Water-Related News

Proposed charter amendment to go before Polk City voters

A proposed city charter amendment will go before voters on April 3.

Polk City commissioners voted 5-0 Monday night to let voters decide if they want a say in the future sale, lease, trade or give-away of a water or wastewater utility system.

Voters will be asked to decide whether the city should hold a special referendum, with at least 60 percent voter approval, before any transaction can be made regarding a water or wastewater utility system.

There were no public comments made following a second and final public hearing on the issue at Monday night’s regularly scheduled commission meeting. The April 3 election will be held at the Donald Bronson Community Center, 124 Bronson Trail. The charter issue is the only item on the ballot.

Federal wetlands protections threatened by bill advancing in FL legislature

A Florida Senate committee, Wednesday, advanced a bill (SB 1402) which aims to place a longstanding federal program that protects wetlands through the Clean Water Act under state control.

Right now, under the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers holds permitting authority when it comes to proposed developments on environmentally sensitive wetlands in Florida. This designation is known as “Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority” under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

However, a companion bills moving rapidly in both chambers of the Florida Legislature would put such decisions in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Bill sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, R-Logwood, said that if approved by the EPA, the legislation would eliminate a redundancy in the development permitting process for freshwater wetlands.

“This is permitted by federal law so that the state can administer, without duplication, with federal law itself, the Section 404 permits, but the actual implementation of this and the execution of this will be done as if the DEP is acting as the Corps of Engineers, and will be done in accordance with the requirements of federal law,” said Sen. Simmons. “There will be no lessening of the requirements for these dredge permits.”

Environmental advocates oppose the bill over concerns that it will fast track permitting for development of wetlands. They point to the importance of Florida’s wetland ecosystems as critical habitat for endangered species, as a source of fresh drinking water, and as a vital aspect to Florida’s natural infrastructure in the event of hurricanes and floods. One acre of wetlands can store about one million gallons of water. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Amber Crooks said she’s also concerned about the DEP’s ability to take on the additional work.

Lakeland Water Utilities will repair wastewater main: Lakeland Highlands Road will be impacted

The City of Lakeland Wastewater Collection Division (Water Utilities Department) will need to perform a repair on a force main located along the east side of Lakeland Highlands Road south of Clubhouse Road. The work is scheduled to begin at 7 AM on Monday, February 19th and continue through the end of the day on Friday, February 23rd.

This work will require the outside northbound lane to be closed for the duration of the project. The inside northbound lane will remain open. Work activity will primarily take place during day light hours but the lane closure will be 24-hours per day during the construction timeframe. The lane closure will begin north of Peterson Road and end south of Clubhouse Road. Road closures will be clearly marked. The southbound lanes will not be affected. The construction project will impact traffic flow.

Motorists are advised to plan accordingly and please be patient during the construction project. Even though this is a City of Lakeland project, it will be taking place in unincorporated Polk County.

DEP to drop controversial water pollution regulations and start over

Florida regulators are withdrawing a set of controversial standards for how much pollution can be dumped into the state’s waterways.

The standards drew strong opposition from environmental groups, local governments and Native American tribes. Now the Department of Environmental Protection says it will start over and work with one of those groups to produce new pollution standards.

"DEP has identified an opportunity to partner with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to gather additional data as we move forward to protect Florida’s water," agency spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times .

She said that with their help, the DEP wants to "update the state’s water quality criteria to ensure the department is relying on the latest science."

Attorneys for the Seminole Tribe did not return a call seeking comment Friday. No one at the Miccosukee Tribe offices answered the phone.

The pollution regulations that are being withdrawn marked the first update to the state’s water quality standards in 24 years. When they were first unveiled in 2016, critics said they would allow polluters to increase the level of toxic chemicals they dump into Florida bays, rivers and lakes. Those most at risk would be children and people who eat a lot of seafood.

The 2016 standards, which were strongly supported by business and manufacturing interests, called for increasing the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals and also raising the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens.

