Water-Related News

Drought vs deluge: Rainfall totals either too little or too much on each of Florida’s coasts

One side of Florida is running out of water. The other is getting bombarded with too much rain

ST. PETERSBURG – In Florida, this year has been a tale of two states as far as rainfall totals, with the southeast coast deluged by sometimes-record rainfall and much of the Gulf of Mexico coast facing a drought.

Counties up and down Florida’s west side are under new water use restrictions, especially in one area where the water table has gotten so low that wells could dry up. Now Florida’s wettest season is over until late spring.

What’s happening in Florida could soon become a reality elsewhere, as farmers and residents increasingly have to deal with changes in weather patterns because of climate change. This means hotter temperatures in summer, more powerful hurricanes and other heavier rainstorms and droughts during unexpected seasons.

“You know, as the climate changes, we’re going to have to adapt to these extremes,” said Dan Durica, a board member at Tampa’s Sweetwater Organic Community Farm. “And so you have to know how to deal with like the boom and bust of the, like, climate chaos.”

For most people, the restrictions affect lawn and landscape watering, which accounts for about half the water used daily in the affected areas. For example, in three counties around Tampa Bay watering is only allowed one day a week depending on a resident’s address and only then before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

“The whole western coast of Florida has been impacted by this deficit rainfall during the rainy season,” said Mark Elsner, water supply bureau chief for the South Florida Water Management District. “With the west coast having a deficit about 30%, we didn’t get that recharge that we expected. And as a result, we have lower groundwater levels starting the dry season.”

The main driver of the precipitation divide was a weaker than typical high pressure system this summer over the western Atlantic Ocean that led to persistently lighter easterly winds, said Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service office in Miami.

EPA proposes revising certain water quality standards for Florida’s waters

ATLANTA – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule to establish new and revised federal water quality standards (WQS) for the state of Florida based on the latest scientific knowledge about protecting human health.

“EPA continues to take strong action to ensure that our nation’s waters are safe for all,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This proposed rule, if finalized, would update water quality standards for Florida’s water bodies to reflect the current science and continue to protect the health of Floridians.”

Under the Clean Water Act, state governments, or EPA, when necessary, set limits (called “human health criteria”) for pollutants in water bodies that pose risks to human health through the consumption of drinking water or locally caught fish and shellfish. EPA is proposing new or revised criteria for a total of 73 priority toxic pollutants.

On December 1, 2022, EPA issued an Administrator’s Determination that Florida’s current standards – last updated in 1992 – do not reflect the latest science or the current habits of Floridians. Since 1992, national and regional data have become available that indicate greater levels of fish consumption, particularly among residents of coastal states like Florida. In addition, Florida does not have human health criteria for 37 pollutants that are likely to be in its waters. New data have become available since 1992 on the specific toxic pollutants that are likely to be present in Florida’s waters, and how those pollutants may impact Florida’s designated uses. EPA’s proposed rule accounts for more recent evidence on fish consumption rates and, as a result, proposes criteria that are more protective of Floridians that consume fish caught in the state.

In addition, EPA’s rule proposes criteria to protect subsistence fishers in and around Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve where Tribes hold reserved rights to fish for subsistence.

The Agency will accept comments on this proposal for 60 days upon publication in the Federal Register. EPA will also hold two online public hearings on this proposal. Learn more about the proposed rule and public hearings.

Lakeland awards Lake Bonnet drainage basin mitigation project

Lakeland logo

The City of Lakeland is pleased to announce the award of an Agreement for Professional Engineering and Environmental Consulting Services to AECOM Technical Services, Inc. for the Lake Bonnet Drainage Basin Flood Hazard and Debris Mitigation Project. AECOM, a globally recognized infrastructure firm, was chosen through a rigorous selection process to lead the project.

This will be the commencement of a transformative stormwater infrastructure improvement project aimed at flood control, fortifying against severe weather, and mitigation to a very vulnerable drainage basin that sits in an area considered to have one of the nation’s highest suburban poverty rates.

LAKELAND – The City of Lakeland was awarded a $42.9 million grant from the Florida Department of Commerce. The grant is facilitated through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) initiative, as part of the Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program. Grants were awarded to complete large-scale infrastructure projects to mitigate and harden against natural disaster risks, including severe flooding and hurricanes, targeting HUD and State-designated impacted and distressed areas.

The multi-component project is intended to mitigate flooding hazards and improve stormwater infrastructure in the Lake Bonnet drainage basin. The City’s Lakes & Stormwater Division will provide project implementation, grant administration, financial management, project compliance, and oversight.

