Water-Related News

FWC now accepting applications for newly created Vessel Turn-In Program

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is now accepting applications for a recently approved and newly created Vessel Turn-In Program, a key component of Florida’s derelict vessel prevention program.

VTIP is a voluntary program designed to help owners dispose of their unwanted at-risk vessels before they become derelict. Upon approval of an application, VTIP will take a surrendered vessel and dispose of it at no cost to the boat owner. Removing the vessel before it deteriorates into a derelict condition will prevent legal ramifications for the vessel owner and will protect Florida’s valuable seagrass resources, marine life, and human life, safety, and property.

A derelict vessel upon waters of the state is a criminal offense and can carry serious penalties and fines or possible jail time.

“Acting now is the best way to prevent legal action from occurring if the vessel becomes derelict,” said Phil Horning, VTIP Administrator.

To qualify for VTIP, a vessel must be floating upon waters of the state of Florida and cannot be determined derelict by law enforcement. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the vessel.

To apply for or view program guidelines, visit MyFWC.com/VTIP or call the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600 for more information.

Expedition retraces a legendary explorer’s travels through the once-pristine Everglades

Changes in water quality will be an important facet of the expedition

In 1897, the explorer and amateur scientist Hugh de Laussat Willoughby climbed into a canoe and embarked on a coast-to-coast expedition of the Florida Everglades, a wilderness then nearly as vast as the peninsula itself and as unknown, he wrote, as the “heart of Africa.”

Willoughby and his guide were the first non-Native Americans to traverse the Everglades from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and Willoughby’s meticulous notes, charts and water samples would form the basis of scientists’ historical understanding of the legendary “river of grass.”

Now a new expedition has retraced his trek, with the goal of measuring the impact of modern humanity on a watershed that today is among the most altered on Earth and responsible for the drinking water of some 12 million Floridians.

The expedition also commemorates the 75th anniversary of Everglades National Park, which was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1947.

“We think we will see the full spectrum, from one of the most remote parts of the continental United States to one of the most urbanized parts of the United States – all in one watershed, all in one trip,” said Harvey Oyer, co-leader of the four-member expedition and the author of a series of children’s books about the historical Florida frontier. “That, I think more than anything else, will illustrate humanity’s impact from the time of Willoughby to today.”

Willoughby’s thorough work provides a tantalizing opportunity to compare conditions in the Everglades then and now. Traveling the region’s rivers and canals over six days and some 130 miles, Oyer and the team drew water samples from the same spots as Willoughby, according to coordinates he documented, sometimes from some of the most remote and hard-to-reach parts of the subtropical region.

The water samples are being analyzed at the University of Florida for the same constituents that Willoughby examined, such as magnesium and sulfates, along with nutrients now known to affect the Everglades like phosphorus and nitrogen.

The samples are also being tested for modern pollutants like microplastics, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides and pharmaceuticals. It will be a few months before the analysis is complete. The team wrapped u

How floating wetlands are helping to clean up urban waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Floating wetlands were first tested in retention ponds, the kind often located near developments to hold stormwater, to see if they filtered pollution. “The front end of it was, ‘Will they work? How well do they work? And what plants should we recommend?’” says Sarah White, an environmental toxicologist and horticulturalist at Clemson University who has worked on floating wetlands since 2006. Partnering with researchers at Virginia Tech, White found that the wetland plants she tested not only did well in ponds with lots of nutrient pollution, but the adaptable, resilient plants actually thrived. She did not always choose native plants, opting instead for those that would make the islands more attractive, so that more urban planners would use them.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive reopens for public use after TS Nicole

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PALATKA – The St. Johns River Water Management District is re-opening the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive for public use beginning Nov.18. The drive was closed last week due to safety concerns, including a downed powerline that blocked the drive’s exit and high-water levels throughout the property following Tropical Storm Nicole.

The drive is a one-way, 11-mile drive meandering through the eastern portion of the District’s Lake Apopka North Shore property. Visitors will want to plan for approximately one to three hours to complete the experience, depending on the usage and how many stops they choose to make along the way. Stopping is limited to designated pull-outs provided along the length of the drive.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive entrance gate is open for vehicular traffic between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. All vehicles must exit the drive by 5 p.m.

For the more information and to access an audio tour, visit our website at www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation/lake-apopka/wildlife-drive.

Petition urges USFWS protect Florida manatees as endangered

Calling declines in Florida's manatee population “dramatic” a coalition of groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for the aquatic mammal.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic, Miami Waterkeeper, Save the Manatee Club and Frank S. González García filed the petition Monday. The petition urges the federal wildlife agency to reclassify the species from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

"Since the service prematurely reduced protections in 2017, the species has declined dramatically," a release from the groups about the petition said.

