Water-Related News

Florida disasters command huge share of state spending

Disasters which rocked Florida last year are now complicating efforts to finalize a new state spending plan, with Hurricane Michael recovery and work to ease toxic water outbreaks commanding a huge share of the $90-billion budget.

TALLAHASSEE — Disasters that rocked Florida last year are now complicating efforts to finalize a new state spending plan, with Hurricane Michael recovery and work to ease toxic water outbreaks commanding a huge share of the $90 billion budget.

As a result, money for schools is tight. Some hospitals are facing cuts.

And even the tax-break package the Republican majority traditionally touts has been downsized to make money available for environmental work across the state and rebuild the devastated eastern Panhandle.

But with some $2.5 billion certain to be committed to last year’s twin disasters, some still wonder, is it enough?

“I think truth be told, when you look at some of our infrastructure, wastewater and storm-water problems — as long as we have discharges of raw sewage in the tens of thousands of gallons — we have not fully addressed the problem,” said Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.

“It’s going to be a multi-year, very expensive project,” he added.

Indeed, data analyzed by GateHouse Media-Florida shows state waterways have been fouled by some 980 million gallons of wastewater over the past decade, with sewage spills occurring at the rate of six per day.

Court orders EPA to reevaluate Obama-era power plant wastewater rule

A federal appeals court is sending the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back to the drawing board over its wastewater regulations in a ruling that compares them to a Commodore 64 home computer.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled on Friday that the EPA’s 2015 power plant wastewater pollution rule was not stringent enough, siding with environmentalists.

Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan ruled in favor of various environmental groups that portions of the wastewater rule regulating legacy wastewater and liquid from impoundments were “unlawful.”

“The Clean Water Act ... empowers the Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate and enforce rules known as 'effluent limitation guidelines' or 'ELGs.' ... For quite some time, ELGs for steam-electric power plants have been, in EPA’s words, 'out of date.' ... That is a charitable understatement,” Duncan wrote in his ruling.

“The last time these guidelines were updated was during the second year of President Reagan’s first term, the same year that saw the release of the first CD player, the Sony Watchman pocket television, and the Commodore 64 home computer. In other words, 1982."

As oceans rapidly warm, an urgent need to improve hurricane forecasts

Better hurricane forecasts require near-real-time, deep-ocean monitoring

In the past two hurricane seasons, record-breaking floods have engulfed our coastal zones in the Carolinas and Texas as storms have drawn more water and grown larger from rapidly warming oceans.

As the climate system continues to warm, we will need better prediction systems so we can prepare vulnerable coastal areas for bigger, wetter and faster-strengthening hurricanes. Hurricane season is just six weeks away.

Recent studies confirm that warming of the world’s oceans is taking place faster than previously estimated — as much as 40 percent faster than the United Nations estimated in 2015.

Research confirms that roughly 93 percent of the warming from man-made greenhouse gases is going into the world’s oceans. About two-thirds is absorbed in the ocean’s top 700 meters, noted Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth. This is the layer from which hurricanes draw much of their energy.

Lake Yale boat ramps to be temporarily closed

The Lake Yale East Boat Ramp, 39400 Lake Yale Boat Ramp Road, Eustis in Lake County, will be temporarily closed from April 19 – May 20 to allow for the removal of floating vegetation and mud (tussocks) from three coves within Lake Yale. During this time the Lake Yale West Boat Ramp and Marsh Park Boat Ramp will be open.

Once tussock removal has been completed at the Lake Yale East Boat Ramp, the ramp will be re-opened and tussock removal will begin at Lake Yale West Boat Ramp, 39800 Thomas Boat Landing Road, Eustis. It is anticipated that Lake Yale West Boat Ramp will be closed from May 20 – June 19 to complete tussock harvesting in the northwest cove of Lake Yale. During the time Lake Yale West Boat Ramp is closed, the Lake Yale East Boat Ramp and Marsh Park Boat Ramp will be open.

Floating vegetation (tussock) forms when water levels drop for an extended time, allowing vegetation to grow from the lake bottom. When water levels return, this vegetation uproots from the lake bottom and floats. Extensive areas of floating vegetation can negatively impact shoreline and deep-water vegetation communities by scouring beneficial plants and smothering desirable habitat types. Reducing the volume and coverage of these floating tussocks will create conditions favorable for beneficial (both emergent and submersed) vegetation to recolonize and expand. Reestablishing beneficial aquatic plants will provide cover and food for fish, waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species.

Tussocks harvested from Lake Yale will be removed from the lake and transported to nearby upland disposal sites.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working in cooperation with Lake County’s Office of Parks & Trails to complete this project, which will benefit the lake by improving fish habitat. This project will also improve access out of the Lake Yale East Boat Ramp during variable water levels.

