FULL TEXTS OF
When Progress Didn't Come and the People Didn't Awake
Counterpunch - by ALAN FARAGO
December 31, 2010
A Year of Foolishness in High Places.
It is hard to face the close of 2010 with an admission. I was wrong. For more than twenty years as an environmentalist and writer, I harbored the expectation that progress would come. But I did not believe it would come because we had somehow persuaded decision-makers it was time, finally, to abandon the Chamber of Commerce values that crashed the economy into a ditch. I believed that once in the ditch—an inevitability, from witnessing so much bad policy and bad results the past two decades—that people would awake. Rise and Sing!
I was wrong. I had been right about the threats. I started looking in the early 1970s in Florida, through a watery lens of water only a few feet deep covering hundreds of square miles in Florida Bay, the tail end of the Everglades ecosystem. By the late 1980's, the magnificent efflorescence of nature had been severely injured by repetitive algae blooms. Even then, scientists were chasing changes happening faster than baselines could be anchored with facts. My small layman's window on marine life in two feet of water, hosting crustaceans and shrimp and sea grass billowing out in glorious creatures from rays to sharks and tarpon and the whole coral reef, encapsulate the whole realm: oceans and a warming planet.
In other words, for twenty years I have been looking the whole time at the right thing and drawing the wrong conclusions. Right about nature. Wrong about human nature. Not that I lacked a gimlet eye for what was happening at the time. I believed that despite all the damage to our air and water, despite all the laws and their intended protections, despite the overwhelming influence of special interests, the tables would turn. Change would come, on the wings of our better natures. Here, the United States, unlike pre-war Germany, angels would prevail through what was sure to come.
In good times, people were fat, dumb and happy. Through the filter of the nation's environment-- the fierce competition to wring profit from scarcity-- you could see the train wreck coming from miles away. In bad times, I imagined, people would look more closely at what value and equity had been stripped from them and who had done the stripping. Yes, it is a low world. Yes, masses of people bought into the madness of the "Ownership Society"; the death knell of personal responsibility in the Bush era—sold as snake oil by the schemers and speculators--, but surely the public, I thought, would figure out the Wall Street game, linking up to local title companies, mortgage brokers, land speculators and assorted crooks with law degrees, had been wired to ensare them. Eventually, people would connect the dots they had neglected for so long. That's how it happened in the 1930's didn't it?
I consider myself a realist informed by Samuel Beckett. Well. We are bogged down like medieval monks arguing whether the economy is a victim of structural instability or just a periodic cycle after asset bubbles popped from which the American spirit will somehow shed obesity, ideologies coated with lard and re-invigorate; walking point for the billions of people in East Asia, India and China aspiring to our standard of living. (Tell that to the people in rural Missouri, of "Winter's Bone")
Fighting for the environment is a high order of behavior in a low world. A world that will surely need sign in the future, that a few understood the value of what had been lost and objected; standing up loudly, albeit in print that fewer and fewer read. To be an optimist under these circumstances is to invite a deranged sympathy.
Fight after fight in Florida: on land use, for the Everglades, Florida's once pristine lakes, bays, streams and rivers; their result had a massive and singular effect: to put the public further and further from those who govern. I believed that if the sentinels of carnage and destruction were brought low, if citizens were hurt badly enough, if the economy was derailed and all its components laid bare on the tracks for all to see, that common sense would find its way to daylight, that people would pull together, that the villains and polluters would be exposed and drummed out of town in their Jaguars, Mercedes, Porches and Baymach sedans, that a fresh wind would blow the tired canards, the manipulators, the Karl Roves and Roger Ailes into the back rows and cheap seats, and the stage would be wiped clean. By who? Didn't we have a president who had been, early in his career, a grass roots activist? Aren't we the change we can believe in?
I believed that if all else failed, a crushing economy based on speculation and thievery would turn the fools out. The puppeteers and the people at the hand of the inner working behind the curtain would be revealed. I was wrong, with a capital "W".
2010 did not begin well in Miami. In January Caroline Lewis, heading a project called the Fairchild Environmental Challenge for a reknown botanical garden, was summarily fired. Whatever trumped up reason used to paper over the resultant chaos, the underlying story is dismal: in less than seven years the program she had grown from nothing served tens of thousands of high school age students. In many ways, the tempest was emblematic of a horrendous year for environmental issues. Like so many boards, the directors of the garden were happy to go about the ways of a singularly insular president, attending social functions, and faithful to the prestige of a community board deemed important.
When Ms. Lewis' supporters rose to challenge the board, the board promptly changed its corporate bylaws to thwart the incipient rebellion. Ms. Lewis was fired because of her success. The innovator—on the cusp of breaking out the program for a national and international audience demanding new leaders— was terminated for building a program that challenged students to compete around themes on the environment, grounded in academics and scholarship and debate. Whatever trumped up reasons, the fact is that the programs Ms. Lewis innovated called into question the polluting business practices-- implicitly, not explicitly-- of the family business of one board member who had pledged millions for a new science center.
I doubt that the board members even blinked or knew that a large agribusiness that produces industrial-strength tomatoes for mass markets, using massive quantities of polluting fertilizer, would have a fundamental problem with a garden program that was educating tens of thousands of students to be environmentalists. In the historic Everglades—the Everglades Agricultural Area—a similar large scale producer is one of the "hot spots" of phosphorous, the constituent in fertilizer that is wrecking the River of Grass that taxpayers are spending billions to restore.
The Fairchild Environmental Challenge engaged middle school and high school students on such questions concerning the trade-off of massive pollution of Florida's water and Everglades by agribusiness and stormwater runoff from cities against the value of estuaries, bays, rivers and the Everglades. In the end, whatever excuses were used by the Fairchild board and its high-powered attorneys, sponsoring an educational program that reached into the heart of the conflict between the environment and Miami's economic elite, was unacceptable. A career educator was brought down by shameful allegations of a junior staffer, whose cause was taken up by the board president. A program that was on the verge of providing a quickly scalable model to enlighten and educate on the environment was hobbled by stripping its innovator. That sums up Miami, in 2010.
In Florida 2010 ends with the U.S. EPA under attack for its efforts to mandate nutrient pollution limits. The fact that the state is literally afloat in a sea of polluted water means little to the economic interests who profit, even in a mighty recession/depression, from polluting. I was right about the economy. But I never anticipated how a conservative elite—well funded despite the downturn and collapse of its major sources of profit tied to land speculation and development—would use an incipient taxpayer revolt embodied by the Tea Party to extend to all governmental attempts to protect the environment.
Republican Marco Rubio, the Senator-elect from Florida, is being touted by conservatives as a likely 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential ticket though he has done nothing but look good, sound reasonable, and act as the next Jeb Bush proxy in the battle to control the GOP. The media scarcely touched the point, during the Senate campaign, that Big Sugar interests – the Fanjul billionaires —strongly supported Rubio against his opponent, outgoing Governor Charlie Crist.
Crist is a sunny politician who did something no Florida elected official in modern history had ever done: he defied the Fanjul billionaire sugar barons and initiated a deal to take more than 150,000 acres from sugar production in order to help restore the Everglades. The deal with US Sugar was set up without consulting the Fanjul billionaires. For this, they waged political war on behalf of their candidate, Rubio. Although Crist has been quoted in the mainstream press as pointing to the Everglades deal as the signature accomplishment of his term, he scarcely mentioned it during the campaign nor did the mainstream media pick up the thread of its importance.
2010 also saw the defeat of a citizen's initiative to amend the Florida constitution with a petition drive that began nearly seven years earlier. Florida Hometown Democracy was cobbled together from public interest land use lawyers, Lesley Blackner and Ross Burnaman, who had spent years fighting skirmish after skirmish on local zoning issues where state oversight proved simply incapable of taming the lusty impulses of land use lobbyists joined to the hip with developers and builders of tract housing and local elected officials. Add to this formula, the constant revolving door between regulators and the regulated, and it was no wonder that land speculation became the lubricant for so much mutual rubbing. Blackner and Burnaman decided to do something about it. Their incipient citizens' revolt ran straight into the grinding, political wood chipper of the Chambers of Commerce, powerful land use attorneys, and the Florida Supreme Court. By 2010, they had exhausted their donor base just getting to the state-wide ballot after years of legal challenges and delays.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries, and big agribusiness contributed more than $15 million to knock off Florida Hometown Democracy. The measure, that would have given citizens the vote to change local comprehensive development plans, will never come again. An entire generation of activists was burnt to a crisp by the intiative. To the extent that civic energy exists now, it is in the form of the Tea Party that is against government interference in free markets without understanding that the manipulation of free markets is exactly what its funders do.
Florida's new governor, Rick Scott, comes to office with no direct experience of government except for the action of federal prosecutors who targeted the health insurance company he founded, levying the largest civil fine in US history. Without experience, he has relied primarily on Jeb Bush disciples to form his administration and agenda. That agenda, it was revealed recently, includes folding the environmental mandates of state government, as expressed through individual agencies, into a super-agency in which the dominant character is expressed by the Department of Transportation: the leviathan that environmentalists and growth management advocates—like those who mounted Florida Hometown Democracy—have battled for decades.
Environmentalists in Florida cannot draw any conclusion except that the collapsed economy—littered with foreclosures and ghost suburbs—is like a shipwreck on the coral reef. Those responsible for sailing the ship then are scavenging its remains, now. The public discourse is so low, the state legislature so dominated by the tightened noose of business and polluters, that dragging wetlands and bays and estuaries and the Everglades into the morass of unabsorbed costs left by homebuilders, land surveyors, title companies, land preparation and land speculation, lobbyists, water engineers, sewerage contractors, mortgage brokers seems at the end of 2010 to be purposeful: the whole kit and kaboodle was a wealth transfer machine unparalleled in US history leaving behind an impoverished landscape dependent on jobs tied to more impoverishment.
Today, the financial system is filled to the rafters with zombie banks and executives who took down billions for speed and efficiency in execution while staying afloat thanks to the generosity, or panic, of the Federal Reserve. Here, from the bottom of the ladder—municipal and county government—to the top, accountability is a mirage. In 2010 the Miami-Dade police department looted millions from the environmental crimes fund to buy personal computers, SUV's, and other accoutrements. It now claims no responsibility to replenish the fund. No one was fined. No one was fired.
I was wrong. Where I hoped for fresh air, for democracy, for government to abjure the kidnappers of the public interest, what came in its stead was a ratcheting down by the same special interests who caused the Fall. Without manufacturing much of anything except military defense equipment and aircraft, the United States is a Potemkin economy, with sober men of Congress and state legislatures who might as well be in velvet smoking jackets puffing on cheroots, only their stove pipe hats visible as they move back and forth, guarding the empire from behind the rampart walls.
On a brighter note, the U.S. EPA is rousing from its decadal slumber. The bad years of Clinton and Bush have been cast aside, more or less, by President Obama's determination that science and facts must guide regulations and not ideology. But the American public is largely unaware that the business interests who funded political campaigns returning control of the House to the GOP have a greater stake in throttling the EPA than they did in either health care or tax reform. They can afford health care and they can afford paying more taxes. What they can't afford is government limiting their profits by environmental regulation. The battle lines have been drawn, presaging that Florida's example of legislative attempts to kill off environmental protections in order to rebuild the economy will extend to federal regulatory authority, too. President Obama will need to draw bright lines for the American people in 2011, because the other bright lines are being drawn by an even more hostile force to the environment than the split Congress: the US Supreme Court.
Alan Farago, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, lives in south Florida. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep pushing to clean up Everglades
St Petersburg Times - Editorial
December 30, 2010
The effort to restore the Florida Everglades is closing out the year with a flourish. A federal judge in Miami threw his support this month behind a plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to build a vast new series of marshes to filter polluted runoff before it enters the River of Grass. The move came as the federal government unveiled plans to elevate additional sections of the Tamiami Trail to improve the natural southern flow of water in the Everglades, following a series of land set-asides and purchases that will help the ecosystem recover. Incoming Gov. Rick Scott should continue the support for a state-federal partnership that is worth billions of dollars to Florida.
U.S. District Judge Alan Gold said he would try to move along EPA's plan to build about 42,000 acres of treatment ponds to strip phosphorus from runoff heading into the Everglades. Most of the pollution comes from farming and fertilizer runoff, and removing it requires filter areas as well as tougher restrictions on farming permits. Gold has been right to insist that both EPA and the state act with greater urgency. His ruling dovetails perfectly with broader efforts at the state and national levels to improve water quality in the Everglades, which is essential both for the people of South Florida and for fish and wildlife.
EPA's plan complements the federal government's decision earlier this year to spend nearly $90 million to preserve some 26,000 acres in the northern headwaters of the Everglades. The move will put cleaner water into the basin, which will make ongoing cleanup efforts easier to manage while ending some of the worst agricultural practices threatening the basin. In another important move, the National Park Service announced plans this month for building an additional 5 miles of bridges along Tamiami Trail. That would augment the 1 mile of bridge under construction. The project will go a long way toward restoring the flow of water into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
The recession forced the state to scale back its contribution, but the purchase this year of 26,800 acres of U.S. Sugar property was a vital, timely start in securing land for restoration. Scott needs to keep sending the message that Florida is a committed partner. The state cannot afford to restore the Everglades on its own. Nor can it afford for the Everglades to become more polluted. A new study by a nonprofit advocate, the Everglades Foundation, finds that the $12 billion restoration could generate up to $124 billion in economic benefits and create more than 440,000 jobs over the next 50 years in everything from fishing and real estate to tourism. Federal participation is as vital to restoration as the River of Grass is to Florida. The state must hold up its end and work with Washington to see the project continues.
Sinkhole opens in Plant City
December 30, 2010
TAMPA - A new sinkhole has opened up on private property in Plant City, the Southwest Florida Water Management District confirms.
The sinkhole is about 30 feet wide and 12 feet deep, according to SWFWMD. It is located on a resident's 10-acre property on East Lampp Road.
An aquifer report for that area shows that the water level dropped more than 20 feet between December 26 and December 29; Plant City and the entire Bay Area saw below-normal and freezing temperatures on two of those nights.
There are reportedly strawberry fields north and west of where the sinkhole is located and while farmers ran sprinklers constantly overnight during the frost freeze events, SWFWMD has not said whether that is the cause of this sinkhole.
Feds endorse more Tamiami bridges for water flow
December 29, 2010
Money remains an issue, but the U.S Department of the Interior has formally endorsed another 5.5 miles of new bridges along the Tamiami Trail.
The bridges are considered a key step in bringing more fresh water beneath U.S. 41 to restore the natural flow to the southern Everglades and Florida Bay.
Everglades National Park staff previously supported the additional bridging. On Dec. 17, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it official, saying, "This proposal will benefit the environment and economy of South Florida."
Construction on a one-mile bridge along U.S. 41 to replace a paved route is under way, but conservationists consider it unlikely that single span can provide enough water flow to achieve the restoration goals.
"There are few projects that are more important to the future health of the Keys communities than the Tamiami Trail bridges," said Kirk Fordham, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation. "If we are going to recover the fisheries in the Keys, it is imperative that the flow of water is restored from the north into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay."
"Let's face it: If our fisheries collapse, tourists travel elsewhere and our economy will continue to decline," Fordham said. "We will be working with our congressional delegation, including senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to ensure this job-creating project becomes a reality."
"Everglades National Park and Florida Bay have been dying of thirst for decades for the lack of fresh water," Kahlil Kettering, an Everglades specialist for the National Parks Conservation Association, said this summer. "That's why this is so vital."
The National Park Service also noted that bridging would help reduce wildlife deaths on U.S. 41. Three endangered Florida panthers have been killed on roads this winter in South Florida.
If funded, the expanded project would result in three more bridges totaling 5.5 miles on the Tamiami Trail, the first east-west road to link Florida's two coasts in South Florida. Cost estimates for the additional bridges range from $310 million to $330 million.
The concept of improving water flow to Florida Bay by adding more bridges to the Tamiami Trail has been endorsed locally by the Monroe County Commission, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, among others.
"There is no more important expenditure than saving the Everglades, Florida Bay and the water supply for all South Florida," Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club representative in Miami, said when the proposal was being reviewed this summer.
While construction of the Tamiami Trail in the 1920s was a transportation milestone, the road actually turned into a large dam that blocked the historic flow of fresh water through the Everglades ecosystem.
This an excerpt of an article from Money Morning. You can view the full article at Money Morning, an investment news and analysis site
How Sugar Became One Of The Best Performing Commodities Of 2010
NuWire Investor - by Jon D. Markman
December 29, 2010
Stocks rose last week with all the excitement of water turning to ice in the freezer.
Sugar prices were pushed higher as Florida's crop was virtually wiped out by cold weather. Sugar cane 's efficiency as an energy feedstock, along with high demand for it in China, makes this everyday ingredient an attractive commodity that has performed very strongly in 2010. See the following article from Money Morning for more on this.
I kept hitting the side of my monitor to see if the pixels were stuck -- but no, it was just another one of those low-volume, low-drama late-December sessions that we have come to know and love.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.12%, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.16%, the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.08% and the Russell 2000 small caps fell 0.2%. Overseas developed and emerging markets were exactly the same. The liveliest U.S. sector was health care and basic materials, up 0.2%, while financials and industrials lagged, down 0.4%.
Breadth slightly favored decliners over advancers by a 3-2 margin, and the number of new highs was way down at 394 -- yet so was the number of new lows, at 34. Gold fell by 0.4%, crude oil jumped out to a new two-year high by 1.1%, to $91.51, and the grains jumped to a new one-year high as well, led by corn.
The new star of the show for commodities is sugar, which stormed out to a new high by 1.9% after word that a cold front had virtually wiped out Florida's sugar cane crop, which is the largest in the United States. As you can see in the chart above, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) representing sugar is up 140% since June alone, beating out cotton (green line), up 101%, silver (purple line), up 68%, and grains (orange line), up 58%. And of course all of these commodities have handily beaten U.S. equities (red dotted line), up 18% in the past seven months.
I wrote about the potential for sugar back in April 2006 in this column at MSN Money. It's ironic that a commodity which is given away at every restaurant in the world could at the same time become the most valuable. The main reasons: rising demand for sugar cane as an efficient feedstock for engine fuel, as well as the burgeoning sweet tooth among the rising middle classes in Asia.
Quick side note: Cane is popular as an energy feedstock in Brazil because it results in a huge net positive energy gain: about 8:1 energy output to energy input. Contrast that with corn, used in this country as the feedstock for ethanol, which requires more energy to make than it creates. Corn is an absolutely ridiculous fuel source, and yet it persists due to massive government subsidies lavished on the Midwest by politicians desperate to cultivate the farm vote.
In that column, which mind you was written four years ago, I quoted commodity speculator James Rogers as stating that the rally for sugar "hasn't even started yet, and the fundamentals are changing dramatically in a positive way. It could quadruple from here." Sugar is up about 525% from 2000, but only up double from 2006. So if Rogers was right, then it still has a long way to go. I'll look for a place to recommend the iPath DJ-UBS Sugar Subindex Total Return (NYSE : SGG) exchange-traded fund in 2011.
Economics this week revealed nothing earth-shaking. Personal income was reported up 0.3%, while consumption was up 0.4%. Durable goods orders for November fell 1.3%, a little more than expected, but most of that was a shortfall in orders for The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) planes. Outside of transportation, durable goods orders rose 2.4% in November. Initial jobless claims for last week were down a touch. Consumer sentiment was reported up to a new five-month high, which is good. And new home sales were a little disappointing - though what's new.
In Europe, the main market-driving news this week continues to be the weather. It's bad. Ach du lieber! The wire services reported late Thursday that more than 1,000 flights at Germany's major airports were canceled and hundreds more were delayed as fresh snow and ice blanketed the country. Heavy snow continued to fall in parts of England and France, creating blizzard conditions in some areas, the wires said, canceling one-fifth of flights at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport .
Travel was disrupted on the high-speed trains through the France-England Channel Tunnel and German national railway company Deutsche Bahn reported that it also struggled with packed trains and angry travelers. Freezing rain in northern Germany created more than an inch of ice on some main roads.
I'm telling you this because bad weather tends to have a heavy impact on retail sales. If both U.S. and European consumer products makers experienced depressed sales, analysts are going to be out in the next two weeks lowering earnings estimates. That could have a negative effect on stocks early in January, so let's be on our toes and ready for that.
Remember that following NIKE Inc.'s (NYSE: NKE) warning of weaker sales in China, we are already on high alert for softer sales by its fellow exporters. I suspect that Beijing's clampdown on credit is impeding retailers across China from stocking their shelves not just with Nikes but with all kinds of discretionary goods such as soaps, electronics, branded clothes and non-staple foods, like sodas.
Going forward into 2011, we need to keep a close eye on the market's 20-day average, which I have represented above in the chart of the S&P 400 Midcap Index as the four-week average to make it easier to see. Bad trouble always starts with a little trouble. And little trouble is always signaled when a weakening market trades under its 20-day average at the end of a week.
No moving-average crossover system is perfect, but these kind of momentum shifts can at least tell you to lighten up on positions and don't add anything new. You can see that the S&P 400 lost its four-week average in the winter and spring at the spots marked by the circles. It's a good time to just batten down the hatches, grit your teeth, maybe put on a short position if you're feeling frisky.
In this context, when you look at the chart it's quite impressive that the entire rally since September has occurred over the four-week average. Let's hope this continues well into the new year, while at the same time preparing to take action to protect profits in case of a stumble.
You know the larger forces at work in the market -- hedge funds , pension funds, the Syndicate, if you will -- periodically like to scare the little guys out of the market so they can scoop shares up cheap. It's mean and rotten, but that's the way it is. We don't make the rules, we just learn how to recognize and exploit them.
The most likely time for such a stumble would be the third week of January, but if those weather-related earnings cuts materialize a slip could come much sooner. The magnitude could be as much as 400 to 600 points in the Dow Jones Industrials, or -3.5% to -5.5%. That would be scary, but in my estimation not permanent -- and I anticipate recommending that you eventually use it as an opportunity to buy. We managed to do that at the August low and the November low by pointing out the clear patterns of methodical institutional accumulation amid general panic, and should be able to do it again. We just need to think like predators instead of prey.
New lawsuit takes aim at EPA water quality rules
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 29, 2010
Less than a month ago, four of Florida’s top officials filed suit against the EPA over its proposed water quality rules, a strict set of standards that would govern the amount of waste in state waterways. Now, several Northwest Florida utilities are taking similar measures, filing a lawsuit in federal court in Pensacola alleging the standards aren’t based on good science and would require extensive overhaul of treatment plants.
Okaloosa County, Destin Water Users, South Walton Utility Co., the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority and Panama City are the five plaintiffs listed in the Dec. 16 lawsuit.
Several state governmental and utility agencies have cried foul over the EPA’s standards, part of which are slated to be established by August 2012. Many have argued that the criteria are too strict to be practically enforced, and would require a massive overhaul of utility plants and lead to hefty utility bills.
But environmentalists argue that current standards, which measure nutrients in loads, are inefficient, and that cost projections of the forthcoming criteria are massively overblown. In fact, an investigation into internal emails of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection revealed that many of the cost projections used to argue against the criteria were not only disputed within the department, but were written, in part, by those on the payroll of the affected utilities.
Crist: 'It was a difficult time to govern'
St. Augustine Record - by Mcclatchy News Service
December 28, 2010
TALLAHASSEE -- He rode a wave of optimism into office four years ago, but Gov. Charlie Crist leaves behind a very different Florida when his term expires next week.
Crist himself has changed, too. Long stripped of his once-sky high popularity and no longer a Republican, he departs as a failed United States Senate candidate with his political career finished for now, his future uncertain.
As Florida's 44th governor, Crist goes down in history as the first who could have sought reelection and didn't, an option since 1968 when the constitution was amended to allow a second term.
He chose instead to pursue ambition over a long-term policy agenda, with devastating personal consequences. As a result, his record has an unfinished feel.
Crist cites the economic downturn that steadily worsened during his four years in office as the defining moment.
"It was a very difficult time to govern,'' Crist said as he flew over North Florida on the state aircraft recently. "But it's also a great joy to try to steer the ship of state in turbulent water. It was bouncy. It was rough.''
It's still rough.
Foreclosures and bank failures still plague the state, and the economic impact of the Gulf oil spill is not yet fully realized.
The unemployment rate of nearly 12 percent is more than three times as high as it was when Crist took office, and above the national average. Crist will soon join the ranks of the jobless, but with extensive connections and a law degree, he won't be out of work long.
No single accomplishment of Crist's shines above others.
The self-styled "people's governor'' will largely be remembered for style more than substance, for making the capital a more civil place and for treating others with respect and dignity, except for the insurance and power companies that Crist bashed regularly with populist abandon.
"The populist theme -- that was his trademark,'' said J.M. "Mac'' Stipanovich, a lobbyist who has advised several governors. "He had the endurance to play that song every day.''
Environmentalists, gun owners and open-government advocates generally give Crist high marks, while social conservatives, school choice advocates and rock-ribbed Republicans are among his harshest critics.
Janet Bowman of the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group, praised Crist for bringing attention to climate change and the need for renewable energy in the first half of his term.
But when the recession took hold and "green'' politics lost its luster, Crist stopped advocating changes in energy policy.
Bowman says Crist's advocacy of buying U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration marked an important step, even though the project was downsized for economic and political reasons.
Most of all, she says, Crist was open to the point of view of environmentalists. "The level of engagement with the Crist administration was very high,'' Bowman said.
The environment offered Crist valuable exposure last April when BP's oil well began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. He responded vigorously to the threat posed to Florida's beaches and its tourist economy, and made the most of a political opportunity.
Reversing his previous openness to offshore oil drilling, Crist practically lived on the Panhandle coast, with news cameras trailing him everywhere. But he pushed too hard when he convened a special legislative session last July, demanding that hostile Republican lawmakers put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot to ban drilling. They summarily voted it down.
Crist himself listed "changing the tone'' as a major success, along with creating the state's first Office of Open Government to guard against secrecy. He points with pride to the diversity and integrity of top appointees at state agencies. He says he has no regrets about appointing former chief of staff George LeMieux to a U.S. Senate seat that eluded Crist himself, even though the two men had a painful public split after the governor bolted from the Republican Party.
CHANGE OF TONE
"I'm not the kind of person that holds personal grudges,'' Crist said. "Life's too short for that.''
Crist's deft hand at hiring capable aides provided the first real stability in decades at the Department of Children & Families, resulting in increased adoptions and greatly reducing the agency's error rate in processing requests for food stamps.
The Democrat Crist hired to run DCF, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, recalled Crist's marching orders.
"What he wanted was transparency and to get rid of the lawsuits. The cloud was off the agency,'' said Butterworth, whose own trusted advisor, George Sheldon, has run DCF since 2008. "He gave us direction.''
Crist's insistence on switching from touch-screen to optical-scan voting in 2007 largely ended the mockery of "Flori-duh'' as a place with unreliable ballot counting systems. And he led an effort to make it simpler for many former felons to regain their civil rights, though the streamlining remains hampered by a lack of resources at the Parole Commission.
Crist also resolved a decades-old dispute with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over the right to run gambling casinos.
The compact with the tribe, made under federal pressure to reach an agreement or have one forced upon the state, broke a Crist campaign pledge not to expand gambling, but resulted in Florida getting some money out of the deal. Crist said at the time it was the only responsible thing to do, under the circumstances.
And he was the first Florida governor to appoint a majority of the state Supreme Court.
As a boss, Crist was easy to work for, people from his administration say. If his predecessor, Jeb Bush, tended to micro-manage, Crist was a hands-off leader.
"He didn't interfere,'' said former Secretary of State Kurt Browning. "He turned me loose and, I hope, trusted me enough to do my job.''
If Crist didn't micro-manage, he did show flashes of blind loyalty, refusing to discipline agency heads who abused travel privileges. And paradoxically, the same Crist with a keen eye for talent to run state agencies gave Florida Jim Greer, the disgraced former Republican Party chairman now awaiting trial on felony counts.
He remained loyal to the tainted Greer, long after the ex-party boss had lost all credibility with Republican leaders.
BREAKING WITH GOP
Slightly past the midway point of his term, Crist sealed his fate by deciding to run for Florida's open Senate seat in 2010 rather than seek reelection. His poll numbers tanked, he drifted to the center in pursuit of Democrats and independents, and ultimately left the Republican Party, losing to a bright new GOP star, Marco Rubio.
"Hubris, vanity and ambition,'' Stipanovich said of Crist. "Like Icarus, he flew too high,'' referring to the character in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun.
An early warning sign of this was on display in 2008 when Arizona Sen. John McCain toyed with the idea of making Crist his vice presidential running mate. For a while, Crist seemed blinded by the national spotlight and appeared to regard the state's highest office a stepping stone.
Crist's leftward drift in his final year in office was punctuated by his veto of GOP-backed bills requiring an ultrasound before an abortion and eliminating tenure for public school teachers. This earned him the enmity of conservative leaders.
They include Orlando lawyer John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, who says Crist always put form over substance.
"He was committed to no 'first principle' except the principle of advancing his own political career,'' Stemberger said. "In the process, he lost all credibility and respect among Floridians, earning himself permanent retirement from the very positions of public service he so longed for.''
What Crist liked to call an "evolution'' resulted in a liberalization of his views on a range of issues, including abortion and allowing gays to adopt children, that struck many as driven more by politics than conviction.
One area where Crist remained consistent was support for gun owners' rights, notably vetoing a legislative raid on a concealed weapon application trust fund.
"He never failed to do the right thing when it came to the Second Amendment,'' said lobbyist Marion Hammer of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the state's NRA affiliate. "We always knew exactly where he stood.''
