Water-Related News

FGCU's floating classrooms return to coastal waterways

Many recreational boaters glide by the Vester Marine and Environmental Research Field Station on Little Hickory Island in Bonita Springs.

Some may not realize that the multi-structure facility – formerly a resort – and some of the boats with which they share local waterways constitute waterfront and floating classrooms for FGCU students learning about Southwest Florida marine life.

Along with instruction at the main FGCU campus 14 miles away in South Fort Myers, undergraduate and post-graduate students in marine science and environmental studies are using the Vester Field Station again this semester for marine sample collecting, checking water quality and much more.

New equipment being used for the first time at Vester this fall include an automatic water sampler, a continuous water quality monitor and a specific ion electrode system that “measures ammonia, nitrate, pH, oxygen and other ingredients in our waters,” said Michael Parsons, FGCU professor of marine science and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute.

“It all helps to show students the extent of how both humans and marine life influence the water,” said Parsons, who is in the midst of his first semester directing the program.

Caloosahatchee Riverwatch ready for powerful change

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For more than two decades, Riverwatch has championed the Caloosahatchee: organizing cleanups, educating citizens and advocating for the region's troubled river.

There's been plenty to do. Since Riverwatch formed, the Caloosahatchee has been plagued by polluted flows from its watershed and Lake Okeechobee that have contributed to create toxic algae blooms, diseased fish and wiped-out seagrass.

Now the grassroots group is poised for powerful change.

Allying itself with the Waterkeeper Alliance, the all-volunteer nonprofit is now an affiliate of the respected organization guided by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and best-known for protecting New York's Hudson River.

2016 already a “disaster” for Caloosahatchee watershed

It's not even close to over, but Caloosahatchee advocates are already reaching to find ways to describe just how bad a year it's been for the river.

Last week, water managers and the wet weather presented them with a new milestone: 1 million acre feet of freshwater flows to the estuary.

It's only the ninth time in more than half a century that's happened, and if it keeps up this way, 2016 may go down as one of the three worst years since anyone began keeping records.

So how much is a million acre feet? If that much water were dumped on Lee County (the dry part, at least) we'd be 2 feet under.

If it were pumped into 20,000-gallon swimming pools, it'd fill 16 million of them.

And if you were a scientist trying to communicate the effect of all that water — even if you were a normally restrained sort — you might well use the word "disaster," as Riverwatch director and Hendry County engineer John Capece does.

"It's already been a horrible year, but if we are hit with a tropical storm, hurricane or just a bad rainfall event like we experienced in January and June, then 2016 could go in the records as one of the absolute worst years ever," Capece said.

USDA describes $328M oil spill restoration plan for Gulf of Mexico

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it's focusing conservation programs along the Gulf of Mexico in a $328 million plan to help recovery from the 2010 oil spill.

Undersecretary Robert Bonnie says the agency will use that focus through 2018 as it helps coastal producers plan improvements to improve water quality and improve coastal ecosystems under several Farm Bill programs.

The oil spill tie-in is a new twist to existing programs and will bring in a broader audience, Louisiana State University AgCenter Associate Vice President Rogers Leonard said in an email. Gulf Coast farmers will be interested in the amount of money available, he said.

Bonnie described the plan Monday at a Mississippi timber plot where the owner has worked with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to help improve downstream water quality.

The money covers five programs: $129 million under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, $102.9 million through the Conservation Stewardship Program, $57.1 million from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, $29.6 million as Targeted Funding in Priority Watersheds and Landscapes, and $9.3 million under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

It includes $11.3 million to restore longleaf pine forests, $3.8 million to improve water quality and enhance habitat in Florida's Everglades, $3.2 million to reduce runoff in nine watersheds around the Gulf, and $460,000 to plant wildflowers and native grasses that would attract bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators in Alabama, Florida and Texas.

CHNEP announces new Executive Director

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The Estuary Program's Policy Committee hires Jennifer Hecker as CHNEP Executive Director.