The project will include the following elements:

  • A Feasibility Study that will allow the City to fully identify all components needed to confirm project scope, schedule, and eligibility, including thirty percent design plans and drawings.
  • Mitigating flooding hazards, improving watershed resilience, and reducing future flood damages through improvements to stormwater infrastructure and the natural environment.
  • Improving stormwater storage capacity through innovative stormwater treatment and retention basins and sediment removal and treatment actions within Lake Bonnet.

Laurie Smith, Lakes & Stormwater Manager, said, “Some of the physical elements included in the project are the dredging of accumulated sediment from Lake Bonnet to allow for lowering the operational level of the lake to accommodate better inflow from upstream areas, increase retention volume, and decrease the amount of downstream flow into flood-prone areas during severe storm events. Improvements to the drainage system downstream of Lake Bonnet will also be made through a combination of engineered projects designed to provide flood protection. These improvements will increase stormwater conveyance, capacity, and storage.”

The project's first phase will be initiated in the next several months, and the entire project is expected to be completed over six years. A public meeting on the project will take place early 2024 that will include a short formal presentation, a question-and-answer session, and an opportunity for public input.

2024 CHNEP Nature Calendars are now available

2024 Nature Calendars Are Here!

The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership is thrilled to be able to produce an annual nature calendar that showcases the environment and wildlife from our program area as well as an educational insert.

The annual CHNEP Nature Calendars have been printed and are in the process of being distributed to individual subscribers and can also be picked up at the libraries listed below. Click on the map to find the location nearest to you:

  • Manatee County Library
  • Charlotte County Library
  • Polk County Library
  • Hendry County Library
  • Heartland Library
  • DeSoto Library
  • Glades Library
  • Hardee County Library
  • Sarasota County Library

Timetable to replace lead water pipes could be accelerated

The Environmental Protection Agency said Florida has the most lead water lines in the nation.

TAMPA — Lead exposure in children is still a problem.

Experts said it can come from paint in older homes or aging water pipes.

Pediatrician Dr. Rachel Dawkins is with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

She said there is added danger for children, whose brains and nervous systems are growing and developing, so any exposure to lead can be concerning.

“We think about lead exposure in kids causing neurodevelopment disabilities, so it might cause some problems with learning. Some problems with behavior. It can cause lower IQs,” said Dawkins.

Many cities have older water pipes made from lead.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new rule that would require them to be replaced within ten years.

That’s speeding progress toward a goal from the Biden Administration to remove all lead pipes.

Gulf Stream weakening now 99% certain, and ramifications will be global

A new analysis has concluded that the Gulf Stream is definitely slowing, but whether it's due to climate change is hard to tell.

The Gulf Stream is almost certainly weakening, a new study has confirmed.

The flow of warm water through the Florida Straits has slowed by 4% over the past four decades, with grave implications for the world's climate.

The ocean current starts near Florida and threads a belt of warm water along the U.S. East Coast and Canada before crossing the Atlantic to Europe. The heat it transports is essential for maintaining temperate conditions and regulating sea levels.

But this stream is slowing down, researchers wrote in a study published Sept. 25 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"This is the strongest, most definitive evidence we have of the weakening of this climatically-relevant ocean current," lead-author Christopher Piecuch, a physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The Gulf Stream is just a small component of the thermohaline circulation — a global conveyor belt of ocean currents that moves oxygen, nutrients, carbon and heat around the planet, while also helping to control sea levels and hurricane activity.

From scrub to wetlands: 5 properties recommended for Polk conservation lands program

Voters approved property tax last year to fund program

What will be the next addition to a roster that includes Circle B Bar Reserve, Lakeland Highlands Scrub and Crooked Lake Prairie?

A committee submitted a report earlier this month on properties that Polk County might acquire through its Environmental Lands Program, finding that five of the six candidates were worth pursuing. The recommended parcels range in size from 148 acres to 1,313 acres, and they encompass scrub, hardwood hammocks, pasture, wetlands and citrus groves.

The Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee presented its evaluation to the Polk County Commission at its Nov. 7 meeting, signaling movement toward reviving a process that had stalled following the expiration of funding in 2015.

A year ago, Polk County voters decisively approved a referendum creating a designated property tax to fund the land-conservation program for 20 years. The measure imposed an ad valorem tax of 20 cents for each $1,000 of taxable property value.

Polk County established the program in 1994 with the passage of a similar referendum. That tax generated about $84 million before it expired in 2015, enabling the county to obtain more than 25,000 acres for conservation. The most recognized acquisition, the 1,267-acre Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, is a former cattle ranch along Lake Hancock that has become one of Florida’s most popular birdwatching sites since a large portion was restored to its natural marshy conditions.

USF survey finds that many homeowners don't realize they're unprotected from flooding risks

The USF St. Petersburg study showed that 73% of the 1,667 residents polled mistakenly believe that they have flood insurance, while less than 5% actually have coverage.