Lobbyist Brian Ballard, who played a major role in Crist capturing the Governor's Mansion in 2006, voiced the disappointment shared by others, calling Crist's one term "a wasted opportunity'' by a largely decent and caring public servant.
"Charlie could and should have been a two-term governor, and could have accomplished great things. I think it takes two terms to be a great governor,'' said Ballard, who was chief of staff for a one-term governor, Bob Martinez, two decades ago. "Charlie gave away that opportunity.''
The act that defined Crist's tenure more than any other was his embrace of President Barack Obama in Fort Myers in February. The gesture closely linked Crist to Obama in the public mind as the president's popularity was sinking in Florida.
Soon the emergence of the tea party movement further complicated things for Crist, who was viewed by many as a "RINO'' -- Republican in name only.
"He got caught up in that wave,'' Ballard said. "Frankly, as soon as he reached over and touched the president, his time in statewide office was probably over, and that's a shame. You don't go down in the pantheon of great governors without being validated by the voters.''
A career politician who held four different offices in a little over a decade, Crist, 54, said he has not given much thought to plotting a political comeback.
In recent days, he has packed up his belongings at the stately Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee and plans to return to his hometown of St. Petersburg after the holidays to begin the next chapter of his life with his wife, Carole, who plans to keep her home in Miami.
"Growing up, I never imagined being governor of Florida," Crist said. "The fact that that even happened is still amazing to me.''
Deal with Cocoa would give Rockledge more reuse water
Florida Today - by REBECCA BASU
December 28, 2010
Cities negotiating contract to share reclaimed resource.
Officials in Rockledge and Cocoa are working on an agreement that could result in more reuse water made available for existing customers.
Cities negotiating contract to share reclaimed resource
Rockledge has struggled to meet the demand of its 1,448 customers who rely on the water for irrigation and other non-potable uses. Cocoa, meanwhile, often has more reclaimed water than its 1,980 reuse water customers need so lets the excess runoff flow into stormwater lakes because it lacks storage capacity.
The agreement would allow Cocoa to store excess runoff water in a deep well that Rockledge has at its wastewater treatment plant. With more reuse water available, Rockledge should be able to meet customer demand better.
"The key is if one of us has excess, we can send it to the other one. (Cocoa has) tended to have a lot more excess. They have too much and have to dump it into lakes. And we could take some of that and meet the current demand, which we've been struggling to meet," Rockledge City Manager Jim McKnight said.
The cities already have completed the work to connect their reclaimed water systems along U.S. 1 and now discussions are down to the water exchange and compensation, McKnight said. The cities shared labor costs, including the construction of a new 12-inch reclaimed water main along U.S. 1.
Cooperating with Cocoa on the project is well worth it, Rockledge Councilwoman Colleen Stuart said.
"It makes a lot of sense in light of our shared border and U.S. 1 plantings," she said.
Although the project would make more reclaimed water available for Rockledge to use, McKnight said it's too early to tell if that would allow Rockledge to expand its number of customers.
Rockledge has been in the process of revising its rates for reclaimed water from a flat rate to charging customers based on water usage. McKnight said a proposal for a rate structure is expected to come before the Rockledge City Council in the next few weeks.
Concerned Cocoa resident Friley Knight had raised the issue of whether Rockledge is paying its share for water, as reclaimed water has been used to water the new medians on Rockledge's portion of U.S. 1.
"Rockledge will be paying," said Jeff Thompson, Cocoa's deputy director of utilities operation. "It is being metered. All the flow is being kept by accounting, and Rockledge will be billed."
Kelter again attacks EPA water quality rules
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 28, 2010
After coming under fire for lobbying to block EPA water quality standards and fueling a war of words with the St. Johns Riverkeeper in The Florida Times-Union, Clay County Councilman Mike Kelter is again blasting a set of water pollution standards he says are the result of “capricious and arbitrary lawsuits filed by environmental lobbyists.”
In a Dec. 22 letter to the editor in Clay Today, Kelter again had harsh words for the Riverkeeper’s Jimmy Orth, writing that he and Orth differ in their approaches to advocating clean water:
I don’t spend my days cruising the river in a boat. My days are spent with pipefitters, welders, masons, electricians. … Most of the men and women I work with would rather be on a boat enjoying the river, but the work they are doing is creating real reductions in nutrient pollution while putting groceries on their family dinner tables and helping them pay their taxes.
I don’t do lunch with attorneys between motions in lawsuits. I go to the Mom and Pop restaurants where Pop is flipping burgers and fretting about increasing food costs to his business, and where Mom is serving coffee to small family farmers who lament the increasing costs of maintaining crop yields and delivering Florida-grown food products to the restaurant for Pop to cook.
In his letter, Kelter touted the use of Florida’s Total Maximum Daily Load program, the system currently in place for measuring water pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus. The state’s leading environmentalists have long said that the Daily Load program is inefficient, arguing that it has failed to prevent widespread algal blooms and fish kills.
According to Kelter, these problems are a result of legal hang-ups. Kelter again mentioned the cost associated with implementing a stricter set of standards, citing extravagant estimates that have been disputed within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection:
When all of these improvements are completed, cities, businesses, and taxpayers will be up to their ears in hock for water quality improvements that meet the current TMDL. None of these improvements will meet the unrealistic, scientifically-unsound standards being proposed in EPA’s numeric nutrient rules which Mr. Orth supports. If Mr. Orth and Riverkeeper have their way, the cost of the Numeric Nutrient rules will become even more expensive.
Kelter ended his letter by writing that, although he normally doesn’t support lawsuits “as an effective way to clean up the government,” he does support a suit recently filed by Attorney General Bill McCollum, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Bronson and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Putnam that seeks to do away with the EPA’s nutrient criteria.
Home builder must pay $460,000 for wetlands violations
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
December 27, 2010
Failure to follow through in creating a promised wetlands `preserve' resulted in one of the stiffest penalties levied in such cases.
When one of South Florida's largest home builders received a federal permit seven years ago for a development called Islands of Doral, the approval came with some conditions.
To compensate for destroying 415 acres of maleleuca-infested wetlands in West Miami-Dade County, Century Homebuilders agreed to set aside another 47 acres and create a wetlands preserve by removing the exotic species and replanting with spikerush, pond apple and other native foliage.
Century never completed the job.
Under the terms of a settlement approved this month by U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King in Miami, the builder now must perform the wetlands work it originally pledged to complete and pay a $400,000 fine plus $60,000 in other regulatory fees -- an unusually stiff penalty in a wetlands-violation case.
Ignacio Moreno, an assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Environmental and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement that the case showed the federal government's commitment to enforcing wetlands-protection laws.
``The substantial penalty and other relief obtained in this case underscore a message to all builders that they must meet all conditions of the permit,'' Moreno said in a news release.
Century executives -- company president Sergio Pino, who signed the settlement called a ``consent decree,'' and Cesar Llano, vice president of land development -- did not respond to several telephone messages left in the past few weeks. Neither did Mitchell Widom, a Miami attorney who represented the company in the federal civil case filed in December 2009 by the Justice Department on behalf of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In its response to the complaint, the company admitted it had not done much of the required wetlands enhancement required under the Corps permit, which included clearing invasive plants, building protective berms and planting more than 100,000 native plants. But it provided no explanations and also denied many of the alleged violations, including an allegation that it illegally filled one acre of the intended preserve when it dumped rock fill on surrounding lands to build the housing project.
The settlement, citing evidence from the developer about ``the limits of their ability to pay,'' gives the company two years to come up with the $400,000 fine -- $50,000 within six months, an additional $180,000 by Oct. 1, 2011, and $170,000 by the following Oct. 1. Century must also purchase $60,000 in wetlands ``mitigation credits'' that will be applied toward an ongoing wetlands-restoration project in Everglades National Park.
The Corps has been criticized over the years by environmentalists, Congress and government watchdog agencies for its lax oversight of so-called ``mitigation'' projects. Such projects are intended to offset development of wetlands by improving the environmental quality of other sites or even creating new wetlands.
In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report that found the Corps did a poor job of determining whether developers followed through with promised work and rarely inspected the restored or constructed wetlands. In 2008, the Corps overhauled its policies.
In a written response to e-mail questions, the Corps' Jacksonville district said it first brought up the incomplete work with Century in 2006 ``and sought to informally resolve the noncompliance issues for the next three years.''
The fine ranks among the largest levied in recent years in such cases -- at least in Florida. In 2009, the Corps hit a Tampa-area developer with a $300,000 fine and 18-month work suspension for clearing an acre of forested wetlands and dumping muddy discharge into a creek that feeds into the Hillsborough River, a main source of drinking water for Tampa.
Royal Gardner, vice dean of law at Stetson University in Gulfport and a former Corps attorney on wetlands laws, said in an e-mail response to questions that, in the past, the agency focused more on illegally filled wetlands. Cases against builders that failed to performed promised mitigation projects were rarer, he said.
``If this is a fine for failure to do mitigation, then I'd characterize it as a significant penalty and a great precedent,'' he said.
Deal backs reservoir plans
The Walton Tribune – by Robbie Schwartz
December 26, 2010
Gov.-elect calls for water project funding.
In a year when the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir went from breaking ground to becoming a “shovel ready” project, any glimmer of hope is welcome.
That small glimmer came recently when, in his first major speech to state lawmakers, Gov.-elect Nathan Deal called for legislative action to help build reservoirs in the state when the new session begins Jan. 10.
Despite a potential $2 billion budget shortfall, Deal said he will ask for the budget to include borrowing for new reservoirs and the state should not wait for a water sharing agreement with Florida and Alabama related to the tri-state water wars.
This is good news for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, which has acquired more than 50 percent of the land needed for the project, has done most of its engineering studies with dam and water intake facility designs in hand and, more importantly, coveted permitting from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
“I am excited that Gov.-elect Deal sees the critical need in Georgia for reservoirs,” said Walton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Little. “This should be good for the Hard Labor Creek project because there is no other reservoir as far along with the permitting, land purchases or just all aspects.
“We have not at this time been in contact with Gov.-elect Deal’s office or staff but will be doing so early in 2011.”
But this is a position the reservoir project has been in before. In 2008, the reservoir was touted as a potential solution for water shortages following a federal judge’s ruling restricting Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier by 2012. Alabama and Florida have been at odds with Georgia over water flow from the Chattahoochee River for almost three decades.
At that time, Gov. Sonny Perdue wanted to set aside millions for water projects. Hard Labor Creek Reservoir officials met with the governor as well as representatives from Gwinnett County about perhaps building the project from the outset to its fullest capacity to meet regional needs. But the economy started its downward trend and state lawmakers have tightened purse strings since.
But state funds could be what the project needs to get started, as officials have adopted a wait-and-see approach, waiting to see a greater need arise for the project.
“If the state was interested in helping make Hard Labor Creek a reality sooner than Walton or Oconee can make that happen, the yes, we would definitely look into pursuing that option,” Little said. “Having water ready and available will be critical in the years to come for Georgia.”
But shortly after Deal made his statement, a team of researchers from colleges in the Southeast said building reservoirs is not the best way to quench north Georgia’s growing thirst for water.
John Kominoski, a researcher at the University of Georgia’s School of Ecology who participated in the study, said because of the topography of the area, reservoirs are too shallow and lose water quickly because of evaporation, reducing water availability downstream. The research team noted supply challenges of the Southeast as well as the extreme drought conditions which have surfaced over the past decade attack the efficiency of reservoirs and that conservation and other steps are more efficient.
Little said there will need to be a balance to meet future needs.
“I think reservoirs do lose water to evaporation, but that is the only way we currently have to maintain the water needs for the people,” he said. “I agree with better water strategies and the state is moving forward with these measures. Educating the people on water conservation and reclamation is going to take years, though.
“Water is the most critical need for survival, and I feel that the county as well as the state will do everything possible to supply this need using every measure of technology available.”
Completely built out, the 12-billion gallon Hard Labor Creek Reservoir will have a capacity of producing 62 million gallons per day of drinking water and will encompass 1,416 acres. The regional water supply is a joint venture of Oconee and Walton counties and has its own management board. Both counties have bonded out about half of the approved $150 million in first-phase funding, the bulk of which has been spent on land acquisition. Work this year has centered on 47 acres of wetland preservation or enhancements, 28,900 linear feet of stream preservation, 10,000 linear feet of riparian restoration and 22,000 linear feet of channel stabilization being done among all the mitigation sites. With an overall price tag of $2.9 million, all of the sites are expected to be complete by mid-2011.
Don't depend on recent Everglades Restoration study
Sun Sentinel – by Jose L. Gonzalez
December 26, 2010
I recently had a chance to do an initial review of the Mather Economics report, commissioned by the Everglades Foundation, referenced in your editorial, "Everglades restoration: It's the economy, stupid," on Dec. 14.
Associated Industries of Florida has a keen interest in Everglades restoration and, as such, is conducting a comprehensive peer review of the assumptions and conclusions outlined in this report.
As we await the final results of our review, I cannot help but cite the last paragraph of the Mather study, which states in part, "…while readers may criticize or disagree with our assumptions and techniques here, any such complaints will fall on deaf ears unless a superior alternative is proposed. Put bluntly, we will not accept criticism that simply says, 'Your assumptions are wrong.' Let the critic propose adequate or superior alternatives. What this means in practical terms is that our work need not be perfect in order to be useful and acceptable. It just needs to be better than the rest."
I'm not sure how much the Everglades Foundation paid for this study, but they might want to get their money back. If anyone put an "escape" or "C.Y.A." clause like that in a study I had commissioned, my board would have every right to run me out of town. Our peer review has no obligation to propose any alternative — that is a false premise. It simply has the moral obligation to tell me if the assumptions and, hence, the conclusions from this particular study are valid and corroborated.
New Florida Clean Water Standards
Marco News - Ecology Matters by Duke Vasey
December 26, 2010
This line of reasoning is called Occam's razor. It's used in a wide variety of ways throughout the world as a means to slice through a problem or situation and eliminate unnecessary elements. But what we call the razor is a little different than what its author originally wrote. There are two parts that are considered the basis of Occam's razor and they were originally written in Latin:
--The Principle of Plurality: Plurality should not be posited without necessity.
--The Principle of Parsimony: It is pointless to do with more what is done with less.
Taken together, they represent the basis of humanity's investigation into the universe and the way we see our environment is largely based upon Occam's razor. There's no telling what kind of world we would live in today without Occam's razor. Would we have the Internet? Would we have inoculations?
Consider simple systems in nature, like viruses and plants, and their ability to carry out complex tasks such as infection and photosynthesis. We value these simple models. And when it comes to man-made systems, we tend to base structures upon what we already know works.
The new water quality rules to reduce contamination from sewage, manure and fertilizer in Florida’s fresh water streams, rivers and lakes is important to our ecology. Those pollutants can trigger toxic algae outbreaks and the green slime is harmful to people, aquatic plants, fish and wildlife--the simplest explanation to us—water quality is a function of planning and monitoring processes. All of which points to the principles of “plurality” and “parsimony.”
If you have a detention/retention area, you can work towards improved water quality and meeting the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Florida clean water standards by understanding the complex ecosystem and the importance of a management plan and monitoring plan.
July 2013 isn’t that far off.
One thing's for sure, big change is coming to Florida
TBO.com – Highland Today
December 26, 2010
Rumors are cranking up about Governor-elect Rick Scott and what he's going to do. Depending on where you're at politically, that's all very good or the beginning of the end. The only thing for sure is that the way our state operates is about to change in a significant way.
We're hearing Scott wants to open The Everglades to more ATV use. That consumer electric bills will go up so commercial business electric bills can come down. That our environmental laws will be kicked to the curb and that if you're a business, you have it made. If you're a citizen, brace yourself. And teachers, the coming years are going to rattle your cages.
We don't know if any of this is true. We do know that Scott is planning big, fundamental changes, and we believe changes are needed. Whether Scott's ideas are what's best is yet to be seen.
A lot of love shown to Scott during the campaign will quickly evaporate if electric bills start climbing while business electric bills go down. But a lot of love will flow his way if Florida's economy rebounds with gusto. We believe that's a tall order no matter what, but we want and need jobs.
One thing Scott needs to do is quit criticizing people who are out of work. People on his transition team have said these folks need to try harder to find a job. The fact is, there are numerous applicants for every job available. And thousands of people have lost jobs through no fault of their own.
Of course people take advantage of the system. Plenty of rich people also take advantage of the system. Making blanket criticisms about people following the worst recession in 80 years isn't a bright thing to do.
We want to give Scott the benefit of the doubt for now, though. He deserves it. He won the election and he's going to be leading our state for the next four years at least. Let's hope he's successful. But let's also hope he doesn't do irreparable damage. One thing's for sure, if he does, we have a feeling Floridians won't waste time booting him right back out of office.
Scott appointments could affect U.S. Sugar options, water district’s future
Naples Daily News – by ERIC STAATS
December 26, 2010
NAPLES — On the campaign trail this summer, Rick Scott stood outside the South Florida Water Management District offices in West Palm Beach at a tea party rally and protested the district’s plan to buy U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration.
Now governor-elect, Scott will have a chance to turn his protest into action.
The district’s governing board, which is appointed by the governor, has two vacancies and two more members’ terms expire in March.
Scott’s four appointments could create a bloc of votes that could tie up decisions about whether to proceed with the U.S. Sugar buyout.
Gov. Charlie Crist pushed the U.S. Sugar deal, which eventually was scaled back because it was deemed too expensive in a tough economy.
Scott called the deal a political favor that puts the interests of a single company above taxpayers’ interests.
In August, the district’s nine-member governing board approved a deal to buy an initial 27,000 acres for $197 million with a series of options over the next 10 years to buy another 153,000 acres.
The initial acquisition closed in October and now the district is weighing options for using the land to treat and store water for the Everglades.
The vacancies and expiring terms will leave only four of the six members who voted for the deal in August on the governing board unless Scott reappoints them.
Another member of the governing board, Joe Collins, abstained from the August vote, citing a conflict of interest because his employer, Lykes Bros., does business with U.S. Sugar.
If Collins continues to abstain from votes involving the U.S. Sugar buyout, Scott’s appointees could create possible 4-4 votes if the governing board takes up the options laid out in the August deal.
No votes are scheduled, and the 10-year option would outlast Scott, even if he won a second term.
Miami attorney Eric Buermann, the chairman of the governing board, said Scott’s appointments could mean a change of course for the deal.
“I don’t think that’s far-fetched at all,” Buermann said.
Buermann’s term expires in March along with the term of Charles Dauray, who represents Southwest Florida on the board.
Board member Patrick Rooney Jr. resigned to run for the Florida House last year, and board member Shannon Estenoz is taking a new job with the Interior Department handling Everglades initiatives.
The four appointments won’t be Scott’s last chance to remake the governing board.
Two more board members’ terms expire in 2012, two more expire in 2013 and another expires in 2014.
Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said the appointments are about more than U.S. Sugar.
“Our plea to the governor is to appoint people who will put the public interest first,” he said.
Scott’s transition office issued a statement saying only that he is “reviewing all appointment opportunities.”
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats
Thousands of weed-chomping carp released into Sunrise canals
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN
December 26, 2010
They pour -- literally -- into South Florida by the thousands every winter, but unlike more familiar seasonal visitors, this group comes looking for something besides balmy weather.
They're here for the hydrilla.
Water managers on Tuesday released about 12,000 Asian grass carp into the C-42 canal system in Sunrise, the latest annual infusion of a fish with a voracious appetite for the exotic vegetation that clogs the region's drainage canals.
``Grass carp are the most economical way for us to manage plants,'' said Ellen Donlan, a senior scientist with the South Florida Water Management District. ``They are cheaper than chemicals and they are cheaper than the manpower to apply the chemicals.''
The fish, now less than year old and a foot long, can live 10 years or more in South Florida's canals, and grow fat and happy on their vegan diet. Some can top 40 pounds and occasionally reach a whopping 60. They'll take the biggest bite out the canal during their initial year, as they grow, said Donlan, who manages the carp program for the district.
``They're like teenagers,'' she said. ``They eat and eat and eat.''
Unlike Burmese pythons and other exotic species that have pushed into wild areas at the expense of native critters, these farm-raised carp are specifically bred not to spread. They are produced from roe exposed to pressure shocks that leave the adult fish unable to reproduce.
Hydrilla, an Asian exotic plant that grows rapidly, is their primary food, but they will also target other aquatic vegetation. Because they could potentially also dine on native plants that provide food and shelter to indigenous fish, the state bans them from use in the Everglades, the Kissimmee River or other natural areas. They are frequently used in lakes, ponds and canals.
The triploid grass carp are related to silver carp, whose leaps when they are spooked have injured boaters and skiers in some states. Grass carp aren't known to exhibit similar dangerous traits.
The district has been importing carp for about 15 years without problems, said Donlan. The district picks canals each year that are heavily choked with aquatic plants that can restrict the flow of storm water and potentially increase the risk of flooding.
Though the carp work for free, they are not exactly cheap. The fish, which cost about $3 each, were trucked from Arkansas by a company called Mr. Fish in a $275,000 rig equipped with an array of stainless steel tanks, with temperature controls, water filters and oxygen systems.
For that reason, catching and eating them is illegal, Donlan said -- though some fishing magazines have written articles with tips for catching fish much bigger than the native lunkers.
``Because we buy them for flood control, you're kind of defeating the purpose if you catch them,'' Donlan said.
Fla. Oceanographic lectures to be combined with field trips
TCPalm - by Lisa Bolivar
December 25, 2010
Fla. Oceanographic lectures to be combined with field trips
STUART — Bird watchers and environmental advocates will be able to attend a new series of combined lectures and field trips at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center starting in January.
The center, located at 890 N.E. Ocean Blvd. in Stuart, will for the first time combine classroom discussions with hands-on field trips for subjects such as the Jan. 13 "The Everglades Past and Future," taught by Mark Perry, executive director of the center and state co-chair of the Everglades Coalition.
That lecture includes a canoe tour at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for $35 for center members and $45 for the general public.
Ellie Van Of, director of education and exhibits at the center, said that the lecture series has been so popular that they decided to expand it and add some excitement.
"It's always been my thought that if you can get out into the field with the scientist, then the lecture really comes to life," Van Of said. " so this gives them an up-and-close with both elements, scientist and out of doors."
Van Of said the lectures are aiming at their topics from different directions, combining classroom with real life and interactive learning. Some of the field trips have limited seating, so signing up in advance is a good idea, Van Of said.
While patrons of the center are learning about the local ecosystems, Van Of also takes something away for herself.
"I love interacting with visitors. They come from all over and when you first approach them, you never know where they came from, and you get a different perspective, you get a deeper appreciation of our coastal systems (through their observations)" she said.
What is Van Of's favorite topic this time? She is somewhat of a star gazer.
"The last lecture is 'The Ocean Meets the Sky,' that's on astronomy and that one the lecture and the field experience are on the same night," she said with excitement, adding "we will move from the lecture to outside and set up the telescopes!"
Florida Oceanographic Society Lecture Series are held on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Education Room at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center located at 890 N.E. Ocean Blvd., Stuart, FL 34996. Reservations are not required for lecture series, however sign up is required for follow-up field experience. Call 772-225- 0505
Lecture Series - Mark Perry "The Everglades Past and Future" Thursday, Jan. 13, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"The Everglades Past and Present" Field Experience Saturday, Jan. 15, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Cost: $35 for members/$45 for non-members. Transportation and Canoe tour at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Pack a lunch. Must register. Maximum of 36 participants.
Lecture Series - Ellie Van Os "Counting Crows (and Other Feathered Beasts!)" Thursday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Bird watching at Florida Oceanographic Field Experiences Saturday, Jan. 29, 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Category: Max. 12
Lecture Series - Christine Bedore "Visual and electrosensory capabilities of the cownose ray" Thursday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"Behavioral sensitivity of the cownose ray electrosensory system" Field Experience Saturday, February 12, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Lecture Series - Kyle Bartow "Life in the Dark: Fishes of the Deep Sea" Thursday, Mar 10, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"Life in the Dark: Fishes of the Deep" Specimen Lab Sat, Mar 12, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Specimen LAB $10 members/$15 non-members –- Must register, Max. 20
Lecture Series - Jeff Beal "Living on the Ledge: the Amazing Corals of St. Lucie Reef, Martin County" Thursday, Mar 24, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"Living on the Ledge" Field Experience Saturday, Mar 26, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Must register Max. 30
Lecture Series - Hilde Zenil "Sounds of the St. Lucie" Thursday, Apr 7, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"Sounds of the St. Lucie" Field Experience Friday, Apr 8, 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Must register Max 30
Lecture Series - Steve Rusnak and Larry Crary "The Ocean Meets the Sky" Thursday, Apr 14, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Tallahassee Water on List for Toxic Chromium 6
WCTV.com - by Julie Montanaro; AP; Lanetra Bennett
December 24, 2010
Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson calling for EPA study, guidelines on chromium-6
Updated 12-24 6:36pm
The City of Tallahassee has now hired a consultant to review the findings of a report released earlier this week that show the city's tap water is contaminated with chromium-6.
The report that says Tallahassee has chromium-6 in the drinking water says the metal is potentially hazardous.
But, there are some scientists who say there's not much to back it up.
Now, a consultant for the City of Tallahassee and a U.S. senator are stepping in to help sort it out.
Tallahassee resident Barbara Jackson said, "I do drink the tap water."
Now that a report says that Tallahassee's tap water is contaminated with hexavalent chromium, Jackson's daughter, Crystal Green, says it's more than just her mother drinking from the tap that has her concerned.
Her mother's breathing machine requires water, too.
Green said, "To use that for something that's actually going to help prolong her life and then we're adding in additives that could be cancer-causing, it cancels everything out. For me it's a big concern."
The Environmental Working Group says Tallahassee ranks 6th out of 31 cities which have the chemical known as chromium-6 in it.
Tallahassee's water quality managers say they are not required to test for it.
Tallahassee Water Quality Manager Jamie Shakar told Eyewitness News on December 21st that, "The Tallahassee water is safe. It meets all the regulations."
A statement just released by the city says: "The City asked for laboratory information as the results reported by EWG are in conflict with more than 50 samples collected annually by the City. As such, the City has contracted with a consultant to review the EWG findings and report back."
Jackson said, "Until they tell me definitely 100 percent safe to drink then I probably will not really use the tap water much. I'm not quite sure how safe it really is."
Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wants some answers too. He wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency secretary this week, saying: "I would urge the agency to develop a Safe Drinking Water standard and monitoring program for this metal."
Green said, "Having that stamping from the EPA is just like having the FDA on your food. So, I think we definitely need that stamp of approval to let us know that our water is okay."
Tallahassee water quality managers say they do test water samples every day for the presence of more than 20 metals, including chromium.
But, again, they are not required to test for chromium-6.
We will keep you posted on what the city's consultant reports back, as well as if and when Senator Nelson's letter sparks any guideline changes.
UPDATED 12.23.2010 4:20pm
Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is calling on the EPA to conduct a nationwide study and establish a rule requiring water systems to check for a toxic form of chromium known as chromium-6.
The senator’s requests come after the nonprofit Environmental Working Group did its own review and found chromium-6 in 31 of the 35 cities whose water it sampled.
Nelson was among a small group of senators who met with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Senator Nelson's letter is attached above.
[UPDATE] 12-23 9:30AM --
City of Tallahassee Statement:
The City of Tallahassee today reaffirmed the high quality and safety of its municipal water supply. This reassurance is given in the face of a report recently issued by a national environmental advocacy organization with concerns over possible contamination in municipal water systems from a compound called hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6.
Chromium occurs in many different forms in the environment and is a naturally occurring component in tap water. It’s also an essential micro-nutrient for human health The City tests drinking water for total chromium which includes, if present, chromium-6, one of several forms of the compound. The presence of chromium-6 in the environment is typically associated with heavy industrial activities generally not found in Tallahassee. The recent report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) cited the Erin Brockovich case, in which a man-made industrial by-product was improperly disposed. This is not the same issue as naturally occurring chromium in the Tallahassee area.
However, the City does conduct rigorous testing of its water supply for compounds like chromium. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have set a drinking water standard for total chromium (all forms including chromium-6) at 100 parts per billion (ppb). The annual water quality report for the City of Tallahassee contains vital information on the City’s drinking water and is available online at Talgov.com/YOU. The annual report shows the 2009 total chromium range between non-detectable and 2.5 ppb, with these values far below the EPA’s requirement of 100 ppb.
“For over a century, our citizens have received the finest drinking water delivered by the City of Tallahassee,” said Mike Tadros, general manager of Underground Utilities. “We provide our customers with safe water, under the vigilant scrutiny of our Water Quality Division, and we ensure it is well within all applicable federal and state guidelines.” Tadros added that in addition to being safe, Tallahassee’s water has also been recognized as the “Best Tasting Water” in Florida, as surveyed by the American Water Works Association.
The City’s Underground Utilities operates a State-certified and nationally recognized Water Quality Laboratory that is responsible for providing 24-hour monitoring of the water production and distribution system. The City also maintains an aggressive aquifer protection program to protect the groundwater source of Tallahassee’s drinking water, the Floridan Aquifer.
Laboratory information is usually shared among scientific groups, which allows proper review of sampling and data. EWG has refused to provide the data that went into its report. EWG had a volunteer collect a single sample and is attempting to base regional policy on that single sample. The City asked for the laboratory information as the results reported by EWG are in conflict with the more than 50 samples collected annually by the City. As such, the City has contracted with a consultant to review the EWG findings and report back.
A December 21 statement from EPA regarding chromium-6 is available online at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/9A9BDA12333B623385257800007E5C84 .
