Water-Related News

After years of inaction, septic tanks once again focus in Florida

Florida has relied on septic tanks to treat sewage and wastewater for decades, but as the state has grown, the question of overuse and contamination has led lawmakers to push for increased oversight and a shift to sewers where possible.

After the toxic algae and red tide outbreak of 2018, that push is back.

“For too many years, politicians have talked about, 'We’ll fix the Indian River Lagoon,' and then nothing is ever done about it,” Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard County) said.

Fine is pushing for up to $50 million in matching funds to help remove septic tanks and connect sewer systems.

The area of the state that Fine represents has been dealing with septic issues for years. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the Indian River Lagoon comes from septic tanks.

In 2018, the Brevard County Commission passed an ordinance requiring all new septic systems on the barrier islands and inland areas within 200 feet of the lagoon to be built with more expensive, low-nitrogen septic systems. In addition, the county is using its half-cent sales tax to upgrade existing systems or connect people to sewer where available.

Florida is home to more than 3 million septic tanks, 600,000 of which are along the Indian River Lagoon. The state recommends owners have septic systems inspected every three years and pumped every three to five years. But that doesn’t always happen, and it is currently estimated that more than 10 percent of the septic systems in the state are failing, causing problems on both coasts.

Check Your Irrigation Timer When You ‘Spring Forward’ for Daylight Savings Time

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is reminding residents to check the timers on their irrigation system controllers this weekend, which is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.

Saturday night, Mar. 10th, is when we turn our clocks ahead one hour. The time change is also a good time to make sure irrigation system timers are set correctly to ensure that the systems operate consistently with year-round water conservation measures.

All 16 counties throughout the District’s boundaries are currently on year-round water conservation measures, with lawn watering limited to twice-per-week unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours. Local governments maintaining once-per-week watering by local ordinance include Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties.

Know and follow your local watering restrictions, but don’t water just because it’s your day. Irrigate your lawn when it shows signs of stress from lack of water. Pay attention to signs of stressed grass:

  • Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
  • Grass blades appear blue-gray.
  • Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

For additional information about water conservation, please visit the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Conservation.

Lake Parker aquatic vegetation harvesting project will remove invasive plants

LAKELAND – The City of Lakeland will be executing an aquatic plant harvesting project for invasive water hyacinth and overgrown spatterdock in the southwest cove of Lake Parker beginning in March 2019. Water hyacinth is a floating, invasive aquatic plant that grows very rapidly and can crowd out beneficial native plants if not managed. Excessive stands of spatterdock have also become overgrown and are crowding out other beneficial native species that are required to provide habitat diversity in the lake.

Polk County Natural Resources Department under its contract with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has recently applied herbicide to the aquatic vegetation that will be removed during this project. Mechanically removing the treated vegetation using an aquatic harvesting boat will prevent unmanageable floating tussocks that could impede navigation and disrupt habitat, as well as prevent the decaying plants from sinking to the bottom of the lake resulting in excess nutrients that contribute to water quality issues. Texas Aquatic Harvesting Inc. will utilize a mechanical in-lake aquatic plant harvester and shore conveyor to remove the aquatic vegetation from Lake Parker. The City will then dispose of the aquatic vegetation at the BS Ranch and Farm in Polk County.

Harvesting activities will begin late March 2019 and are expected to be complete by late May 2019.

Experts testify on algae solutions at Florida Congressional delegation meeting

More funding, more planning, more coordination.

Those were the calls from experts Wednesday morning as the Florida congressional delegation held a hearing on dealing with the state’s algae problem and other water issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of the year for the Florida delegation, co-chaired by Reps. Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan. The bipartisan group also reiterated their opposition to offshore drilling in Florida’s waters.

Secretary Noah Valenstein of the Department of Environmental Protection flew in from Tallahassee to testify at the Wednesday meeting.

Also on hand were Adam Gelber, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Interior; Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium; and Garrett Wallace, the Florida Government Relations Manager of The Nature Conservancy.

One issue that came up during the discussion on freshwater blue-green algae was the review process currently being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers to revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which dictates the water levels of the lake.