A new survey by researchers from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Customer Experience Lab found that most U.S. homeowners remain unprotected from floods.

In addition, it found that there are varying risk perceptions among different age groups.

The annual report, made in collaboration with Neptune Flood Insurance, showed that 73% of the 1,667 residents polled mistakenly believed that they had flood insurance.

The St. Petersburg-based Neptune is the country's largest private flood insurance provider.

Despite flooding being among the most common natural disasters in the United States — causing an average of $5 billion in damage each year — less than 5% of the homeowners polled actually have flood insurance.

52.6% of respondents said that flood risk was a minor factor in their home purchase decision, while 23.6% said it was a major factor.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nearly one in five homes in the United States will experience a flood during a 30-year mortgage.

The study suggests that many homeowners perceive purchasing flood insurance to be confusing, which could relate to the fact that, until recently, theNational Flood Insurance Program was the only provider and educational source for homeowners for over five decades.

Many Floridians with private wells don’t know how to take care of them

Approximately 12% of Florida’s population rely on a private well for drinking water, according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

That’s about 2.5 million people. Bithlo resident Tara Turner, 50, is one of them.

After years of relying on wells for drinking water, Turner feels quite comfortable maintaining her own well today, which sets her apart from the estimated one-third of Florida well users who don’t know how to care for their wells properly, according to UF/IFAS research.

Dr. Yilin Zhuang, an environmental engineer at UF/IFAS focused on studying water resources, is working with her colleagues to expand Floridians' understanding of well safety, maintenance and testing. She leads public webinars, shares research findings, and is currently compiling resources for a website to help private well owners, which she expects to launch sometime next year.

Zhuang says ultimately, the burden falls on private well users — not a public utility — to ensure their water system is working safely and properly.

“When it comes to private well users, there are just not that many regulations,” Zhuang said. “So it all relies on private well users to manage their wells, and make sure their drinking water is safe to drink.”

SWFWMD declares Modified Phase I Water Shortage, limits some counties to once a week irrigation


Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties will be limited to once-per-week lawn watering beginning Dec. 1

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) Governing Board voted today to declare a Modified Phase I Water Shortage due to ongoing dry conditions throughout the region and increasing water supply concerns.

The restrictions apply to all of Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Sumter counties; portions of Charlotte, Highlands and Lake counties; the City of Dunnellon and The Villages in Marion County; and the portion of Gasparilla Island in Lee County from Nov. 21, 2023 through July 1, 2024.

The District received lower than normal rainfall during its summer rainy season and currently has a 9.2-inch districtwide rainfall deficit compared to the average 12-month total. In addition, water levels in the District’s water resources, such as aquifers, rivers and lakes, are beginning to decline.

The Modified Phase I Water Shortage Order does not change allowable watering schedules for most counties, however it does prohibit “wasteful and unnecessary” water use and twice-per-week lawn watering schedules remain in effect except where stricter measures have been imposed by local governments. Residents are asked to check their irrigation systems to ensure they are working properly. This means testing and repairing broken pipes and leaks, and fixing damaged or tilted sprinkler heads. Residents should also check their irrigation timer to ensure the settings are correct and the rain sensor is working properly.

However, as of Dec. 1, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties will be limited to once-per-week lawn watering. These additional restrictions are needed because Tampa Bay Water, which supplies water to most of the three-county area, was unable to completely refill the 15-billion-gallon C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir this summer due to the lower-than-normal rainfall.

Once-per-week lawn watering days and times are as follows unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours in effect (Citrus, Hernando and Sarasota counties, and the cities of Dunedin and Venice, have local ordinances that remain on one-day-per-week schedules):

If your address (house number) ends in...

  • ...0 or 1, water only on Monday
  • ...2 or 3, water only on Tuesday
  • ...4 or 5, water only on Wednesday
  • ...6 or 7, water only on Thursday
  • ...8 or 9*, water only on Friday
    * and locations without a discernible address
  • Unless your city or county already has stricter hours in effect, properties under two acres in size may only water before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
  • Unless your city or county already has stricter hours in effect, properties two acres or larger may only water before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
  • Low-volume watering of plants and shrubs (micro-irrigation, soaker hoses, hand watering) is allowed any day and any time.

The order also requires local utilities to review and implement procedures for enforcing year-round water conservation measures and water shortage restrictions, including reporting enforcement activity to the District. The District also continues to work closely with Tampa Bay Water to ensure a sustainable water supply for the Tampa Bay region.

For additional information about the Modified Phase I Water Shortage Order, visit the District’s website WaterMatters.org/Restrictions. For water conserving tips, visit WaterMatters.org/Water101.