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

Water-Related News

Gulf Coast commercial fishermen file lawsuit over new red grouper quotas

The federal lawsuit challenges allocations approved by NOAA as part of Amendment 53 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

The federal government will soon impose new limits on the amount of red grouper that commercial fishers can catch in the Gulf of Mexico and local business owners say that will impact the industry and their customers.

“It will definitely cost you more today. And will probably cost you more tomorrow because there'll be less allocation,” said Frank Chivas, owner of Baystar Restaurant Group, which operates 12 restaurants in the greater Tampa Bay region.

"Which is basically the grouper capital of the world,” he said. “And believe it or not, people come down here from all over to eat fresh red grouper.”

Karen Bell, owner of A.P. Bell Fishing Company in Cortez agrees that the price for grouper is likely to rise.

“It’s limiting what we're able to sell to the public,” she said. “When the supply is reduced, the price goes up because there's less of it available."

Earlier this month, the government announced an amendment to the National Marine Fisheries Service management plan. The quota for recreational fishing would rise from 24 percent to 40.7 percent, while the commercial share would decline from 76 percent to 59.3 percent.

Community Foundation funds water quality monitoring at Quad Parcels ‘re-wilding’

SARASOTA COUNTY – Sarasota Audubon recently received a $10,000 grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation for interns to test water quality at the 33-acre Quad Parcels near the celery fields.

The water quality monitoring is a feature of the “Re-Wilding of the Quad Parcels," an effort to transform the land into suitable wildlife habitat.

“Working with partners like Sarasota Audubon to improve our environment and include area students in the process is a win-win for our region,” Jon Thaxton, senior vice president of community leadership for Gulf Coast Community Foundation, said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful for organizations like Sarasota Audubon Society who conserve and restore our natural ecosystem, creating thriving opportunities for all.”

The Quad Parcels, so named because they straddle the intersection of Palmer and Apex roads, are just east of Interstate 75 off Fruitville Road, east of downtown Sarasota.

Sarasota County residents can enjoy free admission to Warm Mineral Springs Park on July 30th

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Free Admission for Sarasota County Residents on Discover Warm Mineral Springs Park Day

Take a step into the past and experience vintage Florida at the only natural warm spring in the state! The City of North Port is offering free admission to Warm Mineral Springs Park for all Sarasota County residents on Saturday, July 30, 2022, from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on a first come, first served basis. The Springs and the building complex are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Proof of Sarasota County residency will be required for free admission into the Springs on July 30. Acceptable proof of residency includes a driver’s license or an FPL bill, water bill, tax bill, or deed. Spa services are not included in the free admission and must be booked in advance and paid for separately.

Please note, the locker room areas are not currently accessible onsite. We recommend attendees plan accordingly and arrive in their swimwear. Temporary facilities including portable restrooms and handwashing station are available for visitors to use.

SBEP Director’s Note: Mangroves, Mangrove Trimming and Water Quality

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From Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director Dave Tomasko:

Recently, there has been a quite a bit of concern raised about the topic of mangrove trimming, and potential impacts to the bay’s health from what some refer to as “excessive” trimming. To be clear, the SBEP is not a regulatory agency – we issue no permits and have no formal role in the determination of what is and what is not allowed to occur with mangrove trimming. However, the recent attention to mangrove trimming is a good way for us to highlight the topic of mangroves and their importance, including benefits to water quality.

We all know that mangroves are important for the seabirds and wading birds in our region. I live on the shoreline of Terra Ceia Bay, and a mangrove island in the southeast part of that bay is magical place to see pelicans and egrets and roseate spoonbills in the wild. To reproduce, these birds need protection from predators such as outdoor cats (bad idea) and racoons, and mangrove islands provide the refuges from predation that allow them to continue to exist in our region. Simply put, lose the mangrove islands and you can lose our seabirds.

Mangroves are also incredibly important features for fish as well – as any angler knows. If you’re not aware of the importance of mangroves, fish along the mangrove fringe on a high tide. Spotted seatrout and red fish and mangrove/grey snapper are common, and early life stages of snook and tarpon use mangrove fringes as well.

Mangroves protect our shorelines from erosion and damage from storm surges – a topic well documented across the globe. Natural shorelines are much less impacted by storm surge than hardened shorelines – a fact obvious to anyone who has worked in hurricane relief efforts or who spends enough time on the water.

