An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Orange County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Report: Vast majority of power plants, including Stanton, violate federal coal ash regulations

A new report says that 96% of power plants nationwide -- including Stanton Energy Center in Orlando -- are violating federal regulations aimed at addressing the toxic legacy of coal ash.

The report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice says the coal ash dumps are continuing to contaminate groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic chemicals.

Coal ash is the waste that remains after coal is burned for electricity. Stanton is not at the top of the list, but Abel Russ of the Environmental Integrity Project raises concern about that.

“Some of those low-ranked sites are not necessarily clean. They might be ranked low because they don’t have enough monitoring wells, and so they don’t actually have the right kind of data.”

At Stanton, the report says monitoring wells are poorly placed for measuring contamination, a violation of the regulations. OUC, which oversees Stanton, says the coal ash landfill is safe.

Lisa Evans of Earthjustice says power plants are doing little or nothing to address the problem.

“There are solutions. There are solutions to clean up. There are solutions for relatively safe disposal. This is not a problem that can’t be solved. The problem is the intransigence of the industry in not being willing to solve the problem.”

Orange County Commissioners to approve contract for Orlo Vista flooding mitigation project

Orange County leaders are expected to finally hire a company for the long-delayed project to protect the Orlo Vista neighborhood from devastating floods like it saw during hurricanes Irma and Ian.

The contract for a company to do the work has been approved. And people in Orlo Vista should see the work start up early next year but not finished until 2024.

The flooding seen in Orlo Vista after Hurricane Ian is making this project even more important. But the county has been trying to get this done since Hurricane Irma five years ago.

The major part of the plan is making three retention ponds in the neighborhood deeper. Right now, they’re about four feet deep. This would add 10 more feet so they can handle more water in a major storm. The original plan would have cost about $10 million, and early this year, the county got the money it needed to pay for most of it from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But then the companies that could do the work said it would cost more than double, at over $20 million.

FWC now accepting applications for newly created Vessel Turn-In Program

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is now accepting applications for a recently approved and newly created Vessel Turn-In Program, a key component of Florida’s derelict vessel prevention program.

VTIP is a voluntary program designed to help owners dispose of their unwanted at-risk vessels before they become derelict. Upon approval of an application, VTIP will take a surrendered vessel and dispose of it at no cost to the boat owner. Removing the vessel before it deteriorates into a derelict condition will prevent legal ramifications for the vessel owner and will protect Florida’s valuable seagrass resources, marine life, and human life, safety, and property.

A derelict vessel upon waters of the state is a criminal offense and can carry serious penalties and fines or possible jail time.

“Acting now is the best way to prevent legal action from occurring if the vessel becomes derelict,” said Phil Horning, VTIP Administrator.

To qualify for VTIP, a vessel must be floating upon waters of the state of Florida and cannot be determined derelict by law enforcement. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the vessel.

To apply for or view program guidelines, visit MyFWC.com/VTIP or call the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600 for more information.

Health officials lift alert for blue-green algae bloom for Starke Lake (Boat Ramp)

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ORLANDO – The Florida Department of Health in Orange County has lifted the Health Alert for the presence of blue-green algae in Starke Lake (Boat Ramp). This is in response to a site visit and water samples taken from the site.

The public may resume normal activities in and around Starke Lake. Because of the fluid and organic nature of algal blooms it is possible that bloom conditions could return so the public is advised to watch for and report future algae blooms on Starke Lake.

Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov. Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide statewide water quality information to prioritize environmental transparency and commitment to action.

Expedition retraces a legendary explorer’s travels through the once-pristine Everglades

Changes in water quality will be an important facet of the expedition

In 1897, the explorer and amateur scientist Hugh de Laussat Willoughby climbed into a canoe and embarked on a coast-to-coast expedition of the Florida Everglades, a wilderness then nearly as vast as the peninsula itself and as unknown, he wrote, as the “heart of Africa.”

Willoughby and his guide were the first non-Native Americans to traverse the Everglades from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and Willoughby’s meticulous notes, charts and water samples would form the basis of scientists’ historical understanding of the legendary “river of grass.”

Now a new expedition has retraced his trek, with the goal of measuring the impact of modern humanity on a watershed that today is among the most altered on Earth and responsible for the drinking water of some 12 million Floridians.

The expedition also commemorates the 75th anniversary of Everglades National Park, which was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1947.

“We think we will see the full spectrum, from one of the most remote parts of the continental United States to one of the most urbanized parts of the United States – all in one watershed, all in one trip,” said Harvey Oyer, co-leader of the four-member expedition and the author of a series of children’s books about the historical Florida frontier. “That, I think more than anything else, will illustrate humanity’s impact from the time of Willoughby to today.”

Willoughby’s thorough work provides a tantalizing opportunity to compare conditions in the Everglades then and now. Traveling the region’s rivers and canals over six days and some 130 miles, Oyer and the team drew water samples from the same spots as Willoughby, according to coordinates he documented, sometimes from some of the most remote and hard-to-reach parts of the subtropical region.

The water samples are being analyzed at the University of Florida for the same constituents that Willoughby examined, such as magnesium and sulfates, along with nutrients now known to affect the Everglades like phosphorus and nitrogen.

The samples are also being tested for modern pollutants like microplastics, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides and pharmaceuticals. It will be a few months before the analysis is complete. The team wrapped u

How floating wetlands are helping to clean up urban waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Floating wetlands were first tested in retention ponds, the kind often located near developments to hold stormwater, to see if they filtered pollution. “The front end of it was, ‘Will they work? How well do they work? And what plants should we recommend?’” says Sarah White, an environmental toxicologist and horticulturalist at Clemson University who has worked on floating wetlands since 2006. Partnering with researchers at Virginia Tech, White found that the wetland plants she tested not only did well in ponds with lots of nutrient pollution, but the adaptable, resilient plants actually thrived. She did not always choose native plants, opting instead for those that would make the islands more attractive, so that more urban planners would use them.

