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

Water-Related News

U.S. District judge nails down decision in wetlands case

TALLAHASSEE — In a case closely watched by business and environmental groups, a U.S. district judge Friday finalized his rejection of a 2020 move by the federal government to shift permitting authority to Florida for projects that affect wetlands.

Judge Randolph Moss issued a 27-page opinion that, as he acknowledged, likely will set the stage for the case to go to an appeals court. The opinion came after a Feb. 15 ruling in which Moss vacated the transfer of permitting authority because he said federal officials had not followed required steps before making the 2020 decision.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has argued that the Feb. 15 ruling could put more than 1,000 permit applications in “regulatory limbo.” But Moss wrote Friday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to review permits as the legal dispute continues.

The 2020 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made Florida only the third state, after Michigan and New Jersey, to receive the permitting authority, which is usually held by the Army Corps.

Florida Legislature lets local governments make their own fertilizer rules, bans again

Florida cities and counties once again may pass new fertilizer ordinances and strengthen existing ones, including summer rainy season bans, since the Legislature did not extend a one-year moratorium on such home rule.

Lawmakers took no action on the moratorium during the 2024 January-March legislation session, after enacting the controversial moratorium in what critics called a "sneak attack" during the 2023 March-May legislative session.

In February, a coalition of 57 elected officials from municipalities that already had enacted local fertilizer ordinances urged lawmakers to let the moratorium expire, according to a letter they sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner.

"As leaders charged with protecting our constituents, keeping Florida’s waterways clean is a top priority," the letter reads. "Water quality is of utmost importance to our health, our environment and our economy. From the beaches to the bays, Florida’s tourism industry and local businesses require clean water."

Winter Springs city leaders say major wastewater infrastructure issues will be resolved by 2030

WINTER SPRINGS — The city of Winter Springs has had its share of water issues — from a yellowish-colored water coming from faucets, wastewater plant issues, fire hydrant maintenance and failing lift stations.

But city officials say they now have goals and timelines in place to improve needed infrastructure.

Winter Springs officials say the city is looking into operating its own wastewater plant in the coming years

A new wastewater treatment plant is scheduled to break ground in 2025 costing over $100 million

Fire Hydrant maintenance in the city is expected to be completed in next 120 days

Current Mayor Kevin McCann, who has been in office for three years, said efforts to decrease taxes on residents played a part in the treatment plant’s neglect.

“There was a drive to push down taxes, lower millage rates,” he said. “It left not acknowledging to deal with the structural issues the city was facing.”

The wastewater plant is one of those items that ultimately got kicked down the road.

“Wastewater infrastructure is in dire need of replacement,” McCann said. “(It) needs to be replaced as soon as possible.”

The city’s more than 50-year-old tanks were purchased used in the 1980sThe city will break ground in 2025 on a new wastewater treatment plant.

Cost of watering lawns in Florida? Not so bad compared to other states

California has the top 3 most expensive cities in lawn hydration.

Drive down any residential neighborhood in Florida and sprinkler systems watering thirsty lawns are a common sight. It’s simply part of Sunshine State living.

But when it comes to the cost of watering lawns, Florida is pretty affordable compared to other cities in the U.S. According to a new report by Lawnlove.com, a lawn care website, there was only one Florida metro area — Lakeland/Winter Haven, listed at No. 24 — that landed in the top 25 when it comes to the most costly places to hydrate lawns.

The study released this month considered three factors in compiling the list of most expensive cities to water lawns. Lawnlove.com considered lawn care cost, lawn irrigation cost and yard size. According to those factors, the most expensive place to water lawns in the U.S. is in Sacramento, California.

In fact, California accounted for the top three cities that were the most expensive to water lawns, with Vasalia and Bakersfield completing the trio of costliest places to hydrate property.

California had a total of six cities listed in the top 25 most expensive places to water lawns.

Judge: PACE home resilience loans must be included on tax rolls statewide

The spotlight turns on tax collectors and local governments — will they once again defy the judge?

A Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled that the Florida PACE Funding Agency program can be administered statewide, clearing the way for Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys to have access to affordable financing to protect their homes against hurricanes and rising sea levels.

But with hurricane season looming in less than two months and millions of dollars of PACE projects stuck in limbo, the spotlight turns on tax collectors and local governments — will they once again defy the judge?

Some financial experts are concerned that the continued defiance of the judge by the tax collectors could call into question ratings on the state’s municipal bonds whose repayment depends on the tax collectors fulfilling their duties.

