Water-Related News

Florida Senate unanimously supports pollution notification rules change

The Florida Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to inform the public within 24 hours after a spill occurs.

Senators passed SB 532 on its third and final reading.

Sponsored by Manatee County Republican Bill Galvano, the bill was filed in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for new public notification rules and legislation to ensure the public is kept informed of incidents of pollution that may cause a threat to public health and Florida’s air and water resources. The push came after a sewage spill last fall in St. Petersburg and Mosaic’s sinkhole in Mulberry that sent toxins in the drinking water supply.

The DEP filed suit, issuing an emergency rule requiring those responsible to notify the public within 24 hours. After business groups had challenged the rule, an administrative law judge rejected the rule, saying the department exceeded its rule-making authority.

SB 532 also requires DEP to develop and publish a list of substances that “pose a substantial risk to public health, safety or welfare.” If any company fails to notify the Department of an incident involving one of the published substances, it could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day.

“People have a right to know, and it’s at the heart of public safety,” Galvano said.

All eyes are now focused on the legislation is being carried in the House (HB 1065) by Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters. If it passes there, it goes to Scott’s desk.

Warning from SWFWMD: Additional water restrictions are possible

A water shortage order could be in the future for 16 Florida counties due to the ongoing drought.

The governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, will discuss a vote on a staff-recommended phase 1 water shortage order for their 16 counties, including Manatee and Sarasota.

The order won’t be final until the board votes to approve it at their next meeting on April 25 in Haines City.

If approved, this phase won’t change current watering conservation schedules. It only would be a first step to warn residents that stricter water restrictions could be coming, said Swiftmud public information officer Susanna Martinez Tarokh.

The order will require more frequent and detailed reporting to Swiftmud on the utilities’ ends, said Manatee County water division manager Mark Simpson. The county will also have to review its enforcement policies.

Since April 2017 was proclaimed Water Conservation Month by the board of county commissioners, Simpson said residents will get notifications about ways to conserve water. But even with the potential of a water shortage order, he said Manatee County’s water supply is still safe, with current levels at Lake Manatee Reservoir able to fuel water needs through September.

Residents should be mindful of year-long county water restrictions set Swiftmud and try to find ways to save water where they can.

As the drought is expected to continue until rains begin in June, the prevalence of wildfires across the state is on the rise. According to the Florida Forest Service’s fire danger index, Manatee County continues to have a very high fire risk. The Myakka River District is still restricting burns to citrus piles only.

Boat ramp closures at Loyce E. Harpe, Saddle Creek parks

BARTOW – Polk County Parks & Recreation will install new boat ramps at Loyce E. Harpe Park in Mulberry, and Saddle Creek Park in Lakeland, starting this week.

The construction will cause certain areas of each park to be inaccessible during this time.

The Saddle Creek boat ramp No. 5, along Morgan Combee Road and closest to Fish Hatchery Road, will be closed through April 30.

The Loyce E. Harpe Park boat ramp No. 2, located at the south end of the park, will be closed May 1 through 7.

All visitors will be able to access the waterways by using the other ramps located at each park. If you have any questions or comments, please call the Polk County Parks & Recreation’s administration office at (863) 534-4340.

Bill to create Polk Regional Water Cooperative gets committee approval

An effort to create a new model for water protection in Polk County got an enthusiastic approval Monday (April 17th) from the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Committee Substitute for House Bill 573, sponsored by state Rep. Colleen Burton would create a regional authority aiming to coordinate water projects in the critical Green Swamp region in Polk County. All 17 Polk cities, the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District would have to work together on any water, wastewater, storm water, flood control, or environmental restoration projects to vet and coordinate regional priorities.

Burton, a Republican from Lakeland, presented the “Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act” as a new form of regional planning modeled after regional transportation metropolitan planning organizations.

At stake, is an area water supply that creates the sensitive Green Swamp that spans Polk and Lake Counties, and fees the headwaters of six South Florida river systems, the Alafia, Hillsborough, Kissimmee, Ocklawaha, Peace, and Withlacoochee, which supply water to 32 counties.

“What you have before you today is a bill that does what I would like to see us do all across the state as relates to water, regional cooperation,” Burton said. “We keep talking about finding a better way to build a water model. This again looks at the transportation model to do this work.”

The committee approved the bill unanimously and all who spoke offered enthusiasm for a new model to address water issues more regionally, though a couple of members provided cautions.

