Water-Related News

Gov. DeSantis announces sweeping fixes meant to clean up Florida's water woes

Two days after he took office, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled sweeping measures to clean up Florida’s troubled waters Thursday, including spending $2.5 billion and launching more aggressive policies to address algae choking Lake Okeechobee and polluting the state’s coasts.

The newly minted governor, who angered environmentalists on the campaign trail by dismissing climate change as a significant threat, also promised to establish a resiliency office to address looming dangers.

“The people of Florida wanted to see action and this was action that was requested regardless of your party,” DeSantis said in a morning briefing at a Florida Gulf Coast University field station in Bonita Springs, north of Naples. “This is something that can unite all Floridians.”

DeSantis also ordered construction sped up on a 17,000-acre Everglades reservoir in farm fields south of the lake and said he would work with federal officials to end polluted discharges.

“I’d like to see no discharges,” he said. “We’re working with the White House and as difficult as it is, working with the Army Corps [of Engineers] to mitigate that.”

The new governor also promised to appoint a chief science officer so “we’re doing sound science making sure we’re getting ahead of the curve on these issues.”

End of 2018 unusually wet in Central Florida

Polk County records 2nd-rainiest December in 103 years

LAKELAND — The central section of Florida, including Polk County, had its second-rainiest December in 103 years.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District released preliminary rainfall totals Wednesday for December. The central region received 7.93 inches of rain, more than 5.5 inches above the historic average dating to 1915.

Two cold fronts in December dropped heavy rainfall on the region, said Steve DeSmith, a senior professional geologist for the water district, also known as Swiftmud. Some areas of northern Polk County received more than 3 inches of rain Dec. 20, when a front stalled over the area.

“The rain fronts come down and interact with the tropical moisture,” DeSmith said. “If they have too much energy or move too quickly, we don’t get a lot. It’s just that right combination where they come through, like that last one stalled for a couple of days, according to the National Weather Service. It produced a lot of rain in the northern and central region and not so much in the southern region.”

DeSmith said the December totals are provisional, based on information supplied by a contractor. He said the official totals, incorporating data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be issued within a week, along with the figure for 2018.

The rainfall totals for the central region will probably be around the 80th percentile of historic rates, DeSmith said. Anything above the 75th percentile is in the high range.

Water levels in the Floridan Aquifer for the central region were measured at 86 percent at year’s end, compared with 58 percent a year earlier. The aquifer is a natural storage structure underlying most of the state.

Hurricane preparedness casualty of federal government shutdown

Weather models are not being updated and training sessions might be canceled during the budget standoff

The U.S. government’s partial shutdown is in its third week, and the pinch of the protracted standoff over funding for a wall along the country’s border with Mexico is starting to be felt—not only by workers missing paychecks, but also in terms of important science that is not getting done.

About 800,000 workers have either been furloughed or, if their jobs are deemed essential to protecting lives and property, are working without pay across dozens of shuttered agencies and departments. These include several that do significant scientific work such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—the parent agency of the National Weather Service. Although day-to-day forecasting operations continue at the NWS, key improvements to weather models have been put on pause. Data needed for research projects may be inaccessible; and if the shutdown continues much longer, preparedness training will be canceled for emergency managers in coastal communities looking warily ahead to the coming hurricane season after the devastating storms of recent years.

Eric Blake, a forecaster with the NWS’s National Hurricane Center in Miami spoke with Scientific American about the shutdown’s impact on the NWS and its employees (in his capacity as the National Weather Service Employees Organization union steward at the center).

Federal government spending $100 million to study desalination

The Trump administration is hoping to reinvigorate a technology long dismissed as too expensive or energy-intensive to help solve a water crisis that has seen drought grip swaths of the American West, sparking deadly wildfires and legal battles over supply.

The Energy Department last month declared that it's spending $100 million over the next five years to create a research and development hub on desalination, a process that converts seawater and brackish inland water into freshwater.

Announced roughly five years after Congress appropriated the funds under the Obama administration, the planned hub comes as once-periodic water shortages have become perennial, if not ever-present, in American communities, forcing policymakers to rethink how residents get freshwater – and reconsider technologies they'd once shelved.

The investment is widely seen in the research field as a moonshot effort, the best attempt yet to jump-start the kind of advancements that would make the elusive process energy-efficient and cost-effective and make a resource out of vast unusable deposits like the saltwater that covers two-thirds of the earth's surface.

"The significance can't be understated. Something like this has been a long time coming," says Jonathan Brant, associate professor of environmental engineering at the University of Wyoming.

"We're faced with a real water crisis, and the main solution to that is going to be able to tap – in an environmentally sustainable and economically sustainable way – saline water sources."

Desalination is costly and enormously energy intensive: Israel and Australia – two of the driest nations on Earth – are by far the world leaders in desalination, largely by necessity. While Israel draws more than half of its water from desalination plants – and more than 85 percent of its municipal water overall is reused – desalination plants in the U.S. provide less than 0.002 percent of the water consum

Senate panel briefed on septic tanks’ contribution to algae outbreak

Septic tanks are one of the primary triggers for toxic algae blooms throughout the state, the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee was told Wednesday.

A presentation was given by Dr. Brian Lapointe, who has worked as a research professor at Florida Atlantic University and has studied water quality in the state for decades.

He has previously produced work, funded by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, showing that septic tanks are a large contributor to the pollution that allows algae blooms to spawn in Florida’s waterways.

“I personally consider this the most important and urgent issue facing our state,” Lapointe said.

That runs counter, however, to many environmental groups who put the blame mostly on phosphorus from fertilizer runoff from sugar farms.