Water-Related News

Republicans lead fight to ban fracking in Florida

Citing unresolved health concerns, Florida lawmakers are weighing the fate of a measure that would ban fracking across the state.

Legislators are pushing the bill to safeguard Florida’s clean water supply, which is the drinking water source for 90 percent of Floridians and a major player in the state’s economy, from agriculture to tourism.

If passed, the bill would effectively ban any type of well stimulation technique statewide. That includes fracking — a practice that requires pumping huge volumes of chemicals, sand and water underground to split open rock formation to allow oil and gas to flow.

Environmentalists say chemicals used in the process can leak into underground water sources. Because Florida sits atop porous, spongelike sedimentary limestone, environmentalists believe it is at a higher risk of chemical leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2016 that fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but added that a lack of information on the practice makes it hard to know how severe that risk would be.

Polk County cites soil manufacturer for foul odor

LAKELAND — Polk County officials on Thursday cited an East Lakeland industrial facility for violating odor regulations.

The citation comes after numerous complaints from residents and a report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that BS Ranch & Farm, a facility that recycles human waste, out-of-date foods and mulch into soil, violated its permit on five occasions.

And some county commissioners are questioning the plant's operations.

A hearing before a special magistrate about the county violation is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. April 20 in the County Commission boardroom at the County Administration Building, 330 W. Church St. in Bartow.

Haines City receives grant to clean Lake Eva

HAINES CITY — In an effort to cleanse one of its most valued lakes, the city of Haines City now has some help.

Haines City will receive a $197,000 Total Maximum Daily Load grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The money will cover the construction costs of a chemical treatment system that will pump alum into the water to remove about 108 pounds of phosphorus annually, according to a news release from the department.

"This would add to the overall water quality itself," Public Works Director Addie Javed said. "It's beneficial to everything we do."

Lake Eva surrounds Lake Eva Park, the city's signature park, which is home to the annual Iron Man event as well as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life and the two biggest Habitat for Humanity of East Polk events, 5K in the Park and Chili in the Park.

Fix water quality or Florida tourism will suffer, fishing and boating industries warn

TALLAHASSEE — The leaders of one of the nation's largest outdoors companies, a major boat manufacturer, and tourism industry officials met with Gov. Rick Scott and legislators Wednesday to make the case that urgent action is needed to end the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

They detailed how their industries suffered from the impact of the guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and state of emergency last year. They offered statistics on how Florida is losing business to other states, warned about the social media buzz over Florida's bad water and suggested that if things don't turn now, it may take years to reverse.

"If Florida is known as a destination of subpar water quality or bad water, it would absolutely crush our local economy," said John Lai, representing the Lee County Development Association and the Sanibel/Captiva Chamber of Commerce. He said that one in five jobs in his region relies heavily on tourism but, in the last 30 years, he has watched "the complete degradation of Florida estuaries and water quality."

Plan that includes keeping toxic algae from waterways is now bigger and more expensive

A Senate plan to bond $1.2 billion in state funds to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee grew to become a $3.3 billion bonding program that would fund dozens of water projects around the state — from sewage treatment in Tampa Bay to wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys — all in an attempt to win wider approval for the top priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

Despite the modifications, the 5-1 vote of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee for SB 10 is closer than it appeared. Many supporters expressed reservations that the expensive plan to store water is the most cost-effective solution to prevent discharges of polluted water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries after those discharges led to guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and a state emergency announced by Gov. Rick Scott in the spring and summer of 2016.

Florida scientists fear hurricane forecasts, climate research will suffer under Trump

A growing chorus of scientists is raising the alarm over reports of Trump administration budgets cuts that would affect climate change research and hurricane forecasting.

On Monday, 32 Florida scientists sent a letter to the president voicing worry over reports that the Department of Commerce, which overseas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has proposed cutting 17 percent from its budget, with the nation’s network of satellites taking the biggest hit. The satellites include a system of polar orbiters that provide critical data from the top and bottom of the planet and help scientists understand two of the biggest threats facing the peninsula.

Bill to strengthen pollution notification rules advances in Florida Senate

A Senate committee in Tallahassee unanimously passed a bill that would set standards for how to swiftly notify the public about pollution. It’s an issue residents in the Tampa Bay Area have grown weary of.