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FWC and LCWA partner to increase fishing opportunities on Lake Harris

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) partnered with the Lake County Water Authority to install six underwater green LED dock lights at the Hickory Point Park fishing pier on Lake Harris. This is the first time that underwater dock lights have been installed on a public fishing pier to improve freshwater fishing opportunities in Florida.

Underwater fishing lights are widely used to attract bait and, in turn, attract predatory fish such as largemouth bass, black crappie and sunshine bass. The FWC has stocked Lake Harris with approximately 450,000 sunshine bass over the past two years and the newly installed underwater lights will offer anglers improved nighttime pier fishing opportunities to target those fish.

Hickory Point Park is at 27341 State Road 19 in Tavares. The park is a 68-acre, multi-use facility featuring a playground, pavilion, nature trail, 12 boat ramps and a large fishing pier. The facility is free to enter and is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about the park, contact the Lake County Water Authority at 352-324-6141.

For more information about the LED dock lights, contact Scott Bisping, FWC resource biologist for the Harris Chain of Lakes, at 352-800-5027.

Limited navigational access at the Apopka-Beauclair Canal April 11–23

The project uses a sump to collect sediment near the mouth of the Apopka-Beauclair Canal.

MAITLAND – Navigational access near the mouth of the Apopka-Beauclair Canal may be limited as the St. Johns River Water Management District enters the final stages of a sump dredge project designed to help improve water quality in Lake Apopka. Additional dredging will also improve navigational access in the area.

WHAT: Limited navigational access
WHEN: April 11–23
WHERE: Lake Apopka near the Apopka-Beauclair Canal

For recreational announcements and property closures on district lands visit www.sjrwmd.com/recreation.

Giant storms, aging infrastructure pushing Florida’s sewer systems to breaking point

More than 900,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed into Sarasota Bay after a violent December storm forced open a city pipe.

Summer rain in Daytona Beach and equipment failure in Jacksonville each prompted more than a quarter-million gallons of human waste to spill from sewers last year.

In Boca Raton, a pressurized pipe gushed out nearly 50,000 gallons of untreated wastewater, while another 55,000 gallons spewed from a DeFuniak Springs manhole into nearby Bruce Creek.

These sewage spills are emblematic of failing wastewater systems across Florida, which is grappling with aging infrastructure and no clear solutions for funding a fix.

During the past decade, deteriorating sewers have released 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater, much of it polluting the state’s estuaries and oceans, according to a GateHouse Media analysis of state environmental data.

More than 370 million gallons of that was completely untreated.

Experts say the sewage has fed the blue-green algae blooms wreaking havoc on Florida estuaries and exacerbated red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Amid historic growth in Florida, environmentalists fear it will only get worse.

“We are at a point where sewers need to be replaced, and have been for some time now,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of Manasota-88, an environmental advocacy organization in Southwest Florida. “Until the local governments make it a priority, we are going to continue seeing these spills. Something needs to be done.”

FWC hosts local hydrilla stakeholder meeting

TAVARES - More than 50 local stakeholders weighed in on hydrilla control Tuesday evening.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission held a public meeting at the Tavares Civic Center to gauge lake-users’ thoughts on where and how hydrilla, a fast-growing invasive aquatic plant, should be managed in the Harris Chain of Lakes.

It’s a complicated issue with opinions all over the board.

“It makes for great fishing, and it’s good for the environment,” said Greg Ghere, a fisherman. “It provides oxygen and cleans the water. It makes a great place for bass fry to hide. But it also gets stuck in your propeller and can be hard to deal with. It’s a double-edged sword.”

To kick off the meeting, Nathalie Visscher, an FWC invasive plant management regional biologist, gave an overview of hydrilla infestations and proposed herbicide spraying sites. She said the agency prioritized navigation and access points.

Update: Levee improvement project underway at Lake Apopka North Shore

MAITLAND — Work is underway to reconstruct about 4.4 miles of levee at the Lake Apopka North Shore. This levee not only serves as a separator between Lake Apopka and the North Shore but is also part of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s recreational Lake Apopka Loop Trail.

To date, about 2,300 square yards of lime rock have been spread and compacted on about 1,800 feet of levee. Additional material will be used to cap the levee and provide a smooth trail for visitors. When complete, the levee’s elevation will increase by about 18 inches. As work continues, portions of recreational trails at the district’s Lake Apopka North Shore remain closed.

