Water-Related News

Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force meets after half-year hiatus

It was a day of sharp questions and soul-searching as Florida’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force met Thursday [Aug. 4] for the first time since February.

The official theme was a mouthful (stay with us): “Prioritization of restoration projects within Basin Management Action Plans, Reasonable Assurance Plans, or alternative restoration plans (and) policy and funding program framework for the prioritization of restoration projects.”

Unofficially, it was broader: Why, after three years of task force effort, is Florida’s water still so troubled?

The question was top-of-mind because the day before, a coalition of 12 environmental groups released a stinging progress report. Since the five-member task force issued a set of recommendations in 2019, “Ecological conditions in Florida have not improved and, in many cases, they have worsened. Lack of meaningful water quality protections have resulted in persistent harmful algal blooms, a record number of manatee deaths, and an overall decline in water quality statewide.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Friends of the Everglades executive director Eve Samples noted “Among the 32 metrics we tracked, only four have been implemented.” She heads one of the dozen nonprofits that compiled the report. ”So there’s a lot of progress to be made.”

Samples went through a list of the task force’s priorities, each followed by “not implemented.”

Neither Samples nor others commenting blamed the group members; rather their frustration was with government, the Legislature and the agencies charged with carrying out the mandates of each.

Florida’s algae bloom response called too limited, too slow

'I don’t think legislators are going to really endorse bigger sticks in this situation.'

When it comes to environmental protection and conservation, Florida government can end up on the side that posits it’s better to allow pollution, and try to do something about it on the back end, than prevent that pollution in the first place.

And that’s causing a serious problem getting a handle on the state’s algae bloom affliction.

“I don’t think legislators are going to really endorse bigger sticks in this situation,” said Mike Parsons, a Florida Gulf Coast University professor and state Blue-Green Algae Task Force member, during the Task Force’s latest meeting.

Without political will to hold polluters accountable, people and organizations collaborating on dealing with blue-green algae proliferation — especially and including the state government — have to run through a series of next-best-thing ideas to put into effect.

Task Force members met with experts and the larger public to reframe the conversation on their challenges, and discuss project prioritization policies, at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Video of August 4th Blue-Green Task Force Meeting »

Deadline Sept. 15 to apply for SJRWMD Blue School grants to teachers


District offers teachers funding opportunity to educate students on water conservation

PALATKA — Now entering the seventh year of its Blue School Grant Program, the St. Johns River Water Management District with full support of its Governing Board is offering up to $20,000 in grants for education projects that enrich student knowledge of Florida’s water resources through hands-on learning.

The application period runs August 1–Sept. 15 and is available to middle and high school teachers within the 18-county area.

“The District’s Blue School Grant program is a unique and meaningful way for us to help our local schools educate students on the importance of water conservation and how to be good stewards of the environment now and in the future,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Education Coordinator, Laura La Beur.

To date, the District has funded 75 water resource education projects with a total of nearly $105,000 awarded to local schools.

Through the District’s Blue School Grant Program, up to $2,000 per school may be awarded to middle and high schoolteachers to enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources. Public and charter teachers within the District’s boundaries are eligible to apply.

  • Examples of previous successful grant applications include:
  • Service-learning projects where middle and high school students partnered to study water quality
  • Water quality comparison of stormwater ponds on campus
  • Conversion of traditional irrigation to micro-irrigation in school landscape
  • Water conservation awareness posters and video
  • Teachers receiving grants will be notified in late October.

Information about criteria and deadlines and the online application can be found at www.sjrwmd.com/education/blueschool or contact Laura La Beur at LLaBeur@sjrwmd.com or 321-473-1339.

Study: Most rainwater on Earth contains PFAS exceeding safe levels

New research from Stockholm University shows that PFAS in rainwater around the world are exceeding safe levels. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemical pollutants, often called “forever chemicals” present in many everyday items, like food packaging and clothing. The chemicals leach into the environment, affecting everything from the air we breathe to even rainfall.

The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, tested four selected perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs): perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in rainwater, soil, and surface waters in different locations globally.

The researchers concluded that PFOA and PFOS levels in rainwater “greatly exceed” the Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory levels from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study also noted that all four of the tested PFAAs in rainwater were often above the Danish drinking water limits, and PFOS levels were usually higher than the Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water.

Rainwater wasn’t the only problem, either. “Atmospheric deposition also leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated and to be often above proposed Dutch guideline values,” the study said.

As such, the authors said there is really no way to avoid these chemicals on Earth anymore.

Deadline to apply for SJRWMD ag cost-share program is August 26


District offers up to $250,000 to local growers who participate in water conservation efforts

PALATKA – The St. Johns River Water Management District is accepting applications through August 26 from farmers, growers and ranchers interested in participating in the Districtwide Agricultural Cost-share Program for agricultural projects that promote water conservation and reduce nutrient runoff within the region.

