Water-Related News

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. 

Could global warming lead to quieter hurricane seasons? Experts say yes, with a caveat

If there is any positive to come out of global warming it could be this: Its effects may work to reduce the number of Atlantic hurricanes we see in the future, according to the nation’s leading storm scientists.

That comes with a (significant) caveat. Experts say warming-induced sea level rise means the wall of water that surges into coastal areas during hurricanes will get more deadly and destructive with each storm that hits, especially in places like south Louisiana.

Hurricane experts gathered in New Orleans from Monday to Thursday last week for the National Hurricane Conference, an event focused on hurricane preparedness. The closing panel on Wednesday (April 24) focused on storm forecasting and our changing climate.

Dr. Christopher Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, noted hurricanes “are natural heat engines,” relying on moisture and heat to grow. One might assume global warming would boost the strength and frequency of storms. But models show global warming may actually increase the speed and dryness of trade winds that cut across the lower Caribbean and into the Atlantic Ocean, a factor that could work to “tear hurricanes apart” in the future, he said.

Trump to ease drilling rules sparked by 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The Trump administration is poised to relax offshore drilling requirements imposed in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people in 2010 and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The Interior Department will unveil its final plan Thursday to ease some of the mandates, following industry complaints they are unwieldy and expensive, said two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement. The White House Office of Management and Budget said it had completed a review of the drafted regulation on Monday, clearing it for a final release.

The measure is set to ease requirements for real-time monitoring of offshore operations and mandated third-party certifications of emergency equipment that can be summoned as a last resort to block explosive surges of oil and gas flowing up from wells. Many of the final changes were already outlined in a proposal released last year.

Trump administration officials previously cast the changes as a surgical revision of the Obama-era rule, arguing the rewrite would better align with voluntary industry standards, decrease downtime on rigs and lead to more than $900 million in oil industry savings over the next decade.

Lawmakers introduce bill forcing EPA to set legal limit for all PFAS in drinking water

A bipartisan bill introduced in the House today would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set a health-protective legal limit in drinking water for the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which contaminate a rapidly growing roster of hundreds of public water systems nationwide.

The Protect Drinking Water from PFAS Act (H.R. 2377), authored by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), would amend the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to require EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to set a Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, for all PFAS chemicals within two years. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Dan Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

There are currently no federally enforceable standards for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. In February, Wheeler released the Trump administration’s toothless “PFAS Action Plan,” which failed to set a clear timeline for implementing a drinking water MCL for PFAS chemicals.

“If the EPA won’t do its job and help communities stop the flow of PFAS-contaminated water into homes, schools and businesses, Congress must force them to act,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “Refusing to tackle this drinking water crisis head-on, while millions of Americans are being exposed to these dangerous chemicals, clearly shows the Trump administration will not clean up this mess unless it’s forced to by law.”

New EPA document tells communities to brace for climate change impacts

The Environmental Protection Agency published a 150-page document this past week with a straightforward message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse.

The language, included in guidance on how to address the debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires, is at odds with the rhetoric of the EPA’s own leader, Andrew Wheeler. Just last month, Wheeler said in an interview with CBS that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Multiple recent studies have identified how climate change is already affecting the United States and the globe. In the western United States, for example, regional temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and snowmelt is occurring a month earlier in areas, extending the fire season by three months and quintupling the number of large fires. Another scientific paper, co-authored by EPA researchers, found that unless the United States slashes carbon emissions, climate change will probably cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2100.

‘You can call him our water czar’: Nikki Fried names Florida’s new water policy director

Florida's got a new "water czar," agriculture commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried announced Wednesday.

Chris Pettit, who has worked for years in water management districts and county water utilities, will replace Steve Dwinell, who retired as water policy director for the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Agricultural Water Policy.

Fried said Pettit and his office will work to develop and implement best management practices, known as BMPs, for agriculture. BMPs, which have been criticized in the past for not being enforced, aim at lowering and maintaining nutrient runoff from farming operations. The nutrient runoff is a key source in the development of the red tide and blue-green algae that choked Florida's coasts and waterways last summer.

LCWA, FWC treating hydrilla in Harris Chain through end of May

From April 29 to May 31, the Lake County Water Authority will be treating hydrilla in the Harris Chain of Lakes, including: Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora, Lake Yale, Lake Beauclair, Lake Griffin, and Dead River. The FWC will treat 595 acres on Lake Harris and 2.5 acres in Dead River. The two agencies will use the herbicide Aquathol K, which has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

Florida's new chief science officer started off as a surfer dude

Florida's new chief science officer didn't start out as a scientist. Instead he was a surfer dude.

Thomas Frazer, named to the post created by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month, was born and raised in the quintessential surf city of San Diego. When he was 8, he bought his first board — a Lightning Bolt — and spent as much time riding the waves as he could.

That's what led him to become an expert on water pollution.

"It seemed like I was on the water every day," he told an interviewer in 2016. "When you are a surfer, you learn about water quality at an early age. You know that when you get an earache after surfing, that it is probably because of runoff."

Frazer, 54, is the director of the University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment and has a Ph.D. in biological science from the University of California. He will continue to hold that $176,775-a-year position while also occupying the $148,000-a-year science officer post. Experts say it appears to be the first such state-level position in the nation.

New EPA document tells communities to brace for climate change impacts

The Environmental Protection Agency published a 150-page document this past week with a straightforward message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse.

The language, included in guidance on how to address the debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires, is at odds with the rhetoric of the EPA’s own leader, Andrew Wheeler. Just last month, Wheeler said in an interview with CBS that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Multiple recent studies have identified how climate change is already affecting the United States and the globe. In the western United States, for example, regional temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and snowmelt is occurring a month earlier in areas, extending the fire season by three months and quintupling the number of large fires. Another scientific paper, co-authored by EPA researchers, found that unless the United States slashes carbon emissions, climate change will probably cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2100.

Nearly $2.2 million earmarked to fight hydrilla in Harris Chain of Lakes

A state and local partnership is behind a nearly $2.2 million fight against hydrilla, an invasive plant that impedes boat navigation, on the Harris Chain of Lakes.

The Lake County Water Authority allocated $1.5 million and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chipped in $675,000 toward the effort, water authority executive director Mike Perry told county commissioners at a recent meeting.

FWC is coordinating the effort and another partner in the operation, Lake County government, will provide the manpower to apply treatments, he said. The fight began this week in areas of Lake Dora.

“I think we’re gonna see significant treatments this spring and then hopefully we’ll have made a pretty good dent in it come summer,” Perry said, “but they’re not going to be able to get it all … we’re doing our job the best we can to get as much done as we can…”

FWC conducts aquatic plant control on Lake Harris

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has finalized the spring hydrilla management plans for the Harris Chain of Lakes in Lake County. The areas identified for management were selected to help maintain access and navigation throughout the Harris Chain of Lakes.

The spring hydrilla treatment plan for these lakes incorporates stakeholder input received from the recent public meeting hosted by the FWC on April 2.

The Lake County Water Authority approved funding from its 2018-2019 budget to supplement the FWC’s hydrilla management efforts on the Harris Chain of Lakes.

Treatments will start the week of April 29 and continue throughout the month of May, weather permitting. The FWC will continue to monitor the lakes after treatments are completed. 

Ron DeSantis announces newly-formed Blue-Green Algae Task Force

Gov. Ron DeSantis has placed a special emphasis on Florida's environment since taking office, and Monday was one more step in the direction to clean up the state's waterways.

At the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, DeSantis named the five members of the state's newly-formed Blue-Green Algae Task Force.

"The focus of this task force is to support key funding and restoration initiatives and make recommendations to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and downstream estuaries," DeSantis said.