Water-Related News

Mote, Eckerd scientists receive climate change/ocean acidification research grant

Mote Marine Laboratory scientist Dr. Emily Hall and Eckerd College scientist Dr. Cory Krediet recently received a Protect Our Reefs license plate grant to study ocean acidification and climate change conditions on corals using a sea anemone as a model organism.

As many as 50 percent of the marine animals, plants and other organisms in Florida’s saltwater environment depend on coral reefs or derive some benefit from reefs during their life cycles. Sadly, in some areas of Florida and the Caribbean, coral cover has declined by 50-80 percent in just the last three decades due to natural occurrences and human impacts such as climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and more.

To help stem the losses, Mote created the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate and Grants Program, which uses the dollars raised from license plate sales for scientific research to uncover the reasons for coral declines and more.

Hall and Krediet’s Protect Our Reefs grant funded project is focused on using a sea anemone, Aiptasia, as a model system to better understand what changing temperature and pH conditions can have on corals so scientists can be better equipped to conserve corals and protect them from environmental stressors such as bleaching, climate change and ocean acidification.

Ribbon cutting Tuesday to celebrate completion of Dona Bay watershed restoration project

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SARASOTA COUNTY – The public is invited to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of Phase 1 of the Dona Bay Watershed Restoration Program at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, in Nokomis.

The program comprises several projects that are aimed at restoring natural systems that were impacted more than 50 years ago with the construction of the Cow Pen Slough.

The excess fresh water altered the salinity of the estuary, which needs an appropriate mix of salt and fresh water for many species that inhabit it.

Phase 1 addresses the freshwater inflow imbalances, while also providing several other benefits, including water quality improvements to stormwater runoff and wetland restoration, potential surface water storage for a potable water source and bonus recreational amenities for passive water sports, hiking, and bird watching.

The $12 million project has been named Project of the Year by the Florida chapter of the American Public Works Association, and it's now being considered for APWA's National Project of the Year award.

Tuesday's ceremony will be held at the site of the Phase 1 construction project. Guests are asked to park in the lot at 4000 Knights Trail Road, Nokomis, adjacent to the Central County Landfill, and transportation will be provided by Sarasota County Area Transit to the site a short distance away.

For more information, call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000 or visit www.scgov.net.

Coastal Republicans warn GOP against climate denial

President Donald Trump and his congressional majority say they do not count climate change as a national threat, and indeed many of them won’t concede that it’s caused by human activity.

But climate renegades have emerged within Republican ranks and they’re accusing their GOP colleagues of being in dangerous denial.

Thirteen of the House of Representatives’ 237 Republicans are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Among them, Florida Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represent south Florida, where rising sea levels pose a grave threat to coastal communities.

The bipartisan caucus, which also has 13 Democrats, was established last year to promote economically viable options to reducing the risks from climate change. Though it hasn’t proposed specific legislation, it has brought some influential voices to the cause.

Artificial mangroves could bring back vanishing habitats in Florida

A couple researchers created fake mangroves in Manasota Key to bring back marine life that was lost from development. Along Florida’s coasts are seawalls-- built to prevent the shoreline from eroding. But that defense sometimes means removing natural habitats. Experts are now trying to turn these solid barriers into thriving ecosystems.

In Englewood, the blue-green waters of Lemon Bay lightly lap against the cement wall that shields local buildings and people from potential floods. What used to be here? Red mangroves— home to fish, crabs, and also oysters, which filter the water.

"They're so attractive as an architectural kind of exhibit-- the tree itself, the way it branches, the way the roots and branches overlap and you get a kind of continuous structural network," says architect Keith Van de Riet.

He partnered with biologist Jessene Aquino-Thomas to craft artificial mangrove panels that can be tacked right on to the seawall. They look like real mangrove roots, but they’re white-- made of concrete and ground up oyster shells.