The project, which is being completed in two phases, spans the east side of the Lake Apopka North Shore, between Magnolia Park and Laughlin Road. Current closures and detours include:

  • Phase one is underway and extends from Magnolia Park to the historic pumphouse. During this phase, the Lake Apopka Loop Trail will be closed to recreation Monday through Saturday, through late April. Weekend visitors are asked to use caution during this time.
  • Phase two extends from the historic pumphouse to Laughlin Road and will begin at the completion of the first phase. Trail closures and detours will be determined closer to the start date.

An additional levee improvement project will begin in April along the lakeside section of the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, west of Laughlin Road turning north onto Lake Levee Canal Road but will not require any trail closures. Levee improvements are also planned for the west portion of the Lake Apopka Loop Trail between the Clay Island and North Shore trailheads.

While a breach in the lakeside levee caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017 was quickly repaired, it highlighted the need to reconstruct the remaining portions of the levee to prote

Senate outlines $1.7 billion environmental spending plan

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government unveiled the Senate’s $1.7 billion environmental protection budget this morning and accepted it without comment.

“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for. It’s like Christmas," Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, said. “Everybody’s been up all night waiting for this.”

The environmental budget is part of a $5.9 billion package that includes spending plans for other state departments, including Business and Professional Regulation, Agriculture and Consumer Services, Citrus, Fish and Wildlife Conservation, the Lottery, Insurance Regulation, Financial Services, the Public Service Commission and Management Services.

Eutrophication of lakes will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions

What's wrong with being green? Toxins released by algal blooms can ruin drinking water. When dense algae blooms die, the bacteria that decompose the algae also deplete oxygen in the water. Without oxygen, fish and other animals suffocate. Globally, such green waters are also an important contributor to atmospheric methane -- a greenhouse gas that is up to 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"We estimate that the greening of the world's lakes will increase the emission of methane into the atmosphere by 30 to 90 percent during the next 100 years," said Jake Beaulieu of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and lead author of a paper on lake greening and greenhouse gas emissions published March 26, 2019 in the journal Nature Communications.

According to the authors, three distinct mechanisms are expected to induce increases in lake greening or eutrophication during the next 100 years. First, human populations are expected to increase by 50 percent by 2100. More people means more sewage and more fertilizers that runoff land. At current rates of population growth and climate change, eutrophication in lakes will increase by 25 to 200 percent by 2050 and double or quadruple by 2100.

New for Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis names chief science officer

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday appointed a prominent biologist as the state’s first chief science officer, a new position the governor created as part of his focus on the environment.

Thomas Frazer, director of the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and former acting director of the UF Water Institute, will take the job in the state Department of Environmental Protection. His initial focus will be water, particularly the algae blooms that have plagued parts of the state’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts, affected fishing, swimming, tourism and wildlife.

“Obviously as many of you know, we have had persistent water problems, and I’ve been very clear that the time for us to address this is now,” the governor said at a news conference at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. “We have taken action. We’re going to take more today.”

Frazer said he understood that addressing the water problems would be his priority.

Watering restrictions

The St. Johns River Water Management District’s watering restrictions are designed to ensure the efficient use of water for landscape irrigation. The restrictions allow enough water to maintain healthy landscapes year-round. The mandatory restrictions specify the time when watering may occur, the amount of water that may be applied, and the days when watering may occur for residential and nonresidential locations. These days depend on whether the address ends in an odd or even number, and on the time of year.

Wolf Branch Creek runs brown with construction run-off

Last week the water in Wolf Branch Creek looked like chocolate milk.

Runoff from a nearby construction site polluted the creek, turning the water brownish red, potentially threatening wildlife.

And it wasn’t the first time.

The Lake County Water Authority and St. Johns River Water Management District first received complaints early this month about water turbidity. Runoff was discharging silt into the water, turning it a reddish brown color.

Both agencies visited the creek and traced it back to the Lakes of Mount Dora construction site, where a 950-lot subdivision is being built.

A contractor was excavating storm water ponds and pumped muddy water into a ditch that drains into Wolf Branch Creek, said Ron Hart, water resource program manager with the Lake County Water Authority.

The mud traveled more than 7,213 feet – about 1.37 miles, he said.

Novel virus investigated in St.Johns turtle die-off

Wildlife authorities say a virus is behind a die-off of some 300 turtles in the St. Johns River.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is describing the virus as “novel.” Toxins related to harmful algae blooms are not believed to be involved.

The die-off began a year ago and spans an area from the river’s headwaters near Palm Bay to Crescent Lake and Palatka to the north.

Lifeless turtles also have been found in Lake Apopka, Cocoa Beach, Eustis and Windermere.