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

Water-Related News

South Florida reservoir feared to send pollution to St. Johns River

ST. JOHNS RIVER — "You can't step in the same river twice" is a famous expression, although only partly applicable to Doctors Lake, because if you ever stepped foot in its bath-warm, lime-green waters this summer, last summer — or the summer before that — there is a chance you were ankle deep in a toxic algae bloom.

Doctors Lake, an inlet of the St. Johns, was issued a health advisory from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for blue-green algae toxins for the third consecutive summer.

Excessive concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous are the nutrients that create the algae blooms, sometimes appearing as smelly green scum along the water's surface. The sources come from fertilizer runoff, septic leakage, and sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, used in agriculture. Toxins produced by some algae blooms can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and respiratory irritation.

Lisa Rinaman of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group committed to protecting the ecology of Florida’s longest river and its inlets, is concerned about an upcoming development she believes will inevitably redirect polluted waters from South Florida into St. Johns, intensifying the frequency of algae blooms along the 310-mile river body.

The development is called the Grove Land Reservoir, a $400 million state-funded stormwater storage and treatment project planned at the headwaters of the St. Johns, which would redirect water flowing into the Indian River Lagoon by pumping 136 million gallons of water daily into the Upper St. Johns to alleviate the growing water demand in Central Florida.

State of Florida updates stormwater regulations

Governor Ron DeSantis signs updates to Florida stormwater regulations.

Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis signed SB7040 which updates environmental statutes with a number of standards recommended by the Department of Environmental protection.

The signed legislation lays out regulations that developers must comply with. Applicants seeking permits from the state must provide information through designs and plans that meet performance standards as well as meet other requirements under the revised rules.

Applicants must also demonstrate compliance with the rule’s performance standards by providing reasonable assurance through modeling, calculations, and supporting documentation that satisfy the provisions of the revised rules.5

According to an article, the legislation sets new minimum standards for stormwater treatment systems. It requires that they achieve at least an 80% reduction of the average annual post-development total suspended solids load, or a 95% reduction if the proposed project is located within an area with a watershed that contains Outstanding Florida Waters (OWF) or one located upstream.

The bill also clarifies provisions relating to grandfathered projects, or projects that have started before the bill was signed.

The bill also states that entities implementing stormwater best management practices also regulated under different provisions of the law are not subject to duplicate inspections for the same practices, and allows alternative treatment standards for redevelopment projects in areas with impaired waters.

These updated regulations come weeks after DeSantis singed the state budget that cut about $205 million in stormwater, wastewater and sewer projects.

St. Johns River Water Management District issues mandatory watering restrictions for all customers

All St. Johns River Water Management District customers now have to follow mandatory watering restrictions. This includes customers with reclaimed water service.

The St. Johns River Water Management District encourages all customers to follow the mandatory watering restrictions. The restrictions help ensure efficient use of water.

The current SJRWMD watering restrictions schedule runs from March through November during daylight saving time.

  • Residential properties with odd-numbered or no addresses may water Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • Residential properties with even-numbered addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays.
  • Nonresidential properties may water Tuesdays and Fridays.

The restrictions also stipulate that customers water only when needed and not between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. JEA recommends watering from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Water for no more than one hour per zone.

These restrictions apply to private wells and pumps, ground or surface water, and water from public and private utilities. Some exceptions may apply.

DOH-Seminole issues Blue-Green Algae Health Alert for Lake Howell

FDOH logo

July 12, 2024

SEMINOLE COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Seminole County (DOH-Seminole) has issued a health alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algae toxins in Lake Howell. The alert is in response to a water sample taken on July 10, 2024. The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Howell.

See below for prior notice, including recommended precautions.

June 28, 2024

SEMINOLE COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Seminole County (DOH-Seminole) has issued a health alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algae toxins in Lake Howell. The alert is in response to a water sample taken on June 26, 2024. The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Howell.

DOH-Seminole advises residents and visitors to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercrafts, or come into contact with waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have any contact with algae, or discolored or water that smells unpleasant.
  • Keep pets and livestock away from the area to avoid any contact with water. Waters where algae blooms are present are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should use an alternative source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts, and cook fish thoroughly.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and partners collect algae samples from reported bloom locations. After samples are analyzed at their laboratory, the toxin results can be viewed on the Protecting Florida Together or on DEP’s Algal Bloom Dashboard.


Seminole County officials say penny tax renewal will help with flood mitigation

SEMINOLE COUNTY – On Monday, Seminole County officials unveiled a reconstructed trail loop at Lake Mills Park. Officials touted the recreational area, thanking the penny sales tax for making it possible.

What You Need To Know

  • The penny sales tax is a 1% sales tax, amounting to one penny in tax revenue for every one dollar spent by consumers in Seminole County
  • The tax has been in place since 1991, and over the years has accounted for $1.8 billion in revenue county-wide, according to officials
  • The tax is up for renewal on November's ballot, and it will be up to voters on whether the tax stays in place
  • County officials say the tax helps pay for a variety of infrastructure projects, and if renewed is slated to fund flood and stormwater projects

Seminole County officials are in the middle of an informational campaign, hoping to educate voters on the penny sales tax. According to officials, the tax generated $101 million in 2022 alone.