Jennifer Hecker has worked for the governmental, business and environmental non-profit sectors for nearly two decades to protect Southwest Florida's exceptional natural resources. As the former Director of Natural Resources Policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida for twelve years, she worked at the local, state and federal levels to advance the organization's advocacy and lobbying priorities regarding water resources, listed species, everglades restoration, natural resource extraction, environmental lands acquisition, and natural resources legislation. Prior, she worked as a Project Ecologist for WilsonMiller, Inc. and as an Environmental Specialist for Hillsborough County, Fla. in their Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program.

Hecker has a bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies from Prescott College and graduate degree in Tropical Biology and Conservation from the University of Missouri. Jennifer Hecker was selected by the Florida Weekly as a Southwest Florida "Power Woman" in 2011, is an alumnus of Leadership Collier and has served on various boards including the Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition, National Great Waters Coalition, Southwest Florida Watershed Council, Everglades Coalition, and Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed Trust. She also was appointed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to their Statewide Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee and has been qualified as a water quality expert in a court of law.

Jennifer Hecker, as the Executive Director, is responsible for maintaining the strong partnerships developed through the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program Management Conference, continuing the implementation of the science-based Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, and being an effective advocate for the resource.

Water standards fight heads to appeals court

TALLAHASSEE — Moving quickly after a judge tossed out challenges to controversial new state water-quality standards, the city of Miami has signaled it will continue battling in an appeals court.

The city has given notice that it will appeal a ruling last week by Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter, who rejected the challenges by Miami, Martin County, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Florida Pulp and Paper Association Environmental Affairs, Inc.

Canter sided with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which argued that the challengers had missed a legal deadline in the cases.

Miami filed a notice of appeal Thursday in the 3rd District Court of Appeal, two days after Canter's ruling, court records show.

The water standards, which were developed by the Department of Environmental Protection and approved July 26 by the state Environmental Regulation Commission, have been highly controversial. They involve new and revised limits on chemicals in waterways, with the department saying the plan would allow it to regulate more chemicals while updating standards for others.

September is Microplastics Awareness Month

To raise citizens awareness of the environmental threat of microplastics, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Pinellas County has designated September as Microplastics Awareness Month. Pinellas County residents are encouraged to learn about microplastics and ways they can reduce contributions to problems microplastics may potentially cause.

There are several ways to participate in Microplastic Awareness Month:

  • Get involved with the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project at www.plasticaware.org.
  • Reduce consumption of one-use plastics like plastic bags, straws, water bottles, cups and utensils.
  • Take the Florida Microplastics Awareness Pledge at bit.ly/plasticpledge.
  • Follow the Florida Microplastics Awareness Project on Facebook and share posts from www.facebook.com/MicroplasticAwarenessProject.
  • Spread the word about microplastics on other social media platforms using hashtags, #plasticawareness month and #plasticaware.

Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastics that are smaller than 5 millimeters or 1/8th of an inch in size, and can be so small that they can only be seen with a microscope. They come from primary or secondary sources. Microplastics can be manufactured as pellets or microbeads in personal care products such as facial scrubs and deodorants. Secondary microplastics begin as larger plastic products and break down into smaller pieces over time from exposure to elements like sunlight.

Another major source of microplastic comes from synthetic clothing fibers, like polyester and nylon.

When washed, these fibers can shed into waste water from washing machines and into treatment facilities, eventually ending up in local water bodies. Current data has found an average of 7.6 pieces of plastic in a one-liter sample of ocean water, and based on this data it’s estimated that 90-percent of coastal water samples contain at least one piece of plastic.

Plastics have a tendency to last for long periods of time, so microplastics could potentially cause problems for Florida’s marine life. Total research has not come in on microplastics, but early findings warn of their possible effect on the environment. This plastic material is being found in oceans and is eaten by marine life.

New method detects low-dose impacts of human-made chemicals in water

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A new study led by UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering professor Rafael Munoz-Carpena, has found a method that better detects low doses of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in waterways. “The end effect could be degradation of aquatic life,” said Muñoz-Carpena. Some pharmaceuticals that individually are typically not toxic at even high doses, can damage aquatic life at very low doses when present in complex mixtures often found in natural waters after wastewater finds its way there.

Such products -- known to scientists as PPCPs -- are widely released into the world's freshwaters and oceans, where they mix at low concentrations over long time periods and seep into diverse environmental pathways such as surface water, groundwater, drinking water or soil.