Opinion: 5 things Florida must do to protect our waterways

Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, Guest columnists

Bob Graham is a former governor of Florida and U.S. senator. Lee Constantine is a Seminole County commissioner and former state senator and state representative.

Protecting and conserving Florida’s water is an economic as well as environmental issue, not one defined by geography or party lines. Both of us, a Democrat from Miami Lakes and a Republican from Altamonte Springs, have made protecting and restoring Florida’s waters a cornerstone of our public service. Today, we redouble our efforts to safeguard Florida’s most valuable resource.

Spurred by outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae leading to another summer of dramatic loss in revenue and decline of water quality and quantity in Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes, the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), a coalition of over 80 conservation-minded groups, released “A Water Policy for Florida.” This position statement provides an overview of many of the existing threats to our waters and a pathway for their successful conservation, restoration and protection statewide.

The FCC lays out five critical steps that must be undertaken immediately by our policymakers to safeguard our waters:

America uses 322 billion gallons of water each day. Here’s where it goes.

As climate change, urban development, irrigation and other factors are altering the availability of water, it’s important to understand how we use water on a daily basis in the U.S. — and where the opportunities are for using it more wisely.

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides an overview of water withdrawals across the country.

The report includes a few surprises. For example, did you know Idaho withdraws the most water nationwide for aquaculture? That Arkansas — the 33rd most-populous state — withdraws the fifth most water, mainly for crop irrigation? Or that power plants are the largest users of water in the country?

Wildlife officials want more mechanical harvesting, fewer chemicals applied to lakes, rivers

Wildlife managers are trying to find ways around spraying chemicals in freshwater systems to control invasive plants, but in some cases that may be impossible.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met this week in Gainesville and discussed a current spraying moratorium the agency enacted earlier this month.

"It’s the biggest part of our program and the reason is it works the best," said Kip Frohlich, a senior staffer for FWC. "We’ve gotten the best control over hyacinth and water lettuce (by spraying chemicals)."  

Florida’s legislators expected to focus heavily on water this session

Florida water advocates have hoped for several years that lawmakers will address water quality issues plaguing the state. For years, environmentalists deemed each annual legislative session to be "the year of water."

Lawmakers promised to clean Florida’s polluted waters by securing funding, finishing restoration projects and addressing pollution sources. Yet — aside from the EAA reservoir in 2017 — each session has ended with few major changes.

2018 saw one of the worst environmental catastrophes ever — dueling toxic red tide and toxic blue-green algae on both coasts and in Indian River County's Blue Cypress Lake.

Now environmentalists across the state wonder if this will be the year that the Legislature heavily focuses on improving the state's water quality.

Legislators in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle are proposing wide-ranging bills that focus on funding water quality and treatment projects, but few bills have been filed that address pollution or nutrient runoff.

Can we address climate change without sacrificing water quality?

Strategies for limiting climate change must take into account their potential impact on water quality through nutrient overload, according to a new study from Carnegie’s Eva Sinha and Anna Michalak published by Nature Communications. Some efforts at reducing carbon emissions could actually increase the risk of water quality impairments, they found.

Rainfall and other precipitation wash nutrients from human activities like agriculture into waterways. When waterways get overloaded with nutrients, a dangerous phenomenon called eutrophication can occur, which can sometime lead to toxin-producing algal blooms or low-oxygen dead zones called hypoxia.

For several years, Sinha and Michalak have been studying the effects of nitrogen runoff and the ways that expected changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change could lead to severe water quality impairments.

In this latest work, they analyzed how an array of different societal decisions about land use, development, agriculture, and climate mitigation could affect the already complex equation of projecting future risks to water quality throughout the continental U.S. They then factored in how climate change-related differences in precipitation patterns would additionally contribute to this overall water quality risk.  

Florida delegation focuses on water quality issues

Members of the Florida congressional delegation will be focusing on water quality in the coming days.

On Friday, the two chairs of the Florida delegation–Democrat U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan–announced they would hold a meeting on “some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State” which will include “red tide, harmful algal blooms, offshore drilling and other water quality issues.”

Buchanan weighed in on Friday morning as to why the meeting was being held.

