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

Water-Related News

Big mission awaits Florida's new Blue Green Algae Task Force

Reducing harmful nutrients in state waters, through moves such as more monitoring and staffing, is an expected short-term goal of a new task force set up by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look at toxic algae fouling Florida waterways.

But with a brief timeline for the five-member Blue Green Algae Task Force to reach its initial findings, don’t expect proposals for massive state rule changes related to farming practices or moving away from septic systems.

Task force member Michael Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station, said rather than replace regulations, as some environmental groups contend is needed, a more realistic approach would focus on “fine-tuning” existing rules.

“In any field, if you make the rules too strong, too stringent, too unfair, they won’t be followed,” Parsons said. “I think there is a compromise between allowing people the flexibility to work within certain frameworks as well as getting the needed results or the intended results within that framework. You can’t force people to do things, but on the other hand, we do have goals we need to meet, so there has to be a compromise between the two.”

This year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone could be one of the biggest ever, NOAA says

A summertime Gulf of Mexico dead zone fueled by pollution flowing out of the Mississippi River watershed could be among the largest on record this year.

In a seasonal forecast issued this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said heavy spring rain over the watershed, which drains 37 states - or about 41 percent of the U.S. - was expected to flush large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the northern Gulf. That could create a dead zone covering more than 7,800 square miles.

It's too early to tell what influence the zone might have on seasonal red tides that form off the Florida shelf. Following a 2017 record-setting dead zone, a toxic red tide started in October that lasted for more than a year, littering southwest Florida beaches with dead marine life and eventually sweeping up the Atlantic coast.

"This is an atypical year given the really high discharges, so it would be something to keep an eye on," said NOAA oceanographer David Schuerer. 

Florida's ongoing struggle with non-native water hyacinth

As rivers go in the United States, the St. Johns is a rarity. From its headwaters near Vero Beach to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean 310-miles downstream, it is entirely confined within the borders of Florida and runs in the opposite direction of most large rivers, from south to north. And it’s slow, dropping only an inch per mile, making it one of the laziest rivers in North America.

The river can be insufferably hot, windless, and buggy in summer, so it’s much more enjoyable to explore in the winter months, which I did recently on a small sailboat. With every mile, the river’s appearance and that of the surrounding landscape altered as we passed through everything from swamps and marshes to dense forests of moss-covered live oaks and the buttressed trunks of stately cypress trees to downtown Jacksonville. Many of these were the same views that American naturalist William Bartram had as he explored the river in 1774.

Since pre-colonial times, the tannin-dyed waters of the St. Johns have always been used for transportation. Its wide and slow-moving expanse bisects the state and earned it the name Welaka, or “river of lakes,” by the Timucua Indians. Until creation of the railroads, it was the primary method to travel in Florida, and was used to transport goods to market and deliver mail. As people headed inland to develop farms and cattle ranches, towns sprang up along the riverbank, supplied by regular visits from steamboats.

Tawny water hid the many manatees we passed. The large aquatic mammals only revealed themselves through plumes of water as they pumped their flukes like Olympic swimmers. And as we progressed southward past sleepy river towns the salinity diminished until somewhere near Georgetown the river water became completely fresh. 

State funding to flow for Florida springs

The Legislature is putting $100 million toward Florida’s ailing springs.

That’s after a WMFE story pointed out existing springs funding sat unspent.

The money was included in the state budget under the Legacy Florida Act, approved in 2016 to put water and land conservation funding toward the Everglades, springs and Lake Apopka.

The measure calls for an annual allocation of $50 million. Clay Henderson of Stetson University’s Water Institute says the budget also contains last year’s unspent funding— bringing the total to 100 million.

“We’ve really been in a holding pattern for the past year. The legislature approved this money, but it didn’t get approved by all the points along the way. But the Legislature fixed that, and so in the next year it appears we’re going to have $100 million for springs restoration, and that’s a good thing.”

Florida has more freshwater springs than any other place in the world. Restoration plans for 15 of the state’s most important springs face legal challenges from environmental groups.

Press release details

This is a listing of News Releases that have been sent to the media for distribution to the public about Seminole County business, announcements, and activities.

With biosolids bills failing in Florida Legislature, DEP to develop own rules

With bills to regulate biosolids failing this year in the Florida Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to come up with a set of rules to keep the sewage sludge dumped on farmland from polluting the state's water.

Several people concerned with pollution caused by biosolids told TCPalm they hope DEP will develop regulations with teeth.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," said Bob Solari, chairman of the Indian River County Commission, which has twice enacted moratoriums on biosolids use in the wake of pollution at Blue Cypress Lake tied to sludge spread on nearby pastures.

Commissioners said they would have banned Class B biosolids outright but lacked the authority. Instead they looked to the state Legislature for help.

"It will take some work to make sure DEP gets things right," Solari said. "We'll be following them very closely."

Of the 340,000 dry tons of sewage sludge Florida produces each year, about:

  • 100,000 tons goes to landfills
  • 100,000 tons is partially treated and spread on land as Class B biosolids
  • 140,000 tons 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 produce about 4 million pounds of nitrogen and about 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus, nutrients that feed toxic algae blooms.

The ill-fated bills — a Senate version by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and a House version by state Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican — called for statewide regulations on the use of Class B biosolids along the lines of

Press release details

This is a listing of News Releases that have been sent to the media for distribution to the public about Seminole County business, announcements, and activities.

District’s Blue School Grant Program accepting applications now through Sept. 6

Now entering the fourth year of its Blue School Grant Program, the St. Johns River Water Management District anticipates offering up to $20,000 in grants for education projects that enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources through hands-on learning. The application period runs May 31–Sept. 6, giving teachers all summer to prepare their project proposals for the 2019–2020 grants.

“Blue School Grants are a great way for the district to support student development in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields with our partnering local schools,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “We have funded 33 projects in the last three funding cycles, and I’m eager to see the next round of interesting, imaginative project ideas that could inspire students to pursue a lifelong passion for science.”

Up to $2,000 per teacher per school will be awarded to middle and high school teachers to enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources. Public and charter school teachers within the district’s boundaries are eligible to apply.

Grants may be awarded in three areas: fresh water resources field study, water conserving landscape projects, or water conservation community/school awareness campaigns.

Florida's dirty water tops list of woes for new chief science officer

Florida's ongoing water woes tops the list of problems to be tackled by the state's new chief science officer.

In his first press briefing Friday, Tom Frazer, an aquatic ecologist and director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, said he plans on convening a new blue green algae task force in early June. Armed with money newly approved by lawmakers, the group plans to find smaller projects that might have a more immediate fix for water quality issues in and around Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

"We do have a number of available funds to implement projects in [drainage basins] and we need to prioritize those and move forward on the best ones possible," Frazer said.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis named Frazer the state's first chief science officer to help address spiraling environmental issues. Algae blooms now regularly foul the Treasure Coast and Caloosahatchee estuary, and pollution has worsened water quality in Central Florida springs and South Florida's Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay. DeSantis has pledged to spend $2.5 billion over the next four years to improve water and earlier this month, lawmakers approved a budget that included $682 million in spending over the next year. 

New playground opens at Sylvan Lake Park

SEMINOLE COUNTY – A new playground is now open at Sylvan Lake Park. The original playground was built in 1995 and served over 200 children per week on average from local neighborhoods, daycares, and camps.

The new $145,000 playground project was funded through Seminole County’s General Fund Capital Improvement Plan. It features a Supernova Spinner and a Soccer Block Climber. The equipment is ADA compliant and includes safety surfacing. The overall design has a good balance of climbing, jumping, sliding and socializing spaces.