Scientists find seagrass protects against pathogens, climate change

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Seagrasses draw fertilizer runoff and other pollutants out of the water, locking them safely away in meadow soil. Scientists have estimated that an acre of seagrass provides more than $11,000 worth of filtering every year.

Every continent save Antarctica is ringed by vast stretches of seagrass, underwater prairies that together cover an area roughly equal to California.

Seagrass meadows, among the most endangered ecosystems on Earth, play an outsize role in the health of the oceans. They shelter important fish species, filter pollutants from seawater, and lock up huge amounts of atmosphere-warming carbon.

The plants also fight disease, it turns out. A team of scientists reported on Thursday that seagrasses can purge pathogens from the ocean that threaten humans and coral reefs alike. (The first hint came when the scientists were struck with dysentery after diving to coral reefs without neighboring seagrass.)

But the meadows are vanishing at a rate of a football field every 30 minutes. Joleah B. Lamb, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and the lead author of the new study, said she hoped it would help draw attention to their plight.

Republicans lead fight to ban fracking in Florida

Citing unresolved health concerns, Florida lawmakers are weighing the fate of a measure that would ban fracking across the state.

Legislators are pushing the bill to safeguard Florida’s clean water supply, which is the drinking water source for 90 percent of Floridians and a major player in the state’s economy, from agriculture to tourism.

If passed, the bill would effectively ban any type of well stimulation technique statewide. That includes fracking — a practice that requires pumping huge volumes of chemicals, sand and water underground to split open rock formation to allow oil and gas to flow.

Environmentalists say chemicals used in the process can leak into underground water sources. Because Florida sits atop porous, spongelike sedimentary limestone, environmentalists believe it is at a higher risk of chemical leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2016 that fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but added that a lack of information on the practice makes it hard to know how severe that risk would be.

U.S. 41 dredging can finally proceed, court rules

SARASOTA — Work can finally begin on a $200,000 Sarasota city and county dredging project designed to alleviate flooding on U.S. 41 after an appeals court ruling ended years of litigation.

The project will dredge, stabilize and remove mangroves from the ditch between the Ritz-Carlton and Quay Sarasota properties just west of U.S. 41 that drains stormwater from more than 40 acres downtown.

The plan has been trapped in a series of complicated legal and administrative challenges for more almost five years after a dispute arose between the two local governments and Erika and Achim Ginsberg-Klemmt, who contended their SRQUS LLC owned part of the ditch.

A circuit court ruling found the couple did not own the ditch, and even if they did, it has been used publicly since 1960. The couple appealed that decision, but the Second District Court of Appeal upheld it without issuing an opinion, Sarasota County Attorney Steven DeMarsh wrote in a memo last week.

Register now for Inshore Insight Fishing Series

Charlotte County Community Services Department is offering an Inshore Insight Fishing Series, where top local fishing guides will teach the “tricks of the trade” for fishing our local waters. The program is scheduled for Tuesdays April 4, 11, 18, and 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Port Charlotte Beach Park Recreation Center, 4500 Harbor Blvd. in Port Charlotte. This free program features expert fishing guides covering a different fish species each session, representatives from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, plus appetizers, refreshments and a chance to win door prizes. Seating is limited, please call 941-627-1628 to reserve your place.

For more information on all Charlotte County Community Services Department programs and events, visit our website at www.CharlotteCountyFL.gov click Parks/Recreation/Aquatics in popular links or contact us at 941-625-PLAY (7529). Get Up, Get Out, Get Active!

Public invited to Sarasota Fisheries Forum

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Sarasota anglers, your knowledge can help our fisheries thrive. Join local stakeholders and researchers for the 13th meeting of the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum, an independent, community discussion to help inform fisheries management and science. At the Forum meeting, fisheries scientists from Bonefish Tarpon Trust will discuss the importance of mangroves to Florida's fisheries. The forum will be on Thursday, April 13th, 2017, from 6–8 p.m.

The meeting is sponsored by Mote Marine Laboratory, with partners University of Florida and Florida Sea Grant.

