraged to bring their own drinking water, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes as there is no running water available. The one-way drive can take up to three hours to complete.

The district is asking that visitors stay in their vehicles to avoid group gatherings and keep traffic through the drive flowing efficiently. Please be courteous and allow others the opportunity to enjoy the sights by not lingering along the drive.

The district may limit capacity on the drive to avoid congestion or overcrowding.

The Lake Apopka North Shore is the most visited district property. Its abundant wildlife viewing and extraordinary bird-watching opportunities attracted more than 122,000 visitors to the wildlife drive in 2019.

The bird list at the 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore includes 362 species and continues to grow. Other wildlife routinely seen include many American alligators, bobcats, otters, raccoons, armadillos and coyotes.

To learn about the district’s work to restore the lake and its wetlands, listen to our audio tour. In addition to wildlife, visitors returning to the drive may see construction crews and equipment, as this is an active water quality restoration area and projects are under way. In fact, scheduled road improvements were accelerated during the absence of vehicles from the drive.