Lake Advisory issued during Hurricane Nicole has been LIFTED

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The following lake advisory has been lifted:

November 9, 2022 - Orange County is issuing a precautionary lake advisory due to Hurricane Nicole.

  • Please refrain from recreating in lakes, rivers, and streams until further notice.
  • Keep boats at idle speed and be cautious of submerged and floating structures.
  • The purpose of this advisory is to protect public health and property.
  • The Orange County Sheriff’s Office will enforce Florida Statute 327.33 for reckless or careless operation of vessel as appropriate.

Contact Lakes@ocfl.net for more information.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive reopens for public use after TS Nicole

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PALATKA – The St. Johns River Water Management District is re-opening the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive for public use beginning Nov.18. The drive was closed last week due to safety concerns, including a downed powerline that blocked the drive’s exit and high-water levels throughout the property following Tropical Storm Nicole.

The drive is a one-way, 11-mile drive meandering through the eastern portion of the District’s Lake Apopka North Shore property. Visitors will want to plan for approximately one to three hours to complete the experience, depending on the usage and how many stops they choose to make along the way. Stopping is limited to designated pull-outs provided along the length of the drive.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive entrance gate is open for vehicular traffic between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. All vehicles must exit the drive by 5 p.m.

For the more information and to access an audio tour, visit our website at www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation/lake-apopka/wildlife-drive.

Orange County Health Department LIFTS Health Alert for Lake Ivanhoe

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ORLANDO – The Florida Department of Health in Orange County has lifted the Health Alert for the presence of blue-green algae in Lake Ivanhoe. This is in response to a site visit and water samples taken from the site.

The public may resume normal activities in and around Lake Ivanhoe. Because of the fluid and organic nature of algal blooms it is possible that bloom conditions could return so the public is advised to watch for and report future algae blooms on Lake Ivanhoe.

Find current information about Florida’s water quality status and public health notifications for harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov. Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide statewide water quality information to prioritize environmental transparency and commitment to action.

Orlo Vista flood mitigation project gets boost from FEMA

Orange County is moving ahead with a $23.4 million dollar flood mitigation project in Orlo Vista after receiving additional federal funds.

Residents in Orlo Vista were hit hard by heavy rain and flooding after both Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

That’s why FEMA has now donated $16.7 million dollars as of this week, to a major flood mitigation project in the neighborhood.

The project will not only deepen three retention ponds in the area, but will modernize the pump system into Shingle Creek.

Phase II of the project is expected to begin in early 2023.

The next stage of Lake Apopka’s restoration is underwater

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The skiff barely makes a ripple in the shallow water along the edge of Lake Apopka as it slowly loops back and forth. Without a breeze, the water mirrors the sky, and the lake looks as blue as it once was. The boat circles erratically as it gradually winds along the lake’s edge. It seems random, but it’s one step in the systematic efforts to restore Lake Apopka.

The boat carries 6,000 plants – all Illinois pondweed, Potamogeton illinoensis, affectionately called “pote” by Jodi Slater, an Environmental Scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District. Potamogeton is a native plant found in waterways in Florida and throughout North America.

Potamogeton is a species found in healthy lakes,” explains Slater. “To see Potamogeton become established itself and start reproducing in Lake Apopka is another indication that the water quality is improving.”

Pondweed used to be dominant in Lake Apopka but disappeared 70 years ago. With District efforts to prevent pollution and restore the lake, other aquatic plants returned naturally. “It’s hard to say why pondweed didn’t naturally come back; it may have just exhausted its seed bank,” Slater says. Now that water quality has improved to the point that Potamogeton will survive, Slater hopes that re-establishing populations along the shoreline will provide a durable, steady source of seeds.

To help re-establish the pondweed, a team of District scientists selected 48 acres, shallow sections at the edges of the lake where the plants can get enough sunlight to survive. The District worked with a contractor, AquaTech Eco Consultants, to grow and plant Potamogeton, as well as another native lake plant, eelgrass (Vallisneria americana).

Record water levels on St. Johns River pose major flooding risk in Florida (again)

As residents around the St. Johns River continued to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Ian, Hurricane Nicole impacted the area and worsened already difficult recovery efforts.

After weeks of dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Ian, Floridians who live around the St. Johns River in eastern Florida were becoming optimistic that things were finally drying out. Residents were hoping repairs could get underway soon, but all of those plans were halted, and optimistic feelings were erased as yet another hurricane approached the state.

Hurricane Ian brought devastation to communities along the river in late September, including in Seminole County which is located northeast of Orlando. It took days before those living in Seminole County could even begin assessing the damage to their properties as water continued to pour into homes.

But right as the St. Johns River started to return to normal levels, Hurricane Nicole formed and brought yet another risk of flooding to the already devastated area. As Nicole approached the Florida coast, heavy rain once again returned.

Normally, the St. Johns River water level is about 2 feet at the river gauge in Astor, Florida, a Lake County community situated about 45 miles to the north of Orlando. When Nicole made landfall in Florida on Thursday, Nov. 10, the gauge there hit 4.5 feet, which is just 2 inches shy of the record flooding set just last month during Ian.

In general, the area saw a water level rise of about 1 to 1.2 feet after Nicole.

That may not sound like a lot, but it's such a flat landscape in that part of Florida that the rise was enough for the area to jump from moderate flooding back into major flooding, AccuWeather Senior Broadcast Meteorologist Geoff Cornish explained.