The meeting will be in Mote Marine Laboratory's Buchanan Room. Park in Mote's Aquarium parking lot and enter through the Research Lab entrance, immediately to the left of the Aquarium main entrance. Take the elevators to the 3rd floor. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Location:
Mote Marine Laboratory
Buchanan Room (3rd floor main building)
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34236

Fix water quality or Florida tourism will suffer, fishing and boating industries warn

TALLAHASSEE — The leaders of one of the nation's largest outdoors companies, a major boat manufacturer, and tourism industry officials met with Gov. Rick Scott and legislators Wednesday to make the case that urgent action is needed to end the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

They detailed how their industries suffered from the impact of the guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and state of emergency last year. They offered statistics on how Florida is losing business to other states, warned about the social media buzz over Florida's bad water and suggested that if things don't turn now, it may take years to reverse.

"If Florida is known as a destination of subpar water quality or bad water, it would absolutely crush our local economy," said John Lai, representing the Lee County Development Association and the Sanibel/Captiva Chamber of Commerce. He said that one in five jobs in his region relies heavily on tourism but, in the last 30 years, he has watched "the complete degradation of Florida estuaries and water quality."

Plan that includes keeping toxic algae from waterways is now bigger and more expensive

A Senate plan to bond $1.2 billion in state funds to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee grew to become a $3.3 billion bonding program that would fund dozens of water projects around the state — from sewage treatment in Tampa Bay to wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys — all in an attempt to win wider approval for the top priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

Despite the modifications, the 5-1 vote of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee for SB 10 is closer than it appeared. Many supporters expressed reservations that the expensive plan to store water is the most cost-effective solution to prevent discharges of polluted water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries after those discharges led to guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and a state emergency announced by Gov. Rick Scott in the spring and summer of 2016.

Florida scientists fear hurricane forecasts, climate research will suffer under Trump

A growing chorus of scientists is raising the alarm over reports of Trump administration budgets cuts that would affect climate change research and hurricane forecasting.

On Monday, 32 Florida scientists sent a letter to the president voicing worry over reports that the Department of Commerce, which overseas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has proposed cutting 17 percent from its budget, with the nation’s network of satellites taking the biggest hit. The satellites include a system of polar orbiters that provide critical data from the top and bottom of the planet and help scientists understand two of the biggest threats facing the peninsula.

Bill to strengthen pollution notification rules advances in Florida Senate

A Senate committee in Tallahassee unanimously passed a bill that would set standards for how to swiftly notify the public about pollution. It’s an issue residents in the Tampa Bay Area have grown weary of.

It's pouring rain in downtown Tampa. Standing just outside Port Tampa Bay, you can see towering cargo ships, rumbling trucks and equipment.

Justin Bloom is Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. He says most commercial industries like those operating at the port are highly regulated to ensure environmental safety precautions are in place.

“But extraordinary events happen, and sometimes these safety measures are ignored,” Bloom said. “You know, look at what happened with Mosaic, for example.”

It's a reference to last August, when a massive sinkhole opened under a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Polk County. 215 million gallons of contaminated water dumped into the Floridian aquifer – and it was weeks before the public knew about it.

Bloom says while that was and is a serious concern, a more significant threat is constant storm water runoff. The day-to-day pollutants on our lawns, sidewalks and driveways – not to mention toilets – on a rainy day like this, often end up in our water, especially in the summer.

Bill that would ban fracking in Florida passes Senate committee

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee unanimously passed landmark legislation Tuesday that would permanently prohibit fracking in Florida.

Senate bill 442, which passed by a vote of 5 to 0, already has bipartisan support from 15 Senate co-sponsors. The bill would ban unconventional “well stimulation” techniques including acid fracking and matrix acidizing.

Fracking is a method that fractures rock apart with a high-pressure mixture of water, chemicals and sand so that gas and oil are more easily released. Environmental groups disdain it because of the need for large amounts of water, and what they claim is toxic impact.

