Water-Related News

Hurricanes are strengthening faster in the Atlantic, and climate change is a big reason why

A group of top hurricane experts, including several federal researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published striking new research Thursday suggesting that hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean have grown considerably worse, and climate change is part of the reason why.

The study focused on rapid intensification, in which hurricanes may grow from a weak tropical storm or Category 1 status to Category 4 or 5 in a brief period. They found that the trend has been seen repeatedly in the Atlantic in recent years. It happened before Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and before Hurricane Michael pummeled the Gulf Coast with little warning last fall. Hurricane Michael, for example, transformed from a Category 1 into a raging Category 4 in the span of 24 hours.

The study, published in Nature Communications, describes its conclusion in blunt language, finding that the Atlantic already has seen “highly unusual” changes in rapid hurricane intensification, compared to what models would predict from natural swings in the climate. That led researchers to conclude that climate change played a significant role.

UF researchers say people are moving away from lakes and rivers

University of Florida researchers say the U.S. population is becoming less reliant on rivers and waterways. Instead trends have reversed to an increased demand for groundwater.

Historically, populations relied on rivers and waterways for transportation, agriculture, and drinking water. But now University of Florida researchers say U.S. populations are moving toward a new source of water; and it’s underground. James Jawitz professor of soil and water sciences says with the peak of the second industrial revolution the population’s reliance on rivers and waterways reversed.

Kids sue state of Florida for action on climate change. DeSantis wants suit dismissed

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relatively green platform and his promises to prioritize the environment have received bipartisan applause since he was sworn in.

In a state where former Gov. Rick Scott banned regulators from using the phrase “climate change,” DeSantis has gotten credit for making resiliency a priority and even hiring someone to oversee efforts in the state.

But the words “climate change” appear nowhere in his executive order on the environment. And while he nods to rising seas and increased flooding, he never references humans’ role in the changing landscape.

Help plan the future of Crooked Lake Wildlife and Environmental Area

A 10-year plan for the Crooked Lake Wildlife and Environmental Area will be presented on Thursday, Feb. 21 at a public hearing in Polk County.

People are invited to the 7 p.m. public hearing at the Polk County Neil Combee Administration Building, 330 Church St., Room 431, in Bartow.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff will present the draft land management plan for the FWC-managed Crooked Lake WEA, and people will be encouraged to comment and ask questions. For more information on the upcoming local public hearing, go to MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial Conservation” then “Management Plans.”

This former cattle and citrus ranch was acquired to manage habitats critical to the gopher tortoise and other imperiled and locally important wildlife. The wood stork, sandhill crane, southeastern American kestrel, southern fox squirrel, indigo snake, Florida mouse, gopher frog and American alligator are among the native species living here. Pine flatwoods, sandhill, scrub, swamps, hardwood forests and rare cutthroat grass provide quality habitat for numerous species of wildlife.

SWFWMD to hold workshop on North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes operational guidelines

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will host a public workshop Wednesday, Feb. 27, to share information about changes to the current structure operational guidelines for the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes in Polk County. The meeting will take place at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center’s Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. Citrus Hall, located at 700 Experiment Station Road in Lake Alfred.

Lakefront residents of Lakes Conine, Fannie, Haines, Hamilton, Henry, Lowery, Rochelle, Smart and the Peace Creek Canal are encouraged to attend the meeting, which will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. There will be an open house the first hour of the workshop, followed by a presentation and open discussion.

The public workshop is a continuation of the collaboration between residents who live along the North Winter Haven Chain of Lakes and the District. In February 2018, the District also held public workshops as part of the process of reviewing the operational guidelines. Lakes Conine, Haines and Rochelle are included in the system, but do not have structures.

Members of the public interested in viewing the draft guidelines online or receiving future lake management communications can visit our website at WaterMatters.org/Structures to sign up for information and to submit comments online.

CHNEP gets $75K grant from Florida DEP

After last year’s red tide and blue-green algae epidemic in Southwest Florida, the need to protect Florida waterways couldn’t be more urgent.

One program in the business of saving and restoring these habitats is the Charlotte Harbor Natural Estuary program.

Last week, the Punta Gorda Council, representing the organization as a local host agency, approved a $75,000 grant agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for funding to be received by CHNEP.

“The FDEP has, for the past couple of years, provided that amount of funding,” said Jennifer Hecker, CHNEP executive director. “We are happy and grateful to continue to receive funding support from them.”

In their efforts, CHNEP oversees a 4,700-square-mile service area that stretches from Charlotte, Bonita Springs and Venice, up to Winter Haven.

The program’s existence is primarily based on public and privately donated funds. They also received $600,000 from the United States Environmental Protection Agency as part of the federal clean water act.