Additional information on chromium from EPA can be found at http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/chromium.cfm .
[UPDATE] 12-22 7:00AM --
WASHINGTON (AP) --
The chemical made famous in the movie "Erin Brockovich" now comes into view on a far wider scale.
The cancer-causing substance chromium 6 has been detected in tap
water in more than 30 cities throughout the country, a chemical
commonly discharged from metal plating plants, steel and pulp mills
and leather-tanning facilities.
Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are calling on the
Environmental Protection Agency to protect the public from chromium
6. And Boxer plans to co-sponsor legislation to set a deadline for
the EPA to establish an enforceable standard for the chemical. The
Senate's environment and public works committee will also hold a
hearing on the issue come February.
Studies show chromium 6 can cause cancer in people, and damage
the gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes and liver of animals.
UPDATED 12.21.2010 by Julie Montanaro
A new study which shows a known carcinogen in Tallahassee tap water is the talk in kitchens all over town.
The city says its water is perfectly safe and that it will look to the feds to set the appropriate guidelines for chromium-6.
Emily Geyer says she and her family drink water right out of the tap all day long. That includes sippy cups full of the cold stuff for her daugthers ages three and one.
A report released Monday by the Environmental Working Group shows Tallahassee has a contaminant called Chromium-6 in its drinking water ... registering at 1.25 parts per billion .... that's 6th on a list of 31 cities sampled.
"My immediate concern was for my kids. They're growing up with this and I don't want that in their drinking water," Geyer said.
We visited the City of Tallahassee's Water Quality lab. Chemists there test water samples every day for the presence of more than 20 metals, including chromium. The water quality manager says the city is not required to test for hexavelent chromium and will take its lead from the EPA which sets guidelines as needed.
"They have people who can review the science behind the parameters and what are cancer causing or hazardous to us, so, if there's a level that needs to be set I would look to EPA and DEP at that point," Jamie Shakar said.
Shakar says the city does test for total chromium and registers one part per billion a far cry from the 100 ppb's allowed.
"The Tallahassee water is safe. It meets all the regulations. We test it every day," Shakar said.
"Does that assurance mean anything to you?
"No, I don't think it does. I'm still going to go out and buy a filter. We're going to start filtering our water because I don't want to risk that for myself or for my children," Geyer said.
The City of Tallahassee has requested documentation and detailed lab results from the EWG, so it can review them further.
To read the study for yourself,
A study by the Environmental Working Group found levels of Hexavalent chromium, more commonly known as chromium-6, in drinking water in 31 of the 35 cities it tested, including Tallahassee.
The highest levels were in Norman, Oklahoma, Honolulu, Hawaii and Riverside, California.
Tallahassee's drinking water registered 1.25 ppb for Chromium-6
Tallahassee's water quality chief, Jamie Shakar, points out that Chromium-6 is not regulated by the state of Florida or the EPA. He says Tallahassee looks to those agencies to set healthy standards.
Shakar says the state of Florida and the EPA do regulate "total" chromium, which has a maximum allowable level of 100 parts per billion. Tallahassee's drinking water has a total chromium level of one part per billion, Shakar said.
Fla. DEP asks Cape to provide more detail about north spreader canal
News-Press - by Don Ruane
December 23, 2010
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is asking the city for more details about how water flowing around a proposed boat lift and barrier in the north spreader canal might impact the area.
“Our concern is the unintended consequences of water movement,” said Jon Iglehart, director of the agency’s local district.
Dye tests this fall showed some different flow patterns than other studies done over the past two years for a task force that studied whether a new lift and barrier should be installed to improve water quality. Another dye test will be conducted in January and additional studies by the city might be needed, he said.
Opinion is split over whether science supports the need for the structure. The project is expected to cost about $4.3 million. The spreader canal helps to filter water from northwest Cape Coral before it flows to Pine Island Sound.
Birding Tours Popular In Hendry
December 22, 2010
Thousands Visit Hendry To Watch Birds.
CLEWISTON, FL. -- The South Florida Water Management District and its partners at the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society recently celebrated five years of bird-watching tours in a wetland that cleans water flowing to the Everglades. The popular trips featuring recreation on public land at Stormwater Treatment Area 5 will continue in 2011.
Audubon volunteers, with support from the District, have led 108 individual tours with more than 4,250 birders and photographers from across the world at the site in Hendry County. Stormwater Treatment Areas are the water-cleaning workhorses of Everglades restoration, and many have become renowned havens for wildlife.
More than 187 species of birds from endangered Everglades snail kites to great egrets and tens of thousands of individual birds have been documented at STA-5 alone. To enhance the experience at the wetland, the District constructed a multipurpose bird watching platform that is fully accessible to disabled residents and visitors.
"STA-5, 'the Birding Oasis of South Florida,' is increasing in popularity with birders and photographers of all ages. Reservations for tours are made by vacationing bird watchers months in advance," said Margaret England, President of the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society.
England and a team of volunteers lead the tours two Saturdays a month, with special events in between. They recently hosted Danish birders, and the tours earned a feature in the April 2009 edition of Birder's World Magazine.
The birding experience is not only limited to guided tours. Many Audubon volunteers and tour goers also participate in the Spring and Fall North American Migration Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, the Big "O" Birding Festival and the Christmas Bird Count.
The latest season of tours has already begun, and trips are scheduled well into 2011.
Upcoming Birding Events:
February 5 – STA-5 Bird Tour
February 19-21 – Great Backyard Bird Count
March 23-26 – Big O Birding Festival
Emcor unit wins $79M Army contract
NewsTimes.com – by Michael C. Juliano, Staff Writer
December 22, 2010
Emcor Group Inc., a Norwalk-based mechanical and electrical construction and facilities services provider, said a subsidiary won a $78.9 million U.S. Army contract for a pump station in the Everglades.
Harry Pepper & Associates of Jacksonville, Fla., will build and install the station, which is a system that slows the flow of water through existing canals for redistribution, at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Picayune Strand restoration project, the Faka Union Canal pump station, in Collier County.
Harry Pepper, a privately held infrastructure project company with annual sales of about $100 million, was acquired by Emcor in October.
The contract is "fairly significant" for Emcor in that it shows the company is making progress in its goal to get into large municipal water projects, said John Rodgers, an analyst with D.A. Davidson & Co., who covers Emcor and owns stock in the company.
"This is pretty good evidence that they're getting there," he said. "Hopefully, this is a signal of more to come."
The contract also gives Emcor a solid foothold for possible future contracts related to the Everglades project, said Rodgers, who gave the company's stock a "buy" rating.
The company's stock, which has gained 11 percent so far this year, rose 15 cents to close at $29.83 on Wednesday.
Emcor reported a net loss of $175.6 million, or $2.64 per share, for this year's third quarter, compared with a net income of $40 million, or 61 cents per share, for the year-ago period.
The Faka Union Canal pump station, roughly the length of a football field and about a third as wide, will have a capacity of 2,650 cubic feet per second, and work in conjunction with two other stations at Merritt Canal and Miller Canal. The work will principally consist of installation of diesel-powered and electric pumps, bridge cranes and other equipment, excavation and construction of tie-back levees and canal plugs.
Begun in January, the Picayune Strand endeavor marks the first phase in the restoration of the Florida Everglades by returning natural water flow across 85 square miles in western Collier County that was drained in the 1960s to create a subdivision called Southern Golden Gates Estates. To date, seven miles of Prairie Canal have been filled and 65 miles of adjacent roadways have been removed with spreader canals, the plugging of 40 miles of canals and the removal of 227 miles of road.
Sugar Company's Claims a Bit Too Sweet
Walletpop.com-Green Police.-by Sally Deneen
December 22, 2010
Filed under: Food, Shopping, Green, Consumer Ally
The people who help bring you Domino Sugar, C&H sugar and Jack Frost have carved out a successful green niche with Florida Crystals' natural sugar and organic sugar, "sustaining the environment" and being "sweet to Mother Nature," according to the product web site. But critics say the wealthy sugar barons of the Fanjul family are helping to ruin an international treasure -- the Florida Everglades.
"It doesn't surprise me that they have gone to great lengths to fabricate stories of how green they are," says award-winning conservation biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University, a longtime Everglades researcher. "They stand out as a textbook example of how governments subsidize their product -- by maintaining price supports -- and then how the public, literally, is responsible for cleaning up their mess."
This view is echoed by environmentalists who've fought Big Sugar for decades, most famously the late Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She coined the term "the river of grass" to describe the Everglades and railed against Big Sugar as one of the marsh's main killers. Florida Crystals and its predecessor, Flo-Sun, have been perceived at times as lone holdouts standing in the way of various Everglades fixes, whether it's fighting a federal push to regulate the phosphorus pollution pouring off its fields or something else, as seen here and here.
The Fanjuls presided over and helped expand the sugar industry in former Everglades marsh in a big way since they fled to the United States after having lost their Cuban sugar fields in 1959 to newly installed dictator Fidel Castro.
"We really want to be as green as we possibly can be," Alfonso Fanjul, Florida Crystals' politically powerful chief executive, told The New York Times, which noted that the company has invested heavily in alternative energy. But his brother Pepe added, "You have to have a balance between the environment and economic development. Something has to be done for the humans, too." Overall, though, the introduction of sugarcane obliterated nearly one-quarter of the natural Everglades, and sends polluted runoff water into what is left of it. There's no question the Fanjuls' Florida Crystals shares that history.
Who's right ? Is Florida Crystals green ?
Green Police looked into the company web site's claims about the environmental "benefits of growing sugar cane." Here's a look:
Claim: Wildlife Support. Sugar cane "provides an excellent wildlife refuge and habitat, second only to rice, which is grown in rotation with our sugar cane."
What we found: Just 11 species -- including a Cuban lizard that seems to push out native lizards -- were found to be "abundant" among the 243 different birds and other wildlife counted over the years in the vast farm fields of the Everglades Agricultural Area, which is where Florida Crystals grows sugarcane. That's according to a species checklist contained in an October 2010 University of Florida report conducted with financial backing of the sugar industry. Of the 18 species of mammals spotted over the years, only five were deemed "common" -- three of them rodents. Fewer than half the birds were seen using sugarcane fields, which cover most of this agricultural region. However, many birds take advantage of fallow sugar fields, especially if they are flooded, and many use rice fields, which also are flooded. The researchers, Elise Pearlstine and Frank Mazzotti, concluded the habitat is "valuable" and "an important part of the South Florida landscape."
The farmlands of the historic Everglades do "not offer anything of similar structure to Florida's disappearing forests and woodlands, but there is semi-permanent or permanent brushy habitat along many of the canals and fallow areas," states a 2003 UF-produced fact sheet on Everglades birds. Citing earlier work by other scientists, the fact sheet continued: "Agriculture cannot be considered a replacement for natural habitat." Agriculture, it says, "is still an alteration of the natural Everglades system..."
So, are the sugar fields and canals and roads that dominate the landscape an "excellent" wildlife refuge ?
"Total rubbish," says Pimm, the Duke biologist. "'Excellent compared to what ? A parking lot?...What [sugarcane fields] replaced -- the Everglades -- is our country's most important wetland, indeed an internationally recognized wetland, teeming with wildlife, some of it unique."
Claim: Soil Conservation. "Sugar cane is a perennial and therefore stabilizes soils over the entire three-year crop cycle, as small seeded crops require land preparation and plowing annually."
What we found: Even without yearly plowing, soils are generally considered to have disappeared through the years at an average rate of 1 inch to 1.2 inches per year in the Everglades Agricultural Area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Because so much soil has disappeared after drainage exposed it to air, Florida sugar is effectively grown in a giant hole. Soils in cane fields continually deteriorate as long as the historic marsh is drained to grow sugar. Sure, sugarcane isn't as damaging of a crop as vegetables, in part because the water table doesn't have to be lowered as much. And, yes, Florida Crystals pioneered experimenting with a rice crop with saturated soils as a rotation with cane, which might further conserve soils.
Yet, "all farming on muck soils is what amounts to a 'mining operation,'" explains critic Charles Lee of Florida Audubon, who has been embroiled in the saga for decades. USGS says "sustainable agriculture in the Everglades would require at least zero subsidence," and "the eventual demise of agriculture in the Everglades has been predicted for some time."
Claim: Nutrient Absorption. "When phosphorus-laden water enters our farms from [Lake Okeechobee], the sugar cane acts like a sponge absorbing the nutrients."
What we found: If sugarcane acts like a pollution sponge, why did the government build huge pollution-filtering marshes downstream of sugar farms? And why are even more planned ? The water that leaves Florida Crystals' fields and neighboring farms flows into huge specially built wetlands ("stormwater treatment areas") before reaching the fabled Everglades. And yet so much phosphorus pollution reaches the Everglades that it has been undergoing a significant shift in its native plants and animals, according to studies (see here and here).
Gaston Cantens, Florida Crystals' vice president, blames dairies and other farms farther north for sending polluted water into Lake Okeechobee, which in turn is used to irrigate his fields during dry months. It's true cattle pollute the lake. And it's true that his company and other farms have taken steps to reduce pollution. But too much still reaches the Everglades and it's disingenuous to entirely blame dirty lake water.
Sugar fields rely a lot more on rain -- so much so that three times more water leaves Everglades-area farms than is provided to fields by the lake, according to annual averages for the past decade provided by water consultant Thomas MacVicar, whose clients include Florida Crystals. The "sponge" claim is off-base, says critic Lee, declaring: "Liar, liar pants on fire."
In the end, Florida Crystals claims credit for being the only company to mill organic sugar in this country. Yes, it's been called home to North America's largest biomass power plant, producing enough energy from sugarcane waste and wood waste to power a sugar mill, refinery and 60,000 homes. Yes, such steps help the company come off as greener than competitors. Certainly the Fanjuls don't see themselves as Everglades villains, and MacVicar isn't alone in his view that sugar fields make more compatible neighbors for what remains of the Everglades than, say, cities.
But organic sugar represents a fraction of the company's offerings on store shelves. As The New York Times put it, "if you buy Domino Sugar, you're buying from the Fanjuls." Further, for Florida Crystals to claim that growing cane "sustains the environment" sounds like sugar-coating to cover a bad taste
To Defenders, Some Earmarks Are Sound Politics
NPR - by Greg Allen
December 22, 2010
As GOP leaders in Congress consider whether to ban earmarks, there are some willing to speak up for the practice. In Florida, they include environmentalists concerned about finding money for Everglades restoration and local officials with big projects to fund, such as the dredging of Miami’s port.
There are few places in Miami more important to the region's economy. It's one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the nation. But Bill Johnson, director of Miami's port, has really just one thing he wants to talk about now: a planned dredging project to accommodate massive cargo ships that will soon use an expanded Panama Canal.
"It would finish before the Panama Canal [expansion] opens in late 2014," Johnson says.
Finish, that is, if the project receives $75 million in federal money. To lock in his funding, Johnson has been making his case for the federal dollars to anyone who will listen. Recently, Johnson met with Florida's incoming governor, Republican Rick Scott. Scott says he likes what he hears about the Miami port expansion but wants to study it. As for funding it, Scott says: "I don't support any earmarks on the federal level."
Earmarks have a long and checkered history in Florida and in national politics. Senators and representatives have traditionally inserted special provisions in bills that designated federal dollars for favored projects — everything from courthouses to highway construction. Yes, there are bridges to nowhere and many other examples of abuse, but Johnson says not all earmarks are bad.
"If you look historically at the Port of Miami, most ports in America, all of our ports were built through earmarks. It's how the U.S. Army Corps is budgeted and funded. It's like, all of a sudden, earmark is a dirty word," Johnson says.
An Everglades Project
A good place to see your earmarked federal dollars at work is in the Everglades. Contractors working for the Army Corps of Engineers are moving dirt and pouring concrete for a raised bridge that will allow water to flow freely through this section of the Everglades.
It's a $400 million project, largely funded through congressional earmarks. According to Kirk Fordham, head of the nonprofit Everglades Foundation, it's money well spent.
"On the Everglades, we know you get a 4-to-1 return on the investment, and we know it's going to create 26,000 construction jobs in the short term and as many as 420-some thousand jobs over several decades," Fordham says.
Florida tourism officials make a similar case for replenishing the sand on state beaches, another earmark perennial. In St. Petersburg, for example, a $5 million beach renourishment project is currently under way.
D.T. Minich, the head of the area's visitors and convention bureau, says there's a lot of competition for beach renourishment funds, and it helps a community to have an influential politician in its corner.
"Chicago, Ill., gets a lot of renourishment dollars for their beaches on Lake Michigan. So, there's a lot of stress on those dollars, and we're hoping they will maintain those dollars in the federal budget," Minich says.
Fordham of the Everglades Foundation agrees that some earmark reform may be necessary. But he worries that members of Congress may be giving up too much of their authority over which projects most deserve federal funds.
"The problem with eliminating earmarks is you're essentially ceding those decisions for the most part to bureaucrats within agencies that may or may not have done their homework," Fordham says.
Fordham and other advocates of big projects in Florida say they're preparing for a new rough-and-tumble budget process, one where they'll have to compete against well-heeled interests for increasingly scarce federal dollars.
But even if the earmark ban takes effect, many are skeptical Congress ultimately will agree to cede some of its authority over how money is spent. If earmarks go away, members of Congress may just develop alternatives to direct spending in their home states and districts.
Worsening drought feared as South Florida water levels drop
Palm Beach Post - by Eliot Kleinberg, Staff Writer
December 21, 2010
Good thing those cold spells are over. Now all South Florida has to worry about is a drought.
The May-through-October wet season accounts for two-thirds to three-fourths of the year's rainfall. The dry season accounts for the rest.
If you have a drier-than-normal wet season, you've got big trouble. But if you have a drier-than-normal dry season, it's not the end of the world.
"You expect less rainfall in the dry season," South Florida Water Management District official Susan Sylvester said last week .
But, she said, "What you don't expect is long periods of no rainfall."
South Florida's water bind is a cause for concern right now but could become a far more serious issue in coming months.
Already the tinder-dry region is under a growing threat of wildfires; several brush fires have erupted along the Treasure Coast.
Water levels are plummeting. Lake Okeechobee is about 2.25 feet below normal; a bigger drop could threaten its role as a key water supply for Glades farmers and a backup supply for the coast. The same goes for water conservation areas.
If water levels drop enough, fish and wildlife could be stressed.
The region already is under year-round lawn-watering limits.
A water crisis is about supply and demand. Rainfall deficits considered moderate or even minor at the end of World War II, when Florida had 3 million people, now generate a crisis, when six times as many people are turning on the tap.
No one's talking about going to tougher restrictions. But the district is urging people to take the current situation seriously and make sure they're using water efficiently.
Rainfall totals as measured at Palm Beach International Airport are grim. Although a steady drizzle fell all day Saturday, the impact was minimal: PBIA recorded less than a third of an inch. Since the dry season began, rainfall is down 4 inches; since the wet season began in early June, it's down more than a foot.
Low rainfall totals over the past year and a half have added to the deficit.
The 2008-09 dry season, the third-driest on record across the water management district, was followed by a below-average wet season. The 2009-10 dry season had above-average rainfall but was followed by a below-average wet season this summer.
In a typical rainy season, about half of rainfall comes from a tropical system - anything from a monster hurricane to a tropical wave. When that doesn't happen, "it hurts," National Weather Service meteorologist Barry Baxter said. And this year, except for a few soggy waves, it didn't happen.
So conditions already were dry when the dry season started in early October, two weeks early.
Forecasters said the strongest La Niña since 1955 was expected to bring "exceptionally dry conditions." The past few months have seen record rainfall deficits in some areas.
For the calendar year, rainfall across the district is only 10 percent below normal along coastal Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, and at or near normal in interior areas, where much of the region's water is stored.
But Sylvester says that's misleading.
She said the region experienced an abnormally wet 2009-10 dry season, and a lot of that water had to be dumped to meet regulation schedules set by the federal government.
Then this year's wet season was below normal, and those storage areas did not fill all the way. They've been dropping precipitously as the dry dry season progressed, Sylvester said.
Wildlife biologists are monitoring the impact on wildlife.
In the short run, lower rainfall might help species such as wood storks, because the fish on which they feed are more concentrated, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said. But, she said, "If there's too much lack of rainfall, there will be no fish."
She said wading birds in the Everglades build colonies on tree islands surrounded by water. If levels drop enough, predators can get to nests, and birds might abandon them and move elsewhere.
The short-term forecast isn't promising. It calls for continued below-normal rainfall across the region for the next week or two.
Will a really wet rainy season save the day? "It's too far in advance to say," Baxter said.
For now, long-range models show that La Niña will remain weak to moderate; the stronger the phenomenon, the less rainfall.
But with the wet season still a half-year away, Baxter said, "We're just throwing darts at the board."
Attorney Richard Grosso's Enviro-Terrorist Game Busted ! Thanks, 1st District COA
Sunshine News - by Nancy Smith
December 20, 2010
Tags: 1000 Friends of Florida, Florida Department of Community Affairs, Martin County Conservation Alliance, News, Richard Grosso, Columns|3 commentsForget their pricey new digs for a minute, let's look at something the judges of the 1st District Court of Appeal did right.
Last week they drew a line in the sand. They finally imposed sanctions on at least one attorney -- and there are many in Florida -- who almost routinely uses the courts as a tactical weapon to settle a political score or carry out a political vendetta.
Attorney Richard Grosso and his Treasure Coast clients, 1000 Friends of Florida and the Martin County Conservation Alliance, got their collective kiester kicked. They're going to have to pay the court and attorney costs of everybody involved in the appeal -- Martin County, the Florida Department of Community Affairs and various development interests. The bill likely will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
No wonder Grosso hasn't returned my phone calls.
It was the usual sort of throw-up-roadblocks, delay-and-win case for Grosso. Only the result was different.
In 2007 Martin County dared to reduce the minimum lot size on 191,000 agricultural acres in western Martin County from 20 to 2 acres. The idea was to pave the way for clustered development.
Clustered development is an avenue for saving green space and allowing rural property owners to trade large parcels for development credits. It's almost universally considered a good and ecological thing, and sound policy to help the damaged Everglades. It also is the darling of savvy land planners and environmental groups throughout the country. Even 1000 Friends of Florida loves it.
Make that the 1000 Friends everywhere except in Martin County, where Grosso hangs out and does so much of his business.
He and his clients filed a legal challenge to reverse Martin's decision because it doesn't establish standards for protecting environmentally sensitive lands.
But the administrative law judge who heard the case told Grosso no dice, the change won't create urban sprawl or more development because homes would be clustered on smaller lots with open space set aside for agriculture, conservation or parks.
Grosso and his client groups -- most of them, incidentally, led by former county commissioners voted out of office years ago -- weren't discouraged by that. They're accustomed to using the judiciary without impugnity to get their own way. So they moved their case forward to the 1st District Court of Appeal.
And what happened? For the first time in all the years I've seen him pull these costly, delay-and-win legal stunts, Grosso got his knuckles rapped.
Not only did the three-member appeals court panel tell Grosso the county's decision was perfectly OK, that it would not add more housing units, the court told him that the challenge was frivolous and ordered that he and his clients pay every penny of court costs and attorney fees for all parties involved.
Last week, when reporters asked him to comment, he replied, "No one will seek to enforce (the Growth Management Act) any more out of fear of sanctions for attorney fees."
Maybe the COA's ruling sets a precedent, maybe Grosso is full of baloney.
I can only tell you that Martin County is my old stomping ground. Grosso's work is more than familiar to me. Believe me when I say, what he's doing isn't seeking to enforce the Growth Management Act, he's using the law to terrorize local government, to tie it in legal knots, to harass perceived enemies, to delay projects he and his clients don't want.
The idea is to scare off lawsuit-weary, fiscally conservative local government officials from making any growth management decision not initiated by his clients. Or to demonize and punish them if they do.
Now, I'm not entirely sure who is paying Grosso's fees. But I do know that Martin County staff works on the taxpayers' dime. And I know that in 2002, staff spent literally thousands of hours researching and preparing a defense of the economic element of its comprehensive plan because Grosso and his clients didn't like it. And I know in 2003 when he and his clients tried to steal 2,800 acres of land from developer Tom Kenny, supposedly for Everglades restoration, Kenny paid dearly to keep Grosso from trespassing.
The truth is, Grosso has had his hands in Martin County's pockets for more than 10 years. Until the 1st District Court of Appeal ruling, I wondered if anybody was ever going to question the frivolity of keeping a county legal department buried in growth management issues that, at their core, have nothing whatever to do with growth management -- and aren't actually issues at all, but opportunities to unseat a county commission majority Grosso & Friends don't like.
Here's the problem with Grosso: He's got a foolproof game. He's got the environment. You fight him and you're an enemy of nature. At least, that's the perception. First he represented something called the Environment and Land Use Law Center. Now it's the Everglades Law Center. Face it, names like that not only help you raise money, they help you grow a Teflon shell.
You just can't be a bad guy when you're out there fighting to save the environment ... which truly is Grosso's mystique.
I hope the judges of the 1st District Court of Appeal mean to set a trend with this case, and if asked to rehear it -- which I'm sure they will be -- will stick to their guns, making sure the sanctions stick and telling attorney Richard Grosso a second time -- no. Absolutely, utterly no.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com, or at (850) 727-0859.
Environmental Pharmaceutical Contamination Removed by Octolig
Environmental Protection – EPonline.com
Dec 20, 2010
An article in the current issue of TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION reports on the removal of certain dyes and the antibiotic amoxicillin from water samples using Octolig, a commercially available material.
"Because of their properties and the magnitude of their production and use, pharmaceuticals can represent a serious disposal problem," said corresponding author Dean F. Martin, PhD, of the University of South Florida's Institute for Environmental Studies and a member of the National Academy of Inventors. "Failure to attain proper management can lead to environmental contamination."
Prior work with Octolig resulted in the successful removal of a number of substances, including nitrates, phosphates, and several varieties of dyes. In a recent study reported upon in this article, the researchers successfully removed amoxicillin--one of the top five drugs prescribed in the United States--from water samples.
"The ability to remove amoxicillin from water samples using chromatography (a laboratory technique for separating mixtures) and Octolig has implications for examples of point-source pollution such as hospitals, which represent a major point-source of environmental contamination," Martin said. "The problem can originate with improper disposal as well as incomplete metabolism of a given pharmaceutical."
The same process could be used to remove tetracycline, an antibiotic used to treat dairy cattle. The cattle secrete the active drug and it can be carried into the environment by cooling mists used in farms air conditioned facilities. He added that U.S. residents use over 52 percent of the world's pharmaceuticals. Besides widespread human use of pharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals are also widely used in veterinary medicine, aquaculture, livestock production, agriculture and bee keeping. Because the disposal of many of these drugs is not managed properly, they enter the environment and pose contamination risks.
"Two problems are especially important: antibiotic resistant bacteria and endocrine disruptors," said Martin, who added that a 2002 national study found pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic pollutants were present in more than 80 percent of surface water streams tested.
Lake Okeechobee water releases stopped; concerns over South Florida supplies
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 20, 2010
Lake Okeechobee water releases intended to help west coast fishing grounds came to a stop over the weekend amid growing concerns about South Florida water supplies.
The 730-square-mile lake serves as South Florida's backup water supply, which includes providing irrigation for sugar cane growers and other farmers south of the lake. Anticipating a drought, the Army Corps of Engineers on Friday stopped releasing lake water to the Caloosahatchee River.
With lake levels dropping, agricultural representatives for weeks warned against continuing low-level lake discharges used to boost the environmental health of the Caloosahatchee River during dry weather.
Environmental groups and west coast community leaders countered that environmentally beneficial lake releases should not be stopped until tougher restrictions are imposed on water users throughout the region.
Stopping the water releases to the river was a "difficult decision" intended to help prolong water supplies during the months to come, according to the Army Corps.
"If predictions are accurate, we will likely experience drought conditions over the next several months," said Lt. Col. Michael Kinard, the Army Corps' deputy district commander for South Florida.
The Army Corps of Engineers controls Lake Okeechobee water levels, with input from the South Florida Water Management District. Lake Okeechobee on Monday was 12.56 feet above sea level, more than two feet below average and a foot lower than this time last year.
The Army Corps tries to keep the lake between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet, while balancing flood control, water supply and environmental needs.
While the environmental lake releases have stopped, the lake hasn't dropped to the point where additional watering restrictions could begin, according to the district.
The lake would have to go down four more inches to trigger the point where Executive Director Carol Wehle could start imposing emergency irrigation restrictions on communities and agricultural land near the lake.
The district's board this month gave Wehle the go-ahead to start imposing initial irrigation restrictions before the board's January meeting, if the lake level decline continued to a specified range.
If enacted, emergency restrictions could intensify and spread to more of South Florida if dry conditions worsen.
During dry weather, periodic water releases from Lake Okeechobee bring an infusion of fresh water that helps lower salinity levels in the Caloosahatchee estuary and protect sea grasses and other habitat that provide vital fishing grounds.
Environmental groups contend that the amount of lake water used during recent weeks to help the Caloosahatchee doesn't compare to the amount used by agriculture and other water users.
A month's worth of low-level water releases to the Caloosahatchee equates to taking about .7 inches of water off the lake, compared to the lake losing 2.5 inches for irrigation and other water supply needs, according to Audubon of Florida.
Water users across South Florida should be further cut back before the Caloosahatchee gets cut off from the Lake Okeechobee water, according to Rae Ann Wessel, a marine scientist of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.