Get your snorkel ready! Registration open for the 2017 Seagrass Survey

Join Sarasota County for the 3nd Annual Sarasota County Seagrass Survey on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron (1717 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236). The Seagrass Survey is from 8:00am - 1:00pm (sign-in/packet pick-up for registered volunteers begins at 7:30am). If you can't volunteer for the survey, you can still join in the land-based fun, featuring hands-on activities, music, food, and more from 11am - 3:00pm. This year's event is hosted by Sarasota County and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

The Seagrass Survey is a FREE citizen science event that celebrates Sarasota County’s commitment to its water resources and focuses on increasing awareness of the economic and environmental value of seagrass habitat. Survey volunteers will take to the waters around Sarasota Bay to count and identify seagrass species, in an effort to collect data for the County's Seagrass Monitoring Program. Registered volunteers will receive a free t-shirt and free lunch voucher (redeemable at one of the food truck vendors present at the event).

Free public parking is available at Ken Thompson Park (1700 Ken Thompson Parkway), across from the entrance to the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.

Seagrass Survey & Festivities Agenda:
7:30am - 8:00am: Volunteer Sign-In/Packet & Equipment Pick-up.
8:00am - 9:00am: Volunteer Orientation & Training.
9:00am - 12:00pm: Data Collection (Survey).
11:00am - 3:00pm: Educational exhibits, hands-on activities, music, food, and more! FREE and open to the public.
12:00pm: Volunteers Return (Check-In). Each survey volunteer will receive a free lunch voucher that can be used at any food truck vendor at the SeagrassFest upon checking data sheets & field equipment back in.
12:00pm - 1:00pm: Seagrass Survey Volunteer Luncheon.

For more information, please visit:
Sarasota County Government: http://www.scgov.net (search "seagrass")
Sarasota County Water Atlas: http://www.sarasota.wateratlas.usf.edu/seagrass/

Register now for Charlotte Harbor Watershed Summit, Mar. 28-30

Join CHNEP March 28-30 at its seventh Charlotte Harbor Watershed Summit: Showcasing Our Accomplishments. Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center (75 Taylor St, Punta Gorda)

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP) is a partnership to protect and restore water resources of Florida from Venice to Bonita Springs to Winter Haven. Thanks to the Planning Committee, the 2017 Summit will be an opportunity to share the latest research findings and to network. Sessions include:

Tuesday morning: Water Quality and Quantity - New Tools (8:45 am to 11:50 am)
Tuesday afternoon: Water Quality and Quantity - Monitoring and Assessment (1 pm to 3:30 pm)
Wednesday morning: Habitat and Living Resources - Plants (8:45 am to 11:50 am)
Wednesday afternoon: Habitat and Living Resources - Stewardship (12:55 pm to 4 pm)
Thursday morning: Habitat and Living Resources - Fish (8:45 am to 11:50 am)
Thursday afternoon: Habitat and living resources - Reptiles, Invertebrates and Shellfish (1:05 pm to 3:50 pm)

Projects will be featured each day in various formats: 20-minute, 10-minute and 5-minute "lightning presentations" and poster presentations.

Please register by March 20 at https://chnepsummit2017.eventbrite.com.

The agenda is available online: Showcasing Our Accomplishments Agenda.

You may attend if you aren't able to register by March 20 but refreshments will be based on the March 20 registration counts.

The 2017 Summit is free to attend, lunch will only be available for purchase ($15) to those who pre-pay by March 20 through the EventBrite registration page. (Food can't be brought into the Event Center; there are many off-site lunch options within easy walking distance.)

Can we get rid of red tide? Not yet, according to Mote scientist

SARASOTA — As one of Mote Marine Laboratory's resident red tide researchers, Richard Pierce, lectured on the facts and future of red tide Monday evening, one question kept coming up from the audience: What can we do to stop red tide?

