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Water-Related News

Nine toxic Superfund sites in Central Florida waiting for EPA help

The new head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency swears he’s going to get lingering environmental disasters called Superfund sites cleaned up for good and off the books.

How cool for Central Florida, which has nine toxic catastrophes, including six of the 1,342 nationwide that are considered the worst. One is slap in the midst of downtown Orlando, and two have been on the list since 1983. That’s no typo. We did say lingering, remember?

Take Tower Chemical, for example, which is due for a fresh five-year cleanup plan in March. For 34 years, the EPA has been fighting Tower’s slew of toxins, mostly forms of the banned pesticide DDT, which today are still polluting groundwater at the site just north of State Road 50 in Clermont. Meanwhile, subdivisions have grown up nearby.

Lake Apopka North Shore repairs continue; 920 tons of material placed on lake’s levee breach

Repairs continue at the Lake Apopka North Shore, which experienced damage last month due to Hurricane Irma, according to St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWM), which controls the North Shore.

As water levels subside and assessments are completed, the district has been providing a weekly update on the status of repairs and recreation at the North Shore.

The following is the update on the Lake Apopka North Shore repairs according to a Friday, October 20, news release from SJRWM:

*Initial repairs to stop the flow of lake water through the levee breach continue to hold. To date, 920 tons of material have been placed on the breach.

*Due to continued rainfall and saturated roads, additional repair material could not be hauled to the site and the work necessary to complete the temporary repair was postponed. The work is required to help stabilize the roads/levees so that they can support the necessary heavy equipment.

*Levels on lakes Apopka and Dora remain above the regulation schedule and therefore, no pumping has been initiated. Once lakes return to normal levels, the district will begin slowly pumping water from priority areas on the Lake Apopka North Shore.

*Understanding that the North Shore is a popular outdoor recreation destination, the Red Trail, off County Road 448A, and the McDonald Canal Boat Ramp are open.

*To ensure public safety, and minimize potential damage to saturated roads, no other openings are planned at this point due to flooding and the continued presence of heavy equipment. The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive and nonmotorized Lake Apopka Loop Trail remain closed. As soon as the district determines that the public can safely access an area, it will open.

For continuing updates on district operations and recreational announcements, visit the district’s website, www.sjrwmd.com.

More information about lake levels is available at www.sjrwmd.com/data/hydrologic/#controlled.

Take look at before, after effects of sea floor following Hurricane Irma near Florida

Hurricanes can change people’s lives. A tropical system, no matter the strength can cause catastrophic damages. From a parked tropical storm producing life-threatening floods to a Category 5 compact (or huge) hurricane flattening houses -- these natural phenomena should not be taken lightly.

But did you know that there are changes that occur even in places we can’t see directly?

Get a grand tour of the NuRF on Oct. 29th

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Open House at Lake County Water Authority’s Nutrient Reduction Facility

The Lake County Water Authority will hold an open house with guided tours on Sunday, October 29 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at its Nutrient Reduction Facility (NuRF) on Lake Apopka.

Discharge from Lake Apopka is the single largest controllable source of pollution in Lake County. The NuRF utilizes off-line liquid alum injection to remove pollutants flowing out of Lake Apopka into the rest of the Harris Chain of Lakes. Alum was selected because of its reliability and history of successful use in many different water treatment applications.

The project was constructed adjacent to the Apopka-Beauclair Canal near the County Road 48 bridge and the St. Johns River Water Management District’s lock and dam facility. The difference in water level upstream and downstream of the lock and dam provides the ability to treat the Lake Apopka discharge without the need for pumps.

Once alum combines with pollutants in the water, it forms heavy snowflake-like particles called “floc” which sink to the bottom. To collect the floc, two 9-acre settling ponds were constructed. The alum floc is pumped from the ponds via a remote-control dredge to a centrifuge for dewatering. The dewatered floc can then be further dried for use in a variety of beneficial applications.

Because of its off-line design, the NuRF retains all the target pollutants and alum by-products sending only clean water downstream. The process removes at least 67% of the target algae-feeding nutrients and provides for the achievement of lake management goals for Lakes Beauclair, Dora, Eustis and Griffin. Clearer water will allow more beneficial plant growth resulting in better fish habitat and less sediment resuspension. Staff will be on hand to demonstrate how the NuRF operates and answer questions.

The open house will take place at the facility at 16100 CR 48, Mt. Dora, just west of the Apopka Lock and Dam. Parking will be available onsite. Directions and further information can be found at www.lcwa.org or by calling (352) 324-6141 ext 0.

Update: Water levels remain above average at Lake Apopka North Shore

Repairs are underway at the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Lake Apopka North Shore, which experienced damage due to Hurricane Irma. As water levels subside and assessments are completed, the district will provide a weekly update on the status of repairs and recreation at the Lake Apopka North Shore.

  • Water levels in several areas of the property remain above average. On the land immediately east of Lake Level Canal Road, water levels are about three feet above the desired level.

  • Initial repairs to stop the flow of lake water through the levee breach continue to hold. Due to wet conditions, the additional work necessary to complete the temporary repair was postponed. The work is required to help stabilize the roads/levees so that they can support the necessary heavy equipment.