Republican State Rep. Tom Goodson of Merritt Island wished Polk County luck in its expectation that the cities will allocate property taxes to support the cooperative, saying his Brevard County “would run you out on a rail.” Republican state Rep. Charlie Stone of Ocala cautioned that regional cooperatives can create infighting in which the bigger entities, declaring, “It’s always the big dog that carries home the biggest meal.”

Yet Chairman Ben Albritton, a Republican from Wauchula, praised the model for getting everyone in the same room, even if the ensuing efforts are not going to be simple or easy.

“If we don’t have this… we will have territorialism. That is certain,” Albritton said.

New irrigation rules in effect March 12th

Irrigation is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

During daylight saving time (second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in November) irrigation is limited to no more than two days per week on scheduled days.

Residential irrigation is allowed on Wednesday and Saturday at addresses that end in an odd number or have no address.

Residential irrigation is allowed on Thursday and Sunday at addresses that end in an even number. Nonresidential irrigation is allowed on Tuesday and Friday.

While about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, only about 1 percent is readily available for public use, agriculture, plants and animals. Water conservation is an important part of ensuring the sustainability of Florida’s water supply; watering restrictions, expanded use of reclaimed water and the use of water-efficient appliances are ways the district works to encourage conservation.

THIS WEB POSTING WAS COPIED FROM THE ST JOHNS RIVER WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT WEB SITE: For more details about watering restrictions, visit www.sjrwmd.com/wateringrestrictions.

New primer to “living shorelines” published

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A synthesis of recent thinking and results from practitioners and researchers of Living Shorelines just hit the stands. “Living Shorelines: The Science and Management of Nature-Based Coastal Protection,” details many aspects of the shoreline stabilization approach, and specifically includes: (1) background: history and evolution; (2) management, policy, and design; (3) synthesis of Living Shoreline science: physical and biological aspects; and (4) summary and future guidance. Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science participated in the project.

Carolyn Currin, Jenny Davis, and Amit Malhotra contributed a chapter entitled "Response of Salt Marshes to Wave Energy Provides Guidance for Successful Living Shoreline Implementation". The multi-faceted chapter provides information pertaining to the: energetic determinants of marsh habitat distribution; relationship between shoreline wave energy and marsh erosion rates; and the ability of fringing marshes to attenuate waves and trap sediments. The chapter also describes the results of a case study of natural and stabilized fringing salt marsh from central North Carolina and combines these results with those from the literature review to provide guidance on the physical settings in which fringing marsh and hybrid living shorelines can be considered.

Coastal ecosystem functions have diminished as estuarine and coastal shorelines have been managed mostly to support human infrastructure and economic benefits. Coastal management has evolved to include the use of nature-based shoreline erosion control approaches. Living Shorelines are intended to restore natural shoreline functions in estuarine, marine, and aquatic systems.

Wildfire emergency shuts down all SWFWMD campgrounds

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) has closed all District managed campgrounds throughout our 16-county region during Florida’s wildfire emergency event.

The following District managed campgrounds are closed until further notice:

• Cypress Creek Preserve
• Deep Creek Preserve
• Flying Eagle Preserve
• Green Swamp – East Tract
• Green Swamp – Hampton Tract
• Green Swamp – West Tract
• Lake Panasofkee
• Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve
• Potts Preserve
• Starkey Wilderness Preserve – Serenova Tract
• Upper Hillsborough Preserve – Alston Tract
• Upper Hillsborough Preserve – Upper Hillsborough Tract

Additional information about District properties closed due to wildfires can be found on the District’s website at WaterMatters.org. As a reminder, you can find the latest information on Twitter.com/SWFWMD

(Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region [CC BY 2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Volunteers needed to serve on Polk County stormwater advisory committee

BARTOW — County commissioners are looking for volunteers to serve on the Polk County Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee.

The Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee was established to assist county officials with issues relating to stormwater runoff, stormwater permit requirements and improving surface water quality.

The committee consists of five members. To be considered, you must have technical expertise in such areas as engineering, biology, hydrology, chemistry or geology. Meeting times and dates are scheduled as necessary by the chairman and vice chairman of the committee.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Polk County Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee, email a letter and resume of qualifications to miannenelson@polk-county.net by May 1.

Polk County issues burn ban

BARTOW – Polk County has experienced dry weather conditions for an extensive period of time due to the lack of rainfall, therefore Polk County Fire Rescue has issued a burn ban.

The increase in risk of brush fires and uncontrolled fires are a threat to the public health, safety and general welfare of Polk County. There are also no signs of abatement of these dangerous fire conditions in the near future.