One man suggested changing the water density in red tide-affected parts of the Gulf of Mexico. A woman wondered whether alternate forms of energy could have an effect. But the consensus from the panel of Mote red tide scientists at the talk was clear: At this point, there is no sure way to eradicate red tide or even significantly lessen the concentration of the blooms of Karenia brevis, the red time organism.

"It's not currently possible to control red tides in the Gulf," Pierce, Mote's assistant vice president for research and the program manager of its Ecotoxicology team, said while concluding his lecture to a filled hall of about 150 people. "In many cases, we can reduce the risk, but we probably won't get rid of it."

In the meantime, Mote scientists have made some promising discoveries, such as an algae byproduct that could inhibit red tide growth and its toxins, according to Pierce. The Phytoplankton Ecology team, led by program manager Vincent Lovko, is working on that prospect, but both Lovko and Pierce said it was in the trial period.

Red tide suspected of killing Manatees in Gulf

SARASOTA, Fla. --Red Tide it’s out in the Gulf of Mexico and depending on the wind’s direction it can ruin a trip to the beach.

“You start to cough, cough sometimes eyes get very itchy,” says Pasqua Rago, she’s visiting from New Jersey.

But beach goers can pack up and leave marine life isn’t as lucky.

“This is a shame, wow,” says Pasqua Rago as she reacts to this photo of a manatee washed up on Siesta Key Tuesday and then on Wednesday another manatee was found dead in Englewood. This brings this week’s total to eight manatees so far this week between Bradenton and Charlotte County.

“We’re dealing with endangered species…we’re really concerned,” says Gretchen Lovewell, a staff scientist and stranding manager for Mote Marine.

Mote Marine has been assisting FWC with rescues and recoveries. FWC reports another 11 manatee deaths by March 5th, all suspected of red tide and bringing this year’s total to 19. The cause of death for this week’s cases are pending test results.

Lovewell says, “We’re getting a lot of calls about sick, dead or distressed sea turtles, as well as manatees.”

Lovewell says as the weather warms up, manatees return to the area, and swim right into the red tide bloom off shore.

City looks to secure final funding for Lift Station 87

The city of Sarasota will seek to borrow slightly more than $30 million from state loan programs to fund the remainder of the beleaguered but recovering Lift Station 87 sewer project in the Hudson Bayou area.

The first of the two loans includes almost $28.6 million for work associated with the construction of the wastewater and reclamation facilities, including the pipes, wells and underground equipment and work on the above-ground building that houses the pumping equipment.

The second loan includes about $1.6 million for work associated with the drinking water facilities located at the new station that serve Alta Vista, Pomelo and Pomelo Place.

Together the loans would help pay for the new attempt at the project, now set to be completed at the end of 2020. Setbacks and cost increases derailed the first attempt years ago.

Lawmakers propose $50 million to restore beaches

Beach restoration is the latest area targeted for a slice of the money voters set aside two years ago for environmental preservation.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, announced Friday they want to match Gov. Rick Scott's request to allocate $50 million a year for beach restoration. The money would come from the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which handles money from a 2014 constitutional amendment aimed at boosting land and water conservation.

The proposal (SB 1590 and HB 1213) would require the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a three-year plan for beach repairs. It also would refocus attention on sand management at inlets and rank the most serious erosion problems as priorities.

City to host Family Fishing Clinic at McKibben Park

Looking for a great way to connect with your family? Discover just how much fun fishing can be when you do it together at the City of North Port Parks & Recreation’s Family Fishing Clinic at 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, 2017 at McKibben Park 5500 Trekell St., North Port, FL 34287.

Learn basic fishing skills like knot tying, casting, baiting the hook, and taking a fish off of the hook. You and your family will have the opportunity to fish – no fishing license required. All equipment provided. The “catch”? Adults must bring a child and children must bring an adult. You’ll be learning and fishing together. Limited to 50 participants. The clinic is for age 16 and under and advance registration required. The cost is $5.00 per person (pole use and tackle included in fee).

North Port Parks & Recreation is a Division of the General Services Department. For information on Parks & Recreation events, activities and services visit www.cityofnorthport.com.

