An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Extension of Comment Period for the Definition of "Waters of the United States"

EPA and the Army have extended the comment period by 30 days for the proposed first step of the review of the definition of "waters of the United States" to provide additional time for stakeholders to weigh in.

Background
The comment period, as now extended, will close on September 27, 2017. The proposed rule was signed by the Administrator and Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and posted to EPA’s website on June 27th and published in the Federal Register on July 27th. When finalized, the proposed rule would replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with the regulations that were in effect immediately preceding the 2015 rule. The public can submit comments, identified by Docket Id. EPA-HQ-2017-0203, at regulations.gov.

Federal Register Notice
On August 16, 2017, the EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, Michael Shapiro, along with Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, signed the Federal Register notice extending the public comment period, which published on August 22, 2017.

Bond Resurfacing Project Phase 1

The first phase of work on the City of Venice Bond Resurfacing Project will begin on Monday, Sept. 18th with concrete removal and replacement on the island of Venice. The contractor will be working in multiple locations; however, areas for sidewalk and curbing removal have been painted in orange. Please try to keep these painted areas clear when piling storm debris and parking vehicles over the next several weeks.

The contractor will be staging equipment within the median of the 100 block of Park Blvd. N. The actual road resurfacing is being delayed until storm debris can be removed from City streets, but is expected to begin the week of Sept. 25th.

A more detailed resurfacing schedule will be made available in the coming weeks.

The Monster Surge That Wasn’t: Why Irma Caused Less Flooding Than Expected

Across coastal Florida, the dreaded storm surge from Hurricane Irma — caused when ferocious winds pile up ocean water and push it onshore — was not as bad as forecast. While some areas were hard hit, notably the Florida Keys and Marco Island, residents of neighborhoods north to Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa Bay were expressing relief.

That bit of good fortune was the product of some meteorological luck.

Because a hurricane’s winds blow counterclockwise, the precise path of the storm matters greatly for determining storm surge. Had Irma lingered far enough off Florida’s Gulf Coast, its eastern wall, where the strongest winds occur, could have shoved six to nine feet of water into parts of Fort Myers and Naples, while swamping Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg as well.

At the last minute, Irma unexpectedly veered inland right before it got to Naples, taking its eastern wall safely away from the ocean. That meant that as the storm tracked north over Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa Bay, the winds at the head of the storm were moving west and actually pulling water away from the shoreline. In Tampa, water levels dropped five feet below normal, and bewildered spectators walked out to see beaches sucked dry. In Sarasota, a manatee became stranded.

Damage to Florida’s coral reef has made the state more vulnerable to storm surges

As we begin to piece together the damage from Hurricane Irma in Florida, scientists are pointing to an environmental factor that may have made the storm’s impact worse: the ongoing loss of coral on the state’s increasingly threatened barrier reef.

At 360 miles long, the Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest barrier reef in the world, stretching from the Florida Keys up to Martin County. But as Chris Mooney of The Washington Post reported just a few months ago, the reef is in big trouble — scientists estimate that less than 10 percent of it is covered with living coral, the result of a long history of damage that, most recently, includes warming waters and back-to-back bleaching events in recent years.

Now, scientists say these losses may have weakened the reef’s storm buffer.

Research demonstrates that “if you reduce coral reef health — if you go from that really rough coral reef with lots of live coral to a degraded coral reef with a relatively smooth surface — you have increased run-up in flooding,” said Curt Storlazzi, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sewage Spills Add To Misery In Hurricane-Battered Florida

As if loss of air conditioning and refrigeration weren't bad enough, widespread power outages in hurricane-battered Florida are teaming with structural failures to cause another headache: sewage overflows.

Local governments have submitted well over 100 "notices of pollution" to the state Department of Environmental Protection since Hurricane Irma struck, some involving multiple spills and releases of millions of gallons of wastewater in various stages of treatment.

Officials in many cities were still scrambling Thursday to determine how much sewage had escaped, while the state warned people to steer clear of standing water.

"Floodwaters may contain not only bacteria from sanitary sewer overflows but other potential contaminants from agricultural or industrial waste," environmental protection department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said.

About 6 million gallons of wastewater was released from a plant on Virginia Key near Miami during a seven-hour power outage overnight Sunday that disabled its pumps — one of seven spills reported by the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department. The water had gone through most of the treatment process but hadn't been chlorinated, spokeswoman Jennifer Messemer-Skold said.

