June 2023 Newsletter

1 comment 01 November 2023
June 2023 Newsletter

 

Two World Mangrove Day Celebrations!

We are hosting two World Mangrove Day Celebrations and Patrol Boat Christening events to celebrate World Mangrove Day, our new patrol boat, and our supporters.  

(1) World Mangrove Day Family Celebration & Patrol Boat Christening at Sarasota Sailing Squadron

Join us on Saturday, July 29, for a fun morning at the Sailing Squadron.  We will have SUP lessons by tour guide and board member Orion Morton, dip netting with Around the Bend, sun art, and fishing lessons with Florida Sea Grant.  Plus, there will be two incredible food trucks, live music, and exclusive Save Our Bays merchandise.

RSVP on our website.

(2) World Mangrove Day Celebration and Happy Hour at Floridays Anna Maria Sound

Floridays Anna Maria Sound

Join us on Wednesday, July 26, from 4:30 - 6:30 PM for a happy hour celebration.  We will toast to all the beautiful benefits mangroves provide, our new patrol boat, and the expansion of our Eyes on the Suncoast program.

Be sure to RSVP via email by responding to this newsletter.


Don't Swim There!

We have compiled our bacteria monitoring data to grade the 11 locations we monitor weekly.  Grades are based on the percentage of weeks that the water was deemed swimmable.  According to the Department of Health, waters are safe to swim in when cell counts of enterococci are less than 70 per 100 mL.  Sites receiving A's had at least 90% of samples classified as swimmable.  Areas graded with F's had less than 60% of samples classified as swimmable. 

Table 1. Report card showing the grades for the 11 locations monitored for enterococci indicator bacteria.

Figure 1. A map and grades for the 11 monitored locations.

Click here for a more detailed report.


Nitrogen Pollution on the Suncoast

Excess nitrogen impacts native plants and animals by harming or even eliminating suitable habitats that should be present in our local waterbodies. Critical bay habitats, such as seagrass meadows, are affected by nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen fuels algal production, smothering seagrasses and blocking light essential for seagrass growth. Nitrogen is also fuel for harmful Red tide.

Thanks to the generous funding of the Mote Scientific Foundation, Suncoast Waterkeeper has been able to monitor the Suncoast for nitrogen pollution since the summer of 2021.  We have compiled the results and graded the locations based on the percentage of time they exceeded the healthy waterways threshold for nitrogen. 

Table 2. The total nitrogen report card for monitored locations across the Suncoast.  Some sites are new to the monitoring program and only have a few months of data.  Other sites have been monitored continuously for nearly two years.  Sites are monitored at least every month. 

Figure 2a.

Figure 2b.  Figures 2a and 2b are maps of Manatee (2a) and Sarasota (2b) counties showing the grades for locations monitored for nitrogen. The monitored locations were graded based on how often their total nitrogen concentration exceeded 1.65 mg/L. This threshold is based on the numeric nutrient criteria for West-Central Florida. These criteria were established with the understanding that nitrogen concentrations above the threshold would cause problems for the aquatic system.

Click here for a more detailed report.


Piney Point Given a Blank Check for Nutrient Loading into Tampa Bay

Figure 3. Piney Point discharge from outfall D-001 to the canal along Buckeye Road and Tampa Bay.

The draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for Piney Point has no interim limits on total nitrogen or phosphorous and other pollutants. Without such limits, multiple tons of total nitrogen per year can discharge into the bay, far exceeding the allocation of 0.9 tons per the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC) set by the state. Suncoast Waterkeeper and plaintiff partners are urging the EPA to enforce the 0.9-ton nitrogen allocation now, not at the end of the 5-year interim period. 

Piney Point has already impacted Tampa Bay and beyond.  A new study confirms that impacts of Piney Point are being felt at least 30 miles away in St. Joseph Sound (the study's reference site).  When investigating where the nutrients from Piney Point's emergency discharge went, the authors saw the water's isotopic signature in St. Joseph Sound. The authors also concluded that some nutrients released during the 2021 emergency are being stored in sediments across the region, which they acknowledge will be an issue for water quality for years. 

The draft permit, the first NPDES permit in over 20 years for the site, does not consider Piney Point's legacy of pollution and provides them with a blank check to continue discharging waters with extremely high nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations for at least the next five years.  Nutrient pollution must be limited NOW to protect water quality in receiving waters and Tampa Bay.

You can view the draft permit and our filed comments by clicking this link.


State Water News: Bad Bills for Florida Waters 

Update: the Governor took no action, and the bill goes into effect on July 1. Bottom line - the bill will give a free pass to industry to produce even more fertilizer that ultimately flushes into and pollutes our local waterways. At a time when waterways across the state are plagued with chronic pollution, harmful algal blooms, and fish kills - it is more urgent than ever that we prevent known sources of pollution from entering our waterways.