The cost-share program provides up to 75 percent of cooperative funding, not to exceed $250,000 per applicant annually, toward the design, construction and implementation of technologies and strategies to improve water efficiencies and protect natural systems.

Successful projects from previous years’ funding include several pump automation projects.?With these projects, soil moisture sensors are used to communicate with controllers on the irrigation pumps.?When the correct soil moisture is achieved during an irrigation event, the pumps are automatically turned off.?Growers are also able to control their irrigation systems with their smartphones giving them control even when they are not in the grove.

Additionally, the District’s cost-share program has funded many precision fertilizer projects that have resulted in less fertilizer being applied to crops through more accurate placement as well as variable rate application.?With GPS controllers, growers can avoid overlapping fertilizer patterns and apply fertilizer in various portions of their fields based on varying soil types within the field.

The list of eligible projects includes irrigation system retrofits, soil moisture and climate sensor technology, micro-irrigation, sub-irrigation drain tile, tailwater recovery and reuse, expanded waste storage, and precision agriculture equipment.

The application and program overview for the fiscal year 2022-2023 cost-share program can be found online at www.sjrwmd.com/localgovernments/funding/agricultural-cost-share.

District staff will evaluate each project based on criteria approved by the District’s Governing Board and present projects recommended for funding to the Board for approval.

For more information, visit the District’s website or contact Technical Program Manager Suzanne Archer at sarcher@sjrwmd.com.

New law requires the state to hit certain cleanup levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’

Lawmakers warn that “these are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster."

The use of PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are a possible carcinogen, has spread to a variety of products that touch daily life: non-stick coatings, food products, air particles and foams.

Researchers continue to discover new ways that PFAS enter our environment and bodies.

HB 1475 and companion bill SB 7012 now legally require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set state rules for target cleanup levels of PFAS. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 20. It took effect immediately.

There are currently over 12,000 known variants, with PFOA and PHOS being the two most commonly tested chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Stuart, cosponsored this bill alongside Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, and said that a set of mandated rules from the state’s DEP would ensure municipalities cooperated with, at least, state regulations in managing levels of PFAS.

“These are forever chemicals that are within our environment now, and are going to create a major environmental disaster … If we do not deal with those things now, then we really face some big issues in the future,” Overdorf said.

He stated that while the bill was waiting for the governor’s signature, the federal government came out with temporary, updated advisories of PFAS in drinking water, which he said came in great timing for HB 1475.

Lake County organization offers residents a way to strengthen their homes against hurricanes

Efforts include strengthening water barriers, roof-to-wall anchorings, gable ends, window openings and doorways can help mitigate the expense and speed of recovery after a disaster.

Lake Support and Emergency Recovery, Inc. (LASER) announced it is offering residents in the Mount Dora area the opportunity to strengthen their home ahead of a hurricane. The organization is able to assist select homeowners with roof replacements, secondary water barriers, gable end bracing, or shutters.

The organization is Lake County's long-term recovery organization and began operations in 2005. According to the organization's Facebook post, to apply for a grant, you must meet these qualifications:

  • Age 30-63
  • Under-insured/Un-insured
  • Must own the home with no liens on the home
  • Financial Hardship: recently unemployed and actively looking or ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed)
  • Individual with no small children preferred
  • Home not in CRA district
  • Home not in NE CRA district
  • Home not covered under USDA boundaries for funding

LASER works with the Florida Division of Emergency Management's Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program to strengthen homes. According to a publication by the Division, strengthening water barriers, roof-to-wall anchorings, gable ends, window openings and doorways can help mitigate the expense and speed of recovery after a disaster. Though home reinforcement is not a reason to disregard an evacuation order, reducing the possibility for damage will make it more likely that one's home will be ready to return to after a storm.

This year, the Florida Legislature re-enacted the My Safe Florida Home Program. When launched, the program will be able to provide free home inspections to Florida homeowners to help identify areas of improvements for mitigating hurricane damage. Eligible homeowners may be able to apply for a grant to implement those changes. Until the program launches, Floridians can take advantage of another hurricane preparedness incentive. Beginning this month through June 2024, impact-resistant doors and impact-resistant windows are exempt of sales tax.

Florida restaurants now facing stronger regulations for grease disposal

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New law prohibits use of ?"pump and return" by grease haulers statewide

Florida’s food service businesses are now facing stronger regulations regarding grease disposal, in an effort to prevent clogs, blockages and significant damage to sewer systems. Starting today, restaurants and commercial kitchens across the City of Tampa will begin receiving mailers explaining the change in state law.

Effective July 1, 2022, Senate Bill 1110 is a state law forbidding the use of "pump and return" by grease waste haulers. This bill created Section 403.742, Florida Statutes, making it illegal to return grease waste and graywater to grease interceptors or grease traps. Additionally, the law prohibits disposing of grease waste at locations other than disposal facilities.