"The natural system simply can't be scapegoats," Wessel said.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com
New Evaporation Suppression Product Creates “Virtual Reservoir”
December 20, 2010
San Diego Company Licenses Australian Product Goes to Market with PoolRx as Master Distributor
San Diego, CA (Vocus/PRWEB)
Aquatain Solutions, Inc., San Diego, announced today that it had licensed a high-performance evaporation suppression product, Aquatain Anti-Evaporation(TM), from an Australian company. The company's founders are San Diego, Calif., businessmen Steven Taylor and Sonny Brady.
“We're aiming to introduce evaporation reduction from water surfaces as a major new water and energy conservation tool in the United States,” said Taylor, managing director of the company. “Aquatain is ideally suited for three water conservation critical needs,” he said, “swimming pools, ponds and reservoirs.”
Aquatain announced that it had appointed PoolRX, a Rancho Santa Margarita, CA-based company, as its sales and marketing arm. Taylor said, “PoolRX years of experience in the swimming pool & spa industry will help us to penetrate those markets much faster. We view their acceptance of this product into their network as a major validation of our decision to introduce the Aquatain Anti Evaporation product into the U.S.”
Tests conducted by the company in October at a 1.3-acre pond at the Sycuan Golf Course in San Diego County showed that evaporation there could be reduced by nearly 75 percent through the use of Aquatain, an organic, silicone-based polymer. Aquatain has also been used to reduce evaporation from the pool at the Wave House San Diego recreation venue at the historic Belmont Park.
“Potentially the largest market for the Aquatain Anti-Evaporation product,” said Taylor, are water supply reservoirs (there are 400 in California alone) that provide the water for hydroelectric power throughout the country. “Water supplies and power production are impacted by large water losses due to evaporation,” especially in the arid Southwest. "In some areas, municipal water supply is critically dependent on surface reservoirs," Taylor added.
Background on Water Evaporation
A one-acre reservoir in Southern California can lose nearly 2 million gallons or 5.8 acre-feet per year through evaporation. A typical swimming pool can lose an amount equal to its entire volume through evaporation in a year. Finding ways to control and reduce evaporation can have a long-term benefit for a region's water supply. In this way, evaporation suppression with a product such as Aquatain represents a new “virtual reservoir,” which typically costs one-third to one-fifth the cost of new water supplies.
For most golf courses, reservoirs and swimming pools, water loss represents one of the biggest operating costs and operating issues. Aquatain has been shown consistently to reduce water loss by 50 percent or more.
Aquatain has been widely used in Australia for years and is certified as safe for contact with human and marine life by NSF International, under NSF/ANSI Standard 60. Use of silicone-based solutions to control evaporation has been studied for more than 50 years.
“Aquatain represents an overlooked supplemental water supply in water-short areas such as Southern California, Nevada and Arizona,” said Steven Taylor of Aquatain Solutions. “Conserving water is not simply a good idea, it is vital to sustaining regional economies throughout the Southwest U.S. and maintaining our quality of life.”
Taylor expects public water agencies that operate large open-surface reservoirs to ultimately make up the largest customer base for Aquatain. It costs roughly $150 to $200 to save an acre-foot of water using Aquatain. By contrast, for example, San Diego-area water agencies pay roughly $500 to $600 per acre-foot for imported water, two to three times the cost of saving water lost to evaporation.
Aquatain is also an energy saver. As water evaporates, new water must be pumped in, and in the case of swimming pools, heated. With less water evaporation, significantly less electricity and gas are needed to pump and/or heat water.
Aquatain belongs to a class of products sometimes referred to as “liquid pool covers,” because when added to a swimming pool, it reduces evaporation much like a plastic pool cover. Arizona's Salt River Project (SRP), the electric power utility for the Phoenix area, has endorsed liquid pool covers as an effective way to save money, energy and water. An SRP video, featuring silicone liquids such as Aquatain, can be seen at this link: http://www.srpnet.com/energy/powerwise/savewithsrp/Pooldrops.aspx.
About Aquatain Solutions
Steven Taylor and Sonny Brady, both of San Diego, formed Aquatain Solutions to market and eventually manufacture the Aquatain product for use in the U.S. The company will initially focus on market opportunities in California, Florida and the Southwest. PoolRX is the sales and marketing arm for Aquatain Solutions for the swimming pool industry. For more information, visit http://www.aquatainsolutions.com.
Research: Southeast Faces Freshwater Sustainability Challenges
Environmental Protection – EPonline.com
December 20, 2010
Water scarcity in the western United States has long been an issue of concern. Now, a team of researchers studying freshwater sustainability have found that the Southeast, with the exception of Florida, does not have enough water capacity to meet its own needs.
Twenty-five years ago, environmentalist Marc Reisner published "Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water," which predicted that water resources in the West would be unable to support the growing demand of cities, agriculture, and industry. A paper co-authored by a University of Georgia researcher and just published in a special issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new support for most of Reisner's conclusions, using data and methods unavailable to him in 1986.
Although the paper focuses on freshwater sustainability in the Southwest, co-authors Tushar Sinha, a postdoctoral scientist at North Carolina State University; John Kominoski, a postdoctoral associate at the UGA Odum School of Ecology; and William Graf, a professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, said that the findings have important implications for the Southeast as well. "It turns out that the Southeast has a relatively low capacity for water storage," Graf said.
In order for water supply to be considered sustainable, the researchers calculated that no more than 40 percent of freshwater resources can be appropriated for human use, to ensure that streamflow variability, navigation, recreation, and ecosystem use are accommodated. They also determined how much water a region would need to meet all its municipal, agricultural, and industrial needs—its virtual water footprint. The VWF includes the water needed if a region were to grow enough food to support its own population.
The researchers found that neither the Southwest nor the Southeast have enough water capacity to meet all their own needs; both these regions virtually import water from other parts of the country, in the form of food. "The Southeast has virtually no positive, inland VWFs," said Kominoski, who earned his doctoral degree from the Odum School. "The largest population centers in southeastern states, with the exception of Florida, are inland. Piedmont cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and Birmingham rely on small watersheds, which may be why our VWFs are negative."
Study lead author John Sabo, associate professor at Arizona State University, added that the Southeast's municipal and industrial water demands are higher than supported by locally generated streamflow.
Reisner also predicted the loss of reservoir capacity. The researchers found that both eastern and western reservoirs have lost storage capacity to sedimentation, although not at the rate predicted by Reisner. "The good news is that the minimum life span of most of the dams in the Southeast is greater than two centuries, which is much longer than what Reisner anticipated," said Graf.
The researchers also found that reservoirs lose enormous amounts of water to evaporation each year, resulting in a drop in reliable water yield. "The Eastern U.S. has a higher density of reservoirs, but similar water losses as the West," Graf said, adding that although there are more reservoirs in the East, they are smaller than their Western counterparts. The researchers found that smaller reservoirs are more susceptible to evaporation losses than larger ones are.
Sinha added that most of these smaller reservoirs in the Southeast are designed to capture precipitation that falls within a year, as opposed to larger western reservoirs which carry water surplus or deficit over multiple years. Furthermore, changes in precipitation in the Southeast rapidly influence reservoir water levels. "The recent droughts in the Southeast during the summers of 2002, 2005 and 2007 clearly indicate severe water shortages due to very low rainfall, and water supply is dependent upon precipitation, which is likely to be more uncertain in the near future," Sinha said.
Loss of storage capacity and lack of enough water to support human needs is not the only freshwater sustainability issue in the Southeast. "The fragmentation of river networks threatens the level of aquatic biodiversity of the Southeast, which is the highest in North America, in terms of both native and non-native species," Kominoski said. "Our current system doesn't support the needs of people, let alone ecosystems."
The authors also cautioned that the paper's estimates are conservative. "The data we used is from 1950-99," Sinha said. "The last decade, which had some of the highest recorded temperatures and most extreme droughts, as well as higher population figures, was not included. Also, the estimates don't take climate change into account. We expect to have less precipitation in the summer, during the growing season, and more severe droughts."
Kominoski agreed, and added that the 2000 Census predicts continuing population growth in the sunbelt. "As population grows, so does demand for water," he said.
The paper's conclusion that the Southwest is near its limit in terms of water capacity holds true for the Southeast as well. "We need a new strategy for water storage and conservation in the U.S., including the Southeast," Kominoski said. "Because we have mostly inland metropolitan areas in small watersheds, we need to use less water. Less water comes to us, and our ability to store water is challenged by our climate and geographic location."
Graf added that demand for water is already an issue of major disagreement among Southeastern states. "We hope that these findings and recommendations will inform the debate and help lead to workable solutions," he said.
'Feather Wars’ tells tale of early plunder of birds in the Everglades
Palm Beach Daily News - by Jan Sjostrom, Arts Editor
December 19, 2010
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Florida’s wading birds were being slaughtered by the millions to adorn fashionable women’s hats.
The rise and fall of the plume trade and Palm Beach County’s participation in it are the subjects of “Feather Wars: Surviving Fashion 1870-1920” at The Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum in West Palm Beach.
The tale is illustrated with archival photographs, stuffed birds, plumed hats, guns, millinery ads and memorabilia of Theodore Roosevelt, whose conservation initiatives contributed to the demise of the trade.
Florida was one of the last great frontiers of plume hunting, because the state was settled later than most parts of the country. Plume hunters quickly made up for lost time.
Two of Palm Beach County’s first plume hunters were William Butler and Jessee Maulden, who settled on the shores of Lake Worth in 1872.
Butler collected bird specimens selectively for a professor in New York. Maulden, who shot birds to sell their feathers, cleared out entire rookeries. “He was trying to feed his family,” said Debi Murray, chief curator. “There were no cash jobs here.”
In about three years, most of the wading birds around the lake were gone.
Marie Antoinette is credited with starting the fashion for wearing plumed hats. The trend spread quickly, aided by the proliferation of fashion and home magazines, speedier transportation, and the emergence of the middle class.
The birds most in demand were egrets, herons, cranes, roseate spoonbills and flamingos. They are represented in the show by stuffed birds and a video display of birds and their calls.
Hunters often gunned down birds during the mating season, when their plumes were most gorgeous and they were easiest to shoot, as they would not leave their nests. Because the parents were unable to care for their young, their deaths wiped out two generations.
Cheaper more accurate weapons, such as the guns displayed in the show, increased the toll. A single shotgun shot “could take out 100 birds,” said Steven Erdmann, curator of collections and exhibits.
Plummeting populations increased the danger for the remaining birds as plume prices soared. In the 1880s, tourists hired local residents Guy and Louis Bradley and Charlie Pierce to lead a hunting expedition that bagged 1,297 birds of 36 species.
The scale of the massacre triggered opposition from conservationists and led to the formation of groups such as the National Audubon Society. A timeline chronicles the development of state and national legislation to ban the feather trade, and wall texts display brief biographies of leading conservationists.
Prominently highlighted is Theodore Roosevelt, who established the first national wildlife refuge in 1903 at Pelican Island in Vero Beach. During his presidency, Roosevelt set aside more than 234 million acres as national forests, parks and refuges.
Protecting Florida’s birds could be a dangerous calling. In 1902, William Dutcher of the National Audubon Society hired former plume hunter Guy Bradley as the first game warden in the Everglades. Three years later, Bradley was murdered by plume hunters in Florida Bay.
Although legislation diminished the plume trade, it took war and the country’s love affair with the car to eliminate it. World War I disrupted shipping and quelled women’s interest in fancy hats. Cars did their part by not being scaled to accommodate oversized headgear.
Measuring the Economic Benefits of America’s Everglades Restoration
Naples Daily News – Guest Commentary by Kirk Fordham, CEO, Everglades Foundation, Miami
December 19, 2010
The Everglades ecosystem is on life support. More than 1.7 billion gallons of polluted fresh water are dumped into the saltwater estuaries each day, killing fish and reefs. The area south of Lake Okeechobee was developed into enormous agricultural tracts—primarily sugar cane fields—for private use, from which phosphates and other fertilizers run south into the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades. Exuberant seasonal rainfall results in discharges from Lake Okeechobee which pollute valued estuaries such as the Caloosahatchee River.
Everglades restoration can be part of a solution for what ails the environment and the economy. The Everglades Foundation can confidently state that restoration will have important and significant economic impacts on this massive and complex ecosystem.
How can this claim be made? Now, for the first time ever, we are all better able to understand and appreciate the fact that we stand to experience significant economic benefits as well as new job creation as a result of Everglades restoration, thanks to a first-of-its-kind economic study conducted by Mather Economics.
This study, commissioned by the Everglades Foundation, includes details on the robust economic boost to our economy that Everglades restoration will generate. According to the research, for every dollar spent on Everglades restoration, we stand to receive four dollars back in the form of higher home values, increased tourism and stronger fishing, boating and tourism industries. When we invest in protecting and restoring the Everglades, we are also revving up a powerful job creation engine. Aside from the good-paying jobs in construction, engineering and the sciences that come with restoration projects, we are boosting employment in a wide range of industries.
Too often, we hear the argument that we can’t afford to invest in Everglades restoration during an economic downturn. Instead, smart policymakers recognize that the future of our state’s economic growth depends on protecting the Everglades and the water supply it provides to one in three Floridians. Simply put: we can’t grow our economy if we allow the Everglades to collapse.
One key study finding is that Everglades restoration efforts under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) are projected to produce more than $46 billion in benefits to 16 South Florida counties and create 442,664 jobs over 50 years.
In Collier County alone, the value of groundwater purification and aquifer recharge services from Everglades restoration is estimated at $3,037,706,282. In addition, it is conservatively estimated that Everglades restoration will generate $974 million of real estate value increases for Collier County due to improved water quality. Recreational and park visitation expenditures will increase two percent over 50 years and it is conservatively estimated that restoration related to recreational and park visitation will generate an increase in revenues of $178,150,740 in Collier County.
Additional benefits of Everglades restoration to our state, as cited by the new report, are:
• Enhanced availability of freshwater, decreased costs of alternative water supplies
• A restored ecosystem and improved wildlife population allows for additional recreational opportunities for residents and visitors
• Both recreational and commercial fishing industries experience a significant rebound with the protection and enhanced quality of water and fish habitat
• Restoring habitat allows for increases in wildlife populations
Analysis strongly suggests that restoration of the Everglades as described and planned in the CERP will have large economic benefits. The best estimate is that restoration will generate an increase in economic welfare of approximately $46.5 billion that could range up to $123.9 billion, based on an investment of $11.5 billion.
The jobs created by Everglades restoration would include 22,966 positions that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates will come on line in the short- to mid-term as a result of actual restoration projects. Throughout this analysis, a very conservative approach to estimation was taken. Accordingly, best estimates almost surely understate the return on investment of Everglades restoration.
Close to seven million people live in the Everglades watershed and depend on its natural systems for their livelihood, food and drinking water. Florida’s boating, tourism, real estate, recreational and commercial fishing industries all depend on a healthy Everglades ecosystem, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and contributing billions to our economy. The investment to be made in a sustainable future benefiting the Everglades ecosystem and everyone who lives in its boundaries is now. Florida and the nation have too much to lose if the financial return on investment in restoration is overlooked.
Fordham served as a chief of staff and senior legislative staffer on Capitol Hill for three members of Congress. In 2004, he was the architect of the successful fundraising effort for Mel Martinez’s winning Senate campaign. A graduate of the University of Maryland-College Park, Fordham is a native of Rochester, New York, and now lives in Miami. Since 1993, it has been the mission of the non-profit Everglades Foundation to lead efforts to restore and protect the greater Everglades ecosystem. As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, funds raised by the Foundation are used for scientific research, advancing understanding of the Greater Everglades ecosystem and to provide grants to our conservation partners.
Part of Florida levee not up to standards
December 19, 2010
PALM BEACH, Fla., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Engineers say a key flood levee along Florida's Everglades doesn't meet federal safety standards and needs major repairs.
The assessment concluded the 60-year-old East Coast Protective Levee in Broward County was not up to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, although it remains safe for now.
"There is no credible reason to believe there is any risk of failure," said Alex Damian, assistant deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. "There are some areas where they have noticed higher levels of seepage (through the levee) than normal."
The South Florida Sun Sentinel said Sunday the district planned to ask FEMA to declare the levee a "provisionally accredited levee," which would give the district time to make repairs without flood insurance rates for nearby communities going up.
Everglades' levee fails to meet federal standards
Improvements planned to get FEMA certification
New flood control concerns are surfacing about the 60-year-old, earthen levee that keeps the Everglades from swamping South Florida communities spread across former wetlands.
The Broward County portion of the East Coast Protective Levee fails to meet certification standards for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a new engineering assessment of that 38-mile section of the levee.
That could trigger costly repairs to get the levee certified or risk increased flood insurance rates for Broward residents who live in Weston, Coral Springs and other western communities.
This comes a year and half after the Army Corps of Engineers in a separate review considered the Palm Beach County section of the levee "minimally acceptable" — the middle rung of the corps' new rating system. That triggered ongoing improvements to beef up the structure to try to avoid a failing grade.
The corps' updated rating of the entire East Coast Protective Levee is expected in early 2011. Corps officials on Friday said they were not ready to determine whether the structure meets new post- Hurricane Katrina standards.
The South Florida Water Management District maintains the more than 100-mile-long levee, which stretches along the Everglades water conservation areas from northern Palm Beach County through Broward County and Miami-Dade County.
The district insists that the levee remains safe and improvements are in the works to address any federal concerns about the levee's ability to withstand hurricane winds and large, drenching tropical storms.
"The levee is in good shape. There is no credible reason to believe there is any risk of failure," said Alex Damian, the district's assistant deputy executive director for operations and maintenance. "There are some areas where they have noticed higher levels of seepage [through the levee] than normal."
To at least temporarily avoid increased insurance costs for Broward communities, the South Florida Water Management District plans to ask FEMA to designate the earthen levee a "provisionally accredited levee."
That would allow more time for costly improvements to shore up the levee and bring it into compliance, before projected flood zones and insurance costs are affected.
How much it would cost to bring the levee into compliance depends on the engineering review, expected to be finalized in January. Past district estimates called for spending more than $8 million through 2014 to meet federal levee standards.
FEMA officials said the agency supports the district's effort to get a provisional rating for the Broward section of the levee.
"They will have two years to bring the levee up to standard and fix the problems they have identified," said Mary Hudak, spokeswoman for FEMA's southeastern region. "The importance of this process is to be sure people are aware of their flood risk."
Broward County communities are in the midst of working with FEMA for the first update of the county's flood zone maps in 14 years. Public meetings are planned in April to discuss potential changes and how they could affect who needs to buy flood insurance and at what cost.
If after the two-year provisional period the levee still doesn't meet federal standards, more of Broward County would be included in areas considered at a higher risk for flooding, which increases insurance costs. Those communities near the levee include Weston, Sunrise, Parkland, Coral Springs, Southwest Ranches, Miramar, Tamarac and Pembroke Pines.
Tropical Storm Fay's prolonged drenching in August 2008 exposed vulnerable sections of the East Coast Protective Levee along the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County, where increased amounts of water seeped through the earthen structure and raised concerns about erosion that could lead to a breach.
The corps' concerns about the Palm Beach County section led to stepped up measures to cut back vegetation that grows along the edges of the levee and gets in the way of inspections and maintenance. The district also added reinforcing berms to some sections of the levee.
Some work was done to reinforce the levee after Tropical Storm Fay and that effort needs to be extended to more of the Broward sections of the structure, according to engineering consultants hired by the district to perform the evaluation of the levee.
The recently completed six-month engineering review of the Broward section of the levee included drilling, surveying, testing and reviewing years of maintenance records.
The engineering consulting firm hired by the district, Lakeland-based BCI Engineers and Scientists, found some portions needing improvements throughout the county. Most of the problem areas were at the northern end, according to Leslie Bromwell, one of the consultants who led the review of the levee.
"It was well built for the time it was built. … There are some aspects of it that do not come up to current day standards," Bromwell said. "We can't certify that it will perform satisfactorily during a storm event."
The East Coast Protective Levee is part of 600 miles of levees south of Lake Okeechobee as well as a network of pumps and canals that guard against flooding of farms and sprawling communities on land that was once part of the Everglades.
Lime rock, shell and soil dug from the edge of the Everglades make up the levee, built in the 1950s.
What was considered sturdy construction in the 1950s doesn't meet current federal levee standards.
Levee safety gained renewed national attention after levees in New Orleans failed during Hurricane Katrina.
The New Orleans flood prompted a nationwide review of 14,000 miles of federally monitored levees — a fraction of the 100,000 miles of locally maintained levees across the country.
The Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency both play a role in a nationwide effort to toughen levee standards. That includes more levee inspections, maintaining an updated levee database and imposing uniform levee safety standards.
"The inventory is huge. That's quite an undertaking," Steve Duba, the corps' chief of engineering for the district that includes Florida, said about the new standards and tougher inspections. "It's much more detailed and comprehensive work."
FEMA's provisional designation for levees was created to avoid creating an undue burden on communities that learn their levees don't meet federal standards when flood zone maps are changed. It is intended for levees that are "reasonably expected to continue to provide protection."
The FEMA certification standard would be applied the Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County sections of the levee when the flood maps for those areas are updated.
Once FEMA grants the provisional status and allows a two-year window for making improvements, there are no extensions beyond that.
When the two-year provisional accreditation period is up for a levee, the process can begin to redo flood zone maps. If the levee still doesn't meet federal standards, the area considered most at risk for flooding would be expanded, making flood insurance a requirement for more homebuyers and increases the cost for others who want to add flood coverage.
Flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program is administered by FEMA. The average flood insurance policy costs less than $570 a year. But policies in areas considered at high-risk of flooding can cost more than $2,000 a year, depending on the amount of coverage.
FEMA recommends that all Florida homeowners have flood insurance coverage even if they don't live in what are considered high-risk areas.
To beef up the levee, the district plans to build a 25-foot berm made of crushed limestone along the outside base of some portions of the structure. That would lessen the seepage of water through the earthen levee, which can lead to erosion and a breach.
In addition to the berm, the district is: increasing inspections; cutting back vegetation along the levee to make it easier to inspect and maintain; and adding monitoring equipment to signal when too much water is seeping through and raising erosion concerns.
The final version of the levee engineering report, expected in January, will determine how much more work is needed to meet FEMA standards, according to the district.
Upgrades needed for the levee come at a time when the district already faces a budget strain from an economic downturn that has lessened property tax revenue and led to cuts in state funding. In addition, the district already faces a backlog of maintenance needs for the larger flood control system that stretches from Orlando to the Keys.
The district has a $1 billion budget and spends about $60 million a year on operations and maintenance upgrades. So far this year there is $1.8 million budgeted to improve the East Coast Protective Levee, though that could be increased depending on the findings of the engineering report, Damian said.
"We are not going to compromise on that," Damian said. "We will do what needs to be done."
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504
Sinkhole under landfill causes concern over well water
ABC Action News - by Carson Chambers
DEP order county to test well water daily.
LITHIA, Fla. - The well in this Balm backyard brings water into Ramdeo Persaud's home but the homeowner says it's been a blessing and a curse.
"This is the well water that I have here," he said. "It's reconnected to this gadget here which is where we put in tablets, like chlorine tablets," Persaud told us while showing the well pump and filter on the side of his home.
Persaud says he needed a filter to get rid of the sulphur smell in his water. But in the Hillsborough County neighborhood that used to be an orange grove, wells are a way of life. And Persaud’s way of life may be threatened, after a sinkhole opened underneath a county landfill not far from here.
"That's the lifeline. Water is our lifeline. We can't live without it," Persaud told WFTS.
We've learned the Department of Environmental Protection is involved. There's concern from environmental experts about a five-foot thick clay liner that buffers buried garbage and if it’s been compromised. The county says an additional 100-foot natural earth buffer lies underneath that, buffering the Florida Aquifer.
"When it rains and there's waste in that landfill, the water that filters through the waste and is collected at the bottom of the landfill is considered leachate," said Ana Gibbs, spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Whether leachate or contaminated liquid has gotten into groundwater is still unknown
but soon the county will find out.
The DEP sent the county a letter calling for crews to sample 30 on-site wells daily. The letter also requests the county install an additional well west of the sinkhole area and conduct an updated survey of all public and private wells within a one-mile radius of the sinkhole.
The DEP says well sampling will be a long-term project until there’s a permanent fix to the sinkhole.
Which makes Persaud wonder, even with a filter, how safe is his water?
"I am very, very concerned that something like that is happening," said Persaud.
Administration proposes more support for the Everglades
SunSentinel.com - by William Gibson
December 17, 2010
The Obama administration announced yet another funding proposal for Everglades restoraton on Friday, a sign of on-going support despite growing concerns in Washington over deficit spending.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urged Congress to approve an additional 5.5 miles of bridging across the Tamiami Trail to restore water flow into Everglades National Park. Work already has begun on a one-mile bridge.
“If ultimately authorized and funded by Congress, this proposal will benefit the environment and economy of South Florida,” Salazar said.
The estimated cost for additional bridging -- including construction, design work and land purchase -- is $310 million.
Increased flows across the trail and improved water distribution are considered essential to the health of the park and to the survival of wildlife, including the endangered wood stork, Everglades snail kite and Cape Sable seaside sparrow.
The administration has consistently proposed funding Everglades restoration projects with each year’s appropriations, plus a big dose of stimulus money.
Everglades advocates -- who are concerned about budget-cutting in Congress next year -- were delighted.
The proposal “comes at the right time to benefit Florida’s wildlife and economy,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel of Audubon of Florida.
Judge backs EPA on latest Everglades fix proposal
Miami Herald - by CURT ANDERSON, AP Legal Affairs Writer
December 17, 2010
MIAMI -- A federal judge expressed support Friday for a new $1.5 billion Environmental Protection Agency plan to reduce pollution-laden farm runoff that is choking the fragile Everglades. He urged state officials to cooperate rather than mount unnecessary delays.
U.S. District Judge Alan Gold, who in April threatened the EPA with contempt of court over the chronic water problems, told agency officials he will use his authority to help implement the new plan quickly. The proposal includes construction of thousands of acres of water treatment areas and new, tougher permits for huge sugar farms and others that discharge water into the Everglades.
"We have to do everything we can to save what's left of the Everglades," Gold said during a three-hour hearing. "It is time now to key up all of these issues and address them."
Coinciding with the hearing, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a proposal to raise another 5.5 miles of the cross-Everglades Tamiami Trail highway to improve water flows into Everglades National Park. Work is currently ongoing on a 1-mile bridge span.
The EPA wants to build 42,000 additional acres of treatment marshes to filter pollutants. That could include some of the land being purchased from U.S. Sugar Corp. under a plan pushed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist.
The EPA plan was developed in response to Gold's ruling earlier this year that the agency had turned a blind eye to years of water quality violations in the vast South Florida wetlands, which mainly involve phosphorous used in farm fertilizers. Gold questioned EPA's lawyers closely Friday on whether those days were over.
"Someone is driving the bus. The question is, how committed is the driver to reaching the ultimate destination?" Gold asked.
Ethan Schankman, a top Justice Department environmental attorney representing EPA, assured Gold the agency would press forward with its plan without delay.
"We are committed, your honor, to doing everything that is within our authority," Schankman said.
In the April ruling, Gold also criticized the state's Everglades effort. The judge said Friday that he was "not all that pleased" with Florida's lukewarm response to the EPA proposal.
Parker Thomson, attorney for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the state mainly wants control over issuing the stricter discharge permits, which EPA could take over if they don't meet certain standards. Thomson said Florida could do a better job regulating the farm discharges, but nothing happens immediately.
"We can do it, and we will do it," Thomson said. "You can argue about the amount of time, but you can't argue reality - it will take time."
Meanwhile, the South Florida Water Management District challenged the EPA plan in a separate proceeding, asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside the proposal as an abuse of authority and violation of the district's rights. No timetable has been set on hearings for that challenge.
The hearing was the latest of many over the past two decades on how to save the Everglades from phosphorous, which harms native plants and can promote growth of unwanted species such as cattails. The original lawsuit before Gold was filed in 2004 by the Miccosukee Indian tribe, which has a reservation in the Everglades, and the Friends of the Everglades environmental group.
Miccosukee attorney Sonia Escobio O'Donnell expressed doubt that the state and federal agencies would keep their promises about improving the water quality. She noted that only the courts have been able to force action.
"They need to do more than just say it's going to take a long, long time," she said.
Federal judge who's been skeptical of EPA says new Everglades cleanup plan shows better effort
Palm Beach Post - by Ana M. Valdes, Staff Writer
Also Dec.18: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/12/18/1979033/judge-backs-epas-glades-cleanup.html
December 17, 2010
MIAMI — A federal judge on Friday praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts to limit water pollutants in the Everglades, even as the South Florida Water Management District was asking an appeals court to review those same efforts.
In a petition filed Wednesday at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal, the water district had asked the court to review the $1.5 billion dollar plan created by the EPA in September, claiming the plan goes beyond the EPA's legal authority. District officials said the appeal was filed "to preserve our right to due process in a case in which we are not even a party."
The district contends that EPA's tightened pollution standards are too expensive. "We plan to continue working with our federal partners at the EPA to develop affordable solutions for achieving our shared goals for improving water quality in America's Everglades," the release said.
The EPA plan was developed after U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ordered it to accelerate Everglades restoration by reducing phosphorus levels in water entering the Everglades.
Gold, who has been harshly critical of the EPA's efforts for years, did not rule on the plan during a three-hour hearing Friday, but said he was satisfied that the agency had taken charge of efforts to restore what is left of the Everglades. "There has been a strategic and significant change of position by the EPA," Gold said.
During the hearing, Gold said he had heard about the water district appeal.
"I am hopeful that, not withstanding the litigation that has been filed, that the district continues to have an open mind," Gold added. "I understand its concerns. But I think that our time as a community could be better spent on solutions than on fighting among the various agencies on various points."
