Water-Related News

Red Tide respiratory forecast is expanding with federal grants

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast has received $653,960 to “get more microscopes in more hands on more beaches.” The funds will also help to expand detection of other toxic algae species.

Thanks to federal grants, a forecast that helps predict where red tide will produce respiratory issues will reach more Gulf Coast beaches.

State wildlife officials reported Wednesday that a red tide bloom is still causing problems in Southwest Florida.

High concentrations are being found in Lee and Collier counties. Fish kills and respiratory irritations related to the bloom have been reported offshore of Lee and Collier, as well.

Red tide can cause coughing, runny nose and eye irritation.

To see if their beaches are safe, residents and beachgoers can check an online respiratory forecast from the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Red Tide Respiratory Forecast helps people along the coast know where and when to expect those symptoms.

It was initially established and tested in Pinellas County in 2018. Today, it includes more than 20 Gulf Coast beaches.

Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer who led the development of the forecast, said it’s been demanding and exhausting work to take water samples every day and transport them back to a laboratory to then study them under a microscope.

But a press release said they’ve built a system called HABscope, a portable microscope system that uses video and artificial intelligence to quickly analyze water samples for near real-time cell counts of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

A microscope, with an iPod touch attached to it, can be taken directly to the beach and be monitored by a volunteer citizen scientist right then and there.

The program recently received federal grants from NOAA NCCOS MERHAB and IOOS to expand its coverage and make improvements over the next three years.

"One part of this program is to get that effort up and running and running smoothly so we have a reliable set of volunteers who can return the data. The other is we're expanding it to Texas. They also get these red tides, they're not just in Florida," said Stumpf.

The goal is to be able to monitor every beach every day, he said.

"Part of the offer too is to make it the system stable enough that GCOOS can continue running it into the future. This is a transition of getting all the research pieces put together in a way that it's actually sustainable, so it could run long term,” said Stumpf.

He said they hope to better detail where the blooms are, where high concentrations are, and the wind patterns for the coming 36 hours.

Although, the red tide organism Karenia brevis is not the only harmful algae the group plans to monitor with this grant money, said Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS and an environmental health scientist who conducted the first studies about red tide bloom impacts on human health.

Pyrodinium bahamense is another toxic dinoflagellate that occurs in Florida’s estuaries,” said Kirkpatrick in a press release.

“It produces saxitoxin — one of the deadliest natural toxins in the world — and it can be a public health risk in recreational fisheries. It can also cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which causes closures of shellfish harvesting. If we can use HABscope to test for other toxins, we can increase the benefits to the public across even more sectors.”

Environmental groups ask judge to throw out EPA decision to let Florida oversee wetlands permitting

Seven environmental groups asked a judge Thursday to throw out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the state control of wetlands permitting.

The environmental groups say Florida's application was riddled with errors and the EPA violated the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when it handed Florida control of wetlands permitting last month.

“There are such unreasonable things in the way EPA has acted in this case that I'd be surprised if any other EPA looking at it would have reached the same conclusion,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Florida Office.

Wetlands clean and recharge the state’s water supply and Florida has lost more wetlands than any other state in the country — more than 9 million acres, according to federal estimates. Florida asked the EPA to take over issuing permits for about 11 million remaining acres of wetlands in August and became just the third state in the U.S. to administer the cumbersome process. Michigan took control of its wetlands permitting in 1984 and New Jersey assumed control in 1994.

Florida began seriously considering assuming control in 2005, when state legislators voted to move forward with the plan. But the attempt stalled later that year when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded it would be better off expanding its own program and taking over the federal permitting would bog down the process.

Public invited to help identify flood-prone areas in the Haines City watershed

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is gathering information to improve identification of flood prone areas in Polk County.

The District will provide a virtual public comment period now through March 5 at WaterMatters.org/Floodplain for the public to view preliminary data for flood prone areas within the Haines City Watershed. The website will present preliminary data for flood prone areas and the public will have the opportunity to submit comments.

After addressing the public comments, information will be finalized and presented to the District’s Governing Board for approval to use the data for regulatory purposes. This information is not currently being incorporated into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs); however, it may be used in future DFIRM updates.

The information, which identifies areas prone to flooding, can be used by local governments for land use and zoning decisions, to help manage development in and around floodplains and wetlands, to reduce flood risks, to preserve land and water resources, and for emergency planning. It will also provide valuable information to the public for decisions about purchasing and protecting property.

For more information or to find out which watershed you live in, please visit WaterMatters.org/Floodplain or call the District at (352) 796-7211, ext. 4297.

One-third of America’s rivers have changed color since 1984

America’s rivers are changing color — and people are behind many of the shifts, a new study said.

One-third of the tens of thousands of mile-long (two kilometer-long) river segments in the United States have noticeably shifted color in satellite images since 1984. That includes 11,629 miles (18,715 kilometers) that became greener, or went toward the violet end of the color spectrum, according to a study in this week’s journal Geographical Research Letters. Some river segments became more red.

Only about 5% of U.S. river mileage is considered blue — a color often equated with pristine waters by the general public. About two-thirds of American rivers are yellow, which signals they have lots of soil in them.

But 28% of the rivers are green, which often indicates they are choked with algae. And researchers found 2% of U.S. rivers over the years shifted from dominantly yellow to distinctly green.

“If things are becoming more green, that’s a problem,” said study lead author John Gardner, a University of Pittsburgh geology and environmental sciences professor. Although some green tint to rivers can be normal, Gardener said, it often means large algae blooms that cause oxygen loss and can produce toxins.

The chief causes of color changes are farm fertilizer run-off, dams, efforts to fight soil erosion and man-made climate change, which increases water temperature and rain-related run-off, the study authors said.

“We change our rivers a lot. A lot of that has to do with human activity,” said study co-author Tamlin Pavelsky, a professor of global hydrology at the University of North Carolina.

Commercial fishing permits available for Saddle Creek Park

BARTOW – Commercial fishing permits for Saddle Creek Park are now available through Polk County’s Parks and Natural Resources Division.

The permits cost $2,900 and require a $100 non-refundable application fee. The permits authorize commercial fishermen to remove Tilapia and Brown Hoplo from the waterways at Saddle Creek Park.

The permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis to the first 10 people that apply, pay and pass the background check. The permits expire December 31.

Application packets may be requested by email at brandygray@polk-county.net , or can be picked-up at the Parks & Natural Resources office, 4177 Ben Durrance Road in Bartow or the Saddle Creek Park office, 3716 Morgan Combee Road, Lakeland. Applications and fees must be hand-delivered at the above-listed locations during office hours.

For more information about obtaining a Polk County Parks & Natural Resources commercial fishing permit, call (863) 534-7377.

Fried asks new EPA head to reconsider wetlands move

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has asked incoming Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to reconsider a recent EPA decision that shifted federal permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Fried released a letter Wednesday that she sent to Regan, who has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the EPA. Supporters this month praised the Trump administration’s decision to shift the permitting authority to Florida, saying it would help reduce duplicative state and federal permitting and give Florida more control over such decisions.

Florida is only the third state, joining Michigan and New Jersey, that have received the authority, according to the EPA. But some environmentalists have long opposed the move, arguing it would reduce protections for wetlands.