"The end effect could be degradation of aquatic life," said Rafael Muñoz-Carpena, a UF/IFAS professor of agricultural and biological engineering and a lead author of a new UF/IFAS-led study. "Some pharmaceuticals that individually are typically not toxic at even high doses, can damage aquatic life at very low doses when present in complex mixtures often found in natural waters after wastewater finds its way there."

Most PPCPs have been found and analyzed in high concentrations individually, but a new test developed by the UF/IFAS-led team detects the effects of the chemicals in low-dose mixtures.

In the study, the team tested their method in a freshwater environment that they created in their lab. They selected PPCPs including antibiotics, caffeine, analgesics and psychiatric drugs. Researchers then mixed those 16 chemicals with blue algae engineered to produce light. They used changes in the light signal to gauge the toxicity of the different mixtures of chemicals in the bacteria.

Scientists found that a handful of the PPCPs in the mixtures, particularly antibiotics and other commonly used medicines, may impede processes such as growth, assimilation of nutrients, photosynthesis, reproduction and more, Muñoz-Carpena said.

Results from the study confirm that less-than-lethal effects from PPCPs mixtures make freshwater ecosystems more susceptible to later stresses such as light, temperature, nutrient availability and competition with other organisms, Muñoz-Carpena said.

"Our new method can be used not only to study impacts to aquatic systems of emerging chemicals, but also with human cells, biosensors and more," Muñoz-Carpena said. Despite the abundance of these chemicals, scientists still don't know the full effects of PPCPs on the environment, partly because they haven't found the right testing method. "This opens exciting opportunities for many life sciences, like medicine or cell biology, facing real world complex problems."

The new UF/IFAS-led study is published in the journal Science Advances.

Senate advances water bill with $1.9B for Everglades, Florida algae bloom projects

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted to move forward Monday on a $10 billion water projects bill that includes about $1.9 billion for projects to restore Florida's Everglades and combat algae blooms that have fouled the state's beaches and rivers.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a newspaper column last week that fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida had convinced him to back the project after years of opposition.

Rubio's Democratic opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy, has accused Rubio and Republican Gov. Rick Scott of not doing enough to find a long-term solution for algae blooms caused by polluted water flowing from Lake Okeechobee.

The bill, which also includes $220 million in emergency funding for Flint, Mich., and other communities beset by lead-contaminated water, advanced the bill 90-1 on a procedural vote, with approval expected later this week. If approved by the Senate, the bill would go to the House.

The bipartisan measure would authorize 29 projects in 18 states for dredging, flood control and other projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Florida’s losses from a big hurricane could reach a mind-blowing $200 billion

Note: This article appeared on Sept. 1st, just before Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the Florida Panhandle

Florida has had a remarkable run of gambler’s luck over the past decade. It’s been that long since a hurricane struck the state that usually gets them every two years.

Since Hurricane Wilma made landfall at Cape Romano near the pointy end of the state in 2005, about 20 hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic Ocean and hit other states, and more than 60 wobbled off to deep waters without harming the U.S. coast. But Florida’s string of good fortune might be at an end.

A storm is on the horizon, projected to hit the Florida Panhandle late Thursday or early Friday. Forecasters predicted that Tropical Storm Hermine would only gush rain, but they recently elevated it to hurricane status. Floridians have many reasons to worry. The sea level is rising faster than first predicted, and analysts who assess potential property damage say that contributes to Florida being more vulnerable to massive losses than any other state.

Hermine lacks the power to cause a worst-case scenario like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, but even as a Category 1 storm, it will serve as a reminder of what could be. Mere nuisance flooding already causes drainage systems to bubble over in the Miami area, and strong winds can roil Tampa Bay until it’s level with sea walls that guard roads and homes.

Register by Sept. 27th for “Nonformal Environmental Education” workshop

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The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP) is hosting the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) workshop Building Environmental Literacy Through Nonformal Environmental Education Programs. Since its beginning in 1971, NAAEE has served as the professional association, champion and backbone organization for the field of environmental education, working with a diverse group of educators.