  • Power has been restored to all pump stations. The district continues to monitor water levels on the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes. Once lakes Apopka, Dora and Beauclair all return to normal levels, the district will begin slowly pumping water from the Lake Apopka North Shore. No pumping occurred during the past week.

  • Planning for restoration work continues. On Oct. 10, the district’s Governing Board approved contracts for two restoration projects for Lake Apopka: a rough fish harvest from Lake Apopka and a project that supports the recovery of submersed aquatic plant species in Lake Apopka.

  • On Oct. 11, the district hosted a public meeting to present information on restoration, recreation and other activities in the area, including the Lake Apopka North Shore.

  • Understanding that the North Shore is a popular outdoor recreation destination, the Red Trail, off County Road 448A, and the McDonald Canal Boat Ramp are open.

  • To ensure public safety, and minimize potential damage to saturated roads, no other openings are planned at this point due to flooding and the continued presence of heavy equipment. The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive and nonmotorized Lake Apopka Loop Trail remain closed. As soon as the district determines that the public can safely access an area, it will open.


  • For continuing updates on district operations and recreational announcements, visit the district’s website, www.sjrwmd.com. More information about lake levels is available at www.sjrwmd.com/data/hydrologic/#controlled.

    SJRWMD awards Blue School grants to schools for water resource education

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    PALATKA — Eleven schools are receiving grant funding from the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Blue School Grant Program for projects to enhance student development in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related topics. More than two dozen teachers applied for funding this year and of them the top 11 projects were selected. The program offers $20,000 in financial support to teachers working to promote water resource protection through hands-on learning opportunities.

    “Thank you to these teachers and their schools for their commitment to educating Florida’s future leaders about our water resources,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “I commend each of these educators for supporting a legacy of water resource protection and look forward to seeing their project achievements in the months ahead.”

    Among the schools receiving 2017–18 Blue School Grant funds are:

    • Wekiva High School, Orange County, for an aquaponics project for STEM learning
    • Tuskawilla Middle School, Seminole County, for water quality field study at Lake Lotus
    • South Lake High School, Lake County, for a classroom and community awareness project

    The Blue School Grant Program, now in its second year, provides grants of up to $2,000 for a range of middle school and high school educational programs to enhance student knowledge of Florida’s water resources. Projects may include water quality improvement field studies, water conservation garden projects, classroom/community awareness and freshwater resources educational programs.

    For more details on a particular project funded through this year’s Blue School Grant Program please reach out to the media contact listed at the top of this release. For information about Blue School grants in general, visit the district’s website at www.sjrwmd.com/education/blue-school/.

    Orlando Wetlands Park: A model for wastewater treatment

    When the City of Orlando opened the world’s first large-scale wetland treatment center three decades ago, it was far ahead of the times.

    Now there are 2,000 similar centers around the world, including 600 in the United States and 35 in Florida.

    The 1,200 acres of former pastureland in Christmas can handle 57 million gallons of sewage effluent a day, which is filtered naturally through the wetlands and discharged 40 days later as drinkable water into the St. Johns River.

    The scenic Orlando Wetlands Park is like nature’s sponge, cleansing the water as it seeps into native plants that filter out harmful nutrients.

    Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, wastewater was discharged into streams, lakes or oceans. Wetlands treatment technology passes wastewater effluent, or stormwater runoff, through a natural wetland system.

    What will Florida (and its water supply) look like in 2070?

    The Florida of 2070 is at a crossroads today.

    That’s the conclusion of two reports released late last year by 1000 Friends of Florida, the University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center and the state’s Department of Agriculture. With the state’s population expected to swell to 33.7 million by 2070, almost 15 million more than identified in the 2010 Census, researchers teamed up to look at growth trends and sprawl.

    One report, Florida 2070, says if development continues on its current path, more than a third of the state will be paved over by 2070. That means millions of acres of agricultural and natural lands will be lost, to say nothing of the jobs, natural resources and quality-of-life indicators tied to them.

    Another report, Water 2070, says almost 15 million new Floridians will overburden an already fragile water supply, with water use projected to more than double by 2070.

    Robert Knight: Springs spending spree doesn’t fix problem

    In August, Gov. Rick Scott lauded his list of 40 springs restoration projects for 2017-18. The Legislature earmarked $50 million in Legacy Florida funding for these efforts. Combined with almost $16 million contributed from the budgets of the water management districts and a promised $29 million from local governments, this year’s total of $94 million could really have a beneficial impact on our “land of a thousand springs.” The bad news is that although state and local governments have already funded $300 million for springs restoration since 2013, the ecological health of Florida’s springs is continuing to decline.

    In the finest tradition of throwing money at a problem, Florida’s government is on a spending spree to provide the appearance of environmental concern. The selection of 112 “springs restoration projects” over the past four years has been conducted without transparency and with minimal prioritization based on costs versus benefits.

