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

Water-Related News

Treating nutrients with algae blooms

By Betty Staugler, Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program

No, there’s not a typo in my headline. In fact, this technology is so cool, you really should continue to read. With all the bad press about algae, we often forget that it really can be beneficial. In fact, algae are responsible for much of the air we breathe, and they form the base of the food web upon which all life depends.

I suspect most readers are aware that algal blooms often occur when too many nutrients enter our waterbodies. With this understanding, a novel approach to remove nutrients from a waterway was developed and patented in 1980s by Dr. Walter Adey at the National Museum of History: The algae turf scrubber, or ATS.

The basic idea: Run the water across a shallow trough or raceway, upon which attached filamentous algae are allowed to grow. The algae treat the water by taking up nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, as they grow.

Where does the algae come from? Provide the right conditions — sunlight, water and nutrients — and algae will establish naturally. What grows is the same green filamentous algae we often see attached to rocks and seagrass in shallow areas. Only in this case, instead of being a nuisance, it’s beneficial.

District recognizes July 2019 as Lakes Appreciation Month

With nearly 1,500 lakes within its boundaries, the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Governing Board on Tuesday recognized July 2019 as Lakes Appreciation Month to raise awareness of the importance and benefits provided by Florida’s lakes.

“By adopting a proclamation today, the district recognizes the importance of increasing public awareness of the value of Florida’s lakes and encouraging behaviors that will enhance lakes’ health,” said Dr. Erich Marzolf, director of the district’s Division of Water and Land Resources and the Region 4 director on the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) Board of Directors.

Marzolf represents Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee on the NALMS board.

Scientists discover the biggest seaweed bloom in the world

The record-breaking belt of brown algae stretches from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico—and it’s likely here to stay, says a team led by the USF College of Marine Science.

ST. PETERSBURG – Scientists led by the USF College of Marine Science used NASA satellite observations to discover the largest bloom of macroalgae in the world called the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt (GASB), as reported in Science.

They confirmed that the belt of brown macroalgae called Sargassum forms its shape in response to ocean currents, based on numerical simulations. It can grow so large that it blankets the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. This happened last year when more than 20 million tons of it – heavier than 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers – floated in surface waters and some of which wreaked havoc on shorelines lining the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and east coast of Florida.

The team also used environmental and field data to suggest that the belt forms seasonally in response to two key nutrient inputs: one human-derived, and one natural.

In the spring and summer, Amazon River discharge adds nutrients to the ocean, and such discharged nutrients may have increased in recent years due to increased deforestation and fertilizer use. In the winter, upwelling off the West African coast delivers nutrients from deep waters to the ocean surface where the Sargassum grows.

“The evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited field data and other environmental data, and we need more research to confirm this hypothesis,” said Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the USF College of Marine Science, who led the study and has studied Sargassum using satellites since 2006. “On the other hand, based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is very likely to be a new normal,” said Hu.

Hu spearheaded the work with first author Dr. Mengqiu Wang, a postdoctoral scholar in his Optical Oceanography Lab at USF. The team included others from USF, Florida Atlantic University, and Georgia Institute of Technology. The data they analyzed from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) between 2000-2018 indicates a possible regime shift in Sargassum blooms since 2011.

Inland flooding passes storm surge as #1 killer during hurricanes

If you live in Florida long enough, you learn storm surge is generally the number-one danger when it comes to hurricanes.

"We've seen a very large public outreach campaign over the past few years to educate people on the dangers of storm surge and people are responding. They're getting out of the way of these storms,” said Bryan Moraska, National Weather Service Meteorologist.

Now, the biggest killer related to water during hurricanes is inland flooding.

One devastating example -- Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"We have seen a shift,” said Moraska.

From 2016 to 2018, out of all water-related hurricane fatalities, only 4 percent were blamed on storm surge. The rest, the large majority, are from drenching rainfall and flooding.

Florida may adopt limits on amount of toxins from blue-green algae blooms allowed in waterways

Blue-green algae is popping up all over Florida this summer.

