Water-Related News

2024 Water Conservation Art Contest open for entries

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BARTOW – Polk County’s annual Water Conservation Art Contest is open for all Polk County students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Winning entries will be featured in Polk County Utilities’ 2025 Water Conservation Calendar.

Participants are encouraged to create a poster or picture that demonstrates the “how” and/or “why” of water conservation. Students may use words or slogans, images, etc. Suggested subjects include saving water, reclaimed water, stormwater protection (pollution runoff), “one water” and the water cycle.

While original artwork is preferred, younger artists may choose to utilize the printable template available on the website listed below.

All entries must be received by Monday, April 22, 2024. Submission guidelines and complete rules, including acceptable sizes and media, can be found at www.polk-county.net/services/utilities/water-conservation-art-contest/.

The Atlantic is hotter, earlier. That’s a bad sign for hurricane season, Florida corals

It’s only February, but sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are already hitting early summer levels, a worrying trend that could indicate an active hurricane season ahead — or another marine heat wave.

Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami, called this early season heat “very, very exceptional,” and said it’s a strong sign that the upcoming hurricane season could see an above-average number of storms.

In the North Atlantic, he said water temperatures are running three months ahead of schedule, at May-level temperatures. In the main development region of the Atlantic, where most hurricanes are born, McNoldy said sea surface temperatures are closer to July levels.

“That is like hurricane season out there right now,” he said. “We’re just blowing past all the other years, there’s no comparison.”

But hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1, leaving plenty of long weeks of heating between now and the official start date. High sea surface temperatures are closely connected with more storm formations and an earlier start to the season. Scientists have suggested that climate change-driven warming has pushed the start of the hurricane season above two weeks earlier, to mid-May.

NOAA rolls out new tool to predict river levels

TAMPA – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created a new website for anyone in the country to check river levels.

During heavy rain events, like hurricanes, rivers across Florida can rise to dangerous levels. For those living near these rivers, it can be dangerous and damaging when they overflow their banks.

These hydrographs show the current river stage, forecast and history over the past 30 days.

The previous website only showed 72 hours of history. The user can choose multiple options to include on the maps such as watches, warnings and advisories for flood stages.

The new website has more mobile capability with downloadable GIS data available.

The website is still in its experimental stage, but it can be accessed here.

Florida DEP seeks stay on judicial ruling that removes its authority over wetland permits

On Feb. 15th, 2024, a federal judge ruled that EPA erred in handing off authority over wetlands permitting to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

On Feb. 26th, the DEP filed a motion seeking a partial stay in response to the federal court order divesting DEP of its authority to issue State 404 Program permits in Florida.

Statement from DEP:

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is currently evaluating all legal options in light of the court’s order.

All activity under the State 404 Program is paused until further order of the court, including the more than 1,000 State 404 permit applications that were pending before DEP. As an initial step to limit this disruption, DEP filed a motion seeking a partial stay so Florida may continue to process the applications that would not affect any listed species.

Unless stayed, the court’s ruling will disrupt pending permit applications, including those associated with the restoration of America’s Everglades and critical infrastructure projects for a more resilient Florida.

Updates on the status of Florida’s State 404 Program will be routinely posted on this webpage.

Climate change is throwing the water cycle into chaos across the U.S.

As the planet continues to warm, this cycle is expected to be increasingly stretched, warped and broken.

The water cycle that shuttles Earth’s most vital resource around in an unending, life-giving loop is in trouble. Climate change has disrupted that cycle’s delicate balance, upsetting how water circulates between the ground, oceans and atmosphere.

The events of 2023 show how significant these disruptions have become. From extreme precipitation and flooding to drought and contaminated water supplies, almost every part of the U.S. faced some consequence of climate change and the shifting availability of water.

The water cycle controls every aspect of Earth’s climate system, which means that as the climate changes, so too does nearly every step of water’s movement on the planet. In some places, the availability of water is becoming increasingly scarce, while in others, climate change is intensifying rainfall, floods and other extreme weather events.

As the planet continues to warm, this cycle is expected to be increasingly stretched, warped and broken.

UF Study: About half of Floridians not aware of local water restrictions

Water restrictions can be set by cities, counties and the state’s water management districts

GAINESVILLE – Half of Florida residents don’t know about their local water restrictions, but those who are aware can be persuaded to abide by them, new University of Florida research shows.

Water restrictions can be set by cities, counties and the state’s water management districts.

But if homeowners don’t know the local or regional rules, it’s logical that they cannot develop favorable perceptions about these policies. Residential buy-in is the key to less irrigation, said Laura Warner, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural education and communications.

“I think the most important finding is that we can now understand who intends to comply with irrigation restrictions in the future,” said Warner, lead author of the paper.

There are lots of reasons half the public doesn’t know about local water restrictions, Warner said.

“A simple explanation would be that there are either not enough educational messages, and/or the messages that do exist are not reaching the people they need to reach,” she said. “But another element is potentially that we have so many new residents to Florida.”

Even if people are aware of the restrictions but don’t fully understand them, that’s also a problem.

“Perceived complexity is the biggest barrier to compliance among people who are aware of these policies,” Warner said.

Photographer: Inland development is destroying Florida’s coastal freshwater wetlands

The object of Benjamin Dimmitt's pictorial and editorial attention has deteriorated significantly over the last few decades.

