Water-Related News

Florida Sea Grant, GCOOS and FWRI collaborate on new red tide messaging poster

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Keeping the public safe during red tide events is at the heart of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) Harmful Algal Bloom activities. When it comes to knowing when and where red tides are taking place, communication to residents, tourists, and businesses is key.

Recently, Florida Sea Grant and GCOOS, with funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), collaborated on the development of a model to provide Florida’s agencies with a statewide strategic infrastructure to communicate information about red tide.

The model was developed with input from 1,100 Florida residents and natural resources, public health, tourism, media, small business, and hospitality professionals. In addition to a robust collection of these data delivered in nine public reports, the team — Florida Sea Grant’s Dr. Lisa Krimsky and Betty Staugler, and GCOOS Outreach and Education Manager Dr. Chris Simoniello — worked with artist Sara Franklin to create a poster addressing some of the most frequently asked questions and misconceptions that came to light during the study.

Among the priorities identified by participants were the need for consistent messages, guidance on recommended actions to stay safe, and where to go for more information.

“Our goal for the poster was to provide a visually appealing source of science-based information covering priority content that came to light during the study,” said Simoniello. “We want to help people better understand what Florida red tide is, how best to protect themselves and their families, and where to go to find credible information, including alternate activities to help protect the local economy if the beach is not an option.”

In addition to featuring sea life in watercolor details, the poster includes links to resources such as the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast, and the Visit Florida, Florida Department of Health and FWRI’s red tide web pages.

You can also download a high resolution version of the poster to print and use free of charge!

Download the Poster (24x36-inch jpg)

Polk County Dept. of Health issues Health Alert for Lake Crago (by Boat Ramp)

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LAKELAND – The Florida Department of Health in Polk County has issued a Health Alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in Lake Crago (by Boat Ramp). This is in response to a water sample taken on 6/16/2022. The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Crago (by Boat Ramp).

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Water, where there are algae blooms, is not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish well.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that is common in Florida’s freshwater environments. A bloom occurs when rapid growth of algae leads to an accumulation of individual cells that discolor water and often produce floating mats that emit unpleasant odors.

Some environmental factors that contribute to blue-green algae blooms are sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions and excess nutrients. Blooms can appear year-round but are more frequent in summer and fall. Many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins.

Is it harmful?

Blue-green algae blooms can impact human health and ecosystems, including fish and other aquatic animals.

For additional information on potential health effects of algal blooms, visit floridahealth.gov's aquatic-toxins page (link opens in a new window).

Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov (link opens in a new window). Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide statewide water quality information to prioritize environmental transparency and commitment to action.

What do I do if I see an algal bloom?

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection collects and analyzes algal bloom samples. To report a bloom to DEP, call the toll-free hotline at 855-305-3903 or report online (link opens in a new window).

To report fish kills, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at 1-800-636-0511.

Report symptoms from exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist immediately.

Contact your veterinarian if you believe your pet has become ill after consuming or having contact with blue-green algae contaminated water.

If you have other health questions or concerns about blue-green algae blooms, please call the Florida Department of Health in Polk County at (863) 578-2146.

SWFWMD to conduct prescribed burns in Hillsborough County through September

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Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns July through September at the following Hillsborough County properties:

  • Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve
  • Chito Branch Reserve

The Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve is located south of Cross Creek Boulevard between U.S. Highway 301 and Morris Bridge Road near Thonotosassa.

Approximately 500 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Chito Branch Reserve is located east of Browning Road and west of County Road 39 near Lithia.

Approximately 200 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year.

Click here to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

A new study looks at parks and natural areas to absorb impact of storm surge and flooding

The study focuses on three areas, but its lessons can be used for other flood-prone areas.

It's a concept called resiliency — helping people and communities prepare for expected sea level rise and more intense flooding. But instead of relying on pouring more concrete for sea walls, they're using existing green space.

"One of the things that we're focused on in this project is what's called green infrastructure," said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which is coordinating the study.

"And what that really means is we use natural features to help mitigate the impact of extreme weather. So we're talking about using natural features, whether it's sand dunes, or its planting mangroves — helping the mangroves to do their thing and mitigate wave attenuation — there are a number of things that require us to think outside the box and the cities are very interested in that concept."

One of the study areas is R.E. Olds Park in Oldsmar. During sunny days, it's a place for people to recreate along Tampa Bay. But when storm surge or flooding threatens, the park becomes a storage area for water, keeping it away from the city and nearby homes.