The Leon Circuit Court judge’s ruling comes on the heels of legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Florida House and Senate that would make the PACE program even better than it already is. SB 770, which is awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis, includes key new provisions that enhance consumer protections, including reducing the maximum term of financing from 30 to 20 years, adding an ability-to-pay test and requiring that only 20 percent or less of the home’s value can be financed.

The new legislation also has an environmental benefit, allowing local governments to approve homeowners to leverage the PACE program for septic-to-sewer conversions, which will improve Florida’s water quality and protect springs and drinking water sources.

[Editor's note: PACE loans are funded by the State of Florida, with repayments collected as part of local property tax payments.]

U.S. losing valuable wetlands at alarming rate

The losses threaten flood control, wildlife habitat and clean water

Roughly 670,000 acres of salt marshes and swamps — greater than the land area of Rhode Island — disappeared between 2009 and 2019 in the contiguous 48 states, a Congressional report released last week shows, threatening key flood controls, wildlife habitats and access to clean water.

Mandated by Congress, the recent Wetlands Status and Trends report is the sixth such document since 1954. It is published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Wetland loss leads to the reduced health, safety and prosperity of all Americans,” wrote U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in the report’s preface. “When wetlands are lost, society loses services such as clean water; slowing of coastal erosion; protection against flooding, drought and fire; resilience to climate change and sea level rise.” There are also losses in fish, wildlife and plant habitats.

Not only is the U.S. losing sheer acreage of wetlands, but the rate of loss has also increased by 50% since the turn of the century, or about 21,000 acres per year. The remaining wetlands are being transformed into ponds, mudflats and sand bars; these are known as non-vegetated wetlands — a change that alters “wetland function and lead to the reduction of wetland benefits, like the mitigation of severe storms and sea level rise, and water quality improvement …” the report reads.

It’s likely that the loss of wetlands will accelerate over the next decade. Fish and Wildlife’s recent study period ran from 2009 through 2019 — before the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision that stripped environmental protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands nationwide. (In North Carolina 2.5 million acres lost environmental protection because of the decision, as well as the legislature’s passage of the 2023 Farm Act that cemented it into state law.)

Seminole County Dept. of Health issues Health Alert for blue-green algae in Lake Jesup

FDOH logo

March 29, 2024

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

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different 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 the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish to appropriate temperature.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae
For status updates, please visit the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection's Algal Bloom Dashboard.

FDEP invites public input on new water quality credit program

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is inviting the public to a rulemaking workshop Thursday [March 21st] to share feedback on a proposed water quality credit trading program.

The program would allow government entities to buy “enhancement credits” to compensate for negative impacts to water quality from development projects. An “enhancement credit” represents a quantity of pollutant removed as a standard unit of measurement, per Florida Statute.

Florida’s existing mitigation banking program relies on similar credits intended to offset negative wetland impacts from development. But Gabrielle Milch of St. Johns Riverkeeper has concerns about both programs, saying they're designed to prioritize speedy development approvals when environmental health should come first and foremost.

“It's easier to keep pollution out of the water than it is to take it out of the water,” Milch said, also adding “it's a lot cheaper.”

Milch previously worked for the St. Johns River Water Management District, where she says her role included helping oversee and enforce development permitting regulations.

Back then, in the 1980s, Milch says development permitting in Florida wasn’t perfect. But she thinks it’s worse today: “more generalized and more streamlined,” allowing for rapid, potentially unvetted development.”

FDEP’s move to establish the new program follows state lawmakers’ unanimous approval of HB 965 in 2022, authorizing the creation of water quality enhancement areas (WQEAs), for which credits may be used to compensate for a lack of water quality treatment available onsite.

City of Casselberry aiming to protect lakes

CASSELBERRY – With the coming of spring, the rainy season is not all that far away.

While our yards and landscapes need rain, some of the fertilizer and stormwater runoff can foul area lakes.

There's a new partnership in Casselberry, where they hope to keep the lakes there as clear as possible.

“This is a beneficial plant obviously for shoreline stabilization, nutrient uptake," said Nick Cooper, Casselberry's natural resources officer.

We met Casselberry's natural resources officer at Secret Lake.

From a drone, we could see just one of 24 lakes the city hopes to protect by partnering with lakefront homeowners.

They can register with the city for up to 30 plants free of charge, and the city will do the planting.