It's pouring rain in downtown Tampa. Standing just outside Port Tampa Bay, you can see towering cargo ships, rumbling trucks and equipment.

Justin Bloom is Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. He says most commercial industries like those operating at the port are highly regulated to ensure environmental safety precautions are in place.

“But extraordinary events happen, and sometimes these safety measures are ignored,” Bloom said. “You know, look at what happened with Mosaic, for example.”

It's a reference to last August, when a massive sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Polk County. 215 million gallons of contaminated water dumped into the Floridian aquifer – and it was weeks before the public knew about it.

Bloom says while that was and is a serious concern, a more significant threat is constant storm water runoff. The day-to-day pollutants on our lawns, sidewalks and driveways – not to mention toilets – on a rainy day like this, often end up in our water, especially in the summer.

Bill that would ban fracking in Florida passes Senate committee

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee unanimously passed landmark legislation Tuesday that would permanently prohibit fracking in Florida.

Senate bill 442, which passed by a vote of 5 to 0, already has bipartisan support from 15 Senate co-sponsors. The bill would ban unconventional “well stimulation” techniques including acid fracking and matrix acidizing.

Fracking is a method that fractures rock apart with a high-pressure mixture of water, chemicals and sand so that gas and oil are more easily released. Environmental groups disdain it because of the need for large amounts of water, and what they claim is toxic impact.

$3.72 million water system reconstruction underway in Wahneta

WAHNETA — Ground was officially broken Wednesday for the installation of pipe that will provide better water quality and pressure for the community and less work for those who maintain it.

Developers, engineers, construction workers, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and Wahneta Water System employees gathered to celebrate the beginning of the construction phase of a project that will remove and replace asbestos cement pipe that has been there since 1963.

"It was just old and brittle and hard to work with," said Daniel Magro, managing director of Aclus Engineering in Orlando. "There have been lots of challenges. It's great to see all these things coming together."

The $3.72 million project is funded through a USDA grant and 30-year, low-interest loan. About 46 percent, or $1.77 million, is through grant money allocated in a 2014 Farm Bill. The remaining 54 percent, or about $1.95 million, will be paid through the loan.

Register now for Charlotte Harbor Watershed Summit, Mar. 28-30

Join CHNEP March 28-30 at its seventh Charlotte Harbor Watershed Summit: Showcasing Our Accomplishments. Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center (75 Taylor St, Punta Gorda)

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP) is a partnership to protect and restore water resources of Florida from Venice to Bonita Springs to Winter Haven. Thanks to the Planning Committee, the 2017 Summit will be an opportunity to share the latest research findings and to network. Sessions include:

Tuesday morning: Water Quality and Quantity - New Tools (8:45 am to 11:50 am)
Tuesday afternoon: Water Quality and Quantity - Monitoring and Assessment (1 pm to 3:30 pm)
Wednesday morning: Habitat and Living Resources - Plants (8:45 am to 11:50 am)
Wednesday afternoon: Habitat and Living Resources - Stewardship (12:55 pm to 4 pm)
Thursday morning: Habitat and Living Resources - Fish (8:45 am to 11:50 am)
Thursday afternoon: Habitat and living resources - Reptiles, Invertebrates and Shellfish (1:05 pm to 3:50 pm)

Projects will be featured each day in various formats: 20-minute, 10-minute and 5-minute "lightning presentations" and poster presentations.

Please register by March 20 at https://chnepsummit2017.eventbrite.com.

The agenda is available online: Showcasing Our Accomplishments Agenda.

You may attend if you aren't able to register by March 20 but refreshments will be based on the March 20 registration counts.

The 2017 Summit is free to attend, lunch will only be available for purchase ($15) to those who pre-pay by March 20 through the EventBrite registration page. (Food can't be brought into the Event Center; there are many off-site lunch options within easy walking distance.)

Trump takes aim at WOTUS rule

The “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS) was the definitive water-policy achievement of the Obama administration. Proponents said it clarified which waterways could be regulated by the federal government under the Clean Water Act. Jurisdiction under the law had become obscured by court decisions, WOTUS supporters said.

The rule has been in Republican crosshairs for years. President Trump strongly opposed it during his campaign. The agriculture industry and the GOP say the rule amounts to government overreach.

WOTUS is currently unenforceable due to court action. “A court stayed [WOTUS] days after it was finalized,” E&E News reported. “The Supreme Court agreed last month to take up the challenge brought by more than 30 states and many industry and farm groups,” the publication said.