“You can actually see when you’re leaving one county and coming into Seminole County, you can see the pavement changes,” said Commissioner Bob Dallari of Seminole County District 1. “You can see you have more trails. We have more parks. That’s all happening because of this initiative that we have with our citizens.”

Officials say they estimate about 20% to 30% of the tax is paid by those living outside of Seminole County, like tourists or individuals passing through.

Advocates say so far, Florida’s new plans to heal polluted springs still fall short

As the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) works on required revisions to its Basin Management Action Plans, or BMAPs, some environmental advocates worry the pending changes still won't do enough to restore polluted Florida waters to good health.

BMAPs are supposed to reduce nitrate pollution levels in Florida’s freshwater springs and aquifer/groundwater, per Florida’s Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. That 2016 law identified 30 Outstanding Florida Springs, mandating FDEP to create 20-year water quality improvement plans for any of the 30 OFS determined to be impaired, or polluted.

But BMAPs adopted by FDEP in 2018 don't comply with the law, according to an appellate court's ruling issued last year in a case brought by Florida Springs Council (FSC). The nonprofit advocacy group had argued Florida's BMAPs were “legally and scientifically inadequate”; after losing in court initially, FSC filed an appeal.

Ruling in favor of FSC, the appellate court directed FDEP to produce new BMAPs: ones that would actually work. The new BMAPs must specify and enforce targeted reduction amounts for each category of polluter contributing pollution to a given springshed.

AguaCulture project ‘sucking up the muck’ off the bottom of Lake Kissimmee

LAKE KISSIMMEE – An innovative water treatment company is taking on the challenge of getting the muck out of a Florida lake.

In 2022, AguaCulture successfully completed a proof-of-concept project on the Indian Prairie Canal to mechanically remove invasive aquatic plants from Lake Okeechobee, liquify them and pump the liquid through a special hose to be spread on pastures as far as 20 miles away.

That project, funded by a grant from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) proved the concept works.

A new AguaCulture project on private property on the shore of Lake Kissimmee in Osceola County is now proving that same machinery can be adapted to suck some of the muck from the bottom of a lake without creating turbidity.

Eagle Haven Ranch owner Arnie Bellini is funding the project. Bellini, the founder of the Live Wildly Foundation, is interested in large scale conservation projects, explained AguaCulture champion Mike Elfenbein, conservation chair of the Izaak Walton League Cypress Chapter.

The 3,000-acre ranch was once the site of a 350-home trailer park and was slated for more development. Bellini purchased the ranch to save a piece of wild Florida. The mobile homes are gone, and the land, which includes five different types of natural Florida habitat, is home to more than 200 native species including eagles and Scrub Jays, as well as Florida Cracker horses and cattle.

The ranch has a dispersed water project, to hold excess water from Lake Kissimmee, and is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Elfenbein said they hope to use the AguaCulture system to improve the soil in different types of native Florida land, improving the habitat for wildlife.

EPA is asked to set blue-green algae toxin standards for Florida

Federal environmental officials had recommended criteria in 2019 for two of the most common cyanotoxins, but advocates and the mayor Stuart say Florida never implemented them, nor explained their decision not to do so.

Florida’s lakes, rivers, springs and estuaries have some of the nation’s worst toxic algae blooms, which can threaten the health of people and wildlife, while costing local economies hundreds of millions of dollars.

The blooms are said to be fueled by nutrient pollution, water-management decisions and climate change.

Now, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Calusa Waterkeeper, Friends of the Everglades, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the city of Stuart have asked the federal government to set limits on blue-green algae toxins found in Florida waters.

The EPA had officially recommended criteria in 2019 for two of the most common cyanotoxins: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.

States are not required to adopt the EPA recommendations, but they are supposed to explain their reasoning for not adopting them, and the Center for Biological Diversity said the state has not done that.

Florida agriculture fuels algae blooms — how much remains unclear.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force wants data on the state's strategy for curbing farm-related nutrient pollution.

Nutrients from fertilizers and animal waste can move from Florida farms to waterways, fueling harmful algal blooms. But assessing farms’ nutrient pollution – and gauging the success of the state’s efforts to reduce it – remains a significant challenge.

That was one of the main takeaways from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force’s meeting on June 4 at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center – Suwannee Valley. The Task Force convened at the center in Live Oak to learn about the science behind Florida’s strategy to manage nutrient pollution from agriculture, the state’s second-largest industry.

The lynchpin of this strategy is a set of tools and techniques known as Best Management Practices, or BMPs. The goal of BMPs is to keep nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil where they can boost crop growth – and keep them out of water where they can supercharge toxic algae that threaten public health, wildlife and local economies.

Examples of BMPs include using precision irrigation systems, cover crops and controlled release fertilizers. Florida growers in water-impaired regions must either implement BMPs or demonstrate their compliance with state standards through water quality monitoring. The state also offers cost-share assistance to bring BMP investments, such as new equipment, within farmers’ financial reach.

But just how much these practices are reducing nutrient pollution from Florida farms is unclear – and something the Task Force would like to know.