Update: Signed by the Governor on May 24, 2023, and became active on that day. Bottom line - SB 540 will threaten ordinary Floridians with financial ruin for exercising their right to challenge terrible development decisions legally. Unchecked growth degrades water quality, exacerbates flooding, and destroys our natural resources.

Update: the budget, including the fertilizer ordinance preemption, was signed by the Governor on June 15, 2023. Bottom line - the legislature has effectively stopped local governments from protecting their waterways from nutrient pollution by adding language to the budget at the last minute that prohibits local governments from adopting or amending fertilizer application ordinances for this next year.  Congratulations to the City of North Port for adopting a fertilizer ordinance to protect local waters just in the nick of time!  Sarasota and Manatee Counties also have fertilizer ordinances not affected by this preemption.  In both counties and the City of North Port, no one should apply fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus from now through September 30.  


The Supreme Court Delivers a Devastating Blow to Clean Water at the National Level

On May 25, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Sackett v. EPA, ruling in favor of the Sacketts and delivering a significant setback to the essential protections afforded by the Clean Water Act (CWA). This decision significantly narrows the range of waters the CWA protects and opens the door for thousands of damaging projects to move forward without any water quality protections. 

Now more than ever, it is essential that Manatee County Saves Our Wetlands by not removing local protections from its Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan.

In the wake of this decision, Suncoast Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper groups around the country have recognized the need to enhance our strategy to protect water quality by focusing on local government.  Now more than ever, local governments must draft ordinances to protect wetlands and waterways needed to enhance water quality.  All supporters of clean water must contact local government officials to ask what they are doing to protect wetlands in this new era of clean water rollbacks.  

Need help to determine what wetlands do for us?  Check out this UF/IFAS Extension article.


Federal Permitting of Industrial Fish Farms on the Suncoast

Florida fishermen; homeowner association leaders; business owners; community and clean water advocates; other concerned residents, and visitors to the Gulf Coast gathered on June 13 to protest a “bait and switch” on the terms of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit that was issued for wastewater discharge from the Velella Epsilon industrial finfish aquaculture facility. The open cage fish farm operation is planned for construction about 40 miles off the Sarasota County, Florida coast. Ocean Era, the company that requested the permit, recently informed EPA that it intends to swap out both the kind of fish to be raised and the type of facility to be constructed.

Groups challenging the permit in ongoing litigation – Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, Healthy Gulf, Recirculating Farms, Sierra Club, Suncoast Waterkeeper, and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper – sent a letter to EPA on June 7 urging the agency to void the existing permit and do an entirely new impact assessment, with a public comment period. 

The June 7 letter states:

  • “...on May 10, 2023, Ocean Era expressly acknowledged that it does ‘not intend to implement the project as currently permitted (i.e., with almaco jack or a SPM net pen system),’ and instead requested to alter both the species of fish proposed to be raised by Ocean Era (changing from almaco jack to red drum) and the type of net pen system utilized for the facility (changing from a swivel-point mooring system to a grid mooring system).”
  • “Accordingly, we hereby call upon EPA to exert its jurisdiction and authority under the Clean Water Act to revoke NPDES Permit FL0A00001 in its entirety, in light of Ocean Era’s explicit admission that it will not—indeed, as a practical matter, it cannot—implement the project as currently permitted.”

Justin Bloom, Founder and Board Member of Suncoast Waterkeeper, stated:  “Notwithstanding the major changes to the project proposal, this permit is flawed and not adequately protective of the environment and our coastal communities that rely on clean and healthy waters. The new changes are tantamount to an entirely new project and make it clear that the permitting agencies should require a new permit proposal.”

You can read the whole story in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.


Suncoast Waterkeeper welcomes new board members and staff!

We have been fortunate to attract the talent and passion of Sarah Dearman of The Recycling Partnership.  Sarah brings a wealth of knowledge and incredible strengths for organizing and leadership.  

Rob Brown, a 34-year veteran of Manatee County Government and current Principal at Suncoast Consulting & Management Services, LLC, has joined the board.  Rob brings tremendous environmental knowledge and understanding of where to focus our clean water mission.

Suncoast Waterkeeper welcomes its first and only Marketing and Communications Specialist, Samantha Wassmer!  Do you like our new look?  Samantha is bringing us into the future with unique designs.  Stay tuned for the launch of our new website and so much more that Samantha has in store.


Get involved!

Thanks to the generous support of the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, we are starting two new volunteer programs -- a Pollution Control Team and Mangrove Rangers

1. The Pollution Control Team will help report and track incidents of pollution coming in through our Eyes on the Suncoast program.  We seek supporters who can spare 4 -8 hours monthly for the cause.

2. Mangrove Rangers will help us monitor mangroves in Manatee County.  Are you an FAA Part 107 certified drone pilot?  Or do you know someone who is?  We are looking for FAA Part 107 drone pilots to become Mangrove Rangers.

To get involved, send an email to [email protected]

Like we are doing?  Join our clean water mission!

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  • Matt Leshko
    published this page in News 2023-11-01 16:29:29 -0400

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