“We do a lot of work on water quality, sea grass and oyster reef restoration and preservation to protect and restore our water resources,” said Hecker. “That’s our primary objective. We also work to protect our native wildlife populations including fisheries and to engage and power the public to protect these resources through public education.”

An estuary is a tidal mouth of a large river, where the tide meets the stream. Estuaries and their watersheds that the CHNEP protects include:

  • Dona and Roberts Bays
  • Lemon Bay
  • Charlotte Harbor
  • Tidal Caloosahatchee
  • Pine Island Sound
  • Estero Bay

“We just finished a sea grass planting in the Caloosahatchee River and that has taken hold and we have first signs of (growth) in that river in a decade. Endangered manatees use that sea grass.”

Hecker said they get a variety of different state contributions as well as funds from local governments. All the cities and counties are asked to contribute in varying amounts. They also receive contributions from private citizens to help their cause.

“All these contributions help us fund different types of restoration and education initiative we are protecting,” said Hecker.

Harmful algae blooms continue to plague waters throughout the CHNEP area, according to CHNEP’s website. Nutrient pollution has been entering the area’s waterways for decades. There is no easy quick fix, but with further investments, CHNEP is determined to reduce harmful algae blooms that are fueled by that pollution.

To support CHNEP and their water preservation efforts, go online to www.chnep.org

Nearly a third of state's waters are polluted, experts say

FORT MYERS – Not a single resident in Florida lives more than 20 miles from an impaired waterway," said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper, at the first Florida Water Policy Summit last Monday.

Organized around the idea that "clean water is a basic human right," the event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day featured six speakers from local conservation groups who spoke about actionable water policy that can improve Florida's impaired waters.

And Florida has a lot of impaired waters - currently 12 million acres under Best Management Action Plans, or BMAPs, which are 15-year restoration plans required by the federal government when a waterbody is not meeting quality standards.

The Federal Clean Water Act requires each state to compile a list of waterbodies that aren't up to snuff.

Then, the Department of Environmental Protection conducts watershed assessments.

Any waterbody that doesn't meet standards for pollution is scheduled for a Total Maximum Daily Load, which is a limit for the amount of a particular pollutant that a waterbody can handle.

The state of Florida currently has 416 TMDLs, with 80 waterbodies on a waiting list to receive one, according to Maria Carrozzo, senior environmental policy specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Tom Palmer: The rest of the Itchepackesassa Creek story

Attempts to ditch and drain Florida’s landscape to turn marshes into dry farmland and to make uninhabitable parts of the state inhabitable have a long, unsavory history.

Most of the projects didn’t work in the long run and caused a lot of ecological damage in the meantime.

We’re still living with that legacy today.

For decades one of the places Ledger reporters and photographers were dispatched following tropical storms or during wet El Niño years to document flooding was the Itchepackesassa Creek basin northwest of Lakeland.

This is an area where development had been allowed to increasingly encroach into an area that may not have been suitable for much of it as people sought to escape urban noise and traffic for some relative peace and quiet in the countryside.

According to the Gazetteer of Florida Streams, Itchepackesassa Creek flows 31.3 feet downhill along a 16-mile course that brings it to Blackwater Creek, a 15.3-mile stream that eventually flows into the Hillsborough River.

During one of the flooding episodes, The Ledger published an editorial calling for an end of new construction in the Itchepackesassa Creek basin. At the time work was underway to expand The Ledger’s building. That led the county engineer to call The Ledger’s editorial page editor and jocularly suggest the newspaper halt construction on its expansion, explaining its property lies within the creek’s drainage basin, too.

The area was once much wetter.

A 1927 soils map of this section of Polk County shows a stream surrounded by extensive wetlands.

The soils outside the mucky wetlands in this part of Polk County are poorly drained, which means water doesn’t seep into the ground very quickly, so the flooding is hardly a surprise.

The relatively flat topography probably doesn’t help.

That brings me to the recent discussion about flooding in the area, Polk County drainage policy and the construction of Walker Road Park.

FWC to pause aquatic plant herbicide treatment while collecting public comment

Beginning Jan. 28, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will temporarily pause its aquatic herbicide treatment program throughout the state. During this pause, staff will work to collect public comments regarding the FWC’s aquatic plant management program.

The FWC will hold several public meetings to gather community input about the program. Specific dates and locations of these meetings will be announced shortly. Comments can also be sent to Invasiveplants@MyFWC.com.

Invasive plants degrade and diminish Florida's waterways by displacing native plant communities. Some invasive aquatic plants pose a significant threat to human welfare and cause economic problems by impeding flood control and affecting recreational use of waterways.

Go to MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats and click on Invasive Plants to find out more about invasive plant management, including Frequently Asked Questions.