Other areas being studied include a closed basin in north Tampa that contains several springs and Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete Beach.

"So the resiliency needs are really different among the three," Sullivan said. "But what we hope to do is that the lessons learned in each of these communities that are similar but have their own characteristics can then be replicated from a resiliency standpoint, really throughout the region and throughout the state."

The six-month study was funded by state lawmakers as part of the Resilient Coastlines Initiative created by Gov. Ron DeSantis through the new Resilient Florida Program.

A symposium held Thursday at the River Center in downtown Tampa highlighted findings from three design charrettes that convened teams of planners, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, and hydrologists, along with elected officials, municipal staff, residents and local stakeholders.

The Regional Planning Council is partnering with Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay, which focuses on responsible land use, growth and development.

New law directs DEP to set up PFAS cleanup rules, as feds issue advisory

Scientists have detected the substance in nearly everyone tested, and the effects aren’t yet fully understood.

Florida is beginning to tackle the cleanup of a family of once-everyday chemical substances about which federal regulators sounded the alarm last week.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed legislation (HB 1475) that asks the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to immediately begin to adopt statewide rules to clean up perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds with a mouthful of a name, commonly shortened to PFAS, were once used in products ranging from firefighting foams to nonstick frying pans. Now, environmental and health studies say they’re far more dangerous than thought as recently as 2016.

Florida’s legislation, filed by Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure, requires DEP to adopt statewide cleanup levels for PFAS in drinking water, groundwater and soil by 2025. Those rules would have to go through the Legislature for ratification.

Although the United States no longer produces PFAS, they were common in the aerospace, medical and construction industries and more dating back to the 1950s. They were also a common substance in firefighting foam. Today, they can be imported in goods such as carpet, paper and packaging, and plastics.

Are humans making toxic algae blooms worse and more frequent? A new study aims to finds out

Researchers will look to sediments for information on past blooms and what they can tell us about today's events.

A new study launching next week aims to answer some frequently asked questions about toxic algae blooms in Florida’s coastal waters: Are they getting worse? And are people the reason why?

Scientists with Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will assist their partners from Utrecht University in the Netherlands on the project looking into the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, and other micro-algae.

Red tide blooms can be fatal to manatees, fish and other marine life. Coastal tourism and fishing industries can also come to a crashing halt during events of medium-to-high levels of Karenia brevis being present due to the stench of dead fish washing ashore and the coughing people can experience.

Francesca Sangiorgi, an associate professor in Utrecht's Department of Geosciences, said they will use a pipe to collect sediment samples from the Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor seafloors to document past blooms.

"Layer by layer by layer, they accumulate year after year. And we can, basically by looking and studying the sediment, (read) the history of these harmful algal bloom like we would read a history book," she said.

EPA grants permit for Ocean Era aquaculture demonstration project off of Sarasota County

The EPA approved the permit for the Ocean Era aquaculture demonstration project in federal waters off of Sarasota County on June 8 – the same day another federal agency opened its public comment period on nine potential aquaculture sites in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Environmental Protection Agency had withheld final approval for the Ocean Era project pending clarification of whether discharges of waste generated by the fish would degrade the water.

The project, which would see about 20,000 Almaco jack fish raised in a net pen 45 miles offshore from Sarasota County between Venice and Englewood, requires an EPA permit because the water that flows through the net pen is considered to be “define e,” and so the nutrient levels will need to be monitored.

Governor signs bill putting all soil and water board seats on the ballot days before qualifying

The new law creates last-minute pressure on all board members, even those in the middle of their terms, to qualify.

Florida now has stricter membership qualifications to serve on the boards of the state’s Soil and Water Conservation districts, and only days to qualify thanks to a measure Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this week.

The law (SB 1078) requires candidates for Soil and Water Conservation District boards, a volunteer public office, to either be agriculture producers working or retired after at least 15 years of work or be employed by an agriculture producer. The legislation underwent several iterations during this year’s Regular Session as St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson continuously tweaked the bill after receiving significant pushback from interested parties.

The measure took effect immediately when the Republican Governor signed it late Wednesday night as part of a trio of bill signings. Friday marks Florida’s qualifying deadline for the 2022 election, creating last-minute pressure on all board members, even those in the middle of their terms, to qualify.

Hutson’s original draft would have abolished the districts altogether. He said he heard pushback in his district that they were ineffective. But after hearing support for the districts, he amended the measure to limit membership so there would be more involvement from the agricultural community.

The law also explicitly states all board member seats shall be up for election this year before returning to staggered four-year terms.