Floods are getting worse, and 2,500 chemical sites lie in the water’s path

Anchored in flood-prone areas in every American state are more than 2,500 sites that handle toxic chemicals, a New York Times analysis of federal floodplain and industrial data shows. About 1,400 are located in areas at highest risk of flooding.

As flood danger grows — the consequence of a warming climate — the risk is that there will be more toxic spills like the one that struck Baytown, Tex., where Hurricane Harvey swamped a chemicals plant, releasing lye. Or like the ones at a Florida fertilizer plant that leaked phosphoric acid and an Ohio refinery that released benzene.

Flooding nationwide is likely to worsen because of climate change, an exhaustive scientific report by the federal government warned last year. Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency.

At the same time, rising sea levels combined with more frequent and extensive flooding from coastal storms like hurricanes may increase the risk to chemical facilities near waterways.

The Times analysis looked at sites listed in the federal Toxic Release Inventory, which covers more than 21,600 facilities across the country that handle large amounts of toxic chemicals harmful to health or the environment.

Of those sites, more than 1,400 were in locations the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers to have a high risk of flooding. An additional 1,100 sites were in areas of moderate risk. Other industrial complexes lie just outside these defined flood-risk zones, obscuring their vulnerability as flood patterns shift and expand.

35 manatee deaths in January blamed on cold weather

Cold waters in January caused the deaths of 35 manatees across Florida, wildlife officials say.

The animals died due to cold stress syndrome brought on by low water temperatures, the Bradenton Herald reports. The deaths occurred between Jan. 1 and Jan. 26, according to a preliminary report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Officials say there were five times as many manatee deaths last month compared to the same timeframe in 2017, the Associated Press reports. However, it’s still much less than the 151 manatees killed by a cold snap in January 2010.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that water temperatures never climbed above 67.1 degrees at Port Manatee in January, according to the Herald. The average temperature was 57.6 degrees.

Cold stress syndrome can occur when marine mammals are immersed in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time. Manatees begin to experience hypothermia, which causes their organs to fail and their skin to slough off.

In total, 87 manatees were found dead across the Sunshine State last month, the Herald reports. The deaths are measured in eight categories, ranging from natural to undetermined.

Wildlife officials told the AP that boat collisions killed 10 of the animals statewide last month.

Senate committee approves statewide fracking ban

A controversial method of extracting natural gas would be banned statewide under a bill approved by a Senate panel Monday.

But while the Senate is moving forward on a ban on fracking — a process whereby a mixture of water and chemicals is forced deep underground at high pressure to release natural gas — its chances look slim in the House.

Anti-fracking activists say the possibility of fracking fluids polluting groundwater is high in Florida, where slabs of limestone could make it easier for leaking chemicals from fracking sites to seep upward and pollute the aquifer that South Florida uses for drinking water.

The bill sponsor, state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, held up a chunk of porous, 125,000-year-old limestone from Miami-Dade County and said, “This is what our state is built on, and this is the reason for this bill.”

Advocates for fracking disagree.

“You’re sending a message to the rest of the country that fracking is not good, and I think that’s the wrong message,” said Eric Hamilton, of the Florida Petroleum Council, which lobbies for fossil fuel interests. “It may not be advantageous to use it at this time, but as we find additional reservoirs, it may be a technology we can rely on. And it can be done safely.”

The bill appears to be dead on arrival in the House.

SWFWMD workshop Feb. 8th on North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes operational guidelines

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is hosting two workshops for residents who live along the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes in Polk County. Lakefront residents of Lakes Conine, Fannie, Haines, Hamilton, Henry, Lowery, Rochelle, Smart and the Peace Creek Canal are invited to attend to learn more about the current structure operational guidelines.

The workshops will take place on Thursday, Feb. 8 from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 13 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Chain of Lakes Complex in the Poolside Room, located at 210 Cypress Gardens Blvd. in Winter Haven. There will be an open house the first hour of each workshop, followed by a presentation and open discussion.

The District is engaging and collaborating with the public as a first step in the process of reviewing the operational guidelines for the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes. Lakes Conine, Haines and Rochelle are included in the system, but do not have structures.

