Water-Related News

Big mission awaits Florida's new Blue Green Algae Task Force

Reducing harmful nutrients in state waters, through moves such as more monitoring and staffing, is an expected short-term goal of a new task force set up by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look at toxic algae fouling Florida waterways.

But with a brief timeline for the five-member Blue Green Algae Task Force to reach its initial findings, don’t expect proposals for massive state rule changes related to farming practices or moving away from septic systems.

Task force member Michael Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station, said rather than replace regulations, as some environmental groups contend is needed, a more realistic approach would focus on “fine-tuning” existing rules.

“In any field, if you make the rules too strong, too stringent, too unfair, they won’t be followed,” Parsons said. “I think there is a compromise between allowing people the flexibility to work within certain frameworks as well as getting the needed results or the intended results within that framework. You can’t force people to do things, but on the other hand, we do have goals we need to meet, so there has to be a compromise between the two.”

This year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone could be one of the biggest ever, NOAA says

A summertime Gulf of Mexico dead zone fueled by pollution flowing out of the Mississippi River watershed could be among the largest on record this year.

In a seasonal forecast issued this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said heavy spring rain over the watershed, which drains 37 states - or about 41 percent of the U.S. - was expected to flush large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the northern Gulf. That could create a dead zone covering more than 7,800 square miles.

It's too early to tell what influence the zone might have on seasonal red tides that form off the Florida shelf. Following a 2017 record-setting dead zone, a toxic red tide started in October that lasted for more than a year, littering southwest Florida beaches with dead marine life and eventually sweeping up the Atlantic coast.

"This is an atypical year given the really high discharges, so it would be something to keep an eye on," said NOAA oceanographer David Schuerer. 

Lake Hunter stormwater treatment project: stormwater treatment ponds & litter control devices

As part of the City of Lakeland’s ongoing efforts to improve water quality in Lake Hunter, the City will begin a project to construct a stormwater management and treatment facility that will assist with nutrient reduction in stormwater discharges to Lake Hunter. Lake Hunter has been identified by the State of Florida as a priority waterbody with a regulatory Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reduction requirement for total nitrogen and total phosphorous. The six-month project will begin June 24, 2019.

The Lake Hunter project includes construction of two (2) stormwater treatment ponds on the north side of Sikes Boulevard between Hartsell Avenue and Lime Street. Several existing wetland areas that were recently transferred to the City of Lakeland by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be restored. Existing retention ponds will be deepened to provide additional storage and enhance nutrient load removal for stormwater runoff. Pollution control devices will be installed to aid in removing sediment, litter, floatable trash and additional nutrients from stormwater before it enters Lake Hunter.

Laurie Smith, Manager of Lakes & Stormwater said, “The project location was chosen in an area where we can maximize the use of available property and improve the function of the existing wetlands.” She added, “Once completed the project will be a big step toward improving the water quality by reducing the amount of trash and the nutrient load discharged into Lake Hunter. A boardwalk is also proposed as part of the project with connectivity to the Sikes Boulevard sidewalk. This amenity will provide recreational opportunities and observation areas for public benefit.” 

Thousands of plants to make their home in Lake Arbuckle

Lake Arbuckle is getting a little help after it was raked by Hurricane Irma two years ago.

Beginning Tuesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is transplanting thousands of aquatic plants into the lake to boost the shallow-water and crappie fishing opportunities.

While most aquatic plants are pretty resilient, hurricanes with 90-100 mph winds can totally destroy a lake.

“They can literally pile them up on the shoreline, and that is what [Irma] did to lakes up and down Highway 27,” said Eric Johnson, regional fisheries administrator with the Department of Freshwater Fisheries Management. Johnson oversees more than 1,000 miles of streams, rivers and tributaries throughout 12 counties in the southwest part of the state.

Johnson said the plants improve the quality of the lake, and provide a habitat structure that is good for the fish and fishermen alike.

The FWC is planting a total of 8,000 giant bulrush and 16,000 jointed spikerush plants along Lake Arbuckle’s western and southwestern shorelines.

“These native aquatic plants will serve as a valuable food source and habitat for a variety of wildlife, including both small and large fish, waterfowl, wading birds, turtles and apple snails,” said Carly Althoff, who works with the FWC Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration Section.

With biosolids bills failing in Florida Legislature, DEP to develop own rules

With bills to regulate biosolids failing this year in the Florida Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to come up with a set of rules to keep the sewage sludge dumped on farmland from polluting the state's water.

Several people concerned with pollution caused by biosolids told TCPalm they hope DEP will develop regulations with teeth.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," said Bob Solari, chairman of the Indian River County Commission, which has twice enacted moratoriums on biosolids use in the wake of pollution at Blue Cypress Lake tied to sludge spread on nearby pastures.

Commissioners said they would have banned Class B biosolids outright but lacked the authority. Instead they looked to the state Legislature for help.

"It will take some work to make sure DEP gets things right," Solari said. "We'll be following them very closely."

Of the 340,000 dry tons of sewage sludge Florida produces each year, about:

  • 100,000 tons goes to landfills
  • 100,000 tons is partially treated and spread on land as Class B biosolids
  • 140,000 tons is combined with composted landscape material and chemically treated to produce 200,000 dry tons of Class AA biosolids, which is classified as "fertilizer" and can be used without regulation

Both Class B and Class AA contain about 5.5% nitrogen and 2.2% phosphorus. Combined, the two produce about 4 million pounds of nitrogen and about 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus, nutrients that feed toxic algae blooms.

The ill-fated bills — a Senate version by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and a House version by state Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican — called for statewide regulations on the use of Class B biosolids along the lines of

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.