Save Our Wetlands Action Alert and Update
This Thursday, October 5, is our last chance to stop the changes to the Comprehensive Plan that will impact local water quality and wildlife habitat for generations.
What is at stake?
The Comprehensive Plan is a set of goals and objectives put into policy by the Land Development Code. The proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan's Element 3, Conservation, will eliminate all but one objective under Goal 3.3. This begs the question – can the County meet Goal 3.3 when most of the objectives created to meet the goal are removed?
Goal 3.3 Protect, Enhance, and Maintain the Natural Floral and Faunal Resources of Manatee County to Aid in Filtration of Contaminants, Provide for the Preservation of Native Species for Passive Recreational and Aesthetic Enjoyment, and to Provide a Healthy Environment for Manatee County Residents and Visitors.
Caption: Manatee County's suggested Comprehensive Plan language changes for Goal 3.3. Click on the image to see the entire document.
The Comprehensive Plan changes will:
- Eliminate protection for all viable wetlands beyond those deemed deserving of protection by Florida. Currently, one of Manatee County’s objectives, which directs policy, is to protect all viable wetlands, even if they are not protected by the state. This additional protection for wetlands will be eliminated. Therefore, by reverting to the state for wetland protection rules, some of Manatee County’s viable wetlands will no longer be protected and will be developed.
- Eliminate the ≥ 50 ft buffer requirement along all in-flowing watercourses flowing into our drinking water sources. The development pressures around Lake Manatee are very high. This language change would eliminate protections for streams/creeks/branches that flow into Lake Manatee and other drinking water sources (like the Peace River). State law does not require buffers around watercourses. Thus, residential developments will be allowed to infringe on the banks of these watercourses, subjecting them to siltation, bank erosion, and contamination from multiple sources, including backyard lawn care practices such as applying pesticides and fertilizers.
- Reduce buffers from ≥ 50 ft to a minimum of 15 ft and average 25 ft for Outstanding Florida Waters and Aquatic Preserves. Outstanding Florida Waters in Manatee County include the all the bays (Sarasota, Palma Sola, Terra Ceia, etc.). Therefore, the requirement for extra mangrove protection around the bay will be lost. Instead of having rows of mangrove trees between homes and the bay, there will just be one row of mangroves. Can a single row of mangroves provide the protections necessary to withstand the next storm surge, abate the next high wind event, or provide the habitat necessary to maintain fish stocks important for the commercial, sports and recreational fish?
Caption: The Watershed Overlay Districts where wetlands and watercourses have greater protections than what is required by the state of Florida because they are connected to local drinking water supplies.
What can YOU do?
- Attend the October 5 Board of County Commission Meeting at 9 AM. Here is the meeting agenda.
- Submit an online comment before it closes on Oct. 3.
- Email your commissioner.
- Sign the Petition
Value of Wetlands Science Panel
On September 26, Suncoast Waterkeeper hosted the Value of Wetlands Science Panel, which was well-attended and provided excellent information on the value of wetlands. We invite you to take the facts communicated by the invited scientists to the Manatee County Commission on October 5.
Plans to Deepen and Widen Tampa Harbor Threaten Endangered Species
This month, Suncoast Waterkeeper and its partner organizations, Center for Biological Diversity and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, submitted comments on the extensive threat that the proposed deepening and widening of the channels leading to Tampa Harbor would cause for seagrasses and all the species that rely on them. The Center for Biological Diversity led the drafting of the comments and did an outstanding job documenting extensive evidence to back claims of harm to threatened and endangered species such as manatees and sea turtles. The group also noted the impacts that the noise would have on all marine mammals. After talking about these impacts with Minority in Shark Sciences CEO, Jasmin Graham, Suncoast Waterkeeper learned that the smalltooth sawfish, which are critically endangered, would also be impacted by this project.
We understand the importance of ports and shipping goods into to Florida. However, this port expansion is not supposed to increase traffic or the number of goods entering Florida. The only benefits in the proposal are shortening waiting times at the port and allowing ships with heavier loads. Suncoast Waterkeeper would rather have lighter-loaded ships wait for passage to protect already compromised marine life and eliminate another stressor to decreasing seagrasses.