Mangroves are also important for water quality. The prop roots of red mangroves are attachment sites for oysters and barnacles and sponges and other filter feeders. Mangroves forests also filter out pollutants from upland sources. In the summer of 2020, more than 10 million gallons of raw sewage gushed out of a hole in the sewer line that takes wastewater from Longboat Key to Manatee County’s Southwest Treatment Plant. Perhaps because the spill occurred se

SWFWMD to hold peer review of wetland-based criteria for minimum wetland and lake levels

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The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will hold an independent, scientific peer review of wetland-based criteria for use in establishing minimum wetland and lake levels beginning this month. A minimum level is the level of groundwater in an aquifer or the level of surface water at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources or ecology of the area.

The review will be conducted by a three-member panel virtually via Microsoft Teams, teleconference and a web board established specifically for the peer review.

The meetings will take place:

  • May 23 at 9 a.m.
  • May 31 at 1 p.m.
  • June 6 at 1 p.m.
  • July 11 at 1 p.m.
  • July 18 at 1 p.m.

Members of the public can join the meetings virtually and register to use the web board to post comments regarding the peer review process. Links to the Teams meetings can be found on the District’s Boards, Meetings and Events calendar at WaterMatters.org/calendar. The web board will be open for posting comments through July 19, 2022, and open for viewing through June 30, 2023.

The draft documents on the wetland-based criteria to be considered by the panel will be made available on the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/documents-and-reports. Based on findings of the peer review panel, District staff anticipate using the wetland criteria to support development of minimum levels that will be recommended to the District’s Governing Board for rule adoption to support water use regulation and water supply planning.

For more information regarding the scientific peer review, please contact Doug Leeper, MFLs Program Lead with the District’s Environmental Flows and Assessments Section at 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4272.

United Nations offers free online freshwater water quality courses

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a range of new water quality monitoring and assessment courses on its eLearning platform, ahead of World Water Day on 22 March.

These free, online self-paced courses by the UNEP GEMS/Water Capacity Development Centre (CDC) at the Environmental Research Institute at the University College Cork (UCC) are designed to complement the existing capacity development activities around water quality.

The courses provide a flexible learning approach for anyone interested in water quality or those who simply wish to know more about a particular aspect of managing and monitoring water quality without incurring the cost of a university-accredited course.

Current courses on offer include ‘An Introduction to Freshwater Quality Monitoring Programme Design’, ‘Quality Assurance for Freshwater Quality Monitoring’, ‘Water Quality Monitoring in Rivers and Lakes’ and ‘Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment of Groundwater,’ with further courses planned for release in 2022.

A range of other water quality monitoring and assessment offerings are available at the UNEP GEMS/Water CDC at UCC, including a university-accredited and certified online postgraduate diploma (PGDip), MSc, and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses.

See the UNEP GEMS/Water CDC webpage for further details.

Snook and redfish remain catch-and-release only through August

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Extension of snook, redfish and spotted seatrout regulations in SW Florida through August 31

The following regulatory measures in southwest Florida for Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County will be extended through August 31, 2022:

  • Snook and redfish will remain catch-and-release.
  • Normal regulations for recreational spotted seatrout harvest have resumed with the addition of a six-fish recreational vessel limit. Commercial harvest has also resumed but harvest is held to the recreational three-fish bag and six-fish vessel limits.
  • These regulations are for all state waters south of State Road 64 in Manatee County, including Palma Sola Bay, through Gordon Pass in Collier County but not including the Braden River or any tributaries of the Manatee River.

The Commission is currently considering long-term regulation changes for redfish, which could take effect when harvest re-opens on Sept. 1, 2022. Normal regulations for snook and seatrout will resume on Sept. 1.

The catch-and-release measures for snook, redfish and spotted seatrout in all waters from Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County were put in place as part of the response to the prolonged 2017-2019 red tide event.

Learn more about regulations for these species by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine and clicking on “Recreational Regulations.

What you need to know ahead of the seasonal fertilizer bans

Numerous local governments restrict fertilizer use each year through the end of September.

ST. PETERSBURG – Florida's annual summer rainy season is about to begin, and that means fertilizer bans are soon kicking in, too.

Across the Tampa Bay region, numerous fertilizer bans begin June 1 and run through Sept. 30.

Such policies are in place in Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties, along with the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Pasco County has a fertilizer ordinance in place year-round to help prevent pollution and also help preserve local water quality.

People can still use products with double zeroes on the fertilizer label and use plants that are Florida-friendly. You can find more tips on how to have a Florida-friendly landscape on the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website.

Commission approves grant funding for Bobby Jones wetlands work

As work continues toward a fall reopening of the Bobby Jones Golf Club, Sarasota commissioners approve use of state wetlands grants.

Golfers are now only months away from playing Sarasota’s renovated Bobby Jones Golf Club. And thanks to the original drawings, it will play the way legendary course designer Donald Ross intended.