At the hearing, one of many since the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and the Friends of the Everglades environmental group filed a lawsuit in 2004, Gold questioned representatives from the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about their commitment to restoration.
Earlier this month, the state sued the EPA because it did not agree with federally mandated standards for pollutant levels in Florida rivers, lakes and streams.
The judge requested briefings from both agencies in January.
While the hearing took place in Miami, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a proposal to raise another 5.5 miles of the cross-Everglades Tamiami Trail highway to improve water flows into Everglades National Park. Work is currently underway on a 1-mile span of Tamiami Trail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Govt wants more bridging along U.S. 41 to increase Everglades water flow
December 17, 2010
12:58 P.M. — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today proposed an additional 5.5 miles of bridging on Tamiami Trail to restore historic water flows and distribution to the Everglades.
Tamiami Trail — U.S. 41 — acts as a dam to the north-south flow of water through the Everglades, so areas south of the highway don’t receive their historical amounts of water.
A 1-mile bridge along U.S. 41 is already under construction.
If authorized and funded by Congress, the additional bridging would increase water volumes south of U.S. 41 and re-establish seasonal water depths and flooding durations that are critical to the survival of many fish and wildlife species, including the federally endangered wood stork, Everglades snail kite, and Cape Sable seaside sparrow, and state-listed Roseate spoonbill.
Strawberry farmers test alternatives to irrigation for freeze protection
The Tampa Tribune - by GEORGE H. NEWMAN
December 17, 2010
PLANT CITY - Not all strawberry farmers are using water to protect their crops from freezing weather.
Some growers, with the help of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, are testing alternatives for the freeze protection of strawberry fields.
Several growers are using a fabric material that is staked, blocked or held down with sandbags to cover a small portion of their fields. Ideally the fabric is held down tight to the ground, preventing wind from getting under it, trapping the ground warmth under the cloth.
Strawberry grower Steve Mathis has almost 10 acres of his 140 acre strawberry farm under the fabric.
"The fabric manufacturer has dropped the price and improved the product," Mathis said. "We are still learning how to best apply the fabric, how soon to put it over the crop and how to remove it safely without damaging the crop or the fabric."
Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said the district began actively supporting alternative freeze protection projects in December. The grower and water management district share in the cost.
"So far we have funded five cloth projects in Dover/Plant City," Felix said. "The total cost is $494,200 and the district's share is $370,650."
Mathis has 1 acre of strawberries covered in a hoop house, a series of plastic tunnels that act like a greenhouse. The tunnels are 300 feet long, 12 feet high at the peak and 26 feet wide.
"I bought the hoop-tunnels earlier this year and had them installed for $31,000," Mathis said. "I am trying to make a comparison between the tunnels, the fabric, and normal sprinkling methods. I want to compare the costs and benefits. If I could afford it I would like to cover about 10 acres with the tunnels."
The tunnels made a big difference in the latest cold snap, Dec. 13 to 16.
"When the temperature was 24 degrees Wednesday morning (Dec. 15), it was 49 degrees in the tunnels," Mathis said. "That acre has great looking plants, berries and blossoms. We went through a learning curve fighting the wind on Monday (Dec. 13), but we are looking good."
In the portion of his fields covered by fabric, the temperature under the fabric was 35 degrees, he added.
Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, said there was some damage to area crops no matter the method farmers used for protection.
"Wind during the first two nights caused the most problems," Campbell said. "All the farms saw blossom damage, whether they used fabric or traditional sprinkling. The wind reduced areas covered by sprinklers, and the fabric was blown around, damaging fruit and blossoms that were contacted by the cloth."
"On the third night the wind was down and all the farms fared better. They could use sprinklers at a lower pressure and the cloth stayed put."
Nearly all the nation's winter strawberries are grown on about 8,000 acres in the Plant City area in a season that lasts from about Thanksgiving to Easter. The most recent cold weather delayed some of the harvest, making for a "missed market opportunity," Campbell said.
"So much of the fruit should have been harvested and shipped right now. But the freeze prevents that from happening. And the fruit production is pushed back. You can't recover missed sales. It doesn't happen."
"The plants will be okay. The crop will be harvested. But you can't replace what is lost."
The water management district has been strongly encouraging farmers to find alternates to irrigation since last season's record cold. Farmers pumped about 1 billion gallons of water a day to protect their crops during 11 days of freezing weather in January, leading to dozens of sinkholes and 700 complaints of wells that went dry, at least temporarily.
The water management district has received 39 complaints of regarding pump failures or problems since Dec.1, Felix said.
Tamiami Trail bridge plan moves ahead
South Florida Business Journal - by Paul Brinkmann
December 17, 2010
Read more: Tamiami Trail bridge plan moves ahead | South Florida Business JournalPlans to build 5.5 more miles of bridges along Tamiami Trail are moving ahead, with a full endorsement coming Friday from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
The National Park Service previously endorsed the project, and released a final draft plan for the next phase on Friday.
The bridges will allow water to better flow to the southern Everglades.
After years of study and legal struggles, construction began about a year ago to raise a 1-mile section of the roadway, which connects Miami to Naples.
Carol Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, praised Salazar’s support for the project.
“The district applauds today’s proposal from Secretary Salazar as another critical step in restoring the historic flow of water in America’s Everglades,” Wehle said in a news release. “Another 5.5 miles of bridges on the Tamiami Trail would help ensure the success of ongoing and planned restoration projects by re-establishing a vital link to Everglades National Park.”
The Everglades covers most of southern Florida. The national park is only about one-third of the historic swamp region, and is entirely south of the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41).
Sunrise-based Kiewet Southern Co. is the general contractor for the first phase. The 1-mile project was expected to employ between 65 and 75 people, and take at least three years to finish.
Environmentalists, including the Everglades Foundation, have advocated for a bridge as long as 11 miles.
The bridge is expected to allow, at some point in the future, better “sheet flow” of water from north to south, which should help alleviate dry conditions in Everglades National Park and water quality problems in Florida Bay.
But, the project has been controversial for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, which believes that the bridge construction will only damage more park land and disturb wildlife that has already adapted to the current landscape.
Freeze has Fla. farmers scrambling
December 16, 2010
Governor declares state of emergency; consumers may pay more.
Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency on Sunday because of the threat of severe crop damage. That news prompted orange juice futures to rise over concerns the weather would damage this year's crop.
It's unusual for temperatures to be this cold this early in the season, said Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Temperatures are expected to remain in the teens in north Florida, and in the high 20s in central and South Florida. Temperatures between 60 and 78 degrees are more common this time of year.
"When you're talking about temperatures as cold as those predicted, virtually everything is in peril," she said.
Strawberry farmers are spraying water on the plants so the heat lost from the crop to the surrounding air is replaced with the heat released as water changes to ice. Citrus farmers are using ground-level heaters to warm the air near tree trunks. And tropical fish farmers are moving their fish or covering the outdoor tanks.
Elsewhere, dozens of helicopters whir above Florida's valuable and sensitive green bean and sweet corn fields, moving back and forth in the early morning hours to push warmer air closer to the plants -- and, the farmers hope, save the plants from a deadly frost.
Farmers are especially nervous because an 11-day freeze in January wiped out many crops.
The stakes are high: In 2009, the value of production of sweet corn from Florida was $227 million. Florida is the largest U.S. winter producer of sweet corn -- the kind people eat.
January's cold snap damaged many of Florida's crops, including strawberries, tomatoes and corn. Nearly all of the kumquat crop died.
When Florida's crops die, shoppers pay more at the grocery store because replacement produce is usually imported.
Already this year, several hundred acres of green beans have been lost.
John Hundley, a corn, bean and sugar cane farmer in Palm Beach County, said that if winds are too high he won't be able to hire the helicopters. Asked what he will do to protect his crops, he sighed.
"I can get on my knees and pray right now. It looks like it's pretty much out of our hands."
Farmers have long hired helicopters to keep their crops from freezing. And growers in California also have used helicopters. But it's still dangerous.
Green beans and sweet corn are cultivated in the nutrient-rich muck soil near the Florida Everglades, though farmers in other parts of the state are also scrambling to protect their fruits and vegetables, many of which are near harvest.
Friends of the Everglades: ‘Taxpayer-funded bailout of Everglades polluters must stop’
The American Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 16, 2010
Judge Alan Gold is slated to hold a highly anticipated and crucial hearing tomorrow concerning the restoration of the Everglades, in which he will approve or deny an EPA-developed plan that will halt agricultural poisoning in the area.
The case was initiated by Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in 2005, when the two groups filed suit against the State of Florida and the EPA, alleging that agricultural chemical pollution in the Everglades was a direct violation of the Clean Water Act. In 2008, Judge Gold ruled in favor of Friends and the Tribe, but pollution never ceased. In April 2010, Gold ordered the EPA to prepare a clear and comprehensive plan to restore the Everglades.
According to a press release from the Friends of the Everglades, Gold has three primary interests in Friday’s hearing:
(1) the technical merits of EPA’s Amended Determination (the plan or road map to achieve Everglades water quality standards) and whether he should approve it; (2) how EPA is going to enforce its plan to make sure it gets done; and, (3) where are the funds going to come from to implement the plan and in what time frame.
In its release, Friends vehemently opposed what they called “[the South Florida Water Management] District’s efforts to shift the burden of stopping agricultural pollution onto taxpayers.” In the past, the district has claimed that stopping agricultural pollution could cost billions and would come almost entirely at the expense of taxpayers.
From the release:
“For almost thirteen years now, the State of Florida and the SFWMD have burdened taxpayers with the cost of treating private industry’s agricultural chemical pollution. The EAA polluters pay nowehere near 100% of the costs of the pollution that they cause. Best management practices by farmers are woefully inadequate. If South Florida taxpayers alone were required to fund the treatment marshes, it would cost the average homeowner in South Florida somewhere between an extra 7 cents to 16 cents a day to save the Everglades. If the Florida legislature fairly allocated pollution cleanup costs to the polluters, the cost to taxpayers would be dramatically less.”
The South Florida Water Management District declined to respond to the Friends’ claims when contacted.
Mercury traces study shows strange results: Nowak
Leavenworth Times - by Matt Nowak
Posted Dec 16, 2010
Leavenworth, Kan. —
A rather strange finding recently shows that mercury in the environment, especially the wetland environment, has a negative effect on breeding success of certain bird species. I say that it is rather strange because the cause of low breeding success is due to the fact that the white ibises studied were forming homosexual pairs.
“We knew mercury could depress their testosterone levels,” explained Dr. Peter Frederick from the University of Florida, who led the study. “But, we didn’t expect this. The higher the dose of mercury in their food pellets, the more likely a male bird was to pair with another male.”
The study shows that mercury could dramatically reduce breeding rates of birds and possibly other wildlife, according to the article on BBC Earth News. They know that “mercury is known to disrupt hormonal signaling, so it could have a direct impact on the sexual behavior that is mediated by those hormones.”
Additionally, “males with the higher mercury doses performed far fewer courtship displays, so they were more likely to be ignored by females.”
There are a number of sources of mercury that could be responsible for the levels of mercury being found in the Everglades. Coal-fired power plants are the first to come to my mind. Mercury is blasted high into the atmosphere and travels with the wind until it settles to the earth where it may be chemically altered by micro organisms into the methylated form of mercury – the most toxic form according to the article.
The coal from the Wind River region in Wyoming – our source for coal – is known to be high in mercury.
Another source of mercury is the runoff from mines, but this would have to be a local source upstream from your location to have an affect on you where you live. In the same manner, it is probably likely that the earth itself contains mercury sources that may be polluting the ecosystems. After all, it is found in coal.
The fillings in your teeth may not seem to be a source of mercury, but if you have the silver amalgam fillings like I do, than you have mercury in your teeth, although it is assuredly stable in that form. The problem occurs when that amalgam filing is drilled and the fine particles are swished down the drain from the dentist’s office.
I am pretty sure that either all or most drains from dental offices are filtered for mercury to protect our local environment because mercury does not disappear. It merely moves from one place to another and can be altered by organisms into more toxic forms, but it never disappears.
Another source is downwind from crematoriums if the air from the process is not filtered for mercury. The US EPA says that there is an average of three grams of mercury in every person’s mouth. The question is what happens to the mercury fillings when a body is cremated. If the fillings are not removed or the exhaust air is not filtered, then I assume that the mercury goes up the chimney until it falls back to the earth somewhere nearby.
In the Everglades white ibis study, the scientists were trying to study the effects that mercury might have on birds and they used levels that they knew already existed in the shrimp and crawdads from that area. Note to self, don’t eat any shrimp or crawdads harvested from the Everglades any time soon.
So, you may remember from a previous article that the anacondas and pythons taken from the Everglades had levels of mercury in their meat higher than any levels ever found before. Now they have discovered that the mercury causes white ibises to go homosexual with the result that there is less breeding.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.
Regional water utilities sue EPA (LAWSUIT)
NWF Daily News - by Kari C. Barlow
December 16, 2010
They say new water quality standards would cost customers millions of dollars
PENSACOLA — Five water utilities in Northwest Florida are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its new water nutrient emissions standards.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court in Pensacola by Okaloosa County, Destin Water Users, South Walton Utility Co., the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority and Panama City.
Read the lawsuit.»
The plaintiffs are represented by Tallahassee-based attorney Ken Oertel.
New EPA rules set numeric criteria for the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen flowing into lakes, rivers and springs across Florida.
The plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit that the most stringent limits are placed on Northwest Florida.
“It’s an impossible standard to meet,” Oertel said in a news release issued Thursday. “Despite the high level of treatment that each of the plaintiffs in this suit already execute at their wastewater treatment plants, none of them meet the imposed EPA criteria with their current wastewater management systems — forcing them to upgrade to more expensive equipment and raise utility bills to offset the costs.”
The lawsuit also contends the new standards are not based on sound science and could cost the utilities millions of dollars in upgrades.
“They’ve used faulty data to develop their regulatory criteria,” said Okaloosa County Administrator Jim Curry. “We probably have the newest wastewater treatment plant in the entire state, and it would not even come close to meeting the nutrient criteria.”
It could cost Okaloosa County $200 million to comply with the new standards, said Water and Sewer Director Jeff Littrell.
“This issue is extremely critical for every utility in Florida,” he said. “Every citizen should be aware that this is out there, and the consequences could be very, very expensive.”
Littrell said the new rule could have a “catastrophic effect” on Okaloosa’s utility rates.
Customers of Destin Water Users could see their monthly utility bills double if the EPA eventually enforces its rules.
“It’s the public that pays for this,” said Richard Griswold, general manager of Destin Water Users. “To comply with storm water, for the city of Destin, property taxes would have to triple. That’s an amazing thing.”
Griswold said the EPA used statistics instead of real scientific facts to determine the new water quality standards.
“Water bodies are so unique,” he said. “They’re just like people. No two are a like.”
Griswold fears the new standards could take nitrogen and phosphorous levels to dangerously low levels, making some water bodies unsafe for aquatic life.
The new water quality standards are scheduled to take effect in 15 months.
Griswold said he is hopeful the lawsuit at least will start a conversation with the EPA, which he says has been unwilling to explain its rationale behind the new rules.
“We can’t beat the federal government because they have all the money in the world,” he said. “But if we don’t try to do something, if we don’t try to do something to right the wrong that’s been done … we’re going to be stuck with something bad.”
Suspected sinkhole at landfill may be growing
TBO.com – by Scott Iscowitz
December 15, 2010
LITHIA - A possible sinkhole has been detected and may be growing at the Southeast County Landfill on County Road 672.
The depression was discovered Tuesday by the county's public utilities department workers. At the time, it measured 50 feet across and 4 to 5 feet deep.
Over the next few hours, county officials said, the hole continued to grow. It is not known how deep the hole is, or if the natural clay liner underneath the landfill has been breached.
Daily operations have been diverted to other areas of the landfill, and a segment of a nearby service road has been closed. A portion of the active landfill gas collection system has been shut off within the area impacted by the sinkhole.
Authorities have said that the hole "was not caused by normal settling."
The landfill is located on 3,300 acres at 15960 County Road 672 in Lithia. The sinkhole is in an area of the original landfill that opened in 1984. The area contains a mix of municipal solid waste and ash from the county's resource recovery facility.
Everglades restoration: It's the economy, stupid
December 14, 2010
THE ISSUE: Report says restoring Everglades will boost economy.
Environmental causes have historically pitted opposing forces in a pitched battle: It's either jobs and the economy, on the pro-development side, or the environment, on the land-preservation front.
But lately, the environmental community has gotten smart, presenting a more holistic marketing message, particularly around the all-important Everglades restoration projects at the heart of many of these pro-growth/no-growth disputes. Such projects are not only key to environmental integrity, a recent report points out, but they are also powerful economic engines.
The year-long study, commissioned by the Everglades Foundation and released in October, concluded that advancing Everglades restoration would yield a bumper crop of new jobs, putting 400,000 people to work building reservoirs and stormwater treatment facilities and restoring hunting and fishing grounds, while injecting more than $46 billion into Florida's stalled economy over a 50-year period.
That would amount to a return of $4 for every $1 state and federal officials invested if they pumped nearly $12 billion in government funding into restoring the Everglades to vitality.
The message is clear, and effective: It's not just about cleaning and storing stormwater to replenish the famed River of Grass. It's also about boosting strained water supplies, saving local communities $13 billion in water-treatment costs in the long-term and improving home values by an estimated $16 billion, according to the study completed by Atlanta-based Mather Economics. And a healthier water supply, and more robust fishing grounds, will reap dividends in tourism traffic.
The more creative, comprehensive pitch comes as budget squeezes and funding delays have put a serious crimp in the groundbreaking Everglades restoration deal state and federal officials endorsed back in 2000. Whether it will be enough to get the state to restore its $200 million a year commitment to the projects, or loosen the federal government's stranglehold on its share of the funding, remains to be seen.
But with the mood in Washington, and in Tallahassee, shifting to a necessary obsession — jobs, jobs, jobs — Everglades advocates are showing that they've read the writing on the wall, and they're finally speaking the right language. The question now is, is anyone listening ?
BOTTOM LINE: New pitch speaks lawmakers' language.
Helicopters Used To Save Fla. Crop From Rare Chill
December 14, 2010
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Dozens of helicopters whir above Florida's valuable and sensitive veggie crops, sent up by farmers worried that an uncommon freeze could wipe out their harvests.
The choppers hover low over green bean and sweet corn fields, moving back and forth in the early morning hours to push warmer air closer to the plants — and, the farmers hope, save the plants from a deadly frost.
Farmers are especially nervous because an 11-day freeze in January wiped out many crops, from corn to kumquats. Florida is the largest U.S. winter producer of sweet corn — the kind people eat.
It was too windy to use helicopters Tuesday morning, but John Hundley, a corn, bean and sugar cane farmer in Palm Beach County, said he would try Tuesday night if winds calmed and temperatures did not warm up.
Asked what he would do to protect his crops in the meantime, Hundley sighed.
"I can get on my knees and pray right now," he said. "It looks like it's pretty much out of our hands."
The stakes are high: In 2009, the value of production of sweet corn from Florida was $227 million.
"They have hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars in crops," said Paul Allen, president of the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange.
The helicopter technique can be the last of line of defense, but it's expensive: It costs about $2,500 an hour to fly one helicopter over the crops, and the length of flights depends on a mix of temperatures and wind conditions.
Here's how it works: The air 50 feet above the crops is warmer than the air near the plants. The helicopter blades push the warm air down and the temperature goes up, said David Sui, a University of Florida expert on vegetables and tropical fruits. The warmer air prevents cold and frost from settling on the plants.
"Even if it raises the temperature a couple of degrees it may save the crops," he said.
The technique isn't a new one, as farmers have long hired helicopters to keep their crops from freezing. And growers in California also have used helicopters. But it's still dangerous.
Last week, three helicopters crashed within a matter of hours in South Florida during missions to protect crops from the cold. All three pilots survived.
One helicopter went down shortly after midnight last Wednesday near a rural airport in Palm Beach County. A second helicopter crashed before dawn when the pilot made an emergency landing after a tail rotor broke. He suffered minor injuries. A third pilot was seriously hurt when his helicopter crashed in a field a few hours later.
Green beans and sweet corn are cultivated in the nutrient-rich muck soil located near the Florida Everglades, though farmers in other parts of the state are also scrambling to protect their fruits and vegetables, many of which are near harvest.
Strawberry farmers are spraying water on the plants, so the heat lost from the crop to the surrounding air is replaced with the heat released as water changes to ice. Citrus farmers are using ground-level heaters to warm the air near tree trunks. And tropical fish farmers are moving their fish or covering the outdoor tanks.
January's cold snap damaged large swaths of Florida's crops, including strawberries and tomatoes. Nearly all of the kumquat crop died.
When Florida's crops die, shoppers pay more at the grocery store because replacement produce is usually imported from outside the U.S.
Already this year, several hundred acres of green beans have been lost.
Gov. Charlie Crist on Sunday declared a state of emergency because of the threat of severe crop damage. That news prompted orange juice futures to rise over concerns the weather would damage this year's crop.
It's unusual for temperatures to be this cold this early in the season, said Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Temperatures are expected to dip into the teens in north Florida, and in the high 20s in central and South Florida — though temperatures between 60 to 78 degrees are more common this time of year.
"When you're talking about temperatures as cold as those predicted, virtually everything is in peril," she said.
It Takes Heart To Keep Florida's Waterways Clean
Earthjustice – by David Guest
December 14, 2010
Industry-fed politicians fight court order to cleanse the waters
Many years ago, a friend of mine was just starting out in the environmental movement, and the late Florida environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas (she authored the classic Everglades: River of Grass) offered some advice.
If you're going to do this kind of work, prepare to have your heart broken, because even when you win, you're never done.
So it is with our landmark lawsuit to get enforceable limits on the amount of sewage, fertilizer and animal waste that run into Florida's public waters. Even though we've had bright green slime covering rivers and lakes, even though health authorities had to close famed Florida beaches because of pollution, and even though drinking water has been fouled, polluters and misguided politicians continue to fight cleanup.
In 2009, we negotiated our historic settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in which the EPA agreed to set enforceable numeric standards in Florida for the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen—which come from fertilizer, animal waste and improperly treated sewage. The rules were put into motion under the administration of President George W. Bush after the EPA had worked for a decade with two Republican governors of Florida to write tighter pollution standards.
On Nov. 15, we hailed a major victory when EPA finally set nutrient pollution limits for Florida's freshwaters and lakes. But, as Stoneman Douglas warned, we're not done.
On Dec. 7, Florida sued the EPA to try to block the new pollution limits.
It was one more painful political permutation that we've had to endure this year. Polluters staged a propaganda campaign with trumped-up numbers and an absurd premise: clean water is too expensive.
They reached out to political candidates, who, in turn, tried to capitalize on election-year hysteria and paint pollution cleanup as a jobs-killer. They released a study that supposedly analyzed the cost to average utility customers with scare-tactic numbers. When the EPA analyzed the study, the agency found that the actual cost would be a tenth of what the polluters were claiming. People will pay about $3 to $6 per household per month. A reasonable price for clean water.
Florida's lawsuit against the EPA was engineered by two outgoing Florida politicians—Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. But it is being embraced by incoming Florida leaders, including Florida's new governor, Rick Scott.
Florida's leading newspaper, The St. Petersburg Times, took our newly elected politicians to task for shilling for polluters instead of protecting public health. A Times editorial said:
These leaders need to get their facts—and their priorities—straight. Polluted water endangers public health, threatens the golden geese of property values and tourism, and destroys the very environment that attracts residents here. The state should welcome the new standards and work with polluters to clean up the public's waterways.
This new turn of events in the political and legal arenas is a setback at a time when we've made so much progress. But we know that the public is behind us. The EPA reports that it received 22,000 public comments on the proposed new nutrient pollution standards, and a full 20,000 of those comments were in support of the clean water standards.
We will continue our fight in the coming year. Our hearts are not broken. And we're definitely not done.
Nora Demers: Polluters' propaganda is wrong
News-Press.com – by Nora Demers, Special
December 14, 2010
Re: "New EPA water standards are costly and based on bad science," Barney Bishop, Dec. 2. Billions of dollars may well be lost if Mr. Barney Bishop III and his vocal, influential minority are successful in their fear-mongering strategy to prevent implementation of the plans to improve the water quality of Florida's waterways.
Industry sacrifices waters' future to short-term profits
I was not surprised that Mr. Bishop, CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, is so adamantly opposed to these water standards.
Change is difficult and uncomfortable. Those who profit the most from the current, old-fashioned system of short-term economic growth must adjust. They need to stop their blatant abuse of the ecosystems that make Florida a paradise.
In a recent poll, over 80 percent of Floridians indicated they wanted improvements to water quality. The silent majority seems to realize that the sustainable economies for Florida (agriculture, fishing and tourism) require clean and healthy water systems.
Mr. Bishop's remark about algae blooms being natural is superficial and absurd. Nutrient input from humans has been demonstrated to lead to more sustained and detrimental algal blooms. Humans are exceeding the capacity of the natural systems to remediate the decades of abuses caused by short-sighted greed practiced by those who don't seem to care about the results of their abusive practices.
Since industry influences the political appointments by elected leaders, I am not surprised that the leadership of agencies have bowed to these pressures. The good work of the employees of state and federal agencies responsible for protecting the ecosystems for all of us is ignored.
It would be more appropriate to shift the responsibility of cleanup costs for improving water quality back to the polluters instead of having that cost continue to be externalized to the tax-paying public.
The natural waters of Florida should not continue to serve as the cesspools for industry.
I hope the residents of Florida are not gullible enough to allow de-regulation for the sake of an unrealistic goal of economic growth out of sync with natural systems.
You can call me a tree-hugger if you want, but my interests are purely selfish. The planet will survive without humans. I am convinced that our ability to thrive and prosper on the planet requires implementation of more sustainable practices. I hope other leaders of industry are willing to step up and do what is right.
- Nora Demers, Ph.D., is a biologist and has been a resident of Southwest Florida since 1997.
South Florida could face tougher watering restrictions as dry weather continues
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 14, 2010
Declining Lake Okeechobee water levels could trigger cutbacks
Three consecutive months of below-normal rainfall have South Florida water managers moving closer to imposing tougher watering restrictions that could spread to farms, businesses and homes if conditions worsen.
A drier-than-normal start to the winter and spring dry season has water levels declining from portions of the Everglades to Lake Okeechobee, South Florida's backup water supply.
Last week, the South Florida Water Management District board empowered Executive Director Carol Wehle to start imposing emergency watering restrictions if the lake drops another four inches before the board meets again in January.
Irrigation restrictions, phased in depending on the severity of an anticipated drought, could start by targeting agricultural operations and towns near Lake Okeechobee. They could spread to the rest of South Florida if water levels keep dropping.
The district already issued a water-shortage warning for areas just south of the lake, calling for voluntary cutbacks.
"We are in this nosedive, and the likelihood of a turnaround is small," district Board Chairman Eric Buermann said.
Lake Okeechobee on Tuesday measured 12.64 feet above sea level. That was about 2 feet below average and 1 foot below this time last year.
Before imposing watering restrictions on Big Sugar and other growers, one of the first water-use sacrifices likely would be low-level water releases from Lake Okeechobee that in recent weeks provided an infusion of freshwater needed to protect the environmental health of the Caloosahatchee River.
South Florida growers who rely on Lake Okeechobee water for irrigation have opposed those releases, saying that water eventually would be needed to beef up supplies in the dry months expected to come.
The Sierra Club and Audubon of Florida, along with West Coast community leaders, say water managers first need to impose tougher restrictions on agricultural and other users throughout South Florida before cutting off the Caloosahatchee.
"People don't have to water lawns," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. "We are overly dependent on water and wasting water on landscaping."
When rainfall stops, water releases from Lake Okeechobee help lower salinity levels in the Caloosahatchee estuary and protect sea grasses and other habitat that provide vital fishing grounds.
Water going to the Caloosahatchee is a "paltry sum" compared to the amount of lake water used to irrigate hundreds of thousands of acres of South Florida farmland, according to Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah.
"Protect our coastal back bays and estuaries," Judah implored the district's board.
Agricultural representatives counter that saving Lake Okeechobee water now is a must, considering the dry months expected to come.
"We know where we are going," agricultural consultant and former district officials Tom MacVicar said about drought forecasts. "Once you are in [a drought], it's too late to do anything."
The Army Corps of Engineers decides when to release water from Lake Okeechobee, factoring in recommendations from the South Florida Water Management District.
The Army Corps on Friday started another week-long round of Lake Okeechobee releases to the Caloosahatchee, but that is expected to stop if the lake drops much lower.
The water district this year for the first time imposed year-round landscape watering restrictions to encourage conservation and boost water supplies.
The year-round rules allow three-day-per week watering for most of Southeast Florida, though Broward and Miami-Dade counties went for tougher, twice-a-week, year-round watering rules. Palm Beach County allows watering three days per week.
Even with year-round restrictions, the water management district could impose additional, temporary emergency watering restrictions during droughts.
That would start with requiring the hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee to start reducing water use 15 percent.
If dry conditions continue as forecast, those emergency restrictions could become more strict and spread to the rest of South Florida.
South Florida is expected to face a drier than normal conditions during the next few months due to the effects of La Nina atmospheric conditions.
The water management district is getting ready to install pumps that would allow Lake Okeechobee water to keep flowing south when lake levels drop below the point where gravity helps fill the drainage canals tapped by sugar cane, vegetable and other South Florida growers.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504
Audubon calls for more agricultural pollution controls to clean up Lake Okeechobee
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 13, 2010
A new plan to clean up Lake Okeechobee water pollution doesn't go far enough and needs to include more limits on agriculture and other polluting landowners, according to Audubon of Florida.