Officials advised people not to swim at Miami-area beaches until waters could be tested for a variety of pollutants.

Irma's gone, rivers still rising

River flooding is the latest consequence of Hurricane Irma blowing through Florida earlier this week.

The National Weather Service in Ruskin said significant river flooding will continue over the next several days as rain from the storm drains into West Central Florida rivers.

On Tuesday evening, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue issued an urgent warning to people living on the Alafia River floodplain.

"If water is approaching your home, we strongly recommend you evacuate immediately. If you are unable to evacuate safely on your own, call 911 for assistance," they said in a statement.

Many are cresting near or at historic levels, and are risking homes, campgrounds and other locations along the rivers, according to the advisory.

As of Tuesday afternoon, warnings had been extended for the following area rivers until further notice:
· Hillsborough River Near Hillsborough River State Park
· Alafia River at Riverview
· Little Manatee River at Wimauma
· Manatee River near Myakka Head
· Anclote River at Elfers

Flood warnings also continue for the following:
· Withlacoochee at Trilby
· Withlacoochee River at Croom
· Withlacoochee at Holder
· Hillsborough River at Morris Bridge
· Cypress Creek at Worthington Gardens
· Alafia River at Lithia
· Myakka River at Myakka River State Park
· Peace River at Bartow
· Peace River at Arcadia
· Horse Creek near Arcadia

To see the most updated advisories from the Weather Service, visit http://www.weather.gov/tbw/ and select the “Rivers and Lakes” tab.

City finds receptive audience for climate change forum

As he addressed about 100 area residents attending a public forum about climate change, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin noted that the discussion could not have come at a more appropriate time.

“We’re in a new era,” Barwin told the crowd, noting that weekend rains put some local areas in 15 inches of water and an ongoing storm continues to inundate the Texas coast. “We need to be proactive.”

Using their cellphones and other devices, the audience participated in a poll throughout the program, with 79 percent agreeing that the Sarasota area is “already experiencing” and 21 percent saying it is “very likely” to experience “negative impacts” associated with climate change.

“It is of great importance for us as a coastal community ... to get in front of it,” City Commissioner Willie Shaw told the audience at the Robert Taylor Community Complex.

Stevie Freeman-Montes, the city’s sustainability manager, presented the overall results of an inventory of nearly 220 public assets within the city limits.

She and the city departments responsible for maintaining much of that infrastructure examined “where we’re vulnerable.”

The report is based on the latest “intermediate” and “intermediate high” projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that, by 2050, the city could experience sea level rise ranging from 12 to 18 inches. The projections are based on “the historic rate of change” at NOAA’s St. Petersburg tide gauge, Freeman-Montes said.

Sarasota County Commission narrowly denies recycling facility near Celery Fields

SARASOTA — Highly controversial plans to build a recycling center near the Celery Fields were denied in dramatic fashion Wednesday night after a day-long special hearing.

The Sarasota County Commission ultimately voted 3-2 to deny businessman Jim Gabbert’s proposal to recycle construction and demolition debris at the corner of Palmer Boulevard and Apex Road, near the environmentally sensitive watershed and park area just down the road.

The vote capped an almost nine-hour hearing that included protests outside the county headquarters, hundreds of opponents, more than 80 public speakers and hours of deliberation.

Despite praise for Gabbert both personally and professionally, Commissioners Nancy Detert, Charles Hines and Chairman Paul Caragiulo agreed they could not support the proposal as presented.

Hines succinctly summarized the crux of the entire issue early in the day, during the commission’s initial questions.

“This is a good business. It’s a needed business. We like the idea of recycling, separating and not going to the landfill,” he said. “We like the business. To me, it’s the location.”

Nestled at the southwest corner of Palmer and Apex, Gabbert had proposed purchasing 10.3 acres of undeveloped county-owned land to combine with an already-approved waste transfer facility for the site immediately to the west. Combined, it would create a full-service recycling center in a central location to encourage contractors’ recycling as development continues to boom here, he has said.

But the property is about 1,000 feet from the Celery Fields, a stormwater management system the county has spent millions to improve and that is now a wildly popular park, recreation area and bird watching area.

SWFWMD to Hold Public Workshop on Ranking Water Bodies

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is seeking public input about the order in which minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for lakes, wetlands, rivers, streams and aquifers in the District will be determined. Legislation requires the District to review and, if necessary, revise the schedule each year.