With the exception of its northern border with Alabama and Georgia, Florida is entirely surrounded by water. The state’s world famous sandy beaches make up about 825 miles of that coastline, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But wetlands comprise several hundred more miles of the Florida coast. And contrary to popular belief, the majority of those wetlands are not salt water, but fresh water. Their source is the outflow from the gigantic Floridan Aquifer that underlies Florida. But as Florida’s population has grown, the size and condition of those wetlands seems to be on the decline. That’s the subject of a new book by noted naturalist and photographer Benjamin Dimmitt. It’s entitled: “An Unflinching Look: Elegy for Wetlands.” In it he documents – in both words and images – the profound changes in the Chassahowitzka National Refuge on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

USF’s ‘Flood Hub’ is helping the state look into resiliency needs

Resilience in the face of increasingly extreme weather is on the minds this week of those attending the annual Gulf of Mexico Alliance Conference in Tampa. And much of the work on resiliency will be done at the University of South Florida.

Many of us have heard the warnings about coastal flooding increasing because of strengthening storms and hurricanes. But before work can be done to address resilience in the face of these threats, we have to know what roads, buildings and utilities are at risk.

That's where the new Florida Flood Hub comes in. It was recently established at the USF College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg.

Once it is fully operational, Wes Brooks - Florida's chief resilience officer - says the hub will identify what's most vulnerable to flooding statewide.

“I believe that Florida will be the first state in the country - and certainly the largest for some time, I would suspect - to have assessed the flood vulnerability of virtually every single piece of infrastructure and critical asset that there is with the state's borders,” Brooks said.

Brooks told conference members that the hub will be a central repository for flood models and information.

“Once fully operational, the flood hub will also provide a statewide picture of flood risk in a clear and consistent manner that can be used for transparent and fair decision making,” he said, “while also significantly lowering the technical burden on local governments - like here in Tampa - to incorporate forward-looking flood data and municipal planning.”

Brooks adds that more than 230 planning grants have been awarded to counties and cities throughout the state.

Speakers at the conference also said the work will become critical as extreme weather becomes the "new normal."

Crucial system of ocean currents is heading for a collapse due to climate change

A vital system of ocean currents could collapse within a few decades if the world continues to pump out planet-heating pollution, scientists are warning – an event that would be catastrophic for global weather and “affect every person on the planet.”

A new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature, found that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current – of which the Gulf Stream is a part – could collapse around the middle of the century, or even as early as 2025.

Scientists uninvolved with this study told CNN the exact tipping point for the critical system is uncertain, and that measurements of the currents have so far showed little trend or change. But they agreed these results are alarming and provide new evidence that the tipping point could occur sooner than previously thought.

The AMOC is a complex tangle of currents that works like a giant global conveyor belt. It transports warm water from the tropics toward the North Atlantic, where the water cools, becomes saltier and sinks deep into the ocean, before spreading southwards.

It plays a crucial role in the climate system, helping regulate global weather patterns. Its collapse would have enormous implications, including much more extreme winters and sea level rises affecting parts of Europe and the US, and a shifting of the monsoon in the tropics.

Se7en Wetlands to get 15.5 more miles of recreational trails

Lakeland logo

LAKELAND – The City of Lakeland owns and operates Se7en Wetlands, a constructed wetland treatment system that provides tertiary treatment, or final polishing for all of the City’s treated wastewater. Se7en Wetlands is reclaimed mining area that was mined for over 60 years. Mining operations stopped in 1984. Shortly after, the City of Lakeland Purchased the property and then constructed the wetland treatment system in 1987.

In 2018 the City of Lakeland opened Se7en Wetlands as a passive recreational area for hiking, walking and wildlife viewing. The current 8.5 miles of trail can be accessed through two trailheads, one at Loyce Harpe Park and the other at Lakeland Highland Scrub Park. There are two boardwalks, five shade pavilions, two restrooms and 18 trail markers for navigating the trail system. New trail construction has started that will include an additional 15.5 miles of trail, three shade structures, and a trail head at Mulberry Park (Polk County Park) that will include an interpretive kiosk. Once the new trails are completed, Se7en Wetlands will have 24 miles of recreational trail. The new 15.5 miles of trail will have an additional 31 trail markers to assist visitors with navigating Se7en Wetlands.

New NASA mission could help Lake Okeechobee, red tide in Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA will be taking images of bodies of water on Earth and using that information and data to predict how healthy, or unhealthy, water surfaces are.

NASA is elevating what it means to take photos of Earth. The newly launched satellite is a game-changer, according to the agency.

They’ll be taking images of bodies of water, and that information and data will then be used to predict how healthy, or unhealthy, water surfaces are.

The program is called PACE, which stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud ocean Ecosystem mission.

“PACE is going to see earth in a way we’ve never seen before, in so many different colors,” Ivona Cetinic, an oceanographer with NASA’s PACE, said. “I’m hoping this data will get to everybody and help them understand how beautiful our home planet is.”

NASA said this will enhance how they study water and the environment, including algae blooms and red tide, which are issues found in South Florida.

USACE plans to raise the water level schedule for the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) plan to allow higher water levels in Lakes Kissimmee, Cypress and Hatchinhea in order to store more wet season water for release to the restored portion of the Kissimmee River in the dry season.

The first increment, expected to go into effect this year, will increase water levels in the lakes by about 6 inches. Land that will be effected by the change has already been purchased by the state. Increment 1 will remain in effect until a subsequent increment is implemented, or upon implementation of the full Headwaters Revitalization Schedule.

The update of the Headwaters Revitalization Schedule will use a portion of the additional storage capacity in Lakes Kissimmee, Hatchineha and Cypress (KCH) achieved through real estate acquisition.

The Headwaters Revitalization Schedule will be implemented in phases to hold more water in Lakes Kissimmee, Cypress and Hatchineha to allow historic flows to the Kissimmee River while maintaining the same level of flood protection.