Hillsborough County map now places many residents in new evacuation zones

2022 Evacuation Zone Map has about 75,000 residents in an evacuation zone for the first time

Many Hillsborough County residents, including those who live in a large area in East Tampa, are included in a storm evacuation zone for the first time this year.

Using 2020 U.S. Census data and the latest Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model from the National Hurricane Center, Hillsborough County has updated its evacuation zones for the 2022 hurricane season, which began June 1. There are almost 75,000 residents who will be in an evacuation zone for the first time based on the updated data.

Hillsborough residents can learn which evacuation zone their home is in by visiting HCFLGov.net/HEAT

East Tampa had biggest changes

The biggest map change is in East Tampa. The area roughly bordered by the Hillsborough River to the north, Harney Road to the east, I-4 to the south, and I-275 to the west. Previously not in an evacuation zone, this area has been moved into Zone E.

For the first time, 55,000 residents who were formerly in an evacuation zone find their neighborhood now outside of an evacuation zone.

Based on the 2020 Census data, the updated evacuation zones see:

  • Residents with no change: 1,289,604 (88.3 percent of Hillsborough's population)
  • Residents moved to a higher zone (for example from A to B): 107,334 (7.4 percent)
  • Residents moved to a lower zone (for example from B to A): 62,824 (4.3 percent)

All residents living in mobile homes are included in Evacuation Zone A regardless of the location of their home. Storm evacuations get residents out of the storm surge path, but mobile homes are not designed to withstand the wind from storms. Therefore, those residents are asked to evacuate with Zone A.

Prepare for storms

Residents are urged to begin preparations for storm season now. Review evacuation zones and prepare a disaster kit for an evacuation or for a prolonged power outage. Check on elderly neighbors and family members to make sure they also have a plan.

Go to?HCFLGov.net/StaySafe?for more information on how to prepare for storm season.

Sign up for alerts

When checking on the updated evacuation zones, residents are also encouraged to sign up for HCFL Alert, Hillsborough County's official notification system, at?HCFLGov.net/HCFLAlert.

Residents are reminded that Evacuation Zones and Flood Zones are?two different maps?that measure different conditions. It is important to know the difference before storm season arrives.

Link:?Map of 2022 evacuation zones compared to 2021

NOAA proposes sites for fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico

The EPA is revising the language for a fish farm permit near Venice, but there are other sites that could potentially turn into new fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico.

SARASOTA, Fla. — You have an opportunity to give feedback, encouraged by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on whether companies can set up aquaculture projects along our coastline.

Last summer, the Hawaii-based company Ocean Era applied to set up a farm off of the coast near Venice. The company used spheres to raise fish in the open ocean which they claim leads to higher quality and more sustainable seafood.

However, some worry that fish farms will fuel red tide blooms.

“The fish farms will add nutrients to our water, so that could potentially impact the health of our waters,” Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said.

Ahearn-Koch said she's concerned because the city is still restoring the bay from the 2018 red tide that had a $300 million impact on the economy.

“Harmful algal blooms are definitely a concern, that we're well aware of living along the central Gulf Coast, here in Florida," NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Andrew Richard said. "The programmatic impact statement will assess the potential impacts both adverse and beneficial aquaculture might have on water quality.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is revising the language for a permit for the project near Venice.

In the meantime, you can have a say about farms for fish, seaweed, algae or even shellfish from June 1 to August 1.

To learn more about attending a public meeting, either virtually or in person, visit this page on NOAA's website. It also has a meeting presentation with background information.

County program can help residents in unincorporated Hillsborough with stormwater fee

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Residents who qualify must be at or below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level

Residents who own property within unincorporated Hillsborough County are potentially eligible for a Management Program Hardship Exemption, which helps homeowners pay their stormwater fee. Among the required criteria, the total income of all residents of the household and owners of the property must be at or below 100 percent of the 2022 Federal Poverty Level. This level is determined each year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The 2022 Federal Poverty Levels are:

  • 1 Person $13,590           2 Persons $18,310
  • 3 Persons $23,030         4 Persons $27,750
  • 5 Persons $32,470         6 Persons $37,190
  • 7 Persons $41,910         8 Persons $46,630

Eligible homeowners must apply for the program, submit all required supporting documentation, and meet all criteria listed below:

The property must be a single-family residence that is owner-occupied and has a homestead exemption.

The property must have a taxable value of less than $100,000 after exemptions.

The deadline to apply is July 31, 2022.

Learn more about the program, additional eligibility requirements, and complete the application »