According to information provided by the groups, pollution-fueled algae blooms sparked an ongoing mortality event that killed more than 1,110 Florida manatees in 2021 alone -- 19 percent of the Atlantic population and 13 percent of all manatees in Florida.

The deaths continued this year, the groups said, with 726 manatees dying through October. Manatee experts predict that the high levels of malnourished and starving manatees will continue throughout the winter.

“West Indian manatees from Florida to the Caribbean are facing drastic threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, pollution, climate change and toxic algae blooms," said Ben Rankin, a student attorney at the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic. “The restoration of full Endangered Species Act protections is an essential first step in conserving this species everywhere it is found.”

Lake County Health Department issues Blue-green Algae Bloom Alert for Sawgrass Lake (CWC dock)

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EUSTIS – The Florida Department of Health in Lake County (DOH-Lake) has issued a Health Alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in Sawgrass Lake. This is in response to a water sample taken on 11/14/2022. The public should exercise caution in and around Sawgrass Lake.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish well.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that is common in Florida’s freshwater environments. A bloom occurs when rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of individual cells that discolor water and often produce floating mats that emit unpleasant odors.

Some environmental factors that contribute to blue-green algae blooms are sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions and excess nutrients. Blooms can appear year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall. Many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.

For more information about blue-green algae, visit the link below.

The next stage of Lake Apopka’s restoration is underwater

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The skiff barely makes a ripple in the shallow water along the edge of Lake Apopka as it slowly loops back and forth. Without a breeze, the water mirrors the sky, and the lake looks as blue as it once was. The boat circles erratically as it gradually winds along the lake’s edge. It seems random, but it’s one step in the systematic efforts to restore Lake Apopka.

The boat carries 6,000 plants – all Illinois pondweed, Potamogeton illinoensis, affectionately called “pote” by Jodi Slater, an Environmental Scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District. Potamogeton is a native plant found in waterways in Florida and throughout North America.

Potamogeton is a species found in healthy lakes,” explains Slater. “To see Potamogeton become established itself and start reproducing in Lake Apopka is another indication that the water quality is improving.”

Pondweed used to be dominant in Lake Apopka but disappeared 70 years ago. With District efforts to prevent pollution and restore the lake, other aquatic plants returned naturally. “It’s hard to say why pondweed didn’t naturally come back; it may have just exhausted its seed bank,” Slater says. Now that water quality has improved to the point that Potamogeton will survive, Slater hopes that re-establishing populations along the shoreline will provide a durable, steady source of seeds.

To help re-establish the pondweed, a team of District scientists selected 48 acres, shallow sections at the edges of the lake where the plants can get enough sunlight to survive. The District worked with a contractor, AquaTech Eco Consultants, to grow and plant Potamogeton, as well as another native lake plant, eelgrass (Vallisneria americana).

Record water levels on St. Johns River pose major flooding risk in Florida (again)

As residents around the St. Johns River continued to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Ian, Hurricane Nicole impacted the area and worsened already difficult recovery efforts.

After weeks of dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Ian, Floridians who live around the St. Johns River in eastern Florida were becoming optimistic that things were finally drying out. Residents were hoping repairs could get underway soon, but all of those plans were halted, and optimistic feelings were erased as yet another hurricane approached the state.

Hurricane Ian brought devastation to communities along the river in late September, including in Seminole County which is located northeast of Orlando. It took days before those living in Seminole County could even begin assessing the damage to their properties as water continued to pour into homes.

But right as the St. Johns River started to return to normal levels, Hurricane Nicole formed and brought yet another risk of flooding to the already devastated area. As Nicole approached the Florida coast, heavy rain once again returned.

Normally, the St. Johns River water level is about 2 feet at the river gauge in Astor, Florida, a Lake County community situated about 45 miles to the north of Orlando. When Nicole made landfall in Florida on Thursday, Nov. 10, the gauge there hit 4.5 feet, which is just 2 inches shy of the record flooding set just last month during Ian.

In general, the area saw a water level rise of about 1 to 1.2 feet after Nicole.

That may not sound like a lot, but it's such a flat landscape in that part of Florida that the rise was enough for the area to jump from moderate flooding back into major flooding, AccuWeather Senior Broadcast Meteorologist Geoff Cornish explained.

FWC reminds owners unable to salvage their storm-damaged vessels that waivers are still available

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Vessel owners have until 45 days after Ian crossed the state to get their vessels out of derelict condition. The end of the grace period is Nov. 15.

Owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment. If they are unable to salvage their vessels, lack the resources to have their boat repaired or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, they may release ownership of their vessel.