You can read our full comments here.
Don't Swim There!
We have a new graphic that quickly and clearly communicates our weekly enterococci results so that you know where not to swim. We post our results every Friday to Facebook and Instagram. We do our best to supplement the Florida Healthy Beaches Program conducted by the Florida Department of Health.
Do you have a favorite swimming spot not monitored for harmful bacteria? Suncoast Waterkeeper is always looking for new areas to monitor. We are updating our list now, and new monitored locations will be posted next month. Stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the results from this week and visit our report card for more detailed information about each of these monitored locations.
State Water News:
How are We Doing? From the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to Waters Not Attaining Standards
On the Suncoast, we went from red tide in the spring to blue-green algae plaguing our waters for most of the summer. From Dapis pleousa (aka Lyngbya, snot grass, gumbo) in our bays to Dolichospermum circinale in Lake Manatee, we have all seen (smelled!) our changing waters first-hand. What is essential to recognize about algae is that it needs 3 ingredients to bloom – sunlight, warm temperatures, and nutrients. The only ingredient we can control is nutrients. That is why the Blue-Green Algae Task Force was formed by Governor Ron DeSantis. The Blue-Green Algae Task Force is a group of five selected scientists from around the state who recommend nutrient reduction solutions to quell the state’s growing algal bloom crisis. Unfortunately, according to the analysis conducted by Waterkeepers Florida and collaborators, most (87.5%) of the Task Force’s recommendations have not been implemented by the state legislature, and therefore, the waters are not expected to get better. In fact, we are no better off than we were before the Blue-Green Task Force was established. According to an analysis conducted by Calusa Waterkeeper, most southwest Florida counties are worse off, and Manatee County is doing the worst. That is because Manatee County is seeing a higher rate of the number of verified impaired waters between 2018 and 2020 than other counties in Southwest Florida. According to the state’s verified impaired list, 36 percent of Manatee County waters are not meeting their designated uses as fishable and swimmable. That number could potentially be higher as many of Manatee County’s creeks and branches are not regularly monitored for pollution.
Another recent analysis by Waterkeepers Florida shows that it is not just Southwest Florida waters that are getting worse, but between 2012 and 2022, the number of waters not attaining state water quality standards jumped from 19% to 45%. Waterkeepers Florida and Suncoast Waterkeeper are working with the Green AI Foundation to dig deeper into the state data to learn more about this considerable decrease in water quality.
Caption: Two pie charts showing the results from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (FDEP) Integrated Water Quality Assessment Reports in 2012 and 2022.
In summary, state water quality is decreasing, the solutions recommended by the Task Force have been ignored, and Manatee County, which was found to have water quality degrading faster than its southwest Florida neighbors, is formalizing plans to roll back protections for local waters. Taken together, this means that Suncoast Waterkeeper is getting further from realizing its vision of fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters for all.
National Water News:
EPA Restores Authority to States, Territories, and Tribes under CWA 401 Final Rule
On September 14, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final 2023 Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 Water Quality Certification Improvement Rule, which restores the fundamental right of states, territories, and Tribes to protect local water resources and support sustainable economic growth through informed and focused water quality reviews of infrastructure and development projects in impacted communities.
An essential component of the Clean Water Act, Section 401 gives states and Tribes broad water quality certification authority to protect water quality from massive projects within their borders — such as pipelines, dams, and power plants — that can harm the waters that communities depend on for drinking, fishing, and swimming.
Despite the fact that Section 401 functioned as Congress intended for nearly 50 years, the previous administration drastically weakened it in 2020. This unlawful rollback stripped state, tribal, and local governments and communities of their authority to safeguard their waters against pollution from federally authorized projects.
Overall, Waterkeeper Alliance views the final rule as a vast improvement over the former rule. Although EPA did not adopt all of the organization’s recommendations in its comments that were submitted last year, Waterkeeper Alliance is generally pleased with this outcome and will continue to advocate for regulations and policies that hold polluters accountable and prevent industries from dumping their waste into our essential water resources.
To get involved, send an email to [email protected]
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