Too much phosphorus-laden stormwater runoff flows into Lake Okeechobee, and the latest analysis shows that the new cleanup plan would still would fall short of pollution-reduction mandates that kick in by 2015.
Phosphorus can come from fertilizer on farms and lawns as well as animal waste from pasture land, washed into the lake with stormwater.
Lake Okeechobee gets an influx of more than 500 metric tons of phosphorus a year, according to the South Florida Water Management District. State standards call for getting that yearly load down to 140 metric tons by 2015.
Current phosphorus-reduction efforts only reduce the total influx by about 107 metric tons.
"The current activities are not enough," Temperince Morgan, the district's director of policy and coordination, said about the lagging phosphorus cleanup. "We still have a deficit."
Audubon proposes putting more requirements on agriculture and other landowners to deal with the source of the phosphorus pollution.
The levels of phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee are "disturbing," and the current cleanup plan doesn't meet the "statutory duty" to reduce pollution, according to Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper.
"We believe it will neither resolve the water-quality problems of Lake Okeechobee and its downstream estuaries, nor those of the greater Everglades," Draper wrote in a Dec. 8 letter to water district officials about the Lake Okeechobee cleanup plan.
District officials say it will take more money from the state to meet the Lake Okeechobee cleanup standards. But the outlook is grim, with the state facing more than a $3 billion budget shortfall in 2011.
Also, toughening the pollution-control practices for agriculture costs farmers and ranchers money. Too many costly requirements could put agriculture out of business, district Board Member Charles Dauray said.
Today's farmers and growers are using more pollution-control measures and should not shoulder the entire cost of cleaning up past pollution, said Charles Shinn of the Florida Farm Bureau.
More regional stormwater-control facilities are needed to go along with any requirements for tougher farming and ranching practices, to deal with the buildup of phosphorus that has accumulated in Florida's soil over the decades, Shinn said.
"We've got to take that into account … and not make that the burden of the current farmer who is out there trying to eke out a living," Shinn said.
Lake Okeechobee once naturally replenished the Everglades with water that drained in from the north, lapping over the lake's southern rim and sending sheets of shallow water that slowly made their way to Florida Bay.
Decades of draining Florida to make way for agriculture and development led to canals and the lake's dike, which allow lake levels to be manipulated for flood control and water storage.
Phosphorus that flows in the lake fuels the growth of algae and other plants that die and settle to the lake's bottom, creating a layer of muck that coats the bottom of the 730-square-mile lake.
Phosphorus-laden water from the lake also ends up drained out to coastal estuaries and heads south in water deliveries to sugar cane fields and other farmland, mixing with polluted stormwater that can overwhelm treatment areas before making its way to the Everglades.
The state-required Lake Okeechobee protection plan, last updated in 2008, is due to the Legislature in early 2011.
Agricultural practices employed to reduce phosphorus include fencing to keep cattle out of drainage canals, building stormwater retention areas on farms and ranches and reducing fertilizing by more closely monitoring chemical levels in agricultural fields.
The new Lake Okeechobee protection plan expands on those agricultural and other efforts. It also includes projected phosphorus reduction from a long-planned reservoir west of Stuart, a new stormwater-treatment area on the east side of lake and the Fisheating Creek wetland reserve.
Long-term possibilities include chemical treatment to reduce phosphorus, building more reservoirs to hold stormwater and completion of new stormwater-treatment areas and other Everglades restoration projects that would help diminish phosphorus loads.
But even with those efforts, the Water Management District projects it would come up short of the 140-metric-ton limit.
Audubon calls for more requirements for agriculture and other land users to impose more "source controls" to keep polluted water from washing into Lake Okeechobee in the first place. Audubon also calls for the state to set tougher limits on the disposal of sewage waste by spreading it onto pasture lands that can drain into Lake Okeechobee.
The solution requires more investment in preventing or cleaning up the pollution flowing into and then out of Lake Okeechobee, said Pete Quasius of the Collier County Audubon Society.
"Enough studies, enough talk, enough delay," Quasius said.
Current policies aimed at keeping pollution from flowing off agricultural land and other properties aren't working, said Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club.
"I don't think [more] source control is going to put agriculture out of business," Martin said.
District officials say they know what the problems are, but paying for the fixes remains the issue. The district board will be asked next month to approve the new Lake Okeechobee protection plan
Despite the state's financial crunch, district Board Chairman Eric Buermann said the agency needs to push for more state money to address the long-known Lake Okeechobee pollution problems.
"We have got to get a little more aggressive with the Legislature," Buermann said. "We just haven't met what we said we were going to do."
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504
The cost-benefit of restoring the unique 'River of Grass'
December 13, 2010
Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott frequently emphasizes the importance of cost-benefit plans in judging state programs.
So he should be interested in a recent report that estimated restoring the Everglades would have a $4 return for every $1 spent. The study was conducted by Mather Economics of Atlanta for the Everglades Foundation.
The nonprofit foundation is dedicated to restoring the Everglades, so the findings could be questioned. But Mather is an independent firm, and its principal researcher says the estimates were extremely conservative and based on actual market transactions that would result from restoration, not on desirable outcomes, such as protecting endangered species, with vague financial consequences.
As Mather Economics' Bobby McCormick told the Fort Myers News-Press: "…If what you are doing is only good for the alligators, it's not necessarily a good idea. What we wanted to do was provide a business-like approach about public decisions on Everglades restoration."
The research showed the $11.5 billion project to clean and restore water flow to the Everglades would generate between $46.5 billion and $123.9 billion in benefits over the next 50 years. Washington and Florida are splitting the expenses. The study also found restoration would generate more than 440,000 jobs over 50 years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the actual restoration work will create nearly 23,000 short- to mid-term jobs.
The biggest restoration benefit would come in safeguarding South Florida's water supply. Groundwater is becoming increasingly saline and must be heavily treated to be made drinkable. The restoration work, boosting supply and averting salt-water intrusion would save about $13 billion by reducing the electricity costs for water purification that is now necessary. And the Everglades supplies water to one in three Floridians.
Researchers found the clean water that would result from the Everglades work would increase residential real estate values by $16 billion and create more than 270,000 construction and real estate-related jobs.
A restored Everglades, the study estimated, should increase tourism by $1.9 billion, commercial fishing by $524 million and recreational fishing by $2.04 billion over the next 50 years. The recreational fishing figures are very conservative, since they did not address improved salt water fishing, and restoration should significantly enhance Florida Bay.
Researchers also found habitat restoration would boost outdoors' activities, particularly duck hunting, by $12.5 billion over 50 years.
Of course, there is more to the matter than just dollars and cents. As Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of the "The Everglades: River of Grass," wrote, "There are no other Everglades in the world."
Florida leaders should feel an obligation to future generations to preserve this natural wonder. But if they only care about the financial side of the ledger, the return on investment looks compelling as well.
Time to implement EPA clean-water standards
Palm Beach Post - by David Guest, Letters to the Editor
December 13, 2010
Sometimes, Florida politics are too absurd to be believed. Right now, your elected representatives are using your tax dollars to keep your water polluted.
Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson - backed by Attorney General Bill McCollum, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam - filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from setting new clean-water standards for Florida's lakes and rivers. These standards will limit nutrient poisoning from poorly treated sewage, fertilizer and animal waste.
This is a public health threat. Apart from the disgusting appearance of lakes and rivers covered with green slime, much of the slime contains powerful toxins. When people drink, touch, or inhale vapors from the water, it can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness and even death. It also kills fish and wildlife. EPA received 22,000 public comments on the new limits; 20,000 supported them.
Our leaders should not be moonlighting for polluters, who are trying to scare people with bogus sky-high cost predictions. Agriculture is almost exempt from Clean Water Act permitting, and the minimal changes in farming practices called for by the new rules will cost only about $1 per acre. Worse is the scare tactic of telling consumers that their utility bills will immediately increase by $700 per year. EPA's rule says that those pricey technologies can never be required, and that the real cost is about $5 per household per month. That's a reasonable price for clean water.
The EPA rules were put in motion under President George W. Bush, and the administrations of our last two governors - both Republicans - used the same scientific methods used by EPA. And now the Agriculture Commissioner and Attorney General file a lawsuit that EPA's science is wrong? It's time to get on with the cleanup. Florida's leaders have no business using our tax money to fight against clean water.
DAVID GUEST, Tallahassee - Attorney for Earthjustice, which brought suit against the EPA.
To avoid sinkholes, Swiftmud wants new rules for farmers
St. Petersburg Times - by Kim Wilmath, Staff Writer
December 12, 2010
PLANT CITY — Edgar Mansila looks next door and prays.
There's just an empty patch of land there now, an unremarkable gap in a row of little mobile homes. But when Mansila thinks about what happened at the lot last year, when the temperatures dipped and farmers turned on their sprinklers and a sinkhole swallowed his neighbor's home at the Oakbrook Mobile Home Park, there's only one thing to say.
"Jesus," he mutters, "help us."
With temperatures flirting with 30 degrees even before Christmas, Mansila and other east Hillsborough residents fear a repeat of last year's disaster: dozens of sinkholes and hundreds of dry wells caused by a record stretch of freezing nights and groundwater pumping by farmers.
In just over a week during January's cold snap, some 20 sinkholes and depressions in Plant City and Dover closed roads and snarled traffic, and hundreds of private wells were drained.
Still, growers say the likelihood of another catastrophic freeze is slim, considering the favorable La Niña weather pattern and the rarity of such cold snaps in Florida.
But that hasn't stopped the Southwest Florida Water Management District from proposing rule changes that would limit the amount of water farmers could draw from the aquifer in a newly defined "water use caution area around the agricultural areas of Dover and Plant City." The intent is to reduce water pumping during freezes by 20 percent within a decade.
The district, also known as Swiftmud, is scheduled to vote on the amendments Tuesday morning.
Mansila, 44, is glad the issue hasn't been forgotten, for his home's sake.
After his neighbor's trailer was swallowed by a sinkhole in January, Mansila put his up for sale. There were no takers, and now he and his wife are thinking of trying again.
"My daughter said she saw the farmers watering," he said one recent morning. It irks him a little.
Yet he also worries about the growers, who use sprinklers to cover crops with a protective layer of ice when temperatures drop below freezing.
Agriculture has a $1.5 billion economic impact on Hillsborough County each year, with strawberry production alone bringing in more than $300 million, according to the county's office of agriculture industry development.
"I don't know how they're going to do if they don't run the water," Mansila said. "So everybody's in trouble."
Not all the neighbors are as sympathetic.
Danny Cain, who lives a few doors down, said he fully supports water managers' efforts to rein in farmers' water use.
"I don't think anybody should be able to make a profit when it's costing other people," Cain said. "I think they have a right to protect their crops, but there are other processes."
The water management district proposed changes that include a push for frost-protection methods that don't involve pumping water, including insulating ground cover and rainwater retention ponds.
Those alternatives come at an increased cost, though, leaving farmers leery. Nevertheless, they say they understand why it's all happening, and many reluctantly said they would give the alternatives a try.
"It's going to be very, very challenging," said Joe Gude, of Brandon Farms. "But you know, I get it. … I live here, too."
"Farmers are very innovative," said Billy Simmons, of Simmons Farms. "We change with the times."
Officials are trying to make any changes as easy as possible, Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said. Under a program known as Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems, Swiftmud will pay 75 percent of installation costs for some of the new frost protections.
The water district is also paying for new temperature and water-meter monitors in the proposed caution area, in addition to imposing new well-construction standards for home- owners.
Felix said many of the new rules, if approved, won't go into effect until sometime next year.
In the meantime, Edgar Mansila braces himself for the nightly weather report and looks nervously out the window.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442
Florida Everglades Cleanup: A River of Morass
Time - by Michael Grunwald
December 11, 2010
On December 11, 2000, with Governor Jeb Bush at his side, President Bill Clinton signed a landmark $7.8 billion bill to revive the dying Florida Everglades. It was the largest ecosystem restoration project in the history of the planet, and one of the most surreal ceremonies in the history of the Oval Office; that day, the Supreme Court was hearing Bush v. Gore, to decide whether Jeb's brother or Clinton's vice president would take over the office. But if Florida's political swamp was dividing the nation into red and blue, Florida's actual swamp was uniting the antagonists around green. Outside the White House, reporters grilled Jeb about the partisan war raging down the street, but he waved them off, proclaiming that bipartisanship was still alive. "We're here to talk about something that's going to be long-lasting, way past counting votes," he said. "This is the restoration of a treasure for our country." (View photographs of Florida, Paradise Lost.)
Ten years later, the Everglades is still dying, and the price tag for the restoration is up to $13.5 billion. The project looks long-lasting, all right; none of its 68 components has been completed. The basic problem with the Everglades — water that doesn't flow right and isn't clean enough — remains unsolved. Half the River of Grass is still gone, a maze of highways, levees and canals still slices and dices what's left, and the dysfunctional Army Corps of Engineers, which helped ravage the Everglades in the first place, is still in charge of resuscitating it. Meanwhile, the dike that protects millions of Floridians from Lake Okeechobee is leaking, the Everglade snail kite is flirting with extinction, and invasive Burmese pythons are running roughshod through the marsh.
Really, it's become a River of Morass.
There has been some progress lately under Governor Charlie Crist and President Obama, and there is still bipartisan support for the idea of saving the Glades. But the decade mark was supposed to be a proof-of-concept milestone; project leaders secured the support of skeptical scientists and environmentalists by promising major ecological advances by 2010. Some of us remained skeptical even then. Everglades National Park's lobbyist predicted that congressmen would lose their enthusiasm for Florida's gators and panthers and otters if they didn't see tangible results: "In 10 years, I'm afraid, they're going to wonder what they've bought for their billions." She was right to be afraid, and now the overflowing coffers of 2000 have given way to brutal state and federal budget crises.
This is all a big deal, and not just because the Everglades is a unique wilderness with quirky wildlife, or even because it's a vital economic engine that attracts tourists and sits atop south Florida's water supply. The Everglades, greens like to say, is a test: If we pass, we may get to keep the planet. And the Everglades project is a model for ecosystem restorations around the country (the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, Louisiana's coastal wetlands) and around the world (the Pantanal, the Okavango Delta, the Garden of Eden marshes that Saddam Hussein destroyed in Iraq). It's a test of our science, our engineering and our political will; indeed, it's a test of man's ability to manage water and live in harmony with nature.
We haven't flunked yet. After years of squabbling, posturing and litigating, dirt is finally flying. Obama's stimulus has jump-started a project to restore some drained southwest Florida swampland that was once destined to be become a resort community. Two long-stalled restoration projects that pre-dated the Clinton plan are finally moving; one of them, a nightmarish effort to rehydrate the national park known as "Mod Waters," reached the legal drinking age this year. Another pre-Clinton project to revive the Kissimmee River at the headwaters of the Everglades is producing spectacular results, restoring more than 20,000 acres of wetlands. The feds and the state also agreed on a procedural "master plan" for the Everglades, ending a ridiculous stalemate that persisted for years. And while political opposition and fiscal deterioration blocked Crist's audacious effort to buy 187,000 acres of sugar fields in the northern Everglades, he did manage to secure 27,000 acres, and an option to buy more in the future. (Watch TIME's video of a planet polluted.)
"A lot of big things have been happening lately," says Shannon Estenoz, a longtime Everglades activist who has served on Crist's water board, and last week accepted a job coordinating Everglades work for Obama's Interior Department. "There's still a lot of uncertainty, but we're in a much better place."
The first uncertainties are technical. The original Corps restoration plan aimed to store vast amounts of water in wet times (to avoid floods and damaging releases into biodiverse estuaries) so that it's available in dry times (to avoid droughts and damaging fires in parched marshes). But one key storage strategy, high-tech aquifer wells, now appears unlikely to work at the scale the Corps had hoped. And it now appears that the park will need a lot more water than the Corps had hoped. Crist's massive land-buying scheme would create space for more reservoirs, but his successor, conservative Rick Scott, seems unenthused about spending billions of dollars to take SUGAR fields out of commission.
These kind of political and financial uncertainties are even more daunting. Rhetorically, politicians love to talk about protecting the Everglades, but practically, it tends to be their top priority except for everything else. President Obama and the Democratic Congress have been much more helpful with funding than President Bush and the Republican Congress, and Governor Crist was much less cozy with the sugar industry and the development industry than Governor Bush. But now there's much less money available, and much less interest in eco-projects. (See TIME's "Postcard From the Everglades.")
There are also legal uncertainties. Thanks to Federal litigation and gobs of state money, the water quality in the Everglades has gradually improved over the last two decades. But that means the Everglades is just getting poisoned a bit less quickly; to comply with clean-water law the state would have to spend additional gobs of money. There are two federal judges overseeing this mess, and they have been losing patience with the pace of the cleanup; meanwhile, even under Crist, state officials have defied the judges, and recently filed suit against the Obama Administration. At some point there will be a collision, and nobody knows how that will affect restoration.
Finally, there are bureaucratic uncertainties. The unlikely bipartisan ceremony at the White House ten years ago reflected the Kumbaya nature of the Everglades plan. It was not just an environmental plan; in fact, it specified that the environment could not take precedence over economic interests, which is why it had support from Big Sugar and other Florida power players. Conflicts were just postponed until the Corps started designing projects. Ultimately, the bipartisan consensus that zipped the restoration plan through Tallahassee and Washington with only a few dissenting votes was as tenuous as the clenched smiles in the Oval Office that strange December day. This is why the Corps has presided over so many meetings and conferences and negotiating sessions that never seem to end up with a completed project.
As a card-carrying Everglades obsessive I've always believed the technical challenges of restoration were overrated. Basically, we need to clean and store water at the top of the watershed, then remove barriers so it can flow through the rest of the watershed. But that's a lot harder than it sounds, because the other challenges are real. As one frequent Everglades litigator likes to say, water in South Florida flows uphill towards money. If that doesn't change over the next ten years, we could lose our best chance to salvage a national treasure. And if we can't save the Everglades-after so much science, so much money, so much rhetoric and so many cool postcards-it's hard to imagine what we can save.
Florida fights for rights of polluters
Miami Herald - by Carl Hiaasen firstname.lastname@example.org
December 11, 2010
Farms, mills and municipalities that use Florida waterways as a latrine got more good news last week from their stooges in Tallahassee. The latest battle to stop the enforcement of federal pollution laws will be paid for by state taxpayers.
Outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson — backed by Attorney General Bill McCollum — has sued to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing revised clean-water standards for Florida’s rivers, creeks and lakes.
Standing stoically in support of the polluters, McCollum and Bronson say the new water rules are too costly, and based on flawed science (interestingly, data provided by the state itself). Endorsing that lame position are their successors, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam.
To hear all this whining, you’d think the EPA had ambushed Florida businesses with the new water regulations. Not even close.
Back in 1998, the EPA ordered all states to cut back pollution of so-called surface waters with damaging nutrients from farms, ranches, septic tanks and sewage-treatment facilities. The agency set a deadline of 2004 and then — in the anti-regulatory spirit of the Bush era — basically did nothing to follow up.
In 2008, environmental groups finally sued the EPA in order to compel enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act.
It’s not some new piece of radical legislation. It was born in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and expanded significantly under Richard Nixon in 1972, and again in 1977.
Floridians who aren’t familiar with Clean Water Act can be forgiven, because it has never been taken seriously here by companies that dump massive volumes of waste into public waters, or by the politicians who are supposed to care about such crimes.
The Everglades wouldn’t be in its current dire condition if authorities at all levels hadn’t skirted and even ignored the law, permitting ranchers, sugar farmers and developing cities to flush billions of dirty gallons of runoff into the state’s most important watershed.
With good reason, after decades of getting their way, polluters became cocky and complacent. But they’re not stupid, and the writing has been on the wall for some time. The EPA has worked with the administrations of both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist to come up with new water rules, often bowing to industry concerns.
Under fire in court, the EPA in 2009 finally agreed to set pollution standards for lakes and streams this year, with regulations for saltwater bays and estuaries to take effect in 2011. The agency estimates only about 10 percent of Florida’s farms and less than half the waste-treatment plants would be affected.
Still, the outcry from heavy industry and agricultural interests was instant and predictable, as was the agency’s response: another delay.
Both of Florida’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican George LeMieux, pushed for the EPA to back off, and polluters won a 15-month reprieve.
Heck, it’s only water.
Try not to think of the crud in it as fertilizers, pesticides and human waste. Embrace more benign terms, like phosphorus and nitrogen. That’s what the industry lobbyists prefer.
And while they haggle with scientists over how many numeric parts-per-billion is a tolerable stream of pollution, try not to worry about its impact on the public waters that your children and grandchildren will inherit, and rely on.
It’s not easy if you live along the St. Johns River, the St. Lucie waterway, the Caloosahatchee, or any number of Florida rivers and streams that for generations have been used to transport manmade waste. Nutrient pollutants spawn algae blooms, kill wildlife, choke out native vegetation and cause nasty health problems for humans.
Because of toxic freshwater runoff, the state’s southwest coast has experienced caustic red tides that littered the beaches with dead fish and sent coughing tourists scurrying back to their hotel rooms -- and then to the airport.
Among the many harsh lessons of the BP oil spill was that pollution — not regulation — is a more devastating job-killer. Florida’s upper Gulf Coast received a relatively small bombardment of tar balls, but it was enough to cripple tourism and the commercial fishing trade for months. It didn’t help property values, either.
The argument that it’s morally indefensible to foul natural waters is futile against the outsized political clout of the polluters. Whether it’s a phosphate mine, pulp mill or cane field, Florida’s leaders — Democrats and Republicans — have traditionally been happy to offer our rivers and wetlands as free sewers.
However, the blowback — that dirty water is endangering the economy — is increasingly difficult to brush aside.
That didn’t stop Bronson and McCollum from suing the EPA. They’re not doing it for the citizens of Florida; they’re doing it for the polluters.
And they’re paying for it with your tax dollars, at a time when the state budget is strapped for revenue.
Try not to think of this as pure crud. Just try.
Cold kills record number of manatees
Orlando Sentinel - by Ludmilla Lelis
December 10, 2010
Florida's record number of manatee deaths in 2010 — 699 — were largely blamed on the severe cold last winter. And that count could rise with more cold temperatures expected next week.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said Friday that 2010 saw an unprecedented die-off for the endangered mammals. Last winter's freezing temperatures gave many manatees an acute cold shock, like severe hypothermia, that killed them faster than in previous winters, said Martine deWit, commission veterinarian. Also, the cold weather spread as far south as the Everglades and Florida Keys, areas where manatees usually don't see many cold-related deaths.
The cold was specifically blamed for 244 of the sea-cow deaths. The cause of another 271, however, couldn't conclusively be determined or the carcasses were not recovered. This month, the state hasn't attributed any manatee deaths to cold, but deWit said it's still early in the season.
State officials are trying to improve manatee survival by improving access to warm-water sites. Earlier this month, a gate to the spring at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was reopened, allowing manatees admittance for the first time in 30 years.
Air still isn’t clear, neither is EPA’s directive
Sun Herald - EDITORIAL OPINION
December 9, 2010
For 40 years the Environmental Protection Agency has been the regulatory scourge of U.S. polluters of air, land and water. Created on Dec. 2, 1970, by an executive order by President Richard Nixon, the EPA’s primary mandate is to enforce clean air and water laws.
These landmark laws needed a tough sheriff. The EPA by and large has been up to the challenge. Inevitably, it has had -- and still does have -- stiff opposition.
For instance, some members of Florida’s congressional delegation this year opposed the agency’s proposed nutrient standards for the state’s rivers, lakes and streams. They say the proposed standards for acceptable phosphorus and nitrogen in water will cost billions and aren’t based on sound science. The EPA agreed to delay finalizing the criteria until August 2011 and submit them to more scientific scrutiny.
The South Florida Water Management District Board sharply criticized the EPA last month for its plan to stem pollution in the Everglades. The board decried it as infringing on state rights to set water-quality laws, having an unrealistic timeline for massive construction projects and saddling South Florida taxpayers with the $1.5 billion-plus cost.
Clearly, when it comes to Florida water-quality issues, the EPA must work with state officials to find solutions both sides agree are practical and that will be effective.
The EPA is also involved in a much bigger controversy about climate change. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions. The court told the Bush administration to reverse course. Yet the agency still dragged its feet.
But, under President Obama, once it became clear that Congress wasn’t going to act soon on climate-change legislation, the EPA took steps to regulate greenhouse gases. Still, even as the EPA celebrated its 40th birthday last week, incoming House Speaker John Boehner abolished the House’s climate-change panel. And the new GOP House leadership wants to limit EPA’s emissions regulation by cutting funding.
That would be such folly. Climate change is real, and Florida’s coastline will see its bad effects for real in the next 50 years. The EPA is the right agency to deal with reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. Congress should be supporting the EPA at this crucial time, not threatening to tie its hands.
December 9, 2010
There are lots of good reasons to fight to protect Florida’s Everglades. More than seven million people live in the Everglades watershed and depend on it for their drinking water. Florida’s agriculture, boating, tourism, real estate, recreational and commercial fishing industries all depend on a healthy Everglades ecosystem, which supports tens of thousands of jobs and contributes billions to the state’s economy. To help generate support for the Everglades and the ongoing state and federal efforts to restore them, the non-profit Everglades Foundation has launched a marketing campaign meant to identify and unify diverse voices in support of the restoration, according to a news release from the group. Everglades Nation is an effort to identify and unite anyone who has a relationship with the greater Everglades ecosystem through hobbies, business activities, recreational pursuits or place of residence. The Everglades Nation campaign will feature online and social media as a way for Everglades-connected stakeholders to communicate ideas, network, socialize and engage in advocacy. The latest wrinkle is a logo design contest. The logo design competition will be decided by a panel of judges. Deadline for submissions will be Feb. 28, 2011. For more information or contest details, visit www.evergladeslogocontest.org. The Everglades Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit group dedicated to protecting and restoring the glades.
For more information, visit www.evergladesfoundation.org. Jesse Chambers is a Birmingham Weekly contributing editor. Send your comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Playing politics with Florida's dirty water
St Petersburg Times – TampaBay.com
December 9, 2010
Florida's leaders continue to moonlight on behalf of the worst polluters fouling the water. Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson — backed by Attorney General Bill McCollum, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam — filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from setting new clean-water standards for Florida's lakes and rivers. The move is bad for the environment and public health and a waste of taxpayers' money, particularly given that the EPA has delayed enforcement of the standards for 15 months.
Cabinet members seem to be making a sport of suing the Obama administration every time they see an opportunity to score political points. And just like with McCollum's lawsuit against the new federal health care reform, Bronson's comes down on the side of big business at the expense of public health.
Bronson's suit rehashes the same old yarn that the EPA jumped the gun in setting the new water rules. He alleges the standards are based on flawed science and that meeting them would cost water treatment plants, farmers and other industrial polluters billions of dollars.
A short history: EPA told the states in 1998 to limit nutrient pollution in surface waters by 2004 or it would do it for them. But 10 years passed before environmental groups sued the agency to intervene under the Clean Water Act. Last year, the agency settled the case under an arrangement where the EPA would roll out standards for lakes and streams this year and for saltwater bodies in 2011.
If the EPA deserves blame, it is for dragging its feet and giving some of Florida's worst polluters a pass. Runoff from leaky septic tanks, stormwater facilities and livestock operations pollutes the public's drinking water supply, sparks fish kills and respiratory diseases and hurts waterfront property values and tourism. The EPA has worked for years with the administrations of two Republican governors to craft the Florida rules, and it has agreed (to a fault) to a host of concessions in a good-faith effort to lower the compliance costs. Indeed, the EPA estimates that fewer than half of wastewater plants and only one-tenth of farming operations would fall under the plan.
Bronson's lawsuit broke no new ground. It looks aimed more at using the 15-month delay in enforcement as an opportunity for Republican officeholders and the industry to further misrepresent what the standards would and would not do. Business interests such as Associated Industries of Florida were complaining about the standards even before they were proposed, and Bronson's lawsuit echoes their baseless claims that the standards are arbitrary and not science-based. As the EPA points out, the standards are indeed grounded in law and strong science. In fact, the EPA used the state's own data in proposing the new pollution limits.
Rather than work with EPA during this transition period, Republican leaders have decided to blame clean water, President Barack Obama and their own inaction for allowing pollution to taint 375,000 acres of Florida's lakes and nearly 2,000 miles of rivers and streams. Florida has a responsibility to its residents and its economy. If Bronson and McCollum don't see that, their successors sure should.
St. Johns River: Lawsuits are no help to the river
December 9, 2010
Since the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the numeric nutrient rules for Florida's inland waters, we have been subject to a torrent of criticism about big polluters.
What does a big polluter look like? If we look in the mirror, we can clearly see the face of a big polluter.
Those of us who are big polluters and who take responsibility for our standard of living are currently spending over $700 million in the Lower St. Johns River Basin to clean up nutrient pollution.
We are using the scientifically sound principles developed in Florida's far-reaching Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process to make massive improvements that have proven to dramatically reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the river since approval of the Lower Basin TMDL in October 2008.
Some have filed lawsuits against the EPA to prevent implementation of these efforts.
They get unelected EPA bureaucrats to enter into consent decrees binding on the sovereign rights of Floridians to govern Florida's water quality.
They have delayed clean up of Florida's waters as a result of their endless lawsuits.
They advocate EPA's numeric nutrient rules, which are based on scientifically and economically flawed assumptions and analyses.
According to independent analysis, numeric nutrient rules are likely to cost Florida residents and businesses between $1 billion and $7 billion more than we are currently spending statewide on water cleanup.
According to EPA's own analysis, numeric nutrient rules will only provide $28 million in annual benefits.
In my own big polluter mind, I have no idea why we would spend $7 billion in new costs that we cannot afford for $28 million in benefits.
Only our federal government, which can print money, would see that as a good deal.
As mercury dips, so does aquifer level
The Tampa Tribune - by ROB SHAW
December 8, 2010
TAMPA - The temperatures weren't the only thing dropping around the Tampa Bay area the past few days. So was the aquifer.
Irrigation by strawberry farmers in eastern Hillsborough County caused the underground water table to drop by a little less than 10 feet, said Robyn Felix, spokeswoman with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Growers used an estimated 892 million gallons to 900 million gallons trying to protect their crops Tuesday morning, using the water to form an icy protective shield against sub-freezing temperatures.
In comparison, the aquifer experienced about a 60-foot drop in January during an extended cold snap. That caused hundreds of sinkholes to pop up in the eastern part of the county.
"The January event was unprecedented," Felix said. "We had 11 nights of below-freezing temperatures. This week, we are looking at only a two- or three-night event."
Water management officials do not expect a similar drop during this invasion of arctic air.
That's because after this morning and Thursday morning, when the mercury dips down into the 30s again, a brief warming trend is expected.
Before that, however, lows in the upper 20s are forecast for Plant City this morning, and around 33 in Tampa.
That means more irrigation should be on tap early today in the berry fields.
"It is certainly of concern," said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. "You have to protect the flowers and the existing fruit."
Highs today might even make it to 60 degrees for the first time this work week under continued sunny skies. The forecast high jumps to 65 for Thursday and 69 for Friday. Highs for Saturday are expected to be in the 70s.
Then, on Sunday, another cold front arrives. The projected high temperature for Monday is 59 degrees.
Earthjustice blasts state lawsuit against EPA
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 8, 2010
The announcement of a lawsuit against the EPA is eliciting cries of outrage from environmentalists across the state.
Attorney General Bill McCollum, his successor Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Commissioner-elect Bill Putnam announced their decision to file suit against the EPA for enforcing a set of water quality standards they say “are not based on scientifically sound methodology, and were adopted in an arbitrary and capricious manner just to settle a lawsuit.”
The nutrient criteria were the result of a lawsuit against the EPA filed by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, alleging that the lack of nutrient standards governing Florida waterways was in violation of the Clean Water Act. Earthjustice represented several state environmental agencies in the case, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper.
David Guest, attorney for Earthjustice, released a statement following yesterday’s announcement of the suit against the EPA. Calling the lawsuit a “waste of taxpayer dollars,” Guest said that the state was using tax dollars to side with polluters rather than the environment:
We are talking about protecting our drinking water from toxic algae. It’s a public health threat. Finally, after years [of] delay, the Environmental Protection Agency is setting modern standards to keep poorly treated sewage, fertilizer, and animal waste out of public waters. The state should not be fighting against clean water.
Floridians know that keeping our waters clean is essential for public health and for our tourism-based economy. The public clearly supports modernizing our pollution limits to keep our waters clean. EPA received 22,000 public comments on the new limits, and 20,000 of those comments were in support of the standards.
Guest said that claims of the criteria’s high costs were mere scare tactics meant to mask the true logic behind the lawsuit: “Polluters have resorted to scaring people with bogus sky-high cost predictions. In fact, using data from the state and other sources, the EPA pegs the annual cost to comply with the standards at between $135 million and $206 million, or about $3 to $6 per household per month. That’s a reasonable price for clean water.”
EPA at 40 -- still under siege
December 8, 2010
OUR OPINION: Agency must tackle climate change, water issues
For 40 years the Environmental Protection Agency has been the regulatory scourge of U.S. polluters of air, land and water. Created on Dec. 2, 1970, with an executive order by President Richard Nixon, the EPA's primary mandate is to enforce clean air and water laws.
These landmark laws needed a tough sheriff. The EPA by and large has been up to the challenge. Inevitably, it has had -- and still does have -- stiff opposition.
For instance, some members of Florida's congressional delegation this year opposed the agency's proposed nutrient standards for the state's rivers, lakes and streams. The lawmakers, and business and agricultural groups, say the proposed standards for acceptable phosphorus and nitrogen in water will cost billions and aren't based on sound science. The EPA agreed to delay finalizing the criteria until August 2011 and submit them to more scientific scrutiny. But on Tuesday, Attorney General Bill McCollum and his successor, Pam Bondi, filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA proposals anyway.
The South Florida Water Management District Board also sharply criticized the EPA last month for its court-ordered plan to stem pollution in the Everglades. The board decried it as infringing on state rights to set water-quality laws, having an unrealistic time line for massive construction projects and saddling South Florida taxpayers with the $1.5 billion-plus cost.
On top of that, Judge Alan Gold, who told the agency to write the plan after a successful lawsuit by the Miccosukee Indian tribe, ordered EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to come to a Miami court in October to explain the agency's slow pace of enforcing Glades cleanup. An appellate court overturned Judge Gold's order.
Clearly, when it comes to Florida water-quality issues, the EPA must work with state officials to find solutions both sides agree are practical and that will be effective.
The EPA is also involved in a much bigger controversy about climate change. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by wrongly declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions to control the pollutants that cause global warming. The court told the Bush administration to reverse course and start controlling these emissions. Yet the agency still dragged its feet.
But, under President Obama, once it became clear that Congress wasn't going to act soon on climate-change legislation, the EPA took steps to regulate greenhouse gases. Still, even as the EPA celebrated its 40th birthday last week, incoming House Speaker John Boehner abolished the House's climate-change panel. And the new GOP House leadership wants to limit EPA's emissions regulation by cutting funding.
That would be such folly. Climate change is real, and Florida's coastline will see its bad effects for real in the next 50 years. The EPA is the right agency to deal with reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. Congress should be supporting the EPA at this crucial time, not threatening to tie its hands.
Florida House Creates Select Committee on Water Policy
SunshineNews.com - by Kevin Derby
December 8, 2010
Tags: Brad Drake, Dean Cannon, Eric Draper, House, News, Trudi Williams, Water, Government
Trudi Williams will lead committee to review regulations and recommend changes
The Florida House will tackle one of the chief problems impacting the Sunshine State with the creation Tuesday of a select committee to handle the often contentious issue of water management.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, announced formation of the Select Committee on Water Policy.
“The use and management of our natural resources presents one of the most pressing challenges for the long-term health of our state,” noted Cannon in a memo. “In recent years, we have seen the development of a wide range of issues with respect to water policy within Florida and changes to federal policy that may significantly impact Florida’s ability to manage its own resources.
“Florida’s water-resource policies are incorporated into the ‘Florida Water Resources Act of 1972.’ The Florida Water Resources Act was developed at a time when the state relied primarily on inexpensive groundwater as the primary source for its water supply needs,” continued Cannon. “It is appropriate that the Legislature carefully examine these basic policies that were established almost 40 years ago. We must thoughtfully address the profoundly important issue of Florida's water resources before our problems develop into a crisis.”
Cannon went on to note that the Select Committee on Water Policy will review current procedures and make recommendations on changes that Florida needs to make. He added that he wants the committee to issue an initial report before the opening of the legislative session in March and expects a final report before the start of the 2012 session.
Cannon named Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, to head up the committee with Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, to serve as vice chairman.
Williams, who served as chairwoman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee, is no stranger to water issues. Williams, who represents parts of Collier and Lee counties, had served as chairwoman of the Lower West Coast Water Supply Plan Advisory Committee and as chairwoman of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District.
“Throughout the length of her service in the Florida House, Representative Williams has been a leading voice on water-policy issues, and she has spent the last four years as the chair of committees dealing with natural-resource issues,” noted Cannon. “I have great confidence in Representative Williams’ ability to manage this important issue and to develop a consensus solution that will benefit Florida for years to come.”
Drake comes from the Panhandle, representing all of Holmes and Washington counties and parts of Jackson, Okaloosa, Wakulla and Walton counties. First elected to the House in 2008, Drake served on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee in his first term.
“It is very important that in developing a comprehensive approach to water policy, we provide an equal voice to all the regions and all the constituencies within Florida,” insisted Cannon. “Representative Drake has demonstrated a keen interest in water issues and will provide an important perspective on these issues.”
Eric Draper, the executive director of Audubon of Florida, told Sunshine State News that he is pleased with Cannon creating the committee.
“The speaker is correct that Florida’s water regulations are in serious need of examination,” he said, noting the problems with supply and water quality. He added that the state needs to respond to new federal standards.
Draper praised the selection of Williams, noting her long experience on the issues.
Fla. sues EPA to block new water regulations
Associated Press, Bloomberg - by BILL KACZOR
December 8, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday seeking to block new clean water regulations opposed by business and agriculture interests as well as some municipal utilities.
The federal lawsuit alleges the rules, which apply only to Florida, are unfair, arbitrary and lack scientific support. Florida is the first state where EPA has imposed such regulations although 13 others have adopted similar rules of their own.
"They're picking on Florida," said Attorney General Bill McCollum. "I've heard nobody in EPA say 'We're going to go after Georgia next.' ... We're happy we're the focus of some attention, but this is a little bit more than we think we're justified to have — in fact, a whole lot more."
McCollum said he expects similar lawsuits will be filed by local government agencies and private entities.
The regulations are required by EPA's settlement of an earlier federal lawsuit that five environmental groups filed in Tallahassee.
The agency was accused of failing to control pollution from such sources as fertilizer runoff from farms and lawns and effluent from sewage treatment plants.
The environmentalists say those nutrients cause algae blooms that are choking Florida waters to the detriment of tourism-related businesses, property values, the environment and public health.
The new lawsuit by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services rehashes issues raised in court arguments against the EPA settlement, said David Guest, a lawyer for EarthJustice, a legal organization representing the environmental groups.
"It's the same hooey," Guest said. "This is the same old stuff — refried, heated up."
McCollum announced the lawsuit at a news conference with Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and their successors, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam. All are Republicans.
The case was filed in the same Pensacola federal court where McCollum also is challenging President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
All three federal judges sitting in Pensacola were appointed by Republican presidents. The settlement between the EPA and environmental groups was approved in Tallahassee by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, an appointee of Democratic former President Bill Clinton.
"What are they doing there?" Guest asked. "That would suggest a perception that federal judges will rule differently based on their political viewpoints."
McCollum denied that he selected Pensacola to get a more favorable judge. He said the case was filed there because the federal court there has a relatively light caseload and that should lead to a quicker decision. McCollum also said it's in the same court district as Tallahassee.
The new rules set numeric criteria to replace the state's vague descriptive regulations for determining when lakes, rivers, streams and other inland waters are polluted with nutrients. The EPA announced the regulations in November but delayed implementation for 15 months.
Under the settlement EPA will adopt another set of numeric standards for coastal waters by August 2012.
Opponents say it will cost billions of dollars to comply with the new standards, setting set back Florida's economic recovery and raising utility rates. EPA officials say those estimates are wildly exaggerated. They put the cost at no more than $206 million a year.
Putnam said the regulations are unfair because rivers and streams flow into north Florida from neighboring states.
"Will the citizens of Florida be paying to clean up Georgia and Alabama's problems?" he asked.
The environmentalists' suit was filed by the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper and Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.
Unfinished Everglades reservoir may be downsized
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 8, 2010
Massive, multimillion-dollar project was shelved for U.S. Sugar land dealAn unfinished Everglades restoration reservoir, which has already cost South Florida taxpayers almost $280 million, could now become a smaller version of the city-sized structure once planned.
The South Florida Water Management District in 2008 shelved the 16,700-acre reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County midway through construction in favor of pursuing a land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp., which offered the opportunity to reshape the course of Everglades restoration.
With the $197 million U.S. Sugar deal completed in October, the district now proposes turning the unfinished reservoir into a scaled-back, "shallow water" structure that would still cost taxpayers another $70 million.
It would hold about one-third of the 62 billion gallons once planned, but require much less money to complete than the additional $400 million once estimated.
Opponents of the U.S. Sugar deal, including the Miccosukee Tribe and U.S. Sugar competitor Florida Crystals, have pointed to the unfinished reservoir as an example of how the land buy threatened to delay or torpedo other long-overdue Everglades restoration projects.
But supporters of the land deal contend that the water storage and treatment facilities that could now be built on the U.S. Sugar land, coupled with a scaled-down reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County, will deliver better long-term help for the Everglades.
"The district had good sense to cancel the thing," said John Marshall, of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, an environmental organization that advocates for Everglades restoration. "The trade-offs will prove themselves eventually."
Before the U.S. Sugar deal, the proposed reservoir west of U.S. 27 was due to be completed this year and become a key advancement in the decades-long effort to restore water flows to the Everglades.
The state and federal government are partnering on restoration plans that call for storing stormwater now drained out to sea for flood control. Treatment areas would filter out phosphorus and other pollutants so that the water can be used to replenish the Everglades and restock South Florida water supplies.
But the reservoir work was put on hold in 2008 as Gov. Charlie Crist and district officials pursued a deal to buy U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration.
The opportunity to buy some or all of U.S. Sugar's more than 180,000 acres of farmland raised questions about whether the unfinished reservoir was the best location for such a large water-storage structure.
From June to December 2008 the district paid the reservoir contractor, Barnard Parsons Joint Venture, about $13 million to stand by while the agency decided whether the reservoir still fit into Everglades restoration plans being reshaped by the U.S. Sugar deal. The district then spent another $12 million to terminate the construction contract.
In October, the district and U.S. Sugar finalized a $197 million deal for 26,800 acres that could be used to build stormwater storage and treatment areas. The deal includes a 10-year option to buy some or all of U.S. Sugar's remaining 153,000 acres.
The district now proposes building a lower-volume structure aimed more at boosting water quality than providing longer-term water storage.
Instead of 30-foot-tall embankments, the reservoir would have 9-foot-tall embankments; and instead of holding 12-1/2 feet of water, the reservoir when filled would be about 4 feet deep, said Jeff Kivett, the district's engineering director.
Also, instead of holding enough water to provide a back-up supply during the dry season, the new version of the reservoir would be used to provide additional water storage during wet weather.
That would allow the district to hold onto and better control the timing of the amount of water that flows into nearby stormwater treatment areas. Those treatment areas include pollution-filtering plants that clean water headed for the Everglades.
Canals already dug for the previously planned reservoir would be incorporated into the new design. The sediment, rock and other material dug away to make those canals could still be used to help make the smaller embankments now envisioned, Kivett said.
The previously planned reservoir was put on hold just before embankment construction started — which was the most expensive part of the project.
"We are not worried about washing out U.S. 27," Kivett said about the new reduced volume of water. "That allows us to reduce the size of the embankments."
The district expects to spend up to a year and half designing the new reservoir and getting permits to proceed. Then it could take another two years to finish.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504
Florida: E.P.A. Sued Over Water Rules
New York Times - by REUTERS
December 8, 2010
The state sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to block new water pollution controls. The complaint, filed in federal court in Pensacola, accuses the agency of trampling on the state’s rights while seeking to impose rules that would cost taxpayers and farms too much. The pollution controls set limits on nutrient pollution levels allowed in lakes, rivers, streams and springs.
Florida sues EPA over new water pollution controls
December 7, 2010
MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to block new water pollution controls in the recession-hit state.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Pensacola, accuses the EPA of trampling over the state's rights while seeking to impose rules that would cost taxpayers and local agricultural business too much.
EPA standards, which were finalized for Florida last month, set specific numerical limits on nutrient pollution levels allowed in lakes, rivers, streams and springs in a state which relies heavily on tourists who enjoy its waterways and world-famous Everglades wildlife refuge.
Nutrient pollution is caused by phosphorous and nitrogen contamination from excess fertilizer, storm water and wastewater that flows off land into waterways. The EPA estimates nearly 2,000 miles of Florida's rivers and streams, as well as numerous lakes and estuaries, are affected.
Months of debate in public hearings preceded the finalization of the standards, which the lawsuit on Tuesday described as "arbitrary and capricious" and based on flawed methodology.
"Throughout this rulemaking process, EPA has failed to disclose the rulemaking's technical basis, regulatory implications, and economic impacts," the lawsuit said.
"EPA was not forthcoming with data, methods, analyses, or clear explanations of rule provisions," it added.
In a statement announcing the suit, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said the costs of implementing the standards were of particular concern to Florida, which is struggling with record-high unemployment and home foreclosure rates.
The statement did not specifically mention Florida's $9 billion citrus industry, but it has been a leading critic of the EPA's nutrient pollution abatement program.
"Studies produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as two independent studies all show that the impact to Florida's economy will be in the billions," the statement from the attorney general's office said.
"The EPA's anticipated cost is the outlier, projecting a cost closer to $200 million," it added.
"CLEAN, SAFE WATERS"
In announcing the finalized measures last month, EPA Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming said the agency had sought to reconcile competing interests, but there was strong public support for cleaning up Florida's water and waterways.
"What we heard over and over in these public hearings is that the people of Florida know that clean, safe waters are essential to their health and Florida's economic growth," Keyes-Fleming said.
The EPA has said it would work closely with the state and interested parties on implementation of the new anti-pollution standards.
Explaining they would be flexible, "common sense" and site-specific, Keyes-Fleming said the rules would help protect hotels and tourist attractions that faced lost revenue through pollution making waterways too foul for swimming or fishing.
Florida's $60 billion-a-year tourism industry is its economic lifeblood and largest industry, with more than 80 million visitors a year bringing in 21 percent of all state sales taxes and employing nearly 1 million Floridians.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Anthony Boadle)
McCollum, Bondi, Bronson, Putnam file suit over EPA’s water quality standards
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 7, 2010
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam today announced their decision to file suit against the EPA over its proposed numeric nutrient criteria for Florida waters.
In a press release, McCollum said that the criteria “are not not based on scientifically sound methodology, and were adopted in an arbitrary and capricious manner just to settle a lawsuit.”
The complaint (.pdf), which was filed today in Pensacola, alleges that the final rule is invalid as it “singles out the state of Florida” and is based on a determination which is “abitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.”
In a separate press release, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Stuart, and Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., endorsed the decision.
“This lawsuit will put a stop to the EPA’s misguided assaults on Florida’s families and industries,” said Rooney. “Our economy continues to suffer with a double digit unemployment rate, a weak housing market and a struggling agriculture industry, and the EPA’s proposal would cost us billions of dollars and drive jobs out of our state. Now is not the time to punish Florida’s small businesses, workers and farmers with increased costs while they struggle to make ends meet.”
McCollum’s press release shared these sentiments, citing high costs as being of “significant concern” to the state:
Also of significant concern to the state is the cost implication of implementing the new criteria. Studies produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as two independent studies all show that the impact to Florida’s economy will be in the billions. The EPA’s anticipated cost is the outlier, projecting a cost closer to $200 million.
A previous report by The Florida Independent revealed that the highest estimated costs were not only overblown, but had been frequently disputed within the Department of Environmental Protection.
Feds pick Florida advocate for Everglades restoration
The Palm Beach Post - Editorial
December 6, 2010
You don't want to know how many government agencies work on Everglades restoration. You will want to know that the U.S. Department of Interior's new person in charge of helping those agencies work together is supremely qualified.
Shannon Estenoz serves on the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the district are the main players in the state-federal restoration plan. Ms. Estenoz is a former co-chairwoman of the Everglades Coalition, and is a civil engineer by training, with an emphasis on water conservation.
When Ms. Estenoz starts next week, she will report to Tom Strickland, chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Her role will be to coordinate the work of Interior's main Everglades-related departments - the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service - with the overall restoration work. She will judge herself on "more project groundbreakings and progress." Restoration work has been in overdrive the past two years because of new hires by the Obama administration in key roles. Ms. Estenoz's predecessor, Terrence "Rock" Salt, holds a high position with the Corps of Engineers.
Ms. Estenoz's departure from the water management district means that Gov.-elect Scott soon will appoint four of the governing board's nine members. There are two vacancies - one of them must be a person from Palm Beach County - and the terms of two other board members expire in March. Those appointments, along with his choice of a secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will give the first strong indications of Mr. Scott's position on the environment.
Mr. Scott campaigned as a bottom-line, CEO-type candidate, and Everglades restoration actually fits with such an attitude. Advocacy groups are touting research showing the potential economic benefits of helping the Everglades and the whole water system from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay. Ms. Estenoz agrees, and Gov.-elect Scott can maintain the momentum by appointing board members who are just as committed and qualified.
- Randy Schultz, for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
Obama appointee takes on Everglades Restoration
December 6, 2010
ISSUE: The Florida Everglades has a new federal point person.
President Obama's recent appointment of Shannon Estenoz as the federal point person for Everglades restoration is an opportunity for both the decades-long initiative and for Florida's incoming governor, Rick Scott. The governor-elect would do well to take advantage of the opportunity.
Estenoz is a longtime and knowledgable advocate for the River of Grass. A Broward County resident and a fixture as a representative on the South Florida Water Management district board, she brings a wealth of connections and experience to her new job as director of the U.S Department of Interior's Everglades Restoration Initiatives.
In her new job, she will serve as Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar's senior representative in South Florida, a largely coordinating role that will put her in the middle of local, state and federal stakeholders who stand to benefit from a restored Everglades. Her knowledge of water management issues is a big plus, and the fact that she had been a proponent of the district's recently completed $197 million deal to buy 26,800 acres of U.S. Sugar property for restoration efforts doesn't hurt either.
The plan has its problems, and this Editorial Board has been critical of them, but it has become the key component in the government's massive public works project to improve the flow and quality of the water running through the Everglades. The government's restoration efforts is more than a tree-hugging environmental project, since water is the lifeblood of both the natural ecosystem and fuels neighboring development that is South Florida.
Scott is no fan of the U.S. Sugar deal, but the governor-elect would be wise to see Estenoz as a potential partner, particularly in making sure the federal government ponies up its portion of this decades long intergovernmental public works project. Estenoz, who has criticized the lack of federal payments, is not in a far better position to help the state get its fair share of funding.
Still, Everglades restoration remains a popular undertaken, from its beginnings under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to its current incarnation. Estenoz will be a player in the project's overall success. Scott should be one, too.
As cuts loom, Everglades advocates tout potential jobs from restoration
December 5, 2010
Everglades backers focus on jobs, not gators
WASHINGTON — Idled workers who once built condos in Florida's boom-to-bust housing market are finding a new livelihood along the marshy headwaters, forests and fields surrounding the Everglades.
From the banks of the Kissimmee River to the canals snaking through South Florida, workers are moving the earth to restore a natural water flow, while their paychecks are pouring dollars into Florida's economy.
Bracing for expected federal budget cuts next year, Everglades promoters are touting restoration as a job creator and an economic boon for an employment-starved state. It's all part of a lobbying pitch to persuade Congress to keep the money flowing.
Restoration projects already approved for funding will directly or indirectly generate about 12,700 jobs in Florida and elsewhere during the next few years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Other projects lined up for authorization would add more than 10,000 jobs during the next two decades.
Beyond the construction work, a restored Everglades will have economic ripple effects that foster tourism, expand recreation activities and raise real-estate values in surrounding areas, generating as many as 442,664 jobs during a half-century. This estimate comes from Mather Economics, based in Roswell, Ga., in a report commissioned by The Everglades Foundation, a booster for restoration.
Much of the work is under way, with more contracts expected in 2011 and 2012.
"We're just starting to ramp up," said Eric Bush, assistant chief of the Everglades Division at the Army Corps' Jacksonville District. "All the way from Orlando south, we're looking at a steady rate of construction here."
"[Job creation] is the icing on the cake from my standpoint," he said. "We're trying to restore an ecosystem. Each project contributes to that. But the economic effects are very important, especially for Florida right now."
Presidential candidates and leaders in Congress have long used the Everglades as a backdrop for extolling their environmental credentials, turning restoration into a national bipartisan cause.
But members of Congress from outside Florida sometimes question why replumbing the "River of Grass" soaks up so much money while worthy projects elsewhere are neglected. The competition for funds could become especially intense next year as Congress looks for ways to curb deficit spending.
"If Republicans stick to their pledge to abolish any kind of earmark, it could pose a challenge to secure funding for some Everglades projects," said Kirk Fordham, CEO of The Everglades Foundation.
Floridians in Congress are preparing for a painful budget squeeze.
"Even things that are essential are going to have to be looked at with a sharp pencil," said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, a point man for Everglades issues.
Unable to agree on new appropriations for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, Congress has resorted to continuing the same level of spending from last fiscal year. That does not immediately threaten Everglades projects, because construction funds for last year — about $180 million — are about the same as proposed spending for this fiscal year.
However, the budget crunch does raise questions about future Everglades spending.
"We may have to be more conservative about what we ask for next year, understanding the reality that there are going to be cuts," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Everglades policy associate for Audubon of Florida. "We'd rather submit our priorities on a smaller scale and get as close to them as possible."
Boon or boondoggle?
The jobs argument will help make the case for ongoing spending, but not everybody buys it.
"It's a real job producer for bureaucrats. It's a scandal the amount of jobs just in producing paperwork," said Dexter Lehtinen, a former U.S. attorney in Miami and a longtime critic of restoration plans.
He contends that the jobs pitch distracts from discussion about the merits of restoration plans and the need to assess potential environmental damage outside of Everglades National Park.
"It's an illustration of how special interests are using the Everglades to serve their needs rather than justify the restoration benefits of these projects," Lehtinen said.
But most Florida leaders have rallied behind a comprehensive plan designed to restore a more natural flow to the 2.4 million-acre marsh, revive habitat for more than 60 threatened and endangered species, prevent floods and establish a reliable water source for millions of Floridians.
Engineers once tried to drain the marsh by channeling water out to sea. Now they are plugging canals and storing water to filter out pollutants and release it when needed in wide sheets to reverse the environmental damage.
Congress approved the blueprint in 2000 and agreed to pay half the costs, then estimated at $8 billion during three decades. Those estimates have since ballooned to $13.5 billion.
The Mather report estimated that a dollar invested in Everglades restoration will produce four dollars of economic benefits. A separate report by the Florida Environmental Institute in West Palm Beach, a science-research group that promotes restoration, estimated that work in the region between Lake Okeechobee and Everglades National Park will generate six dollars for every dollar invested.
"If you look at what it means to a healthy Florida environment that brings tourists, it has to draw a lot of people into service jobs, recreational jobs and also construction," said John Arthur Marshall, spokesman for the Institute.
The jobs produced by Everglades projects are temporary, and the economic ripples extend beyond Florida. But the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees construction from the state end, requires that contractors hire a portion of their workers from local areas.
"There's a lot of earthwork and levee construction as well as engineering and designing," said Randy Smith, spokesman for the district. "We want to make use of the local talent pool that's out there."
William E. Gibson can be reached at Wgibson@Tribune.com or 202-824-8256
FPL customers pay to keep manatees cozy — and alive
Orlando Sentinel - by Kevin Spear
December 05, 2010
COCOA — The biggest gathering of Florida manatees ever observed survived a deadly cold snap last winter by huddling in warm water discharged from a power plant on the Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County.
The 1960s-era Florida Power & Light Co. plant has since been pounded into rubble. After recycling or disposing of the debris, the South Florida-based utility will begin building a larger, cleaner generator on that site, but it won't resume a flow of life-sustaining warmth into the coastal lagoon until four winters from now.
In the meantime, the utility has installed $4.7 million worth of heating equipment at the Cape Canaveral location to turn its canal there into a winter refuge for manatees. The system is powerful enough, if temperatures plunge, to consume as much electricity as thousands of homes, at a rate of $550 an hour.
FPL officials acknowledge the utility has a moral responsibility to protect the site's wintering manatees, thought to make up one-fifth of all the manatees in Florida waters. But as wildlife authorities have made clear, ensuring a flow of warm water for the animals throughout the winter is also required by the state permit and the federal regulations linked to construction of the new plant.
State should reject citrus grower's plan to start new water utility
December 5, 2010
The public is ill-served by allowing a citrus grower to start a new water utility for its 4,000 acres of rural land in Pasco and Hernando counties. The Florida Public Service Commission should reject this speculative business venture that has drawn widespread criticism from nearby residents, local governments and state planners.
The PSC's own staff this week came to that same logical conclusion after collecting testimony at July hearing. The state Department of Community Affairs and Pasco and Hernando county governments previously objected to the plan to allow a privately held central water and sewer company in an agricultural area that has no immediate plans to develop.
The company, Skyland Utilities, a subsidiary of Evans Properties, has not specified how the water and sewer capacity would be used. It has suggested its land in northeast Pasco and southwest Hernando could be targeted for agri-business by growing bio-fuel sources, but such a venture would be dependent upon market demands and government subsidies. Other alternatives include developing the land residentially even though zoning laws in both counties mandate low density (as little as one home for every 10 acres) that would not require central water and sewer. The residential concept contradicts the land-use plans in both Hernando and Pasco and raises legitimate concerns a functioning utility would be a precursor to sprawl in an area ill-fitted to handle large-scale development.
Most disconcerting, the lack of specificity also brings suspicion the real intent is to market the water to governments outside the region. Since the company declined to rule out that option, regulators should presume it to be a realistic alternative. That is an uncomfortable proposition considering the area's history of environmental damage from overpumped well fields.
The company's tactics haven't instilled public confidence either. It asked for a PSC franchise instead of dealing with the individual counties even though only one 437-acre parcel straddles the line dividing Pasco and Hernando. It also offered the dubious spin that the private utility is necessary to aid people with tainted private wells in Hernando.
The application also comes as Pasco continues its several-year quest to acquire private utilities through the Florida Governmental Utility Authority. Private utilities have a dismal track record in Pasco County and the state should be leery of authorizing new franchises after years of listening to customer complaints about poor service and inferior water quality.
There is simply no need for a new water and sewer utility in rural Pasco and Hernando counties. Even if there was a legitimate customer base to serve, Pasco's nearby facilities would be adequate to handle the demand.
This application is nothing more than a case of a private company looking for Tallahassee's blessing of a venture it knows it can't get approved locally. Where is the public interest in that?
Sunday Favorites: Researching Restoration in the Deep South
The Bradenton Times - by Merab-Michal Favorite
December 5, 2010
BISCAYNE BAY – Sunrise illuminates the vastness of the Everglades. Some of the state’s most unusual animals such as the American Crocodile and the Florida Panther emerge from their hiding places to bask in the warm rays peaking through the saw grass marshes, cypress swamps, mangrove forests, hardwood hammocks and rockland pines. Audubon employees Adam Chasey and Mac Stone hurry to set their fish traps before the light gets too far overhead.
Organizaions like SWFTMD (pdf) are working to restore a slow moving, river of grass that originally flowed from Lake Okeechobee. The current area makes up several complex ecological systems that encompass the Everglades. All harbor different varieties of species and the two men encounter an assortment on a daily basis during fieldwork operations.
Some days, the researchers start at 4:00 a.m. They drive an hour in an SUV, take a boat trip across the bay, load gear into kayaks and finally paddle upwind through shark and reptile infested water to reach one of their 17 monitoring sites. Adam and Mac are participants of a project to observe the affects of the ongoing Everglades restoration. The study focuses on the eating habits of the Roseate Spoonbill because it is a good indicator for progress. Strategically placed fish traps, set over an expanse between Biscayne Bay and Cape Sable, ensnare the Spoonbill’s sustenance.
“Spoonbills are tactile feeders which means that they feed by feel. They need a lot of fish to be there in order to eat. They are more accessible than other animals to moniter so that is why we they study them. During the wet season, their food supply explodes --you know exponential growth. Then as the water level draws down, they are forced into smaller and smaller pockets," said Adam.
Though they encounter what many would consider dangerous animals, they don’t regard them as the most hazardous aspect of their occupation. Last week, an alligator swam off with one of Adams's fish traps.
Crocodiles are never a real safety concern. The major factor that impacts the job is the weather,” said Mac.
Up and coming wildlife photographer Mac Stone uses the opportunity to scout out new subjects – whether it is a breathtaking landscape or some elusive wildlife, he always has camera ready. He has never taken a photography class, yet his work has been recognized by many environmental organizations. The most recent being the Forever Florida Conservation Calendar that Legacy Institution of Nature and Culture put together as a fundraising effort for future preservation purchases of ecologically sensitive land that is not currently protected.
“The trend in my life has been that my jobs allow me to use photography as a garnish. It becomes a secondary trade complimented by my day job, and the later has lent itself nicely to the former. I encounter so many beautiful places in my job with the Audubon -- it has really been a gift,” he said.
In this film, he featured his profession in order to give people an idea of the daily operations of an Audubon employee.
“It is more of a yee-haw video of our job. It doesn’t talk so much about the lesson or the research we’re doing. It doesn’t show how we sample or why we sample. It was more of a video for showing some of the places we get to go,” said Mac Stone.
The undertaking of the Everglades restoration has been a long process (see timeline). Reversing a century of damage doesn’t happen overnight. The state legislature and federal government will split an amount of $10.9 billion before it is completed.
In the early twentieth century, canals were dredged to promote land development and provide crop irrigation. Congress formed the Southern Florida Flood Control Project in 1947, and built 1,400 miles of canals, levees and flood control devices to further endorse the effort. Since then, approximately half of the Everglades have been developed into urban and agricultural areas, according to a 1999 U.S. geological survey.
A portion of the everglades was protected as the Everglades National Forest in 1947, but the canals continued to drain sensitive marsh and the agricultural facilities discharged harmful pollutants which were dispersed throughout the area. In the 1980’s scientists found extremely high levels of contaminants like mercury in many species that inhabited the region, as well as other toxins in plants. In the 1990’s, a report commissioned by Governor Lawton Chiles found that the degradation of Everglades ecosystems was directly related to a declining quality of life in nearby urban areas. Water quality was predicted to worsen because of lost water filtration by marshlands and heightened levels of salinity.
In 2000, Bill Clinton signed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that would help restore water quality for citizens at an initial cost of $7.8 billion. Water filtration and the filling of several canals would make it possible. Since its signing, the State of Florida reports that it has spent more than $2 billion on the various projects. Approximately 55 percent of all lands needed have been purchased, including U.S. Sugar in 2008, which will be dismantled in the next four years. The land will then be rehabilitated to a more natural state.
“We’re going to see what happens – that is what we’re studying. Hopefully the restoration efforts will hold some traction. I’m mainly happy that the public is backing it and the state is actually taking money to fund a project and preserve a land that doesn’t necessarily belong to anybody – yet it belongs to everybody,” said Mac Stone.
Merab is a writer for the Bradenton Times. She can be reached at email@example.com
Water less to save your plants — and the planet
Miami Herald - by Jeff Wasielewski
December 5, 2010
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
In South Florida, it’s quite possible to have a lush, tropical garden that requires minimal irrigation, or even none at all. If you need proof, look no further than the region’s natural areas, like the remaining hammocks and pinelands, where hundreds of plant species thrive without a single drop of supplemental irrigation.
Proper watering is a crucial component of your landscape. Newly planted trees and shrubs need to be watered regularly or they will suffer and possibly perish. But once they are established, most plants do not need supplemental irrigation beyond normal rainfall (a plant is considered established after it has put out two to three flushes of new growth after planting). We receive an average of 52 inches of rain each year in South Florida and typically, that is more than enough to sustain your plants.
Here’s the case against overwatering:
Irrigation accounts for up to 50 percent of water use in Florida, according to the South Florida Water Management District, and up to 50 percent of that water is lost due to evapotranspiration (the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration back into the atmosphere).
The world’s population tripled in the 20th century and the use of water grew an alarming six-fold in that same time, the World Water Council says. Even more sobering is the fact that today, one in six people in the world lacks access to safe drinking water. These frightening numbers cannot be ignored; we simply need to use less water. The easiest, most convenient way for a homeowner to do that is by irrigating less. In fact, overwatering can actually damage your plants by causing root rot, soil breakdown and fungal and bacterial disease. Watering properly is good for your plants and good for the planet.
How much water ?
The amount of water your plants need depends on several factors, including the time of year, the type of plant and how well established the plant is. The time of year is the biggest factor. South Florida’s has two seasons — wet and dry. We are now in the dry season, which typically begins in late October or early November and lasts until late May. On average, we will get only 18 inches of rain in these months, with an average of 34 inches of rain coming in the wet season, the remaining part of the year.
Unless you have newly planted trees or shrubs, there is no reason to irrigate in the rainy months. The wet season, by the way, is an excellent time to install landscaping, as the heavy rains and high humidity will help to quickly establish new plants.
Most plants do not need supplemental irrigation even in the dry season. If your plant is healthy, has a well-developed root system and is adapted to South Florida, it should do well throughout most of the dry season. There may come a point in March or April when the temperature and the sun’s strength increase to the point that spot irrigation with a hose or bucket may be necessary for any plants showing drought stress. Those plants are the exception, not the rule and you need not irrigate your entire property. Typically, even those needy plants will make it through the dry season with just a few good waterings.
Unfortunately, the dominant plant in most yards is St. Augustine grass, a plant that requires more than its fair share of water during the dry season. Some homeowners make a conscious choice to conserve water and let their lawns turn a bit brown, knowing that the lawn will recover when the rains begin again. Another option is to replace large areas of grass with handsome trees and shrubs that require significantly less water and less care than your lawn.
If you simply cannot live without your green grass, you can still cut back on the amount of water you use. Your lawn only needs one-half to three-quarters of an inch of irrigation once or twice a week, at the most. The lawn’s roots cannot absorb more than that, and any additional water runs off and is wasted.
You can figure out how much irrigation your sprinklers put out by placing coffee cans in different spots in your lawn and measuring the amount of water that collects in a set amount of time.
Supplemental irrigation is a must when establishing new plants, and the current water restrictions in place for South Florida reflect that. New plants may be watered daily, by hand, for 10 minutes while normal irrigation is allowed between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m., twice a week.
New plants do need help after planting and should be watered thoroughly immediately after they go into the ground. Each plant’s watering needs will be different from this point forward, depending on plant size, amount of roots, leaf area, plant type and rainfall. Water new plants as needed until the rainy season begins or until that plant becomes fully established. Check on new plants daily and let the amount of moisture in the soil (check this by touching the soil with your finger) and the overall look of the plant determine whether you need to water or not. If your plant begins to wilt, water it immediately, as it may die if left alone.
By making wise plant choices and understanding South Florida’s rainfall patterns, we can use significantly less water and help conserve a very precious resource.
Jeff Wasielewski is the multimedia specialist at Fairchild, an expert in South Florida horticulture and a professor of horticulture at MiamiDadeCollege.
Key West native tapped to lead Everglades restoration
KeysNet.com - by KEVIN WADLOW
December 04, 2010
Key West native Shannon Estenoz is the new lead coordinator for Everglades restoration.
Key West native Shannon Estenoz expects "to hit the ground running" when she takes a lead role in Everglades restoration efforts in a week and a half.
On Dec. 14, Estenoz reports for work as director of the Everglades Initiative within the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In the post -- not a political appointment but a civil-service job in which she'll earn $119,000 annually -- she will coordinate efforts of Interior's agencies active in Everglades restoration, principally the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Service, among others.
"We know what the problems with the Everglades are. There are not a lot of mysteries left," said Estenoz. "The priority is to keep the most critical projects moving forward."
In a post previously filled by Rock Salt, Estenoz reports to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
"I'm not anybody's boss," she said. "Dan Kimball still runs Everglades National Park. My role is to coordinate DOI activities involving Everglades restoration, and work with other partners like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."
"I have my ideas about what the most pressing issues are," she said. "But I expect that when I meet with the DOI leadership team, they'll bring their own lists for me."
Kirk Fordham, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, praised Estenoz's appointment.
"In Florida, Shannon has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in protecting the Everglades," Fordham said. "With her elevation to a federal-level position, the Everglades will have one of the shrewdest strategists and most articulate voices working on its behalf."
After graduating from Key West High School in 1985, like her mother and father before her, Estenoz earned her associate's degree from Florida Keys Community College. She went on to earn bachelor's degrees in civil engineering and international affairs from Florida State University.
Estenoz worked professionally with conservation groups including the World Wildlife Fund and National Parks Conservation Association for more than a decade, often focused on Everglades issues.
Now a resident of Broward County, she was appointed to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District in April 2007, an agency that found itself as a key player in Everglades restoration.
"This kind of opportunity to work full-time on Everglades policy at a high level does not come along often," she said. "This made a lot of sense for me."
After being hired for the executive civil service position, Estenoz submitted her resignation from the Water Management District board, effective Dec. 10. She attends her last meeting as a board member this week.
"One of the best things about this is that I still get to work with the folks with Water Management District," she said. "Being on the district board and working with staff has been one of the great experiences of my life."
A central Everglades project confronting the Water Management District has been working to lower nutrient and phosphorous levels in water coming into the ecosysten from upstream. Federal courts, spurred by environmental groups, have declared that progress to date has not been significant.
"That's been a struggle," Estenoz said. "Everybody on all sides is well-intentioned. No one wants to just spin their wheels. My job is to help find a way forward."
State and federal agencies have broken ground on a number of key Everglades restoration projects, Estenoz said, pointing to mitigation work on the C-111 drainage canal, massive water-storage areas and wetlands improvements.
"All of these are important to Florida Bay and the Everglades," she said. "The question is how to keep the momentum going in a hugely challenging fiscal environment."
Florida has room for growth in biomass fuel market
Jacksonville Business Journal - by Mark Szakonyi
Read more: Florida has room for growth in biomass fuel market | Jacksonville Business JournalIt will take several years for biomass power production to reach its full potential in Florida, even though the low-emission renewable energy source has more potential in the state than solar power, said a University of Florida agriculture economist.
Alan Hodges said about two-thirds of the state’s renewable energy generation comes through burning wood waste to boil water, producing steam to power turbines. The sulphur-free process produces carbon emissions, but they are greatly reduced though the life cycle of trees, which process the carbon dioxide.
Biomass can be a boon to the state’s timber industry although Hodges noted a short-term ...
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'Gateway to Everglades' Launches Revitalization Program for Lake Okeechobee Region
December 3, 2010
CLEWISTON, Fla., Dec. 3, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Key business leaders, elected officials and community members came together recently to witness the unveiling of a new tourism brand for the Okeechobee region. "Southern Shores of Lake Okeechobee: Gateway to the Everglades" is a united marketing and branding effort established to attract tourists to the southern shores of Lake Okeechobee to help revive its communities. Approximately 100 participants attended the branding event at the Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center at Palm Beach State College.
The Lake Okeechobee Regional Initiative (LORI) is led by the Collins Center for Public Policy and the South Florida Water Management District. It has gained widespread support from community leaders, including mayors from Belle Glade, Clewiston, Pahokee and South Bay.
"All of our hands are joined so that in the future …they can look back and say, 'what a legacy they've left us by joining in a partnership to better the world,'" said Charles Dauray, a board member for the South Florida Water Management District.
For generations, the communities along the southern shores of Glades, Hendry and western Palm Beach counties have struggled. "Unemployment around the lake is estimated to be as high as 40 percent," said Philip Bacon, vice president for Neighborhood and Regional initiatives for the Collins Center. "Our goal has been to help the stakeholders in the area understand that their economic destiny is tied to one another and that collectively, each community stands to gain if the entire region becomes an attractive place to live and invest," Bacon said.
Since LORI's launch, the initiative has succeeded in:
● Keeping the bus route between Clewiston and Belle Glade;
● Improving the intersection of S. R. 80 and US. Highway 27;
● Procuring and distributing to local leaders maps showing infrastructure, land and water resources, public facilities, tourist attractions and employment centers; and
● Developing the tourism plan.
Among its goals, the LORI group hopes to improve infrastructure, including broadband, education, health, public safety, planning, agriculture and tourism and to establish workforce training initiatives for construction projects.
The group also hopes to establish urban gardens in Belle Glade, Harlem and other communities; sponsor major tourism events; develop environmental and eco-tourism curriculum for students of urban gardens; provide technical assistance to existing regional initiatives; and help create links between agriculture, Everglades restoration and the workforce.
For more information on LORI, visit http://LORI.CollinsCenter.org
To learn more about the Lake Okeechobee region, visit www.lakeobigwater.com.
CONTACT: Philip Bacon, Vice President for Neighborhood and Regional Initiatives 305-377-4484 x 1527
INHOFE: The McCain-Coburn budget-balancing fraud
The Washington Times - by Sen. James M. Inhofe
December 3, 2010
Senators need to drop symbolism, answer for real spendthrift votes
I am used to being all alone. I was the only "no" vote in the Senate on the Everglades Restoration Act. Three years later, major publications said I was right and the other 99 were wrong. In 2002, I was alone in exposing the global-warming hysteria as a hoax. Now I have been vindicated on that issue as well. As the only conservative Republican to vote against the earmark moratorium within our conference, I find myself alone once again. But, as before, I eventually will be proved right. My opposition to the moratorium is based on my concern that Congress would be ceding its constitutional authority to the president, while failing to save a single taxpayer dime and distracting from the real issue of out-of-control deficit spending.
A politically correct ban on congressional earmarks will give President Obama even greater power and authority in the expenditure of taxpayer funds. In other words, in the case of Mr. Obama, he would have more money to pursue his liberal agenda. No wonder he was so quick to endorse a ban on congressional earmarks.
With this greater power, the Obama administration will embark on its own bureaucratic earmarks, which will result in the same type of spending that we saw from the stimulus bill, which did not contain a single congressionally directed spending item. These types of presidential earmarks will mean spending millions of tax dollars for turtle walkways, toilets in national parks, research on the mating habits of insects and equipment to find radioactive rabbit droppings. Lobbyists already have been hitting up federal agencies at increased rates. A ban on congressional earmarks will only further increase the number of lobbyists seeking influence with the executive branch.
Congress would then be nothing more than a rubber stamp for Mr. Obama's spending requests. Transparency, accountability and the public's recourse would greatly diminish. Currently, members of Congress must make public notice of their spending requests in advance, then be held accountable by voters. However, a ban on congressional earmarks would result in the public being kept in the dark until a year or more after a presidential earmark already has been spent. At the same time, voters would be powerless to hold faceless bureaucrats accountable. What's worse is that the whole process would be pushed into Washington's darkest corners, outside the public's purview.
That is not how our Founding Fathers envisioned our government. That is why, when writing the U.S. Constitution, they gave Congress, not the executive branch, the power of the purse. Writing in the Federalist Papers, James Madison noted that Congress holds this power for the very reason that it is closer to the people. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted in 1833 that if this authority were given to the president, "the executive would possess an unbounded power over the public purse of the nation; and might apply all its monied resources at his pleasure. The power to control, and direct the appropriations, constitutes a most useful and salutary check upon profusion and extravagance, as well as upon corrupt influence and public peculation." Congress should not cede this authority to the executive branch.
Minus real reforms from Congress to reduce spending, such as my HELP Act, which would save taxpayers $10 trillion by freezing non-security discretionary spending at 2008 levels, federal spending will continue to spiral out of control. Why? Because banning congressional earmarks won't save a single taxpayer dime. If an appropriations item that is directed by Congress is removed (or an attempt is made to remove the item), the money does not return to the Treasury to pay down the debt. Instead, the bottom-line expenditure amount remains the same, and the money is put into the hands of the executive branch, in this case, Mr. Obama, to spend how it sees fit. Given that the overall number and dollar amount of earmarks has decreased steadily over the past several years while the federal deficit has increased by $3 trillion in just two years, an earmark ban is not the answer to our fiscal problems. To say otherwise is just plain wrong.
Eliminating all earmarks would have additional consequences. Vitally important earmarks, such as to provide improved armor that has saved lives for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Predator drone program, which has been vital in the war on terrorism, would not be possible if the ban were in place. Both are examples of congressional earmarks that never would have been funded by the administration. To be clear, many things that are proposed to be authorized and appropriated should be defeated. But we should defeat them based on the substance, not simply because they are called earmarks.
Unfortunately, the years of demagoguing earmarks have distracted the American people from the real fiscal problems that face our nation. We must do something to stop runaway spending. Ironically, the two authors of the ban, my good friends Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both supported the $700 billion bailout and the $50 billion President's Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief bill, two of the largest measures of 2008. That same year, the Office of Management and Budget calculated total earmark spending at $15 billion. So, by supporting just those two measures, they obligated the government to 50 times the total of all earmarks for that year.
There is a simple solution to the earmark problem that I have been advocating for more than five years. All we have to do is redefine "earmark" as spending that has not been authorized, meaning it has not been approved by the committee of jurisdiction. Then eliminate all earmarks - no exceptions. That's all. Problem solved. Then we can go after the real problems, the big stuff like the debt and the deficit.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, was rated the most conservative senator in 2009 by the National Journal and most outstanding senator by Human Events.
EPA and South Florida Water Management District go head-to-head over Everglades restoration
The Florida Independent -by Virginia Chamlee
December 2, 2010
In April 2010, Judge Alan Gould issued a court decision regarding the Florida Everglades — essentially directing the EPA to give clear and comprehensive instructions on restoration to Florida agencies by Sept. 3, 2010.
As part of his decision, Gold ordered the agency to “establish specific milestones to ensure that the State of Florida does not continue to ignore, and improperly extend the compliance deadline for meeting the phosphorous … criterion in the Everglades Protection Area.” Gold, who said that the “established wrong” in the case was “the failure of the EPA and the State of Florida to comply with the [Clean Water Act] for more than two decades,” also required the EPA to issue an Amended Determination that would “direct the State of Florida to correct [its] deficiencies.”
From an EPA press release:
“With this action, EPA is complying with the law and acknowledging that we must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades,” said Stan Meiburg, Acting Regional Administrator for EPA’s southeastern region. “The State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District have done much good work already and we hope to build on that by meeting both the substance and the spirit of Judge Gold’s decision with this plan, and to achieve clean water standards as soon as possible.”
But the South Florida Water Management District has since found fault with the determination, and the district doesn’t seem to be going down without a fight. On Nov. 2, the District issued a response to the EPA, in the form of a letter penned by district Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. Calling the schedule for restoration “unrealistic,” Wehle said her district is “unwilling to accept the undue and unreasonable financial burden that EPA’s $2 billion proposal places on South Florida’s taxpayers.”
From the letter (.pdf):
To be clear, the District’s objections to EPA’s mandates are not about an unwillingness to move forward with our restoration objectives. To the contrary, the District has already decided to advance a handful of affordable but meaningful water quality projects identified in EPA’s Amended Determination that are within our current financial capabilities. Ultimately, this is about making the right decisions for the natural system, advancing scientifically sound restoration strategies and a state’s right to manage its financial and natural resources in the best interest of its citizens.
EPA Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming wrote back on Nov. 26, arguing that the schedule is ambitious, but nonetheless achievable:
We reviewed the data and information provided by the District regarding the design, construction, and commencement of operations … and we considered the input of our technical experts and our federal partner agencies. The schedule in the Amended Determination is based on this information, and we believe it to be a practicable solution to the challenges in this matter.
Fleming, who noted that Everglades water quality restoration is “far from finished,” wrote that the EPA encouraged the district to reconsider their decision in order to contribute to the collective goal of Everglades restoration: “Now is not the time to enter into further extended planning. Now is the time to … move forward with the projects on a specific schedule that will achieve these important water quality goals for restoring and protecting the Everglades.”
High court won't wade into Florida water fight
December 02, 2010
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won't force Florida water managers to get permits to pump contaminated water from farmland into Lake Okeechobee.
The high court refused to hear an appeal from the Friends of the Everglades, the Florida Wildlife Federation and other groups.
The 11th U.S. Court of Appeals had agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency that transferring polluted water from one navigable body to another does not require a permit.
A federal judge in 2006 had said the pumping constituted a "discharge of a pollutant" under the Clean Water Act and required the South Florida Water Management District to get a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit.
The case is Friends of the Everglades v. South Florida Water Management District, 10–196.
Mercury makes ibises gay, study says
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN
The study leader cautioned that `there is zero relevance for humans.'
Scientists have long suspected high mercury levels in the Everglades might be crimping the breeding efforts of wading birds.
A new study of white ibises by University of Florida researchers suggests the pollutant could have a far more profound impact than imagined: It turned a good chunk of a captive flock gay.
The study, published online Wednesday in a biological journal, documented a number of changes in the mating behaviors and reproductive success of four groups of ibises fed varying levels of mercury over a three-year period.
By far the most surprising effect was on the courtship inclinations of male ibises. In the first year, 55 percent of the males given the highest doses of mercury in their feed hooked up with other males during breeding season.
“They pretty much did everything except lay eggs,'' said Peter Frederick, a UF wildlife ecologist who led the study. “They built nests, they copulated, they sat in the nests together.''
While the study raises concerns about mercury impacts on wildlife, Frederick flatly dismissed the idea of extrapolating the result to humans, saying that would be a serious misreading.
“Honestly, there is zero relevance for humans,'' he said.
Until a boom in breeding over the last decade, populations of wading birds had sharply declined in the Everglades. Development and declining water levels were primarily to blame, but there was another potential, poorly understood contributor -- mercury, which filtered into the Everglades over the decades, largely from the stacks of medical and municipal waste incinerators.
Though improved management of water levels has played the biggest role in rekindling avian ardor, Frederick and study co-author Nilmini Jayasena wanted to examine mercury's role as well.
Previous studies of mercury and other “endocrine disrupters'' that affect the flow of hormones had shown a range of reproductive impacts on ducks and other birds, Frederick said. There were a range of impacts in the ibis study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, with females in the high exposure group producing 35 percent fewer chicks than the mercury-free group. But the starkest change was in sexual orientation.
Homosexual pairing occurred at even the lowest level of exposure, but the higher the mercury, the higher the rate. Some males exhibited bi-sexual interests, changing partners when male-on-male efforts proved fruitless. That's a common response in the wild after failed efforts, Frederick said. Females largely shunned high-mercury males, which didn't display much of the head bobs and bows of normal mating ritual.
Frederick said it's not clear exactly what mercury does to the birds. It may mix up nerve signals or crimp the flow of testosterone, giving males what he called a “feminized hormonal profile.''
Pollution 'makes male birds mate with each other', say scientists
Daily Mail Reporter
December 2, 2010
Water pollution is posing a threat to bird populations by causing males to mate with each other.
Scientists believe poisonous metal compounds entering the food chain can affect sexuality, causing a reduction in offspring.
They found that even relatively low levels of methylmercury in the diet of male white ibises caused the birds to pair up with each other, snubbing females.
As a result fewer females breed and fewer chicks are produced.
Methylmercury is a form of mercury – the metal which is liquid at room temperature and is better known as quicksilver. It has been seeping into groundwater from industry for years.
This is the first scientific study to show how the pollutant appears to alter sexual preference.
U.S. researcher Peter Frederick captured 160 young white ibises – a coastal wading bird – and gave them food laced with methylmercury.
The birds were split into four groups. One group ate food with 0.3 parts per million (ppm) methylmercury, which most U.S. states would regard as too high for human consumption.
A second group was fed 0.1 ppm, and the third 0.05 ppm, a low dose that wild birds would be exposed to frequently. The fourth group received food clear of the poison.
All three dosed groups had significantly more homosexual males than the control group. Male-male pairs courted, built nests together and paired off for several weeks.
Higher doses increased the effect, with 55 per cent of males in the 0.3 ppm group affected.
Overall, male-male mating was blamed for 81 per cent of unproductive nests in the dosed groups.
‘We knew mercury could depress their testosterone levels,’ explained Dr Frederick.
‘But we didn’t expect this. In the worst-case scenario, the production of young would fall by 50 per cent.’ Other birds would probably be similarly affected, he said.
However, Dr Frederick, of the Florida University, and fellow researcher Nilmini Jayasena, of the Peradeniya University, Sri Lanka, admitted it was far from clear if methylmercury could be linked to similar effects in mammals.
New EPA water standards are costly and based on bad science - Barney Bishop
News-Press.com - by Barney Bishop, Guest Opinion
December 2, 2010
Billions of dollars. That is what four separate studies have shown as the anticipated cost of the EPA mandates for Florida's water bodies. Unfortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is full of fanatics that don't care about the cost to the state of this unprecedented action.
Studies produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and two independent studies produced by Cardno ENTRIX and Carollo Engineers all show the impact to Florida's economy will be in the billions. This is a stark contrast to the tune the EPA is singing. They project a much lower, unrealistic cost that is closer to $200 million. They say it's just "pennies a day." My experience is when you hear that from the federal government, you better hold on to your wallet.
I cannot understand how the EPA's predicted costs are inconsistent with other studies or why some editorial boards have taken the EPA's word as fact instead of listening to those who know Florida's water bodies.
According to a study by the FDEP, the organization that enforces Florida's water quality standards, the EPA mandates will impose capital costs of more than $4 billion on municipal wastewater treatment utilities and more than $17 billion on municipal storm water utilities.
In addition to the EPA's outlying cost projections, there are also significant questions regarding the scientific validity of the new mandates. The FDEP Secretary FDACS Commissioner are both on record questioning whether the standards proposed by the EPA are attainable or will even achieve environmental benefits.
As Agriculture Commissioner Bronson has pointed out - algal blooms have been around since the beginning of time. Imposing harsher standards will not clean what naturally occurs and Floridians shouldn't have to foot the bill to try and do so.
In April, the EPA's own Science Advisory Board joined the chorus of FDEP, FDACS, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Legislature and others expressing serious concerns that the EPA's methods for developing nutrient standards are scientifically flawed.
The Obama EPA hasn't truly heard the people or they would realize that Floridians, like all Americans, are tired of over-regulation by government and these EPA mandates are the epitome of this concern. It will raise the water costs for Floridians by about $600 a year for a family of four and adversely impact municipal and county governments, along with the business community.
Barney Bishop III is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.
Scott's water board picks matter to state, Southwest Florida - Editorial
December 2, 2010
Gov.-Elect Rick Scott, a Naples resident, should be keenly aware of the need to restore the Everglades and enhance water quality.
Scott will have a big impact because, by his term's end in January 2015, he may appoint all new members to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board. This affects the health of the Caloosahatchee and our region's environment and economy.
The governing board has nine members, and there is one vacancy because Patrick Rooney stepped down to run for political office.
This week the Obama administration announced it picked board member Shannon Estevoz to shape its Everglades policy.
Sterling Ivey, spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist, said the governor probably would not appoint Estenoz's replacement. However, Crist could appoint Rooney's successor before his term ends Jan. 4; there are three applications for the position.
In March, the terms expire for board chairman Eric Buermann and member Charles Dauray, who represents Lee and Collier.
So, by the beginning of next year Scott could appoint at least one-third of the board, which runs on property tax dollars, implements water policy, works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Lake Okeechobee water releases, and has purchased land (and may purchase more) from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration.
We want Scott to be a champion for the Everglades and the conservation of our waterways because it makes economic sense.
He can use his bully pulpit to demand that the federal government pay its share of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The governor-elect can create a legacy to benefit Floridians for generations to come.
We hope he will choose members wisely who are not tied to one interest or another, but who have a broad perspective.
For background and information on water quality issues, visit news-press.com/river.
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