The workshop will be held Friday, November 4, 2016, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Polk Nature Discovery Center at Circle B Bar Reserve (4399 Winter Lake Rd, Lakeland). Thanks to Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division, an optional guided tram tour will be offered at 8:30 a.m.

Participants will be introduced to the nonformal environmental education program development cycle, including needs assessment, program design and delivery and evaluation. This workshop was designed for nonformal educators, rangers, interpreters and guides, education designers as well as those who work with schools and school districts.

This workshop introduces participants to Nonformal Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence. These guidelines comprise a set of recommendations for developing and administering high quality nonformal environmental education programs. These recommendations provide a tool that can be used to ensure a firm foundation for new programs or to trigger improvements in existing ones. The overall goal of these guidelines is to facilitate a superior educational process leading to the environmental quality that people desire. Each participant will receive a copy of these guidelines.

The term "environmental education program" is used in these guidelines to mean an integrated sequence of planned educational experiences and materials intended to reach a particular set of objectives. Programs, taken together, are the methods by which an organization's education goals are accomplished. The program can be small or large and can range from short-term, one-time events to long-term, community capacity-building efforts.

Workshop Objectives:

  • Participants identify the key characteristics of high quality environmental education programs.
  • Participants will use the K-12 environmental education framework to map environmental literacy in their programs.
  • Participants discuss the relationship between program design and program evaluation.
  • Participants will begin the process of developing a CHNEP literacy plan.
  • The CHNEP and the Friends of Charlotte Harbor Estuary, Inc. (aka CHNEP Friends) are underwriting the cost of this course. NAAEE will facilitate this workshop. Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division is providing the facility and tram tour. Lunch will be provided but your time, travel and any other expenses incurred will not be covered.

    This is a two-step registration process. The first step is to complete the registration form for this event at https://chnep-naaee.eventbrite.com. The CHNEP will review requests received by Sept. 27 and then again on Oct. 27. Space is limited for this facilitated workshop and the CHNEP has a desire to update its plan and develop a literacy plan so the CHNEP will review details of those who register. Those accepted will receive an email message from maran@chnep.org (after Sept. 27 and Oct. 27) with guidance to confirm their participation. It is CHNEP's hope that the 40 places available will be taken by those who will commit to participating in the update of the CCMP and who will help develop an environmental literacy plan for the CHNEP.

    Remember, by completing the first step you are letting CHNEP know of your interest in attending this training. If accepted, you will be required to follow guidance received from CHNEP for step 2. Requests will be reviewed within a few days of Sept. 27 and Oct. 27.

    Contact Information

    Maran Hilgendorf

    Communications Manager,, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

    326 West Marion Avenue
    Punta Gorda, FL - 33950

    (941) 575-3374

    SWFWMD public meeting on MFL priority list Sept. 1st

    District to Hold Public Meeting on Priority List and Schedule for the Establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels

    The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) is soliciting stakeholder input on the annual update of the Priority List and Schedule for the Establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels. A public meeting will be held at the District’s Tampa Service Office, located at 7601 U.S. Highway 301 North on Thursday, Sept. 1 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

    Minimum flows and levels (MFLs) are limits set by the District Governing Board for surface waters and groundwater. MFLs are intended to prevent significant harm to the water resources or ecology of an area that may be impacted by water withdrawals. Reservations set aside water from withdrawals for the protection of fish and wildlife or public health and safety. The Priority List identifies water bodies for which the District plans to establish minimum flows and levels and reservations.

    Written comments on the draft Priority List and Schedule may be submitted to Doug Leeper, MFLs Program Lead with the District’s Natural Systems and Restoration Bureau via email at doug.leeper@watermatters.org or by U.S. mail at 2379 Broad Street, Brooksville, Florida, 34604-6899 no later than Oct. 7, 2016.

    The current Priority List and Schedule is posted on the District’s Minimum Flows and Levels (Environmental Flows) Documents and Reports web page (link below). The draft FY2016 Priority List and Schedule will be made available at the same web page on Aug. 31, 2016.

    Source: SWFWMD News Release

    Lake Hollingsworth seawall construction to start Sept. 12th

    LAKELAND – The City of Lakeland will be starting a shoreline stabilization and restoration project with construction beginning September 12th on the south side of Lake Hollingsworth in the vicinity of the public access boat ramp. The project is expected to be completed by January 31, 2017. The public access boat ramp and parking lot will remain open during the project.