Waivers are available for removal and destruction and owners will not be charged for any removal costs. This process can be initiated by contacting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership.

To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners in the Lee County area.

If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by Nov. 15, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel. At this time, the FWC will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law but the decision to hold vessel owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date.

FWC officers continue to work tirelessly with partner agencies to assess vessels displaced by Hurricane Ian. Over 3,000 vessels have been assessed and research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information, guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.

We have water and land-based teams assessing vessels. If your vessel is missing or you have located a vessel on state waters displaced by the hurricane, please report it to our Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline: 850-488-5600. For all other vessels, the Division of Emergency Management has established a hotline for vessel and property owners at 850-961-2002. for vessels on land.

Public safety remains the number one priority at the FWC. The FWC would like to remind the public that officers a

It’s time to “fall back” to once-a-week winter watering

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PALATKA – Starting Sunday, Nov. 6, residents across the 18 counties of the St. Johns River Water Management District should reset their automatic sprinkler systems to water no more than once a week.

“Outdoor irrigation accounts for nearly half of most Floridians’ monthly water bill,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Mike Register. “Lawns and landscape plants require less water during this time of year. By only providing the amount supplemental irrigation required, we can conserve water and help meet our water supply needs while maintaining healthy lawns and landscapes.”

Public water supply is the largest category of water use in the District’s region — about 569.5 million gallons of water a day. Most of this water is for residential water use—you and me using water in our homes. Improving landscape irrigation practices can save water, improve your landscape and help protect water quality at the same time.

Overwatering can encourage mold and fungus, weaken grass roots, and promote weeds and undesirable insects. Water is wasted when broken or misdirected sprinkler heads spray water onto sidewalks and pavement, and water runoff from oversaturated yards often carries fertilizers, debris and nutrients into natural waterways, which leads to poor water quality.

Because lawns need significantly less water in Florida’s winter months, watering restrictions are in place to ensure that water used for irrigation is used efficiently. During Eastern Standard Time (early November through mid-March), landscape irrigation is limited to no more than one day a week on the following schedule:

  • Saturday at addresses that end in an odd number or have no address
  • Sunday at addresses that end in an even number
  • Tuesday at non-residential addresses
  • No irrigation is allowed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

More information and water-saving tips can be found at WaterLessFlorida.com. To learn how your neighbors across the District are saving water, visit our Water Less Heroes series here.

FWC assessing thousands of ‘displaced’ vessels in the wake of Ian

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FWC continues to assess thousands of vessels 1 month after Hurricane Ian landfall

Hurricane Ian displaced over 7,000 vessels on both land and water. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has deployed a second wave of officers to join local FWC personnel and partner agencies in assessing these vessels. Since the assessment process began, the FWC has received hundreds of calls on its Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline (850-488-5600) and has assessed over 2,100 vessels displaced on state waters Research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information, guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.

“Wave One of the FWC Displaced Vessel Deployment Team returned home after a very productive two weeks in the field. This group of 16 dedicated officers worked long hours on the waters of Lee County, locating derelict vessels and contacting owners. Wave Two is now in place and will carry on with the mission,” said FWC Boating and Waterways Section Representative Capt. Travis Franklin. “I’m proud of the work accomplished by these officers as they help reunite owners with their boats, while facilitating the removal of derelict vessels from our waterways.”

This week, Governor Ron DeSantis announced efforts to expedite identifying and removing vessels and debris from the area affected by Hurricane Ian. The FWC is working closely with the Division of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard and local governments to identify and remove vessels and other debris from waterways and upland private and commercial properties. The newly created State Debris Cleanup Program will assist Hurricane Ian survivors with the removal of displaced and abandoned titled property. Residents can request the removal of debris including vehicles, vessels, motorcycles, trailers and ATVs. To make a request, visit IanDebrisCleanup.com to report the presence of debris.

Owners of derelict vessels who lack the resources to have their boat repaired, or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, may release ownership of their vessel. This process can be initiated by contacting the FWC through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership. To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners.

Tuesday, Nov. 15, will mark the end of the 45-day period for vessel owners to either remove a derelict boat from the waters of the state or bring it into a non-derelict condition. If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by that day, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel. At this time, the FWC will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law but the decision to hold vessel owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date. Vessel owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment.

For questions related to vessel removal or recovery on state waters, to report storm damaged, lost or abandoned boats on state waters, or to initiate the waiver process, call the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 between the hours of 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday.

Public safety remains the number one priority at the FWC. The FWC would like to remind the public that officers will begin marking underwater navigational hazards with hazard buoys but there are still many underwater hazards. Pay close attention, use extreme caution, look out for submerged navigation aids and avoid areas where officers are working to mark or remove vessels.