Blockages caused by grease can obstruct the flow of water, leading to costly repairs for the City of Tampa. These blockages can cause fatbergs, which are masses made of materials like oil, grease, or "flushable" wipes that collect, grow and eventually block a sewage system or septic tank system.

“Fatbergs pose a big risk to sewers and the people who work in them,” said Eric Weiss, director of the City of Tampa’s Wastewater Department. “When we have a blockage, waste can back up through pipes, causing major flooding in businesses and homes. That’s why the changes in the state law are so important to maintaining our infrastructure and keeping wastewater services running smoothly.”

This new law also requires grease waste haulers to maintain a service manifest, documenting that the grease waste they collect is disposed of at a permitted or certified waste management facility that is authorized to receive grease waste.

FWC approves derelict Vessel Turn-In Program

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Commissioners approved a final rule establishing a Vessel Turn-In Program as part of derelict vessel prevention efforts

At its July meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved the final rule establishing a statewide Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) as part of the Derelict Vessel Prevention Program. The new rule will create a voluntary program to remove at-risk vessels before they become derelict, which helps Florida’s environment and public safety.

The Division of Law Enforcement’s Boating and Waterways Section is spearheading a multi-year effort to dramatically reduce the backlog of derelict vessels currently on Florida’s waters. These vessels cause the destruction of valuable seagrass resources and endanger marine life. They also threaten human life, safety and property as they drift on or beneath the surface of the water or block navigable waterways, posing a navigational hazard to the boating public.

Recent legislation enables the FWC to create a Derelict Vessel Prevention Program, and the VTIP is one component of the FWC’s approach to derelict vessel prevention.

“Commissioners receive numerous contacts from the public about derelict vessels and I know the establishment of this new program will really make a difference,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Thanks to the efforts of Senator Ben Albritton, Representative Josie Tomkow, Representative Jay Trumbull and Senator Kelli Stargel, we’ve received the resources and the legislative support to make this program a reality.”

Derelict vessels are more costly and complicated to remove than at-risk vessels. A VTIP will prevent vessels from becoming derelict by removing them from the state’s waters when they are at risk of becoming derelict, which will result in cost savings for taxpayers and ultimately fewer DVs appearing on Florida waters. The VTIP is designed to allow owners of vessels at risk of becoming derelict the ability to voluntarily turn the at-risk vessel over to the state for removal and destruction.

“Derelict vessels are a priority for the FWC. Establishing the Vessel Turn-In Program provides a voluntary pathway for owners to remove at-risk vessels from the water before becoming derelict, thereby reducing future costs of removal. Removing at-risk vessels from Florida’s waterways before they become derelict is not only a win for the environment but also for public safety, taxpayers and the vessel owners,” said Col. Roger Young, director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement.

View the Commission meeting agenda and documents at MyFWC.com/Commission by clicking on “Commission Meetings” and the agenda under “July 13-14, 2022.”

UF research: Norms, not knowledge, drive irrigation habits

Norms beat knowledge when it comes to irrigating homeowners’ lawns, new University of Florida research shows.

For example, science tells us that if you replace at least one-third of the irrigated area of your yard or landscape with non-irrigated beds, you could save an average of 50,000 gallons of water per year.

But homeowners take their irrigation cues from their own personal norms and those of their neighbors, the new research shows.

Laura Warner surveyed 315 Florida homeowners to see what motivates them to replace highly irrigated areas of residential landscapes. In this survey, she specifically wanted to know what would compel homeowners to remove high water-using plants from their landscapes and replace them with conservation in mind.

“People can save an incredible amount of water by changing a portion of their yard, so it no longer needs to be irrigated,” said Warner, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural education and communication. “But some homeowners either don’t know or aren’t swayed by the benefits of reducing water use. Instead, they’re motivated to make these types of changes when they either feel like others around them would approve or have a personal commitment to doing so.”

Here’s one sample question from the survey to measure personal norms: “Tell us on a scale of 1 to 5 how strongly you agree or disagree with this statement: “I feel a personal obligation to eliminate at least one-third of the irrigated area in my yard/landscape in the next 12 months.”

Based on responses, most homeowners said they feel obligated to remove plants and grass that are high-water users.

To coax people into getting rid of water-needy vegetation, people like UF/IFAS Extension agents and government officials should focus on personal norms and social pressure, she said.

Now that researchers have found social and personal norms trigger irrigation habits, what does Warner suggest we do to encourage homeowners to conserve more?

“Based on our findings, we should be using tactics to build social pressure and/or personal obligation,” she said. “Some UF/IFAS Extension agents use innovative methods to do this — like social campaigns to communicate approval for engaging in these types of practices and mindfulness activities to develop more internal connections to water.”