Now Trump is getting ready to do away with the policy. The Washington Post reported this week that Trump is preparing an executive order to kill the regulation.

Trump begins dismantling Obama’s EPA rules today. First up: the Clean Water Rule

At first glance, it’s hard to see why the Clean Water Rule (also known as the “Waters of the US rule”) inspires such fury. It’s a technical regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency meant to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under federal clean water protections — a question that had been causing legal confusion for years.

But when the rule was published in June 2015, it triggered fierce blowback from farm and industry groups across the country. “Opponents condemn it as a massive power grab by Washington,” Politico reported, “saying it will give bureaucrats carte blanche to swoop in and penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch.” Many of those criticisms were overblown, but the rule was widely cited by conservatives as a prime example of EPA overreach under President Obama. (The regulation is currently being tied up in court and hasn’t taken effect yet.)

Now Donald Trump wants to get rid of the rule — a first step in his ongoing efforts to dismantle Obama-era EPA protections. On Tuesday, he signed an executive order that asks new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to begin the long process of repealing the rule and replacing it with... something else.

Except here’s the catch: Rolling back this rule won’t be easy to do. By law, Pruitt has to go through the formal federal rulemaking process and replace Obama’s regulation with his own version — and then defend it in court as legally superior. And, as Pruitt’s about to find out, figuring out which bodies of water deserve protection is a maddeningly complex task that could take years.

Davenport, Fort Meade join regional water plan

The City Commission in Davenport voted 3-2 Monday night to join other cities in an agreement intended to ensure water supplies through 2035. On Tuesday night, Fort Meade commissioners did the same thing by a unanimous vote.

In Davenport, commissioners approved three proposals from the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, an entity formed last year. Two are aimed at developing new water sources, and a third creates conservation measures.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, Fort Meade agreed to commit $64,000 to a five-year feasibility program that will explore alternative water supplies for the Polk County area. After hearing concerns from several residents that their water bills might swell as much as $50 a month if the city signed off on the agreement, commissioners took steps to quell those rumors. They agreed that none of the costs associated with the feasibility effort will be passed along to the city's estimated 2,150 utility customers.

Winter Haven sets transfer policy, joins cooperative

A clear policy for transferring funds from the utility to the general fund is now in place.

City commissioners voted 5-0 during Monday night's meeting to implement a policy that restricts how much can be transferred from the city's utility fund to the general fund. That limit would be capped at 12 percent or about $3.3 million of the total $25.6 million utility fund, but would not happen right away. The city would decrease the amount of transfer by at least $300,000 per fiscal year until it hit that threshold. It has already been reduced from $6.3 million to $6 million for this fiscal year.

The $3.3 million was about the annual amount of transfer prior to the 2013 crash of the housing market. At that time, the city nearly doubled the amount of revenue it transferred from the utility fund to offset lost property tax revenues. Financial Services Director Cal Bowen said that was the preferred method at the time as opposed to raising taxes.

Putting a clear transfer policy in place was also recommended by Fitch Ratings in a January letter that informed the city of its utility bond rating being downgraded from an AA to an AA-.

Rising water demands create pressure in Davenport

John Lepley once showed up to a Davenport City Commission meeting wearing a towel. Lepley wanted to draw commissioners' attention to problems with the city water system. He said he and other residents were frustrated about inconsistent water pressure in their faucets and showers.

Water will again be a topic of discussion today at 6 p.m. when the City Commission holds a special meeting to review the results of a hydraulic engineering study. The commissioners will consider future steps to ensure a reliable water system in one of the state's fastest-growing cities.

Lepley, who is married to Mayor Darlene Bradley, said water pressure is now more consistent in his home, but he still hears complaints from other residents in this city of 4,277 about erratic water flow.

The city's problems are not unique. Other cities, such as Bartow and Lakeland, face challenges because of parts of their water systems are old and populations have grown.

In Davenport, sporadic reports from residents about weak water pressure prompted the commission to seek an assessment of the network, said City Manager Amy Arrington. The commission paid Reiss Engineering Inc. of Winter Springs $48,500 to conduct the hydraulic engineering study, and a representative is scheduled to discuss the results at tonight's gathering, which precedes the bi-monthly commission meeting.