Water-Related News

SJRWMD, SWFWMD propose new groundwater model, solicit public comment

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New model to benefit Districts’ joint work

As part of their ongoing work to ensure a sustainable water supply and protect water resources, the St. Johns River and Southwest Florida water management districts are jointly developing a new groundwater model. Known as the Central Springs Model, this tool is being designed to quantify the effects of current and future groundwater withdrawals on the water resources within north-central Florida.

The districts use models in their regulatory work, to help determine minimum flows and levels (MFLs) to preserve the health of water bodies, to warn about potential impacts from project construction and for water supply planning. The models depend on new and historical data, valuable details collected by district teams engaged in ambient monitoring throughout their jurisdictions. Models are designed to answer specific questions and once the question is identified, the pertinent data are gathered, converted to the proper data type/format for use by the computer model, compared against known factors to ensure accuracy, peer reviewed by outside experts, and simulated to provide an answer. Huge volumes of information are entered into already rigorously tested and proven models to customize each model for the region’s unique environmental and geological features.

As part of the development process, the districts seek public comment prior to adopting a new model. A draft version of the Central Springs Model is expected to be complete and ready for review in October. Once released for review, the districts will accept comments on the draft Central Springs Model through 5 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2023. Stakeholders may submit comments using an online comment tool or via email. Additional information and draft documents will be posted to this page.

Once adopted, the Central Springs Model will replace the Northern District Model (NDM) and the Volusia Model for water supply planning, MFLs development and consumptive use permitting within the St. Johns District. In the Southwest Florida District, the Central Springs Model will be used for MFL development and groundwater evaluations previously performed with the NDM for larger quantity permits to assess potential adverse impacts to springs.

To receive notifications on activities related to the Central Springs Model, email your name and affiliation (if applicable) to CentralSpringsModel@sjrwmd.com.

The map below shows the Central Springs/East Coast Regional Water Supply Planning area and the coverage of the new groundwater model.

Native Florida plants could be part of the solution to state's flooding, water quality problems

Researchers at Stetson University have received one million dollars from the National Science Foundation to help stop flooding and improve water quality in Cape Canaveral.

The City of Cape Canaveral, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Stetson University, along with city and county partners are working on the flooding solution.

Stetson researcher Jason Evans says that includes designing and building special channels called bioswales in Cape Canaveral’s Veterans Memorial Park.

Evans said these channels help to redirect stormwater that would cause flooding.

“We're going to plant it with native plants, with water-friendly plants. So it's going to be really beautiful," said Evans. "But it's designed to store and to treat a lot of the stormwater that otherwise is running down the street and would go off into the lagoon.”

Citizen volunteers and Stetson undergraduates will help monitor their progress.

“We're gonna have some planting days where we're going to plant native plants, and so the citizens can be involved in those activities," said Evans. "And then we're gonna have workshops just to kind of explain, hopefully, in layman's terms, what we're doing and why we're doing it and why it's important.”

Evans says if all goes well, the bioswales should help clean up the Indian River Lagoon, and could be implemented in other areas of the state where the threat of coastal flooding is high.

The lagoon has faced several challenges in the last few years including algal blooms, brown tides, and manatee die-offs.

Florida looks to increase number of wetland mitigation banks, credits available to developers

The state has 131 wetlands mitigation banks available today.

Mitigation credits for wetlands, while still controversial among conservationists, remain a high-demand service in Florida. Meanwhile, the state only has so much space in existing banks.

Water quality officials told Florida lawmakers they intend to open another 30 sites on top of the 131 mitigation banks already in operation in Florida. Mitigation banks today cover almost 227,500 acres of land around the state.

“The bankers are out there hustling,” said Christine Wentzel, a regulatory manager for the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Developers under Florida law may offset the impacts of projects on wetlands by buying and maintaining areas near wetlands that can be restored to serve the same ecological purpose. In a presentation to the House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee, Wentzel discussed how credits are calculated and defended the value of the program to the state’s ecology.

The state looks to grow the available number of mitigation banks as state and federal environmental officials navigate a changing legal environment. The U.S. Supreme Court in May issued a ruling governing what waters fall under the full legal purview of the United States.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency last month issued new guidelines based on that, but officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) remain in communication about jurisdictional matters.