Members of the public interested in receiving future lake management communications can visit our website at WaterMatters.org/Structures to sign up for information or to submit questions.

DEP tells BS Ranch to restore wetlands and reduce odors

LAKELAND — An industrial facility that recycles waste must restore five acres of wetlands, enclose areas at the plant likely to generate odors and change the way it processes waste, according to a letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The letter from Kirk White, assistant deputy general counsel for the DEP, to Ron Noble, a lawyer for BS Ranch & Farm, details changes the facility must make if its owners want to avoid court.

“The Department views this effort as a final opportunity to avoid a third-party decision-maker,” White wrote Jan. 19. Noble wrote in a response Jan. 26 that the East Lakeland facility owners are pleased the DEP is willing to avoid a courtroom.

“Thank you for the Department’s January 19, 2018 correspondence which sets forth framework and path forward for resolution of the three remaining permitting and compliance matters for the BS Ranch & Farm organic recycling facility located in Polk County, Florida,” Noble wrote.

The DEP and the facility have been at odds for a year. The agency cited the facility in 2017 for violating its permit by creating odors.

BS Ranch & Farm recycles human waste, out-of-date foods and mulch. Complaints about the facility causing an odor began in early 2017.

Public meeting Mar. 6th on Peace River TMDLS

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Information about the draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) documents for the water bodies listed below will be presented. These will be nutrient TMDLs that will constitute site-specific numeric interpretations of the narrative nutrient criterion set forth in paragraph 62-302.530(90)(b) of the Florida Administrative Code.

  • Lake Rochelle - WBID 1488B
  • Lake Haines - WBID 1488C
  • Lake Alfred - WBID 1488D
  • Lake Conine - WBID 1488U
  • Crystal Lake - WBID 1497A
  • Lake Ariana - WBID 1501B
  • Lake Marianna - WBID 1521L
  • Lake Blue - WBID 1521Q
  • Eagle Lake - WBID 1623M

The department will accept written comments on the draft TMDLs, as well as the establishment of these nutrient TMDLs as site-specific interpretations of the narrative nutrient criterion, through March 14, 2018. Written comments should be directed to: Erin Rasnake, Program Administrator, Water Quality Evaluation and TMDL Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Mail Station #3555, 2600 Blair Stone Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2400 via post or email: Erin.Rasnake@dep.state.fl.us

For more information about TMDLs, visit this page on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's website.

Supreme Court rules that challenges to WOTUS should be filed in district courts

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that challenges to the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” rule must be filed in federal district courts, as opposed to the federal appeals courts.

The ruling marked the first opinion of the month. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion, which was filled with water puns, though she was not on the bench Monday.

The court heard oral arguments in the case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, in October.

The Supreme Court met to weigh in on which courts had jurisdiction for lawsuits challenging WOTUS, not to decide the merits of the 2015 water rule, which vastly expanded the definition of a waterway that can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The definition of a waterway under the rule includes everything from a simple drainage ditch to streams and rivers. That means many more areas would fall under EPA's enforcement jurisdiction and control, from farmers to individual homeowners to oil companies, critics of the rule say.

The National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit challenging WOTUS in federal district courts after agencies promulgated the rule, and the cases were then consolidated and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the 6th Circuit.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 ruled that appeals courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the water rule.

Research finds discrepancies between satellite, global model estimates of land water storage

Research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that calculations of water storage in many river basins from commonly used global computer models differ markedly from independent storage estimates from GRACE satellites.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 22, raise questions about global models that have been used in recent years to help assess water resources and potentially influence management decisions.

The study used measurements from GRACE satellites from 2002 to 2014 to determine water storage changes in 186 river basins around the world and compared the results with simulations made by seven commonly used models.

The GRACE satellites, operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, measure changes in the force of gravity across the Earth, a value influenced by changes in water storage in an area. The computer models used by government agencies and universities were developed to assess historical and/or scenario-based fluxes in the hydrological cycle, such as stream flow, evapotranspiration and storage changes, including soil moisture and groundwater.