    The Florida Springs Institute has repeatedly requested, without success, an opportunity to assist the Department of Environmental Protection in assessing and ranking springs restoration projects. Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist’s administrations relied on the Florida Springs Task Force, a group of 28 governmental and non-governmental experts, to prioritize and allocate about $2.5 million for springs research and protection each year for 10 years. One would expect our current fiscally concerned governor to be even more careful with allocating and spending far more public money.

    Lake O hits highest level since 2005, raising concerns its dike could fail

    Rainfall from Hurricane Irma has pushed the water level in Lake Okeechobee to its highest point since 2005. Now, with more wet weather in the forecast, nearby residents fear a collapse of the 80-year-old dike around the lake.

    As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dumping large volumes of lake water out into coastal estuaries — exactly as it did last year, when those releases caused a massive toxic algae bloom that closed Atlantic coast beaches over the Fourth of July weekend.

    Meanwhile, Corps officials have stepped up inspections of the dike to three to four times a week to make sure its continuing leaks don't grow to the point of endangering people living near it.

    "We recognize that as the water level continues to rise, there is an increased risk of failure," Corps spokesman John Campbell said.

    The dike around the lake is classified as one of the most vulnerable in the nation. The earthen embankment on the south end of the lake is older, and thus more in danger of being breached, he said.

    That puts the communities south of the lake — Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay and Clewiston among them — at the greater risk for both property damage and loss of life.

    Is development draining Florida’s aquifer system beyond repair?

    "Water flow is the lifeblood of the springs, so when you reduce their flow, they start getting sick." —Robert Knight, Florida Springs Institute

    The economic benefits of development and the preservation of natural resources are continually being weighed against each other. In a state like Florida, this conversation is often a protracted — even heated — one because so much of the state’s tourism industry is reliant on keeping its beaches, parks and springs as pristine as possible. The boon delivered by tourism also justifies questions about how new construction and expanding agricultural operations could put a dent in one of the state’s biggest revenue streams.

    More than 112 million tourists visited Florida last year, a 5.9% increase from 2015, Florida Today reported. Those visitors spent $109 billion and generated 1.4 million jobs.

    And some visitors are staying.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced last month that the state had seen the number of private businesses increase by 16.5% since December 2010. While many of the net 75,449 businesses added since then are homegrown, the figure also includes those coming from out of state to set up shop. The growth in the number of businesses in the state is one contributor to its strong population growth currently.

    That’s good news and bad news for the state. The good news is that all those new people will need places to live, shop, work, learn, relax and seek medical care, which means a boost for the state's construction industry and its workers. Local and state agencies also get to collect more property, sales and other taxes as a result.

    The bad news is that the strain on the state’s aquifer system — the subterranean limestone reservoirs that provide most of the water that Floridians use to drink, bathe and water their lawns — is starting to become evident.

    Flood-ravaged Orlo Vista residents weigh selling out after Irma

    Ever since Hurricane Donna in 1960, Orange County has known Orlo Vista is in danger of flooding.

    Since then, the county has expanded ponds, dug canals and added pumps to avoid a repeat of Donna’s massive damage to the neighborhood south of Pine Hills. But the best solution — buying out dozens of homes in the area most likely to flood — was deemed too expensive and time-consuming, especially since Orlo Vista had seen practically no flooding for the past 57 years.

    But on Sept. 11, Hurricane Irma sent floodwaters rushing into 500 homes and forced more than 200 people to evacuate. The damage may point the way toward what had been thought unfeasible just last year — the multimillion-dollar job of purchasing and knocking down homes in the 10-year floodplain to protect the rest of the community of about 6,000 residents.

    District helps fund $750,000 for Winter Garden reclaimed and stormwater project

    The St. Johns River Water Management District joined city of Winter Garden leaders and others to celebrate the start of a reclaimed water and stormwater project. The district provided $750,000 for the work, which captures and stores excess stormwater, improving aquifer recharge and water quality at nearby Lake Apopka.

    “We applaud the city for embracing the use of stormwater, which is increasingly used for water supply and water resource development projects,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Chief of Staff Lisa Kelley. “We’re proud to be a funding partner on this project as we work together to ensure sustainable use of Florida’s water.”

    “The city of Winter Garden is excited to support a long-term approach to better manage our water resources”, said Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer. “This project captures more stormwater for the aquifer to benefit not just Winter Garden, but all of central Florida.”

    The project was designed out of need for additional water sources for irrigation that would not impact groundwater levels or spring flows while addressing the effect of untreated stormwater runoff on Lake Apopka’s water quality.

    Once completed, the project is expected to capture and add 2 million gallons per day (mgd) of stormwater to the city’s reclaimed water infrastructure. Located within the Central Florida Water Initiative, the project will also improve aquifer recharge, the process where water soaks from surface water to groundwater, not only benefiting the city’s water supplies but groundwater for the central Florida region.

    The diverted stormwater will also improve water quality by reducing the amount of stormwater runoff entering Lake Apopka, decreasing phosphorus loading by nearly 11,000 pounds and nitrogen by 2,000 pounds annually.

    The total estimated construction cost is $3.1 million. The district and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection each provided $750,000 in funding. The city of Winter Garden provided $1.6 million.

    For more information about the district’s cost-share program, visit www.sjrwmd.com/funding