The burn ban includes, but not limited to:

  • Campfires
  • Bonfires
  • Unpermitted controlled burns
  • Burning of yard and household trash
  • Burning of construction debris
  • Burning of organic debris
  • Igniting of fireworks
  • Noncommercial burning of material other than for religious or ceremonial purposes which is not contained in a barbecue grill or barbecue pit and the total fuel area does not exceed 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet in height.

“We have held off as long as we possibly can on issuing this burn ban,” said Fire Chief Anthony Stravino. “But conditions are favorable for the rapid development and spread of brush fires and we need to take every step necessary to ensure the safety of everyone. We also don’t want anyone to lose property or investments due to fire.”

More than 50 percent of Polk County is averaging over 500 on the Keetch-Byram Drout Index (KBDI). The KBDI index is used as an indicator to determine the likelihood and severity of brush fires. The scale begins at zero, which is "no danger", and rises to 800, which is "extreme danger". As a rule of thumb, fire officials become concerned any time the scale goes above 500 for 50 percent of the county.

While high KBDI values are an indication that conditions are favorable for the occurrence and spread of wildfires, drought is not by itself a prerequisite for such fires. Other weather factors, such as wind, temperature, relative humidity and atmospheric stability, play a major role in determining the actual fire danger.

The burn ban applies to all unincorporated Polk and the following municipalities: Auburndale, Bartow, Davenport, Eagle Lake, Fort Meade, Haines City, Hillcrest Heights, Lake Alfred, Lake Hamilton, Mulberry, Polk City, Lakeland and Dundee.

“Any person who refuses to comply or violates this burn ban shall be in violation of County Ordinance 08-015, and can be punished by a fine not to exceed $500 or by imprisonment by a term not to exceed 60 days in the county jail or both.”

Waste at BS Ranch & Farm came from far and wide

LAKELAND — The human waste came by the thousands of tons to BS Ranch & Farm.

It was delivered from as far away as Okeechobee and as close as Dover from Nov. 1, 2016, through March 20. In all, records from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that 25,000 tons of treated human waste was taken to the 300-acre East Lakeland facility from 38 wastewater plants.

The waste came from all across Florida, including four wastewater treatment plants in Hillsborough County, four plants in Pasco County and three plants in Hardee County. Polk County disposes of its treated waste at its landfill.

Residents in the area say the noxious smell in East Lakeland started in late December. That’s about the time truckloads of waste from a plant in Orlando dumped hundreds of tons of waste at the facility. In March, the DEP cited BS Ranch for the odor on five occasions.

More than 100 Florida wildfires scorch state, a sign of how dry we are

Last year Florida was waterlogged. This year Florida is on fire.

More than 100 active wildfires are burning across the state right now, according to the Florida Forest Service. Twenty-five of them are scorching more than 100 acres each.

"We're usually not this active this early in the season," the service's assistant fire chief, Ralph Crawford, said Monday.

Since February, wildfires have swept across 68,000 acres of the state, Crawford said, noting that that amount is higher than the average acreage burned over the past five years.

"And we're just barely into April," he added. "Usually May is our busiest month."

Heavy rains north of Gainesville last week helped tamp down the wildfire threat in North Florida, said Florida's state climatologist, David Zierden. But south of Gainesville remains so dry that most of the peninsula is classified as being in a moderate drought, while southwest Florida is classified as facing extreme drought conditions.

With no rain forecast for at least another week, "it's going to get worse before it gets better," Zierden predicted.

Supreme Court will not pause Obama WOTUS rule

The Supreme Court will not pause a case concerning the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. Rule in a blow to the Trump administration. The justices’ decision came with no explanation.

The White House opposes the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers’ rule and asked the court to hold off on the case while the agencies formally consider repealing it.

The Supreme Court case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, does not concern the merits of the controversial regulation.

Instead, the industry groups opposed to the rule want the high court to overturn the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s opinion that it has the primary jurisdiction over the case. The Sixth Circuit decision had consolidated cases filed in dozens of other federal circuit and district courts.

Supporters of the WOTUS rule, including environmental groups and some Democratic states, want the case to stay consolidated at the Sixth Circuit. They also asked the Supreme Court not to delay its case.

President Trump formally asked the EPA and Army Corps to reconsider the rule in February, calling it “a horrible, horrible rule.” The agencies began reconsideration process shortly after Trump signed an executive order.

The Supreme Court has asked litigants to submit their first briefs later this month. The justices have not scheduled oral arguments.

Some observers say the best way to deal with this is via legislation, where the outlook for such action is good in the House, but Senate Democrats in the past have not given support to anti-WOTUS rule legislation.