Lakeland sinkhole off Scott Lake Road ‘active but stable,’ difficult to predict future

LAKELAND — A sinkhole just west of Scott Lake Road in Lakeland is "active but stable" as of Monday [9/11/23] afternoon, according to Polk County officials.

A substantial depression formed west of Scott Lake Road south of Fitzgerald on Friday afternoon is being monitored by Polk County, spokesman Jeff Foley said. It measured to be roughly 75 feet wide by 25 feet deep Friday afternoon and no updated measurements are available.

It is the second sinkhole to open up within three months on property owned by Acres at Scott Lake LLC and Lakeland residents Debra and Joseph Kedzuf, according to SunBiz.org. Both holes have appeared in what's marked as a future retention pond in site plans on file with the county.

It's unclear whether the second sinkhole will trigger officials to re-evaluate the developer's plans and permit for a retention pond.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District was notified of the sinkhole Friday afternoon and has personnel on site to assess the site and assess the impacts, spokesperson Susanna Martinez Tarokh wrote in an emailed statement.

"The District’s role is to assess how the sinkhole is affecting the nearby stormwater pond and to determine if corrective action is needed for the stormwater pond," she wrote. "Our staff indicated that the property owner was on site and had planned to start backfilling the sinkhole over the weekend, if the sinkhole activity had stabilized."

The state's compliance regulation staff did not have any updates on Monday, according to Tarokh, other than the water levels in the lake have remained stable since the Aug. 21 heavy rain event.

Polk County, other entities come together to form Lake Marion Scrub

Calling it a potential Circle B Bar Reserve for the county’s east side, the Polk County Commission will fund a portion of money needed to acquire 602 acres for conservation along Lake Marion’s eastern shoreline.

A benefit of the land acquisition and multi-partner project located between Haines City and Poinciana would be to eventually provide visitors with passive outdoor recreation opportunities, including over time a possible boat ramp and facilities with exhibits.

The purpose of the project is to protect water quality in the Upper Kissimmee Watershed and upland habitats, as well as protect and federal and state listed species.

The land is adjacent to existing conservation lands and about 95% pristine within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Conservation Florida and The Nature Conservancy are also providing grants for the project.

Polk County has joined into a public-private partnership to purchase and protect 602 acres of scrub along the shore of Lake Marion between Haines City and Poinciana. The project has been billed as a possible Circle B of the east.

The Polk County Commission unanimously approved on Sept. 5 more than $1.65 million toward the project. Commissioners also approved agreements to form the Lake Marion Scrub project with the other entities, including a land purchase agreement with Lake Marion Preserve LLC, the current owner of the private land.

UCF students receive $25,000 EPA grant to develop toxin biosensor for drinking water

The biosensor will be an onsite, early detector of harmful blue-green algae blooms, which are known to cause health problems in humans.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $25,000 grant to a team of UCF engineering students for the development of a biosensor that can detect harmful algal toxins in drinking water sources.

The UCF Knights – environmental engineering majors Jennifer Hughes and Lance-Nicolas Rances and environmental engineering doctoral student Stephanie Stoll, along with associate professor and principal investigator Woo Hyoung Lee – are one of 21 student teams to receive the funding through the agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Program. This program is designed to support research that addresses environmental and public health challenges.

“I am thrilled and honored to have received this award for our research,” Hughes says. “For the past year, I have focused on microcystin-detecting biosensors, and it feels great to be recognized for my undergraduate research.”

Microcystins are the most common toxins found in fresh water, and the most harmful type is microcystin-LR (MC-LR). When high levels of MC-LR accumulate in water, they form a blue-green algae bloom that can disrupt the aquatic ecosystem by depleting oxygen, blocking sunlight and altering the nutrients that marine life feeds on. In Florida, blue-green algae is a common problem due to the warm temperatures, excess nutrients and stagnant water found in lakes, rivers or ponds. When ingested by humans, it can cause abdominal pain, a sore throat or gastrointestinal distress. At elevated levels, it could lead to damage of the liver or kidneys.

To test water sources for MC-LR, samples must be transported to a laboratory where they can be examined by trained technicians. The process can be both time-consuming and costly, but the UCF-developed biosensor could solve those problems.