FWC continues seagrass research and conservation with new status report

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues its conservation of valuable seagrass beds in Florida’s coastal waters with a second edition of its statewide report.

Scientists and collaborators from agencies across Florida, including researchers with the Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, published new information this month on seagrass health and status. Each of the 23 regional chapters includes color-coded status reports of seagrass health, as well as maps of the distribution of seagrass beds in each estuary or subregion.

More than 40 scientists from agencies across Florida work to map and monitor seagrasses statewide and report assessments of seagrass health online. Using available data, researchers estimated there are approximately 2.5 million acres of seagrass in estuaries and nearshore waters of Florida. These are the largest beds of seagrasses found in the continental United States. Florida seagrass beds are extremely valuable marine habitats. Many economically important fish and shellfish species depend on seagrass beds for their survival. Seagrasses provide food and shelter for endangered mammals and turtles, and also play a vital role in the ecosystem.

The seagrass monitoring program was developed in 2009 to protect and manage seagrasses in Florida by providing a collaborative resource for seagrass mapping, monitoring and data sharing. The statewide report provides a summary of the status of seagrasses in Florida.

The report’s second edition was funded by grants from the FWC’s State Wildlife Grants Program and the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program’s statewide report and copies of individual regional chapters can be downloaded by going to MyFWC.com/Research, clicking “Habitat,” then “Seagrasses,” “Seagrass Projects” and “Active Projects.”

Trump takes aim at WOTUS rule

The “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS) was the definitive water-policy achievement of the Obama administration. Proponents said it clarified which waterways could be regulated by the federal government under the Clean Water Act. Jurisdiction under the law had become obscured by court decisions, WOTUS supporters said.

The rule has been in Republican crosshairs for years. President Trump strongly opposed it during his campaign. The agriculture industry and the GOP say the rule amounts to government overreach.

WOTUS is currently unenforceable due to court action. “A court stayed [WOTUS] days after it was finalized,” E&E News reported. “The Supreme Court agreed last month to take up the challenge brought by more than 30 states and many industry and farm groups,” the publication said.

Now Trump is getting ready to do away with the policy. The Washington Post reported this week that Trump is preparing an executive order to kill the regulation.

Trump begins dismantling Obama’s EPA rules today. First up: the Clean Water Rule

At first glance, it’s hard to see why the Clean Water Rule (also known as the “Waters of the US rule”) inspires such fury. It’s a technical regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency meant to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under federal clean water protections — a question that had been causing legal confusion for years.

But when the rule was published in June 2015, it triggered fierce blowback from farm and industry groups across the country. “Opponents condemn it as a massive power grab by Washington,” Politico reported, “saying it will give bureaucrats carte blanche to swoop in and penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch.” Many of those criticisms were overblown, but the rule was widely cited by conservatives as a prime example of EPA overreach under President Obama. (The regulation is currently being tied up in court and hasn’t taken effect yet.)

Now Donald Trump wants to get rid of the rule — a first step in his ongoing efforts to dismantle Obama-era EPA protections. On Tuesday, he signed an executive order that asks new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to begin the long process of repealing the rule and replacing it with... something else.

Except here’s the catch: Rolling back this rule won’t be easy to do. By law, Pruitt has to go through the formal federal rulemaking process and replace Obama’s regulation with his own version — and then defend it in court as legally superior. And, as Pruitt’s about to find out, figuring out which bodies of water deserve protection is a maddeningly complex task that could take years.

Mote developing app so beachgoers can record red tide observations

Almost every day, Mote Marine Laboratory environmental health staff scientist Tracy Fanara gets a phone call or email from someone on the Gulf Coast experiencing the effects of red tide, a toxic algae bloom that has lingered since last September.

Whether the concern is from a tourist or a longtime resident, their response is often similar: they're coughing or seeing dead fish or wondering what that strange smell is in the air.