A public workshop will be held from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 at the District’s Tampa Service Office, located at 7601 U.S. Highway 301.The workshop will provide an important opportunity for local governments, residents and others to be part of the scheduling of minimum flows and levels for priority water bodies.

A minimum flow or level is the limit at which further water withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources or environment. The District Governing Board sets these limits as part of achieving the balance between meeting water needs and sustaining Florida’s natural systems.

The adopted Minimum Flows and Levels Priority List and Schedule for 2017 is available on the District’s website here. The draft 2017/2018 list will be published on the site following the Governing Board’s August meeting. The revised schedule will be considered for adoption at the Board’s meeting in October.

Written comments on the draft Priority List and Schedule may be submitted to Doug Leeper, chief environmental scientist, at doug.leeper@watermatters.org or to 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, Florida, 34604 no later than Oct. 6.

For more information, please contact Doug Leeper at 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4272.

Commission postpones vote on Aqua by the Bay

After another day of hearing testimony for and against the highly controversial Aqua by the Bay development, the Manatee County Commission decided Wednesday it needs more time to debate the details.

The commission will resume its discussion about the contested project between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay — and possibly vote — on Sept. 29 at 9 a.m.

The decision to postpone a decision comes after months of thumbs up and thumbs down recommendations by county staff and a county advisory panel.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh made a motion for approval that Commissioner Stephen Jonsson seconded — but both withdrew the motion after Commissioner Carol Whitmore suggested a continuance to work with the developers on more stipulations.

State bill requests $125 million to help springs, St. Johns River

A bill to increase money for the preservation of North Florida springs and the St. Johns River has been filed by state Sen. Rob Bradley, who is trying to build on funding that is in the current budget.

Senate Bill 204 requests that $75 million from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund be spent annually for the restoration of springs. It also requests that $50 million be given annually to the St. Johns River Water Management District for restoration of the river and its tributaries in the Keystone Heights lake region.

“The St. Johns River and our springs define the character of North Florida,” Bradley said in a news release. “In addition to providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities to local residents, our river and springs attract visitors from across the state and nation.”

The Land Acquisition Trust Fund is primarily supported by Amendment 1, a referendum approved by Florida voters in 2014. The law sets aside one-third of the tax revenue from real estate transactions to buy land for preservation and for environmental restoration projects.

After its overwhelming passage, the Legislature drew criticism from the public over the way some of the money was being spent, contending some of the appropriations were not consistent with the requirements of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The current budget includes $50 million for springs restoration and $13.3 million for St. Johns River projects, which Bradley worked to get in the budget, the release states.

Free youth outdoor program at Port Charlotte Beach Park

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – Come join the Charlotte County Community Services Department for “Wildlife Explorers”, a free outdoor program that encourages environmental exploration. The class will meet every Wednesday 4 to 5 p.m. for 6 six weeks starting Sept. 6 at Port Charlotte Beach Park, 4500 Harbor Blvd. in Port Charlotte.

Boys and girls ages 5 to 10 will explore nature and learn about weather, birds, animals, and the park environment. Connecting children to nature provides benefits including improved overall health, increased concentration and the ability to problem solve and think creatively. Please register no later than Aug. 31 by calling the Port Charlotte Beach Park Recreation Center 941-627-1628. Get up, Get out, Get Active!

FWC: Leave sea turtle hatchlings alone and they will make it to sea just fine

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Help hatchlings home by leaving them alone. That’s what beachgoers should remember if they encounter sea turtle hatchlings emerging from nests and clambering toward the water.

From now through the end of October, sea turtle hatchlings are breaking out of their eggs, digging out of nests and making their way across beaches to begin their lives in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. They usually emerge from their nests at night.

“Sea turtle hatchlings are small and appear helpless, so people may make the mistake of thinking they need assistance getting to the water. But you can help hatchlings home by leaving them alone,” said Robbin Trindell, who heads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) sea turtle management program.

“Sea turtle hatchlings are biologically programmed to look for the brightest horizon and walk toward the water,” said Trindell. “Any interference or disturbance by people, such as getting too close or taking flash photos, increases the chances the hatchlings will get confused, go in the wrong direction and not reach the ocean quickly. That makes them vulnerable to dehydration, exhaustion and predators. Remember, you need a special permit from the FWC to interact with sea turtle hatchlings. Beachgoers should never handle or interact with hatchlings on their own.”