The UCF-developed device would be portable, cost effective and located onsite, so that MC-LR blooms could be detected early on. The device will use an antibody to detect the harmful algae, and the students are currently fine-tuning its detecting capabilities.

Biden administration restores the power of states and tribes to review projects to protect waterways

States and Native American tribes will have greater authority to block energy projects such as natural gas pipelines that could pollute rivers and streams under a final rule issued Thursday by the Biden administration.

The rule, which takes effect in November, reverses a Trump-era action that limited the ability of states and tribes to review pipelines, dams and other federally regulated projects within their borders. The Environmental Protection Agency says the new regulation will empower local authorities to protect rivers and streams while supporting infrastructure projects that create jobs.

“We actually think this is going to be great for the country,” said Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water. “It’s going to allow us to balance the Biden administration goals of protecting our water resources and also supporting all kinds of infrastructure projects that this nation so desperately needs.”

But Fox acknowledged at a briefing that the water rule will be significantly slimmed down from an earlier proposal because of a Supreme Court ruling that weakened regulations protecting millions of acres of wetlands. That ruling, in a case known as Sackett v. EPA, sharply limited the federal government’s jurisdiction over wetlands, requiring that wetlands be more clearly connected to other waters such as oceans and rivers. Environmental advocates said the May decision would strip protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands.

Polk County’s Tiger Creek Preserve is now part of the Great Florida Birding Trail

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When you want to know where to go in Florida to see native birds, butterflies and more, head for the Trail. Sites listed on the official Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail are selected for inclusion based on their unique wildlife viewing opportunities and ecological significance, educational opportunities, access for the public and resilience to recreational use. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has proudly selected 14 new sites to receive this distinction.

The Trail is a network of more than 500 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state. Every year, millions of people, residents and visitors alike, participate in wildlife viewing activities, contributing billions of dollars to Florida’s economy but the ultimate goal of the Trail is to encourage conservation of Florida’s native habitats and species.

About The Nature Conservancy's Tiger Creek Preserve: Just 20 minutes from the town of Lake Wales is the ancient island of the Lake Wales Ridge, harboring rare plants and animals only found in Central Florida. With two main entrances at Wakeford Road and Pfundstein Road, over ten miles of hiking trails offer an ever-changing array of wildflower blooms, wildlife viewing possibilities and opportunities to enjoy nature’s solace. During breeding season look for young Bald Eagles, Barred Owls, Swallow-tailed Kites or swooping Great-crested Flycatchers chasing insects in the air. Year-round you can hear Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-dove and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Look for migrant Northern Waterthrushes, Black-throated Blue Warblers or American Redstarts. Keep your eyes peeled for animal tracks on the trails’ white sand. If lucky, you’ll see Gopher Tortoises, Gopher Frogs, River Otters, Striped Mud Turtles, Pine Snakes or Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies. Named after a pristine blackwater stream, the preserve contains hardwood swamps, hammocks, scrubby flatwoods, seasonal ponds and longleaf pine wiregrass habitat—something for everyone. There are no facilities, so plan ahead. Be sure to download a georeferenced trail map at the trailhead or website and check out the bird and plant lists.

Hurricane Idalia caused widespread pollution in Florida’s waterways

Wastewater, fuel and chemicals spilled in several parts of the state as the massive storm caused extensive flooding.

While Hurricane Idalia ravaged Florida’s Big Bend region, rain and wind from the massive storm also caused wastewater leaks, chemical dumps and fuel spills in Tampa Bay and other storm-struck parts of the state.

At least 26,000 gallons of wastewater spills, mostly raw sewage, were reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as of Friday.

In each instance, the flooding was so severe that officials said it’s not possible to tell exactly how much wastewater was released. Instead, estimates were provided.

In Tampa Bay and neighboring tributaries like the Manatee River and Boca Ciega Bay, winds and high seas toppled boats, sending their gasoline into the waters below. Hurricane Idalia’s floodwaters are also being blamed for a kerosene leak that sent flammable liquid into a St. Petersburg mobile home park.

The early snapshot of Idalia’s environmental impacts, gleaned from state and federal pollution reports, underscores the typical reality following a major hurricane’s landfall: Waterways under the storm’s crosshairs get stirred with human sewage, gas and whatever else may have mixed with storm surge.