It's in the canals of Gulfport and the Intracoastal Waterway in Treasure Island. In Bradenton, the Manatee River has turned green from the stuff, which the mayor of Holmes Beach calls "gumbo." In Lake Okeechobee, toxins have hit a level three times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. Meanwhile state officials have convened a Blue-Green Algae Task Force to figure out how to prevent such blooms in the future. So far they have concluded only that the state's current regulations, which rely largely on voluntary anti-pollution measures, don't work very well.

Amid fears of another summer of toxic algae afflicting the state and hurting its economy, officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection say they are considering new regulations on how much of the natural toxins are allowed in the state's waterways.

DEP announces support to help communities prepare for sea level rise

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Resilient Coastlines Program announces that nearly $1.6 million in grant funding has been awarded for fiscal year 2019-20 to strengthen resilience initiatives for 30 coastal communities in 17 coastal counties in Florida.

“These grants are incredibly important to the sustainability and protection of our natural resources and Florida’s coastal communities,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I am proud of the work we are doing around the state to prepare for the impacts of sea level rise, and I know we will continue to protect Florida together.”

Grants are provided through the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection’s Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, and are specifically designed to assist local governments with resilience planning and funding assistance to implement those plans. Resilience Planning Grants (RPG) provide financial assistance to aid Florida communities in promoting resilience planning; developing vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans, comprehensive plan goals, objectives and policies; and regional coordination.

All aspects of Florida water quality discussed at task force meeting

The people working to keep nuisance, green muck out of our waterways are digging into every aspect of what leads to it and how to prevent it from coming back. And they brought the conversation to Southwest Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force met at the Lee County School Board chambers in Fort Myers Monday to discuss the water crisis centered around Lake Okeechobee.

“The focus of the task force here isn’t on what pot of money we have to spend,” said Dr. Tom Frazer, Florida’s chief science officer. “It’s can we identify solutions.”

Discussions focused on the technology and agricultural aspects involved in Florida’s water quality as well as laying out a road map for improving the quality of water on our coast and statewide.

“Today, we hit pretty hard on agricultural [best management practices],” Frazer said. “But next time, we’re going to deal with septic systems, right? We’re going to talk more about these innovative technologies after we talk about some of the criteria we want to develop to evaluate them today.”

During discussions, Frazer explained the role agriculture plays in our water quality.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signs bill to change environmental enforcement

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Tuesday a measure that will shift 19 law enforcement officers focused on environmental crimes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The bill (HB 5401) is part of a series of environmental proposals DeSantis rolled out in January, including increased funding for Everglades restoration and water projects.

DeSantis said during a bill-signing ceremony Tuesday at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart that shifting the law-enforcement officers should make enforcement of environmental laws more effective.

The creation of the Division of Law Enforcement within the Department of Environmental Protection will take effect Monday.

DeSantis noted that it was pitched by his transition team as he took office in January.

Ban biosolids use along upper St. Johns River, Indian River County administrator tells DEP

Indian River County Administrator Jason Brown called Thursday for banning sewage sludge application on land in the upper St. Johns River watershed, which includes Indian River County.

Speaking at a Florida Department of Environmental Protection workshop in West Palm Beach on proposed rule changes for the use of sewage sludge, known as biosolids, Brown noted the practice already is banned in South Florida watersheds, including the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

"We should be part of that club," he said.

Florida's wastewater treatment plants produce about 350,000 dry tons of sewage sludge each year. Of that, about:

  • 25% goes to landfills
  • 30% is partially treated and spread on land as Class B biosolids
  • 45% is combined with composted landscape material and chemically treated to produce 200,000 dry tons of Class AA biosolids, which is classified as "fertilizer" and can be used without regulation

Both Class B and Class AA contain about 5.5% nitrogen and 2.2% phosphorus. Combined, the two classes of biosolids produce about 4 million pounds of nitrogen and about 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus, nutrients that feed toxic algae blooms.

Report: Rising seas could cost Florida $75 billion over 20 years

A new national study concludes that rising sea levels could cost U.S. states more than $400 billion over the next 20 years. And Florida has the highest price tag.