Now those noticing the effects of red tide during their trips to the beach can take matters into their own hands through Mote's latest venture, the Citizen Science App. Designed as an addition to their online Beach Conditions Reporting System, which details conditions observed by lifeguards and trained sentinels, the app allows users to report what they are experiencing — respiratory irritation, dead fish or water discoloration — along with their exact location. The information is compiled and listed on a separate "citizen reports" layer of the Beach Conditions Report. Although the app is being tested, Fanara says she hopes it will be ready in the next month.

Peace River Authority wants to double water storage capacity

A regional water authority owned by Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, which already maintains a 400-day emergency supply, intends to eventually double its storage capacity.

On Tuesday, Patrick Lehman, executive director of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, talked about an upcoming strategy with "three elements": "storage, storage and more storage."

Lehman spoke during a meeting in Sarasota of the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, a funding partner of the authority on several projects.

Currently, the authority's treatment plant on the Peace River in DeSoto County can produce up to 51 million gallons per day. It provides water to the counties of Sarasota (13.66 mgd), Charlotte (11.79 mgd) and DeSoto (.97 mgd) and the city of North Port (1.5 mgd). It expects to eventually extend its 65-mile network of pipelines north to Manatee County, which may need about 5 million gallons per day as of 2034 if it does not create more sources within its borders.

County names new director of Planning and Development Services

Sarasota County has appointed Matt Osterhoudt as the new director of Planning and Development Services (PDS), effective March 6, 2017.

Osterhoudt has served Sarasota County for 17 years, most recently as interim director of the department since 2016. Previously, he served as senior manager for PDS, and oversaw development services and environmental protection.

Osterhoudt earned a Master of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Science from North Carolina State University.

"Matt has shown during his time as interim director that he is a strong leader, who empowers his staff to approach their jobs with effective methods and a One Team approach," said Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer. "I'm looking forward to Matt leading the department in the future with a focus on customer service."

As director, Osterhoudt will be responsible for all oversight of planning, zoning, land development, neighborhood services, the Englewood Community Redevelopment Agency, environmental protection, code enforcement and building related services.

"I'm honored to be appointed to this position and to continue serving the citizens of Sarasota County" said Osterhoudt, who added, "I'm also honored to work with such talented and dedicated people who strive every day to make Sarasota County a premier community."

In addition to the appointment of Osterhoudt as director, several other changes are being implemented within the department with existing resources.

The senior manager position is being reclassified to create a new manager position that will oversee operations related to planning, zoning, neighborhood services and land development. Recruitment for this position will start immediately. In addition, an ombudsman is being designated who will report directly to Osterhoudt, and a position is being dedicated to serve as the county-wide facilitator of the Sarasota County Development Review Committee.

Online tool explores sea level rise and coastal marsh health scenarios

A new online tool developed by the University of South Carolina, with funding through NCCOS’s Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise program (EESLR), allows users to evaluate scenarios of coastal saltmarsh health under a suite of sea level rise conditions. In addition to visualizing results through the web interface, users can download the results to create enhanced graphics for communicating results.

Users can input data relevant to any saltmarsh across the country, although, the data contains pre-calibrated settings for five estuaries, including Apalachicola and Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves. These data are from field studies and adjust to represent a number of sea level rise and management scenarios such as: evaluation of marsh health and longevity through the addition of beneficial use sediments, impacts of measures to increase natural sediment deposition, and carbon sequestration potential.

The online tool is built on the latest version (5.4) of the Marsh Equilibrium Model (MEM). MEM evaluates the relationship between a suite of physical (e.g., water level and total suspended solids) and biological factors (e.g., marsh health and biomass production) over time. This zero-dimensional model is coupled with a hydrodynamic model (ADCIRC) to create a dynamic 2-dimensional marsh model called Hydro-MEM. Together these models advance our understanding of the complex relationships among coastal marshes, sea level rise, and hydrodynamics. Advancement of MEM and development of Hydro-MEM are two products from a long-term EESLR project in the northern Gulf of Mexico.