    The shoreline in this location has experienced significant erosion and destabilization over recent years contributing to the measurable loss of shoreline area, exposure of tree root systems and subsequent loss of several trees.

    Laurie Smith, Manager of Lakes & Stormwater said, “If left unabated, additional erosion and loss of shoreline would continue. We will be installing a low profile sea wall constructed of Truline brand hybrid recycled materials specially designed to stabilize the shoreline and prevent additional erosion.”

    Three sets of concrete steps will be set into the seawall for access to the lake. The City of Lakeland Lakes & Stormwater Division met with several user groups in researching shoreline stabilization solutions. Custom Built Marine of Port St. Lucie, FL was awarded the contract for the seawall installation project at a cost of $192,000.

    Mangroves in Punta Gorda canals to be trimmed Aug.29-Sep. 22

    Beginning the week of August 29, 2016 through September 22, 2016 (weather and equipment operation permitting), mangrove trimming is scheduled for the Punta Gorda Isles perimeter canal, Ponce de Leon Inlet, Sancho Panza Point and Bird Navigation; and for Burnt Store Isles perimeter canal and boat lock areas.

    For additional information on this project, please contact Canal Maintenance Supervisor, Cathy Miller, Punta Gorda Public Works Department at (941) 575-5071 between the business hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

    Water Stewards Wanted for Sarasota County

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    SARASOTA COUNTY — Help protect and preserve water resources by becoming a water steward in Sarasota County, with a new program offered by Sarasota County and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

    The Florida Waters Stewardship Program, launching Sept. 13, uses expert presentations, hands-on learning, field training, and communications exercises to give participants the tools needed to act as stewards of the area’s water resources.

    Water is a key driver of our health, environment, and economy, and protecting our water resources is critical now and for the future. Water connects us all. We are connected to our streams and bays by our faucets and laundries, to our neighborhood ponds and lakes by our yards and streets, and to our regional and statewide neighbors by our surface and groundwater supplies.

    This $89 course will explore those connections as we travel across the county to learn about local water quality and quantity issues. Seven sessions comprise this course:

    • September 13: Watershed Basics and Stewardship. Florida House Learning Center.
    • September 27: Water, Then and Now. Nokomis Park Community Center.
    • October 8: Water Supply and Demand. Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.
    • October 18: Stormwater in Sarasota County. Audubon Nature Center / Celery Fields.
    • November 5: Field training. Twin Lakes Park.
    • November 15: Communicating Water Stewardship. Oscar Scherer State Park.
    • December 3: Graduation and Guided Kayak Tour. Historic Spanish Point.

    Seating is limited for this public course, with a limited number of scholarships available. Learn more and register early at http://bit.ly/FlaWaterSteward to reserve your spot.

    For more information about this course or available scholarships, please contact Water Agent Abbey Tyrna at atyrna@ulf.edu or 941-861-9818.

    Legal Challenges Mount Over New Water Standards

    After the Seminole Tribe of Florida launched a legal challenge earlier in the month, the city of Miami and a paper-mill industry group also are taking aim at controversial new state water-quality standards.

    The city and the group Florida Pulp and Paper Association Environmental Affairs, Inc., filed separate challenges during the past week in the state Division of Administrative Hearings, records show. The challenges raise substantially different arguments in fighting the standards, which were developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and approved in July by the state Environmental Regulation Commission.

    The standards, which are technically considered a proposed rule, involve new and revised limits on chemicals in waterways. The Department of Environmental Protection said the plan would allow it to regulate more chemicals while updating standards for others.

    The Miami challenge, filed Friday, alleged that the “proposed rule is arbitrary and capricious — particularly because the rule loosens restrictions on permissible levels of carcinogens in Florida surface waters with absolutely no justification for the need for the increased levels of the toxins nor the increased health risks to Florida citizens.”

    Meanwhile, the industry group, which includes Georgia-Pacific, International Paper Co., WestRock and Packaging Corporation of America, takes issue with scientific calculations and assumptions used in developing the standards.