“Florida’s pristine beaches and rivers are what attract countless visitors to our state each year,” Buchanan said. “It is critical that our bipartisan delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans, waterways, beaches are clean and healthy.

Bay area legislative delegation meets at mote emphasizes red tide responses

Florida legislators in the Bay Area Legislative Delegation (BALD) convened at Mote Marine Laboratory this morning, Feb. 26, to discuss multiple important priorities, including Florida red tide and the critical role of marine science and technology in addressing it.

Mote has led innovative red tide research and technology development for decades in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In addition, Mote scientists served as vital red-tide responders and trusted, independent advisors to all levels of government regarding the unusually persistent Florida red tide bloom from late 2017 to early 2019. The Bay Area Legislative Delegation comprises 38 state legislators representing Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties — more than 25 percent of the Florida legislature.

Today’s meeting included BALD’s state legislators, scientists from Mote (an independent, nonprofit, marine research and science education institution), leaders of FWC, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and Tampa Bay Partnership for discussions of local transportation projects, the Regional Competitiveness Report, and Florida red tide and other harmful algal blooms.

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide

A team of scientists led by Christopher Free, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has published an investigation of how warming waters may affect the productivity of fisheries. The results appear in the journal Science.

The study looked at historical abundance data for 124 species in 38 regions, which represents roughly one-third of the reported global catch. The researchers compared this data to records of ocean temperature and found that 8 percent of populations were significantly negatively impacted by warming, while 4 percent saw positive impacts. Overall, though, the losses outweigh the gains.

"We were surprised how strongly fish populations around the world have already been affected by warming," said Free, "and that, among the populations we studied, the climate 'losers' outweigh the climate 'winners.'"

Region had the greatest influence on how fish responded to rising temperatures, according to the study. Species in the same region tended to respond in similar ways. Fishes in the same families also showed similarities in how they responded to changes. The researchers reasoned that related species would have similar traits and lifecycles, giving them similar strengths and vulnerabilities.

When examining how the availability of fish for food has changed from 1930 to 2010, the researchers saw the greatest losses in productivity in the Sea of Japan, North Sea, Iberian Coastal, Kuroshio Current and Celtic-Biscay Shelf ecoregions. On the other hand, the greatest gains occurred in the Labrador-Newfoundland region, Baltic Sea, Indian Ocean and Northeastern United States.

District to hold workshop on North Winter Haven chain of lakes operational guidelines

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will host a public workshop Wednesday, Feb. 27, to share information about changes to the current structure operational guidelines for the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes in Polk County. The meeting will take place at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center’s Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. Citrus Hall, located at 700 Experiment Station Road in Lake Alfred.

Lakefront residents of Lakes Conine, Fannie, Haines, Hamilton, Henry, Lowery, Rochelle, Smart and the Peace Creek Canal are encouraged to attend the meeting, which will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. There will be an open house the first hour of the workshop, followed by a presentation and open discussion.

The public workshop is a continuation of the collaboration between residents who live along the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes and the District. In February 2018, the District also held public workshops as part of the process of reviewing the operational guidelines. Lakes Conine, Haines and Rochelle are included in the system, but do not have structures.

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

FWC Commissioners direct staff to move forward with improvements to Aquatic Plant Management Program

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today heard a staff update regarding the agency’s longstanding Aquatic Plant Management Program.

Commissioners directed staff to move forward with significant changes informed by stakeholder input. These enhancements include:

  • Expanding the creation of habitat management plans for individual lakes.
  • Forming a Technical Assistance Group consisting of staff, partners and stakeholders.
  • Improving timing of herbicide-based invasive aquatic plant removal treatments.
  • Increasing coordination with manual invasive aquatic plant harvesting companies.
  • Exploring new methods and technologies to oversee invasive plant herbicide application contractors.
  • Developing pilot projects to explore better integrated plant management tools.

“Invasive plants are a serious threat to Florida’s waterbodies, and we know from history that they can cause considerable harm in a short amount of time. We are resuming our management program with a commitment to these enhancements,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton, “and will solicit alternative methods, working with research partners and others - especially in south and south central Florida.”