Meanwhile, as course renovation progresses toward a planned fall 2022 opening, work to improve wetlands and control stormwater at the site continues as the Sarasota City Commission during Monday's regular meeting approved two measures to deploy state grants for work associated with the project to rebuild the 36-hole course to its original 18-hole configuration.

Commissioners could have unceremoniously approved expenditures of nearly $5 million along with multiple other items on the consent agenda. Instead, Commissioner Jennifer Ahern-Koch requested the commission remove the items from the consent agenda — not to debate the merits, but rather to highlight progress being made on the project Commissioner Hagen Brody added will be transformational for the city’s District 3.

In addition to the golf course restoration, the $18.8 million project — funded by city bonds — will also include a nine-hole adjustable par 3 course and preserve 153 of the 261 acres for a public park with a variety of green space uses and wetlands conservation, all along one of the city’s primary east-west corridors.

Water quality at Sarasota Bay is improving, an environmental group says

A new report by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program indicates that water chemistry in the bay is generally good.

For most areas of the bay there was an increase in water transparency -- an important component for the development of healthy seagrass.

Dave Tomasko, Director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, acknowledges that the news may seem counterintuitive due to the recent loss of seagrass beds.

“And that's because the seagrasses disappear faster than they reappear,” he said. “So, it’s a lot easier to lose 2,000 acres of seagrass than it is to recover it. But you can't get seagrass to recover unless you get your water quality right first."

In 2021, the environmental group created a health report card to track water quality conditions in each of the bay's five segments.

It found improvement, despite lingering impacts from severe red tides in 2016 and 2018 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Researchers used four measurements to assess conditions. To create the report card, they compared the indicators in a given year to a reference period of time from 2006-2012 when water quality and seagrass coverage was generally good across all bay segments.

The most notable recovery is in the southern part of the bay.

Tomasko attributes the improvement to better management of wastewater.

"We had problems with overflows from a wastewater treatment plant in prior years that was hundreds of millions of gallons of high nutrient wastewater,” he said. “That hasn't happened in a while. Local governments and their partners have really stepped up their game and so we're seeing big improvements in terms of how we treat wastewater, how we treat stormwater."

Tomasko says water quality in the upper part of Sarasota Bay has also improved. But recovery of seagrass beds there will take longer due to losses caused by discharges from the Piney Point phosphate plant, along with earlier red tide events.

A new study shows the Piney Point spill likely made red tide worse

The spill essentially "fed" red tide by dumping nitrogen into the waters, fueling algae blooms and killing millions of fish and marine life.

A new study shows that the wastewater dumped into Tampa Bay last year from the Piney Point phosphate plant likely made the subsequent outbreak of red tide much worse. It says a year's worth of nutrients flowed into the bay in 10 days.

The study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin shows that about 180 metric tons of nitrogen poured into the bay from a leak at the phosphate plant. Those nutrients fueled the growth of algae called cyanobacteria. It essentially "fed" red tide when it entered Tampa Bay from the Gulf several weeks later — killing millions of fish and marine life.

"What we think happened is because the nutrients were around, it was available for the red tide," said Marcus Beck of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, , the study's lead author. "It just created this set of conditions that prompted the growth of the red tide to levels that we hadn't really seen in the bay — in that part of the bay, specifically — since 1971."

Since Tampa Bay is considered a "closed system" with only one outlet into the Gulf of Mexico, he said that meant putting that much nitrogen into the system, it would fuel algae blooms.

"The level of red tide that we saw, the concentrations that we saw this year, that was very abnormal," Beck said, "and with Piney Point, it wasn't too much of a stretch to suggest that that was the causative factor that was likely stimulating the growth in the bay in July."

The state has approved a plan for the remaining water at Piney Point to be injected deep underground. But some fear a heavy hurricane season could cause the stack to overflow once again.

Highlights of the study:

  • 186 metric tons of total nitrogen from wastewater were added to Tampa Bay
  • An initial diatom bloom was observed near the release site
  • Filamentous cyanobacteria were observed at high biomass
  • Karenia brevis (red tide) was at high concentrations, co-occurring with fish kills
  • Seagrasses were unimpacted during the six-month study period

Piney Point Timeline

Water managers in ever-growing Southwest Florida work to ensure the drinking water supply is safe

Southwest Florida prepares to meet the future water needs as 1,000 people move into the Sunshine State every day. Access to drinkable water has already reached a crisis level in places worldwide, which nonprofits and celebrities are working to fix.

The lack of access to drinkable water is devastating communities around the world, and Southwest Florida's water managers are working to make sure the same thing never happens here.

“We turn on our tap and water just comes out of the faucet,” said Robert Lucius Jr., who oversees a 60,000-acre watershed that spans Lee and Collier counties.

“We don’t really give it much thought."

In other parts of the world, however, having water to drink is always on everyone's mind.

UNICEF found in 2020 that about one-quarter of the world’s population does not have a reliable source of drinking water at home, and half do not have properly working sanitation systems. In places, the demand for water is outpacing the growth rate two-fold. In Africa and Southeast Asia, the United Nations reports clean water is either scarce or completely unavailable.

The dearth of clean water is deadly. Nearly half of the roughly 2.2 billion people who struggle to find enough clean water to drink will die of thirst, disease caused by ingesting tainted water, or the unsanitary conditions that are becoming endemic in water-starved countries. The UN found that more people worldwide have access to a cell phone than do a toilet.

The World Water Council, World Resources Institute, and Global Water Leaders join charities like Water.org and charity: water in working in most of the drought-plagued places in the world. Kristen Bell, Jay-Z and Matt Damon are among a group of Hollywood heavyweights who have thrown their substantial clout behind the effort to ensure everyone on the planet has access to fresh water.

Bell raised almost $70,000 for charity: water, a New York nonprofit focused on providing drinking water to developing countries. Rapper Jay-Z created a documentary in 2007, “Diary of Jay-Z: Water For Life,” and worked with MTV and the UN to develop an clean-water advocacy campaign. Damon co-founded Water.org, which works to help families in struggling countries build sanitation systems and maintain a clean water supply.

“Access to water is access to education, access to work, access above all to the kind of future we want for our own families and all the members of our human family," Damon said on his organization's website. “You cannot solve poverty without solving water and sanitation.”

Increasing populations as well as climate change are but two of the things contributing to water woes, around the world and in Florida. More people mean more of a need for fresh water on a planet with a finite amount of it, and more than 1,000 people move into the Sunshine State every day. A warming planet means hotter air temperatures that increase evaporation, robbing reservoirs of drinking water.

The water woes in Southwest Florida are not nearly as bad as they are in other parts of the world, but not enough water still causes a host of problems in the region. Countless hours are spent by the region’s water managers divvying up the supply so the situation here doesn’t ever approach the struggles other parts of the world are having. And plans are being made now for decades in the future so water woes won’t sneak up on Southwest Florida’s residents.

Fishermen and scientists probe phosphate's connection to Florida red tides

Florida Commercial Waterman Conservation (FCWC) was founded in 2018.

A gap between real-time data and the academic resources that can steer policy inspired the idea to enlist fishermen, who have the holistic knowledge of the ocean, as data collectors, says Chris Kelble, director of the Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems Division at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

“Casey [Streeter] volunteered for a research cruise with me. The idea for the nonprofit stemmed from us sitting on the deck of the boat talking one night in between stations where we were taking water samples. He was instrumental in helping guide where to sample, because he knew exactly where the worst places were,” Kelble says. “Our goal this spring is to be able to communicate and let folks know about the likelihood of there being significant hypoxia. If there are excess nutrients coming off the land, this promotes red tide.”

FCWC is composed of half a dozen local volunteers and fishermen, in addition to Streeter. “We have mostly been focusing our testing in our immediate areas of southwest Florida,” he says, “but we did have a boat test off of Tampa during the red tide last year and as far north as Panama City. We would like to grow this program to all regions of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Sea Turtle Nesting Season begins May 1st

Help hatchlings beat the odds during sea turtle nesting season

Sarasota County beaches are home to the largest population of nesting sea turtles on Florida's Gulf Coast from May 1 through Oct. 31.

Residents and visitors can help sea turtles during nesting season by reducing light pollution at night and eliminating obstacles along beaches.

The Sarasota County Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance (MTPO), adopted in 1997, outlines the requirements to help sea turtles beat the odds by eliminating white light visible from the beach and nesting obstacles. Residents and visitors can accomplish this by using long-wavelength bulbs such as red or amber LEDs with shielded fixtures, and by removing beach furniture and recreational items nightly.

“Sarasota County averages more than 200 sea turtle nests per mile along coastal shorelines, but only one out of every 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood,” said UF/IFAS Marine and Coastal Sea Grant Agent Armando Ubeda.

Ubeda added that while most hatchlings die from predators, the majority die from exhaustion or starvation caused by disorienting bright, artificial lights steering them away from the water.

Jaclyn Irwin, Sarasota County wildlife specialist, also added that in addition to using appropriate lighting and removing recreational items, avoiding the use of flashlights, knocking down sandcastles, filling in holes, and taking belongings and trash with you are great ways to enhance sea turtle nesting habitat.

Community members are also reminded not to disturb sea turtles or their nests and can report injured or distressed sea turtles to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC (3922).