The report is by the environmental advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity. It says Florida would have to pay around $75 billion to build new seawalls to defend against a two-foot sea level rise by 2040.

The report uses seawalls as a common metric that can be used nationwide. But seawalls aren't environmentally friendly, and they are impractical for places like the Florida Keys, which are islands. The report says there are other ways to protect coastlines, including beach renourishment, raising roads and infrastructure and improving drainage.

Center director Richard Wiles says in an era of exploding federal debt, getting funding help from Washington is more difficult. He says so-called "polluters" should pay for rising seas, similar to the way tobacco companies were sued for health risks.

"The entirety of the fossil fuel community, if you will, industry, needs to be responsible for literally bailing out those communities and making sure they have a future where people can live where they've always lived," he said.

NASA helps warn of harmful algal blooms in lakes, reservoirs

Harmful algal blooms can cause big problems in coastal areas and lakes across the United States. When toxin-containing aquatic organisms multiply and form a bloom, it can sicken people and pets, contaminate drinking water, and force closures at boating and swimming sites.

With limited resources to monitor these often-unpredictable blooms, water managers are turning to new technologies from NASA and its partners to detect and keep track of potential hazards. This is particularly critical in lakes and reservoirs that people use for both recreation and water supply.

A new app for Android mobile devices, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and now available on Google play, will alert officials and members of the public when a harmful algal bloom could be forming, depending on specific changes in the color of the water observed by satellites. The app is a product of the multi-agency Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, or CyAN.

“The interest is to use remote sensing as an eye-in-the-sky, early warning system to get a picture of harmful cyanobacteria in U.S. inland lakes,” said Jeremy Werdell, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center lead for CyAN, which also includes the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

June 23-29 is Mosquito Awareness Week

mosquito image

Next week is Mosquito Control Awareness Week! Now that it’s mosquito season, it is the perfect time to look in and around your home for ways to control mosquitoes that can carry viruses like Zika and West Nile.

Here are some simple steps that citizens can take to help control mosquito populations:

  • Empty water from any item that can hold water.
    Examples: flower pots, garbage cans, recycling containers, wheelbarrows, aluminum cans, boat tarps, old tires and buckets.
  • Flush birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
  • Flush ornamental bromeliads or treat with BTI, a biological larvicide available at home stores.
  • Clean roof gutters, which can become clogged and hold water.
  • Change the water in outdoor pet dishes regularly.
  • Keep pools and spas chlorinated and filtered.
  • Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.
  • Cover rain barrels with screening.
  • Check for standing water under houses, near plumbing drains, under air conditioning unit drip areas, around septic tanks and heat pumps.
  • Take steps to eliminate standing water, improve drainage and prevent future puddling.

“It’s important for residents to remember the three Ds of mosquito prevention,” said Brian Lawton, program manager for Pinellas County Vegetation Management and Mosquito Control. “Dress wisely, defend with a good mosquito repellent, and drain standing water.”

June 1st Starts the Fertilizer Restricted Period in Seminole County

June 1st is the start to the fertilizer restricted period, which means no fertilizing with nitrogen or phosphorous in Seminole County until September 30th! Confused about what that means or how to have healthy turf throughout the summer? Join UF/IFAS Extension in Seminole County for “Fertilizing Effectively in Sandy Florida Soils” workshops offered twice a month at various locations.

Experts will teach participants about the best management practices for turf, how water quality tied to lawns and explore the right plants for the right place.

“We are inviting all homeowners, Home Owner Association (HOA) professionals and yard enthusiasts to learn the best way to maintain their property while saving money and protecting our precious natural resources,” McIntyre said. “We will offer participants turf tips and tricks, and tell them how they can comply with county regulations.”

Each registered participant will receive a FREE bag of fertilizer that they can use during the restricted period.

Workshops will be held at the following location:

University of Florida Extension Auditorium,
250 County Home Rd., Sanford FL 32773

Dates/Times:

  • 6/13/2019 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
  • 6/25/2019 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
  • 7/26/2019 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
  • 8/21/2019 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM