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2nd Biennial Water Symposium
AM850 - ‎Feb 25, 2010‎
Water has brought a diverse group of conservation thinkers to Gainesville. The University of Florida Water Institute is hosting the 2nd Biennial Water Symposium at UF's Hilton hotel. It has attracted engineers, ecologists, and economists to discuss possible solutions to water conservation. Wendy Graham at the U-F Water Institute says that it is very rare for such a group to meet, but is so important to moving this process forward. Over 400 people have signed up to attend. They are discussing new technologies, developments, and policies that could help the water resource sustainability effort. Graham says that a common goal in the symposium is to inform people to continue preserving water. She also mentioned that the state of Florida has engaged in water supply planning to assist the process.
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Murzin Wants Time Out in Water Fight With EPA
The Jacksonville Observer
February 26, 2010
With federal officials holding another round of public hearings in Florida on proposed water quality regulations on Wednesday, a Panhandle Republican who is opposed to the plan is gearing up for a water fight.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted its latest hearing on a tour of the state, fielding comments from central Florida residents, Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, said he has about 30 of his colleagues in the House on board for asking the agency to delay imposing tougher standards for Florida water pollution. The proposed standards, while not complete, have angered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s business community.
Meanwhile, the chairman of a new Senate committee that will work on springs protection said he hopes any legislation that his panel produces will prove Florida has a new outlook on water.
The EPA proposal, which would set limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water containing the chemicals phosphorous and nitrogen, known colloquially as nutrients, is the result of a lengthy legal fight between the state and Florida environmentalists.
But Murzin said that a flood of new regulations, which he called arbitrary, was not the answer.
“We’re drafting a letter (to the Florida Congressional Delegation) asking them to hold off for 60 days so we can pursue doing an actual study,” he said Wednesday in an interview. “If we can delay the game a bit, we can do a thoughtful review (of the best solution to water pollution).”
The EPA has telegraphed that tougher standards for how much pollution will be allowed in fresh water in Florida were in the pipeline, and the agency hosted a public hearing on the proposed changes Wednesday in Orlando.
The hearings follow a consent decree over numeric water quality standards for inland waters, which was reached after environmentalists sued state regulators for failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
Under the EPA plan, Florida waters would be grouped with different nutrient allotments depending on the characteristic of the water.
Murzin said that although his letter has drawn support in the Legislature, lawmakers will likely not be able to pre-empt the regulations in the legislative session that is scheduled to begin next week.
“I’m not a constitutional scholar, but if some federal judge or federal agency decides on arbitrary standards for Florida, I don’t know that we can thumb our noses at it,” he said.
But Sen. Lee Constantine, R- Altamonte Springs, who chairs the newly created Select Committee on Inland Waters, told the News Service of Florida that he hoped his panel could counter the perception that lead to the EPA standards: that the state has dragged its feet on water issues . Constantine has held meetings of the Inland Waters Committee at springs around the state in anticipation of the 2010 session and pushed last year for a broad springs protection measure that ultimately didn’t pass, partly because of concerns from builders over pollution requirements.
“Certainly we hope that anything we do in the water bill, if we’re so fortunate to actually pass it, will be taken into consideration and help EPA as they continue down their process,” Constantine said. “It’s clear that this could be a very difficult process to work through, if we don’t work together. We’re hoping that they’ll see that most states are solving their own problem. And obviously if we do something like I’m talking about, that would have to be taken into account.”
No measure has been filed yet for the 2010 session, but Constantine said he was not interested in passing a weak bill to overcome the opposition last session from builders, who argued that the spring requirements would have required expensive new septic systems. “I want groundbreaking legislation,” Constantine said. “This opportunity for us to protect and refill our water resources is long overdue.”
Environmentalists agree, which is why Florida Clean Water Network director Linda Young said the EPA standards are necessary for Florida. Young said the state has failed to adequately address water pollution, which she said could ultimately impact its biggest cash cow: tourism.
“We’ve never had a (nutrient) limit in Florida,” Young said. “It’s kind of like a diet. It’s always been sort of ‘well I don’t drink too much.’ It’s a loosey-goosey kind of thing, where – depending on your political clout – you could have more wiggle room.”
Young told EPA officials during a Tallahassee public hearing this month that opposition to the federal plan was “the result of many months of organizing that’s been done by …our own state government.” She told the News Service before the meeting that claims the regulations would increase the cost of doing business near Florida waters were unfounded.
“It’s change. It’s the unknown,” Young said. “DEP has exaggerated the threat and there is a little bit of panic created by a state agency screaming fire.”
She added that although the proposed EPA standards were the result of a lawsuit by environmentalists, they are not everything the green lobby wanted.
There are “loopholes galore, which the state of Florida passes out like candy,” she said. “It’s a quarter glass full of what we need, but we’re so desperate we’re willing to go ‘OK, it’s a start. We’ll take it.’ It’s not like it’s the Cadillac of regulation. It’s more like a Volkswagen.”

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$4.2M project will enhance Biscayne Bay
South Florida Business Journal - Bizjournals.com
February 25, 2010
A recently approved $4.2 million project will redistribute water flowing into Biscayne Bay near the Deering Estate, resulting in improved freshwater flows into the bay.
The South Florida Water Management District governing board recently approved the project – part of a larger master plan to restore Biscayne Bay – known as the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project.
It also is part of the multibillion-dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The flow-way is expected to improve natural habitat along the bay, and lead to better recreation opportunities.
According to a district news release, the flow-way will redistribute excess freshwater runoff, directing it away from existing canal discharges and spreading it out prior to discharging into Biscayne Bay, providing a more natural overland flow of water.
Improved freshwater flow and salinity distribution near the shore should also help re-establish nursery habitat for shrimp and shellfish.
The district is working with the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department to develop an education site on two acres of the Deering Estate, a 400-acre environmental, archeological and historical preserve.
The flow-way is expected to be completed in May 2011.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved in 2000 and serves as a framework for restoring, protecting and preserving the water resources of central and southern Florida.
The state and the South Florida Water Management District have invested about $2.4 billion toward the effort, which includes about $300 million for construction.
Click here for a map of the Deering Estate flow-way project.
Click here for more information on the district’s Everglades restoration efforts.
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Environmental group hopes to extend deadline for Everglades restoration project
TCPal, Vero Beach Press-Journal - by Jim Mayfield
February 25, 2010
The Rivers Coalition voted unanimously Thursday to urge the South Florida Water Management Board of Governors to extend the closing deadline for the $500 million land purchase from U.S. Sugar Corp. for the district’s River of Grass Everglades restoration project.
On March 11, the board faces a crucial vote on whether to extend the closing to purchase 73,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee for $536 million. That purchase is the initial phase of what could be a 180,000-acre land acquisition by the district to store, treat and restore water flows south to the Everglades.
The existing contract requires a closing by March 31. The delay allows the Florida Supreme Court to rule on a pending legal challenge to the land deal.
The Coalition voted to send each board member a letter urging them to vote in favor of the project it says is vital to improving and preserving the St. Lucie River and estuary.
Gabe Margasak, spokesman for the SFWMD, said, “We value the input of the Rivers Coalition and we look forward to bringing it to the Governing Board. The board is scheduled to host a strategic planning session at its March public meeting to consider the most prudent course of action.”
Though the project was announced by Florida Gov. Charlie Christ in June 2008, Matthew Morrison, SFWMD planning director, cautioned coalition members not to get too anxious to see dirt beginning to move.
“You’re probably still looking five years down the road,” Morrison said.
The River of Grass concept will involve some form of water storage and conveyance system that is still under study north and south of Lake Okeechobee that will enable water managers to divert water south into the Everglades.
Presently, water is diverted primarily east and west from the lake into either the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries, which has been wreaking havoc on those sensitive environmental ecosystems.
Additionally the extra storage capacity could “take some of the stress off the lake,” during high-water periods, Morrison said.
Current total cost estimates on the project range from $747 million to $11.8 billion, Morrison said.
Morrison said the district will begin the next of three rounds of public meetings on the project in March to begin narrowing potential plans for the project, with engineering and design work possibly to begin on some of the more inexpensive aspects of the project this fall.
However, the entire proposal is currently subject to affordability, bond validation and the availability of financing, Morrison said.
Coalition member Ed Fielding, said the restoration project was a step in the right direction, but that more needed to be done north of the lake.
“If the district doesn’t take responsibility to impose on those dumping volume and pollution into the lake from the north, you’re just wasting our money,” Fielding said.

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Crist picks South Florida water managers
SunSentinel.com - by Andy Reid
February 24, 2010
Gov. Charlie Crist Wednesday reappointed Broward County’s representative to the South Florida Water Management District board and added two new faces to help direct the agency that guards against flooding, protects drinking water supplies and leads Everglades restoration.
Crist appointed Shannon Estenoz, 42 of Plantation to another four-year term on the volunteer, nine-member board. Estenoz is a former senior policy advisor for the National Parks Conservation Association and one of the environmental community’s key advocates on the board.
Estenoz has been a staunch supporter of the governor’s proposal for the district to spend $536 million to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration.
Crist also named Anne “Sandy” Batchelor-Robjohns, 56, of Miami Beach and Glenn Waldman, 49, of Weston to fill two remaining vacancies on the water management district board.
Batchelor-Robjohns has served on the board of Audubon of Florida and Waldman is an attorney with experience handling environmental, construction and land use disputes, according to the governor’s office.
The governor’s appointments must be ratified by the Florida Senate.
The appointments come before a crucial water management district vote expected next month on the pending U.S. Sugar deal. To keep the deal alive, the district board would need to approve a contract extension with U.S. Sugar to allow more time for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on a legal challenge to the district’s plan to borrow the money for the land deal.
Opponents to the deal, including the Miccosukee Tribe and sugar producer Florida Crystals, say it costs taxpayers too much and would take money from other stalled Everglades projects.
Supporters, including many environmental groups, contend that the deal provides a historic opportunity to buy strategically located land that can be used to restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.

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Crist restocks water board with backers of his Everglades restoration plan
Palm Beach Post - Michael C. Bender, Paul Quinlan
February 24, 2010‎
Environmentalists who favor Gov. Charlie Crist's monumental Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. saw the odds of success improve Wednesday, when Crist named two allies and re-appointed a third to the board of the South Florida Water Management District, in advance of another crucial vote on the half-billion-dollar purchase.
Crist named Weston commercial litigation attorney Glenn Waldman and Anne "Sandy" Batchelor-Robjohns, chair and co-CEO of the Miami Beach-based Batchelor Foundation, to the nine-member board. He also re-appointed longtime environmentalist and Everglades advocate Shannon Estenoz to another four-year term.
The district manages Everglades restoration for the state, as well as water supply and flood control across 16 south and central Florida counties in which it levies property taxes.
Waldman, 49, grew up in North Miami and graduated from University of Florida law school at age 22. He was the divorce attorney to former Miami Subs and SunCruz Casinos owner Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis and later represented the estate after Boulis' gangland-style killing in 2001.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Waldman said he was "absolutely 100 percent in favor" of the U.S. Sugar deal. Aside from having donated to Crist, he described himself as "apolitical."
"I thought I would apply and put something back and contribute in a meaningful way," Waldman said.
Batchelor-Robjohns, 56, could not be reached for comment. She has served on the board of Audubon of Florida and her foundation has donated to Everglades Foundation. She is the daughter-in-law of George Batchelor, who made his fortune as an airline operator and aircraft broker.
The new members arrive just before an anticipated March 11 board vote on whether to extend the land purchase contract's closing deadline so that a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court can be fended off.
Crist and environmental allies say the purchase would accomplish more for the dying ecosystem than anything else in at least a decade, securing 72,500 acres of land that could be used to re-establish the historic, flowing connection between Lake Okeechobee and the southern Everglades. The district would pay for the $536 million deal by issuing bonds and without raising taxes, Crist has pledged.
On Wednesday, Crist said he made the appointments with an eye toward the Everglades land deal.
"We're going to keep firing the canon and doing the job," Crist said.
But opponents, including 11-year district board member Mike Collins, who twice voted against the deal, have portrayed it as a taxpayer-financed bailout of a struggling sugar company.
Collins, former president of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, said the appointees brought little to the table beyond a willingness to vote "yes" on U.S. Sugar.
"It would have been nice if the governor had put someone in there who was involved in water management," Collins said. "I don't know what criteria he was using, but it sounds like it was who would support the U.S. Sugar deal."
U.S. Sugar's chief rival, the politically powerful Florida Crystals Corp., owned by the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, which lives on reservation land in the Everglades, will ask the Florida Supreme Court in April to block the bond issue on grounds that the deal serves no clear public purpose.

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Estenoz sets record straight on water-quality issues
SunSentinel.com
February 23, 2010
The Feb. 15 article, "Water pollution rules could soak taxpayers," paraphrased me declaring that the Environmental Protection Agency's new proposed water-quality rules are "kooky."
This characterization is incorrect.
I am on the record agreeing that Florida does need numeric standards to protect water quality in the state. I am not a water-quality expert, so I must leave the substance and process for establishing those rules to folks who are.
Last week, I was reacting to our staff's eye-popping budget projections detailing the cost of building thousands of acres of treatment marshes in urban areas. I was pointing out that for Broward County, that's kooky. Fortunately, Broward has been a leader in water quality for a long time, and my hope is that the EPA will allow the county to continue to play that leadership role.
Florida does have water-quality problems — that's no secret. It is my hope that the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can work together to develop rules and compliance strategies that make sense for our water resources and our taxpayers.
Shannon Estenoz, board member, South Florida Water Management District Governing Board

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'Pythons 101': Hunters learn how to catch critters in Everglades
Miami Herald - by SUSAN COCKING,  scocking@MiamiHerald.com
February 23, 2010
Joe Mennine and Ismael Vasquez, co-workers from Jupiter, were tooling down an Everglades canal in an airboat Monday when Vasquez saw a distinctive black-blotched snake, about five feet long, on the levee.
Having completed a ``Pythons 101'' crash course given by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission less than an hour earlier, Vasquez recognized it as a Burmese python. He pointed it out to Mennine, who jumped out and grabbed it.
``It tried to bite me, but it bit itself,'' Mennine said. ``I grabbed it by its head and threw it in a bag.''
The two returned to the boat ramp and turned the snake over to their FWC instructors.
``I can't wait to do it again,'' a breathless Vasquez said. ``I'm a newbie -- my very first time. The training definitely helped me know what to look out for.''
The two hunters were among about 50 who gathered at the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area off the Tamiami Trail on Monday for the FWC announcement of a special hunting season for reptiles of concern on state lands.
From March 8 through April 17, anyone with a hunting license and a $26 management area permit may kill exotic, invasive snakes -- including the Indian python, reticulated python, northern and southern African rock python, amethystine or scrub python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard.
The hunting grounds are the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger wildlife management areas. Legal weapons include pistols, shotguns and rifles, but no centerfire rifles.
Exotic snakes -- especially the Burmese python -- have become a big problem in the Everglades. Growing up to 26 feet long, the Burmese is a constrictor that preys on native Florida mammals, birds and reptiles, including the endangered Key Largo wood rat. No one knows how many live in the Glades, but more than 300 were removed from Everglades National Park in 2008 alone. From the park, the snakes have spread north to the Big Cypress National Preserve and south to Key Largo.
Hunters said they would be happy to help stop the spread.
``We feel we have the knowledge, responsibility and technical ability to take care of this problem,'' said Bishop Wright Jr., president of the Florida Airboat Association. ``We are the best tool in the toolbox in this situation.''
To give hunters their best shot, the FWC brought in some of its own officers, plus local breeders and trappers, for Monday's news conference and training session. Biologist Shawn Heflick and reptile breeder Michael Cole provided a rundown on the reptiles' biology, behavior, diet and habitat.
They even brought along two ``demo'' snakes -- a large, pet male named Fluffy and a smaller, rambunctious wild python caught recently in the Everglades -- for lessons in safe handling and capture.
Heflick said the best time to hunt snakes is during the cooler months, when the cold-blooded reptiles sun themselves and ambush prey -- such as rabbits and rats -- along canal levees, in tree islands and in brush and debris piles.
He said they are not aggressive, but will defend themselves if threatened.
``You don't want to end up with a Burmese necktie,'' he said, only half-jokingly.
Cole was adamant that snakes be dispatched humanely.
``The quickest and easiest way to euthanize them is with a sharp instrument like a machete,'' Cole said. ``The veterinary association recommends swift decapitation or a bullet. Don't club these snakes to death.''
Hunters learned there are some financial incentives to harvesting pythons.
Brian Wood, operator of All American Gators in Hallandale Beach -- a reptile processor -- said he would pay $5 per foot for a whole snake. He showed off a pair of jumbo snakeskin trousers valued at $900 and touted the flavor of snake meat, although tests on samples from the Everglades show it's high in mercury.
``The meat is very excellent,'' Wood said. ``It's like chicken, but it does taste like snake.''
Several of the hunters couldn't wait to get started.
Said Rich Andrews of Pompano Beach: ``We'll take care of the problem here for sure. We truly care about the environment. It's our playground. If the snake problem is as bad as they make it out to be, who better to be out there than us?''

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Airplanes and alligators mix at remote Glades airport
SunSentinel.com - by Ken Kaye, Staff Writer
February 22, 2010
The runway is long enough to handle the biggest airliners, even a space shuttle. But at this airport, blue herons swoop in far more frequently than JetBlue.
This is Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, which sees more animals than airplanes. Squatting in the middle of the Everglades, it is home to alligators, snakes, deer, wading birds, buzzards, bobcats and bears.
The airfield is so remote, the nearest McDonald's is 33 miles away. Other than pilots, airboat operators, all-terrain vehicle riders and hunters, few people know it's there.
At one time, it was supposed to be a gigantic jetport with 10 terminals and high-speed rail connections to all parts of the state.
Then environmental forces stymied it. Now, it's used so little that critters sometimes slink onto the runway to sun themselves.
"You can shoo a gator off. But you can't shoo a snake off. You have to pick them up," said Chris McArthur, the airport manager, adding that those snakes are sometimes boa constrictors and rattlers.
Situated halfway between Miami and Naples, the airport covers 35 square miles of pine and marshland off the Tamiami Trail and within the Big Cypress National Preserve. Only 400 acres are fenced in, to protect the 10,500-foot runway.
Pilots use the airport mainly to practice landings, rarely stopping to stretch. It has no control tower, no restaurants, no aviation companies to provide fuel, and no parked aircraft. The only building on the field is a doublewide trailer.
Although most of the runway lies in Collier County, the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department owns the airfield, which this year is running on a $258,877 budget. The funding comes from airport user fees.
For the four employees who maintain it, Dade-Collier is a peaceful – and occasionally spooky – place to work, said Manuel Tamara, who handles the radio and mows the grass with a farm tractor.
He said he and his coworkers frequently see animals' eyes shining in the darkness.
"You know that song, the night has a thousand eyes? Well this place has two-thousand eyes. There are eyes everywhere," said Tamara, 51, of West Kendall.
One night, heading out of the airport on his motorcycle, he saw a shadow in the underbrush. At first he thought it was a man.
"But it was a black bear," he said. "It was freaky. It was big enough to scare the hell out of you."
To keep animals clear of airplanes, the airport has set up two cannons, one on either end of the runway. They emit a loud pop every few minutes, but the animals don't always listen.
"If an alligator wants to go out on the pavement, he'll go out on the pavement," McArthur said.
Being in the middle of nowhere has its advantages, as the airport provides uncongested airspace for airlines and flight schools to practice landings. Pilots pay the airport a $28 fee for each landing.
The federal government has a good reason to want the airport kept open: Dade-Collier would be the perfect place to deal with a hijacked airliner or a bio-terrorism incident.
"It's the only airport of its kind," McArthur said.
Just the same, on a busy day, Dade-Collier might see 50 takeoffs and landings, while Miami International sees more than 1,000 on average.
With so little traffic, Dade-Collier has no fire trucks to respond to a crash. Instead, a 50-pound extinguisher bottle is mounted on the back of a pickup.
"The pilots know there's nobody out here, and they take that risk," McArthur said.
The airport saw a fatal crash in January 2008, when a helicopter practicing maneuvers flipped over and fell to the ground, killing its two occupants. McArthur said the pilots could not have been saved, even if a fire truck had been available.
How did the airport get built in the boondocks?
In 1962, what was then the Dade County Port Authority developed a grandiose scheme to build a jetport in the Everglades and allow unlimited growth. Miami International was already bustling.
As envisioned, the "Everglades Jetport" would have been bigger than New York's JFK, Chicago's O'Hare, Los Angeles International and San Francisco International combined.
In September 1968, ground was broken for the first of eight runways, each 3 miles long. Yet all along, environmental groups argued the airport would destroy the fragile Everglades habitat.
In November 1969, the federal government killed the project, allowing only the single runway to be built because MIA was too busy to accommodate airline training. Dade-Collier opened in 1970.
Tamara said when he started working there 10 years ago, he intended to move up to a better job in Miami-Dade County. Since then, he has come to love the 40-minute drive to work and the rustic atmosphere.
"I got used to people not bossing me around," he said. "I like it out here."
Ken Kaye can be reached at kkaye@sunsentinel.com or 954-572-2085.

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Protecting the Water State's resource
Ocala.com (Star-Banner, Opinion) - by Jack E. Davis and Sarah Bucci
February 21, 2010
Florida is styled the Sunshine State, but it also could be called the Water State.
On its surface, water shimmers across one-quarter of the land, forming remarkable natural features that include Lake Okeechobee, the second largest body of freshwater within U.S. continental borders, and the Everglades, a wet ecosystem with characteristics unmatched by any.
Below, from the southern tip of the peninsula to its northern border and beyond (the only border not demarcated by water), lies one of the world's grandest aquifers, the Floridan.
Water is the principal source of life. In Florida, that source runs from aquifer to kitchen tap. Water also is, in itself, the place where Floridians love to fish, boat and swim.
But should we dare ?
In 2007 alone, industrial facilities dumped 1.16 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Florida's waterways. In the last decade, growth-minded lobbyists and compliant policymakers have made significant progress in their long-enduring campaign to give polluters the green light to dump waste where Floridians live and recreate, making Florida a polluted paradise.
Preserving the biological integrity of rivers, lakes and wetlands, which feed the life-sustaining aquifer, has depended primarily on the federal Clean Water Act. Passed in 1972, during a time when America's rivers were so befouled that one, Ohio's Cuyahoga River, caught on fire, the Clean Water Act helped guide the country away from additional watery infernos by setting minimum water-quality standards.
It was a miracle cure for Florida's numerous dying bays and estuaries, those cradles of life on earth. Anyone who knew Florida intimately in the 1970s has witnessed a wondrous transformation in clearer water, cleaner shores and expanded waterbird populations. This is to say nothing of the improved odds for the lucky fisherman.
Enforcement since the act's adoption has been spotty, to say the least, but Floridians had a decent legal defense against uncaring polluters. No more.
In the so-called SWANCC case of 2001, a divided Supreme Court ruled that use by migratory birds of isolated, non-navigable waters does not alone warrant federal protection of those waters.
Taking the decision a step further, the Bush administration moved quickly to weaken the Clean Water Act by ordering the EPA to withdraw protection from isolated water bodies, even those sustaining endangered species and commercial fishing and recreation.
Up to 30 percent of the nation's water, once protected, now lies at grave risk of pollution and development. The Florida percentage is approximately the same. More alarming, the risk extends to the precious Floridan aquifer.
But help could be around the bend.
The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, on which Florida Rep. Corrine Brown sits, is set to take up the proposed Clean Water Restoration Act. The new legislation seeks to reassert protection to non-navigable water and to tidal shores.
Opposition groups, backed by growth merchants, maintain that Floridians do not need the EPA snooping around their backyard swimming pools and bird baths with water-testing vials, that industry can properly regulate itself and care for the people.
But it was not the EPA who drained away or paved over half of Florida's freshwater sources, brought Lake Apopka and Lake Okeechobee to the brink of biological death, created a 10-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Fenholloway River, or located a utility-pole manufacturer in Gainesville whose chemical compounds threaten the groundwater and human health. The list of corporate irresponsibility goes on and on.
Fifty years ago, a citizens' group, that organized to save an endangered Biscayne Bay, called industrial pollution "private property displaced" — to wit, litter. Ethically and legally, we do not allow someone to throw a hamburger wrapper out a car window. Why, then, do public officials allow industry to discharge toxic litter that kills ?
Stopping polluters and wetland developers brings immeasurable dividends. Conversely, building desalinization plants or piping water across regions to solve resource problems burdens taxpayers.
Jack E. Davis is associate professor of history at the University of Florida; and Sarah Bucci is federal field associate with Environment Florida.

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Environmental fight brewing over new rock mining push on former Everglades land
Sun-Sentinel - Andy Reid
February 20, 2010
Palm Beach Aggregates plans to expand its rock mining to 2,300 acres — allowing 25 more years of digging — in an area environmentalists contend threatens Everglades restoration.
The mining company west of Royal Palm Beach is teaming up with sugar-producing giant Florida Crystals in a joint venture that would spread rock mining deeper into the Everglades Agricultural Area where hundreds of thousands of acres south of Lake Okeechobee were drained to make way for farming.
Environmental groups are waging a legal challenge to try to stop the spread of rock mining to more agricultural land, which they hope to use to store and treat water that could rehydrate the Everglades.
Mining opponents also argue that the digging and blasting to create deep pits can allow pollutants to foul underground freshwater supplies relied on by the public.
The Palm Beach County Commission in recent years allowed new or expanded rock mines to spread to almost 12,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Too many rock mines are being allowed when the struggling economy has diminished the need for rock to supply new construction, said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club.
"We are very much opposed to any expanded mining in the [agricultural area]," Martin said. "We don't feel that there is any economic demand for more rock."
Palm Beach Aggregates counters that its proposal to mine Florida Crystals' sugar cane fields steers clear of land planned for Everglades restoration. Despite the economic slowdown, rock is still needed for future road building as well as Everglades restoration construction projects, said Ernie Cox, an attorney representing Palm Beach Aggregates' mining proposal.
Without the expansion, Palm Beach Aggregates has room to keep mining for about four years, Cox said.
"It's been in operation for 20 years," Cox said about Palm Beach Aggregates' mines along Southern Boulevard. "It's right on the edge of the [agricultural area]. … It's a good place to have that mine."
Pits left by previous rock mining at Palm Beach Aggregates were converted into a publicly financed reservoir touched by controversy.
Cox said that Palm Beach Aggregates remains open to the possibility of turning the proposed new pits into another reservoir, but that no formal talks with state and local water managers have occurred.
A $217 million deal between Palm Beach Aggregates and the South Florida Water Management District produced a 15 billion-gallon reservoir completed in 2008. The reservoir is intended to restore water flows to the Loxahatchee River and to supplement nearby community supplies.
The reservoir deal with Palm Beach Aggregates raised eyebrows when the mining company was linked to corruption scandals that led two Palm Beach County commissioners to resign and go to prison after getting swept up in a federal investigation.
Palm Beach Aggregates owners never faced charges, but the controversy made water management district officials leery of pursuing another deal to use the company's land to store water.
The company's new mining proposal comes as a coalition of water utilities in Broward and Palm Beach counties is exploring the possibility of building a new reservoir to supplement drinking water supplies.
The rock mine expansion proposal goes before the county's Zoning Commission on April 1 and the County Commission on April 22.
If Palm Beach Aggregates gets the county zoning approvals to proceed, the company would still need state and federal environmental permits that can require years of review.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504.

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Area bodies of water wouldn't meet limits
Ocala.com - by Fred Hiers, Staff writer
February 18, 2010
Pollutant levels in the Silver and Rainbow springs are three times what would be allowed under proposed federal limits. Lake Weir also has routinely failed to meet the proposed total nitrogen standard, with levels sometimes reaching double what would be permissible.
Marion County's rivers don't fare much better. The Ocklawaha, Withlacoochee and Rainbow consistently surpass the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed river standards.
The story is similar throughout Florida. Under the EPA's proposed regulations (see related story, 1A), at least a third of Florida's waters would fail to meet standards.
If the EPA goes through with plans to impose tough water standards on the state, the implications will be harsh. Likely taking the first hard hit would be municipal utilities. Most, if not all, currently fail to meet the EPA's proposed standards for allowable amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous released in effluent.
These nutrient pollutants cause massive algae blooms, change water chemistry, and hurt fish and vegetation.
It's still uncertain which of EPA's proposed standards Ocala's three wastewater treatment plants would have to meet. But even under the best scenario, none of the plants meets EPA's proposed guidelines, said the city's water and sewer director, Jeff Halcomb.
Each of the three facilities has about 10 milligrams of nitrogen per liter in its effluent. The most lenient EPA standard for which Ocala might qualify is 1.205 mg/L.
Halcomb said the cost to improve the city's treatment plants in hopes of meeting EPA standards could be between $90 million and $150 million. The water and wastewater department's annual revenue is about $16 million.
"If you have to come up with $90 or a $150 million, how are you going to do it?" he asked. "What EPA is not understanding is that even if the cities of Florida could afford to modify ... their treatment plants, can [EPA] prove it would reduce [nutrient levels] in waters?"
In most cases, scientists haven't been able to pinpoint sources of pollutants when polluted bodies of water were studied. But most believe that fertilizers, animal stock, septic tanks and water runoff are the main sources.
Even if the costly improvements were made to Ocala's facilities, Halcomb doubts he would be consistently able to meet EPA goals.
Local governments will also have their hands full in trying to curb pollutants entering their rivers and lakes. And although Marion County recently passed modest rules limiting fertilization and septic tanks near its springs, it would likely have to do far more if EPA goes through with its standards threat.
How did Florida's waters, including those in Marion, get so bad?
"You have 18 million people in Florida," said Gainesville-based environmental consultant Bob Knight, who designs wastewater systems. The problem is that Florida's strategy in dealing with treated wastewater was to send it back onto the ground.
"And they totally overlooked the relationship between ground and surface waters," Knight said.
As a result, Knight estimates that a third of Florida's groundwater is above EPA's limit for nitrates.
Knight said it would be possible to start turning the pollution tide, but it would take a lot of money.
Septic tank owners would have to hook up to municipal sewer systems much sooner than now is planned, he said. If that wasn't possible, only advanced septic systems, far better than traditional tanks, should be allowed.
Those two measures alone could reduce nitrogen infiltration from those sources by as much as 75 percent.
He also recommends a stop to lawn fertilizing and a significant change in how farms use fertilizers and the kinds of fertilizers they use.
But even if EPA makes good on its new standards, Knight estimates it could take decades before Florida makes a dent in significantly improving its waters.
"We've created a monster in our groundwater, he said. "It's tragic. I don't think people want to face up to what the problem is."

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Cleaner water could be costly for Florida residents
NavarrePress - by Christine O'Connor
February 18, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to make Floridian’s water cleaner could cost drinkers hundreds.
Last August, acting on a law suit filed by several South Florida environmental groups, the EPA entered into a consent decree, committing to sign a proposed rule setting forth numeric nutrient criteria for lakes and flowing waters in Florida by Jan. 14, 2010, and for Florida's estuarine and coastal waters by Jan. 14, 2011, unless Florida submits - and EPA approves - state numeric nutrient criteria before EPA’s final ruling in October 2010, and 2011, respectively.
For more on this story, see the Feb. 18 issue of the Navarre Press or subscribe online.

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EPA-Florida water war draws a crowd
Large crowd mostly hostile to EPA plans for cleaning Florida’s lakes and rivers
Orlando Sentinel (blog) - aaron deslatte
February 18, 2010
A public hearing on a federal plan to clean up Florida's rivers and lakes drew an unexpectedly large crowd of nearly 350 people to a room with only 200 chairs Wednesday. Whether seated or standing, most of the anxious speakers repeatedly lashed out against stiffer environmental regulations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a first-of-its-kind move, wants to use Florida's extensive database on water bodies to establish broad categories of pollution limits, instead of continuing the state's lake-by-lake and river-by-river approach.
Florida's process of developing custom-made pollution limits for individual rivers and lakes is a slow approach that even state authorities admit hasn't been able to reverse the decline of Florida's water quality.
Rusty Wiygul, director of grower affairs for Florida Citrus Mutual, told the crowd that the EPA's proposal contains many unknowns to worry about.
Wiygul, whose family has farmed in Florida for four generations, said farmers don't know if the federal rules would require them to build large ponds for holding dirty water, cut back on fertilizer or take other costly steps.
"You can regulate us out of business," Wiygul warned. "That's a scary thing."
James Payne, representing the enormous Deseret Ranch, which covers large portions of Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties, said: "You often wonder how much regulation a cow can carry on her back."
EPA officials heard from lawyers, scientists, engineers, farmers, fertilizer makers, paper makers, sewage-plant officials, environmentalists and anti-government advocates, all gathered in a large south Orlando hotel for the second of three public hearings the federal agency is conducting in Florida this week.
The EPA hopes to use Florida as a test for its regulatory approach — which is likely to face lawsuits — with an eye toward expanding it to other states.
An often-repeated theme at Wednesday's hearing: The EPA rules would put Florida agriculture at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with farmers in other countries.
Another complaint: State pollution problems should be left to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, an agency often subjected to heavy pressure from Florida industries.
Speakers also challenged details of the scientific assumptions behind the EPA proposal as well as the basis of the agency's Florida intervention.
Outside the hotel, a dozen protestors who support the Tea Party movement waved signs such as "EPA stay out of lakes." Inside, Lynne Grace of Space Coast Patriots of Brevard County, another Tea Party supporter, said the Washington bureaucrats should go home soon.
"I'm beginning to think we need protection from the federal government," Grace said. "You really don't have any business in our Florida waters."
The first dozen speakers were largely opposed to the federal rules.
Next to step to the microphone was David Guest, managing attorney in Tallahassee for Earthjustice, who appeared to briefly surprise the anti-regulation advocates with his forceful environmental message.
Guest's group is part of the coalition that sued the EPA, alleging failures to uphold federal water-quality laws in Florida, which resulted in a settlement in which the U.S. agency agreed to step up enforcement of federal environmental laws in Florida.
Guest said pollution-fed algae is ruining many of Florida's major and most important waters, including some of its famous springs.
"Who is talking about that ?  Nobody, and that's the problem," Guest said, interrupted briefly by hecklers.  "This is killing the economy, and we can't pretend that it is not."
The EPA's proposed regulations are aimed at the ordinary chemicals — forms of phosphorus and nitrogen — that plants need to grow.
Delivered to lakes and rivers by urban and agricultural runoff and in sewage-plant discharges, those chemicals can become pollutants that help breed smothering outbreaks of algae.
One speaker urged the EPA to carefully consider the comments from its hearings.
"You have never seen pushback like you're going to see from Florida if this thing is pushed down our throats," said Wade Grigsby, president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association.
EPA officials are on track to make the rules final later this year.
Kevin Spear can be reached at kspear@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5062.

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Overflowing opposition
EPA gets earful on proposed water standards at hearing
Ocala.com – by Fred Hiers, Staff writer
February 18, 2010
TALLAHASSEE -- Critics of the federal plan to impose water regulations on Florida are speaking loud and clear this week, telling visiting officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the proposed rules will hurt businesses and utility customers.
Related Links:
Area bodies of water wouldn't meet limits
More Photos:  EPA and Florida's waters
The EPA announced last year that it was imposing its own rules because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had failed to establish numerical standards for nutrient pollutants in the state's lakes, canals, rivers, estuaries and springs.
The federal agency is holding three public meetings this week to gather reaction. During the first hearing, held here Tuesday, officials heard from farmers and cattlemen who said the proposed standards will likely put them out of business; and from Florida utility officials, who warned that customers' bills would probably double to cover the cost of upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
EPA's proposal is to limit nitrogen and phosphorous levels in Florida's water bodies. About a third of the bodies - including many in Marion and surrounding counties - would not pass the federal standards today.
Too much nitrogen and phosphorous causes harmful algae blooms and overgrowth of other vegetation and as a result changes water chemistry and biology. High nitrogen in drinking water can also cause blue baby syndrome, affecting infants' nervous systems.
Water industry lobbyists, lawyers and agricultural representatives told the Washington officials that the EPA proposals were flawed, based on bad science, and would wreak financial havoc on a state that already faces its worst recession of the past 70 years.
"I can't get where the EPA wants me to be from here," said Paul Lackemacher, a Bay County utility assistant director.
"Where's the money supposed to come from ... to do what they want? Are they going to come back from Washington with suitcases of money?" Lackemacher asked during a break in the meeting.
Bay County's case is representative. The new EPA standard would require the Panhandle community to reduce its plant's nitrogen effluent from 3.5 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of the water it releases into its bay to 0.824 mg/l.
The additional equipment Lackemacher would need would cost as much as $90 million, he said.
Utility officials estimated that, statewide, it would cost about $50 billion to upgrade Florida's 2,100 utility wastewater facilities to meet EPA standards.
EPA said it would cost no more than about $160 million annually.
More complaints
For many of the several hundred people who came to the meeting, one of the worst parts of EPA's proposal was the unknown.
That's because Florida and EPA scientists have yet to determine where exactly most of the nitrogen and phosphorus contaminating specific Florida's waters comes from, although most believe that general fertilizers create the bulk of the problem, followed by animal and human wastes and water runoff.
Rancher Clifford White, vice president of the Washington County Cattlemen's Association, said he and many of his fellow farmers already follow Florida's Best Management Practices on their farms to control manure and fertilizer.
And that, he said, should be enough.
"I don't know what the impact of EPA's proposals is going to be on me," he said. "Are they going to say you have to do more to get your manure under control ... or are they going to say you can only have 50 cows?" Florida's cattle business is already in enough economic trouble, he said. "If the cattle industry doesn't improve as it is in the next two or three years, I'm already going to be out of business.
"And if I can't meet these standards it'll send me to the poor house," he said. "If that happens I'll quit farming here and move to Alabama or Georgia."
No surprise
Though distressing to many, EPA's proposals hardly took anyone by surprise.
The standards are rooted in a 1998 EPA decision when the federal agency urged states to create numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus.
As a result, 18 states now have some kind of standards, said Ephraim King, EPA Office of Science and Technology director, who attended the meeting.
FDEP doesn't have nutrient limits for its waters. Instead, it determines the health of its waters by examining the health of biological systems associated with its water bodies.
What got EPA to start wielding it regulatory hammer over Florida's head was a lawsuit filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation against the federal agency in 2008. The lawsuit sought to require the EPA to establish measurable, quantitative standards for Florida waters.
The environmental group argued that the EPA wasn't enforcing the U.S. Clean Water Act when it allowed Florida to go without numeric standards for nutrient pollutants.
In a settlement between the EPA and the environmental group, EPA agreed to create standards for Florida's waters. EPA is scheduled to make a final decision on its proposed standards in October after hearing testimony from Florida interested parties, such as those Tuesday. The other hearings were held in Orlando and Palm Beach County, and written comments also will be accepted.
King said although FDEP's current mechanism to determine water quality is good, it doesn't allow the state to determine and enforce limits quickly.
During a break in the meeting, King said that many of the concerns expressed by people at the meeting were premature and that he felt confident EPA and FDEP would reach a compromise.
Long road ahead
David Guest, one of the lawyers who brought the suit against EPA, said FDEP had allowed the polluters of Florida's waters to politically sideline any plans of fixing the problem.
In reality, if EPA imposes its nutrient standards, they would not take effect for many years.
King said that first the FDEP would have to determine the condition of state water bodies. That work alone would be daunting, since Florida has nearly 8,000 lakes, 50,000 miles of rivers and streams, 700 freshwater springs and 4,000 square miles of estuaries.
King said the next step would be to determine who was polluting specific water bodies and by how much. Then the agency would have to develop plans as to how to clean contaminated waters.
EPA would review those clean-up plans and likely allow FDEP to implement interim standards before reaching EPA's goals, King said. The interim standards could remain in place for decades.
Drew Bartlett, FDEP's deputy director for environmental assessment and restoration, said EPA's approach didn't take into account that Florida's water bodies were unique and a handful of standards were appropriate.
He said EPA used only the best Florida water bodies as a starting point in determining its proposed standards. FDEP, on the other hand, uses healthy and minimally impacted waters as a comparative base. Although the difference between the two strategies appears negligible, the result was that 35 percent of FDEP's "pristine" surface waters were determined to be impaired by EPA's standards.
Bartlett also said EPA failed to show a specific connection between nutrient pollutant levels and adverse responses by fish and other biological systems.
But for the most part, conceded Bartlett, despite the differences in approaches, standards FDEP were working on before EPA stepped in were similar to those EPA is now proposing.
Neil Armingeon, founder of the environmental group St. Johns Riverkeeper, said FDEP's complaint that EPA just beat them to proposing standards is laughable.
"They had a 12-year head start and they're saying 'they beat us?' " Armingeon said. "These guys are the masters of delays."
Contact Fred Hiers at 867-4157 or fred.hiers@starbanner.com.

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Fixing the Everglades: Looking for Wisdom In An Artificial Swamp
True/Slant – Joseph B. Treaster
February 18, 2010‎
THE EVERGLADES—The sawgrass and cattails bent in the late afternoon wind. Sunlight glinted off the tight ripples scudding across the ponds and little bays. A turkey buzzard shot sideways on an easterly gust.
From my spot on a narrow dirt dike, marshy fields stretched to the horizon. Off to the left, four rectangular ponds broke up the flat, watery landscape. Each rectangle – about the length of four football fields – was a miniature of the Everglades – trees, sawgrass, patches of water, small islands and ridges, water lilies, fish, tropical birds and a few alligators.
The rectangles were man-made structures, open-air laboratories, designed to help find ways to repair decades of damage imposed on the Everglades by other man-made structures – like canals and flood gates – that were installed to tame the vast swamp and provide more dry land for farmers, ranchers, developers and the towns that have steadily encroached on a wilderness like no other in the world.
Now that the engineer-designed improvements have wiped out most of the tropical birds and other swamp creatures, and concerns are rising about the quality and quantity of South Florida’s drinking water and irrigation supply, a broad agreement has been reached to try to return the Everglades to something close to its original condition.
Lots of research has been done in the Everglades. For the first time, researchers are working in scale models that include the essential ingredients of the Everglades. Unlike in a traditional laboratory with Petri dishes and test tubes, the open-air laboratories are big enough for birds and fish to come in and react to what is going on. They become part of the experiment.
In the mini-Everglades in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of Boynton Beach, on Florida’s Atlantic coast between West Palm Beach and Miami, nearly a dozen scientists have planted trees like pond apples and gumbo limbos, sunk tiny wells and tracked the effect of water currents on erosion and soil build up. They are preparing now to drain two of the four replicas of the Everglades to create a drought and see if, as they expect, when the water returns there is an abundance of food for wading birds and an increase in mating to rebuild decimated flocks of herons, egrets, ibises and wood storks.
Some Everglades experts say that conducting experiments in models of the Everglades just across a dike from the real Everglades is about the silliest thing they’ve ever heard of. “The most valuable research is likely to be research focused on the real system,” said Joe Browder, an environmentalist who has spent much of his life advocating for the protection and restoration of the Everglades.
But the scientists working in the mini-Everglades say they can learn things in their controlled testing place with a precision that is impossible in the wild. They say they can create floods and droughts without risk of damaging a national treasure.
The Everglades is mostly shallow water, dotted with thousands of small islands and wide ridges of sawgrass. Its nickname is “The River of Grass.” The water meanders south from around Lake Okeechobee in the middle of Florida in a more or less single sheet and ends up in the salt water bays at the tip of the state.
Water depth and the velocity of the water are important. They can affect feeding opportunities for birds and the shape of the islands and ridges.
In the wild, the depth and rate of flow cannot be separated, said Dr. Dale E. Gawlik, the director of environmental sciences at Florida Atlantic University and one of the developers of the open-air laboratories. As a result, he said, it is impossible to know for sure what independent impact either the depth or the speed of the water is having on the Everglades. “The only way to tease those two apart,” he said, “is to control one and manipulate the other” which is what scientists do in the open-air laboratories.
The mini-Everglades are known collectively as Lila, short for a moniker that only a government official or scientist could love: the Loxahatchee Impoundment Landscape Assessment Project.
In one water flow experiment, scientists imported bright green synthetic soil that was both magnetic and florescent. “We tracked where the soil particles went and measured the speed of the water,” said Eric Cline, a scientist with the South Florida Water Management District and the manager of the open-air laboratories. They tested pools of water stocked with fish to see whether birds were attracted to open water or water with moderate or heavy vegetation. The birds chose the moderate vegetation.
Fred Sklar, the director of the Everglades Division of the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach, is one of the creators of the open-air laboratories. He likes the easy access they provide for researchers. “You can drive to the site,” he said. To get to many parts of the Everglades you need an airboat or a helicopter or a contraption called a swamp buggy. Lila’s drive-up location does wonders for costs. “To rent an airboat and operator is $20,000 a year,” Dr. Sklar said. “For a helicopter it’s $600 an hour.”
The scientists working in the open-air laboratories have made a few interesting discoveries; so far no big breakthroughs and nothing that has been applied in a practical way to the Everglades. Maybe something significant will come out of the work, maybe not. It is a slow process, the scientists say, and, at the least, they hope to influence thinking on the restoration.
However it turns out, the costs for the whole project are going to be small compared to the more than $20 billion that is expected to be spent on the Everglades over the next few decades. Dr. Sklar said the expense of operating the open-air laboratories, including the cost of individual projects, is running just under $340,000 a year. #

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South Florida officials, farmers lash out at EPA's tough new water pollution rules
Sun-Sentinel - Andy Reid
February 18, 2010‎
South Florida farmers and local governments alike on Thursday called for federal regulators to back off tough new water pollution rules they argue would cost too much to follow.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes setting new limits on the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waters, including rivers, lakes and the drainage canals relied on to protect South Florida from flooding.
On Thursday, the EPA came to West Palm Beach as part of a series of public hearings to get feedback on the proposed pollution standards.
Critics of the new rules say that complying could require building expensive new pollution control facilities or implementing costly chemical treatments to clean up stormwater that washes pollutants off roads, farms and lawns into waterways.
Meeting the new water quality requirements could end up costing Florida $50 billion, according to the Florida Water Environment Association, which represents public and private utilities across the state.
Lawrence Teich, Fort Lauderdale's environmental supervisor for public works, said the proposed rules are "not scientifically valid."
"The criteria proposed currently is set up for failure," Teich said. "The cost will be borne by the already overburdened taxpayers."
Opponents on Thursday called for the EPA to at least delay the implementation of the new rules to try to reach a compromise standard.
"We don't know how much this is going to cost … at a time when Florida is facing some of the toughest economic circumstances," said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.
The EPA maintains that tougher pollution rules are needed to protect public health, aquatic life and the long-term recreational use of Florida waters, which is key to the state's tourism-based economy.
Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club, called for the EPA to stick with the new pollution limits, prompted by a legal challenge from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
"We have to start somewhere to protect the water in Florida," Martin said.
New regulations usually prompt cost concerns, which should not be allowed to derail pollution cleanup efforts, said Ed Tichenor, of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue.
"It's the same argument every polluting industry makes," said Tichenor, who supports the new standards.
Elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen come from fertilizer, sewage, livestock manure and other pollutants washed into waterways by rainstorms.
The elevated levels of nutrients increase algal blooms, made up of toxic microbes, that can lead to fish kills and contaminate drinking water supplies, according to the EPA. The public health risk associated with water pollution includes damage to the nervous system, cancer and even death, according to the EPA.
The EPA plans to consider the feedback from the forum and from written comments submitted by March 29 as the agency formalizes the new guidelines. Once finalized, the EPA in one year would begin to phase in the new limits.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504

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Putnam Speaks to the FL EPA Water Nutrient Standards Issue
Southeast AgNet - by Gary
February 17th, 2010
Just in from Congressman Adam Putnam’s office:
ORLANDO – Congressman Adam Putnam today submitted a statement to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the agency’s proposed rules for numeric nutrient standards for Florida waters:
“Thank you for the opportunity to share my views on this important matter. Floridians understand that water quality will determine the future of our state. People from all over the world come to Florida to dive off our coasts, fish in our rivers, and swim in our lakes. In addition to the natural attractions, Florida’s water and weather allow us to be our nation’s main domestic supplier of fruits and vegetables during the winter months. And simply put, there is no other place on Earth like the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
For these reasons, Florida has done more than any other state to study nutrient pollution and control – spending more than $20 million to collect data. While the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had already established nutrient criteria many years ago, the agency was in the process of developing numeric standards at the time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered into its consent decree with Earthjustice.
Despite the difficulty in establishing numeric standards, DEP moved forward with EPA on an EPA-approved plan to establish numeric standards by the end of 2010. However, in August 2009, EPA voluntarily entered into a consent decree with Earthjustice without consent of or consultation with DEP. The resulting accelerated timeline prevented DEP from gathering additional, useful data for protecting Florida’s waters.
Additionally, it is worth noting that even though EPA is using slightly different methodologies to determine water quality, they are relying on data DEP provided. EPA now seeks to impose federal regulations based on data obtained by state resources using methodologies with which state scientists disagree. Were it not for the scientific data Florida tax payers rightfully funded, EPA would not likely have enough information to move forward with these regulations. Now, these same tax payers will be punished by the unnecessary costs associated with the proposed regulations. This heavy handed approach is exactly why people have become frustrated with Washington bureaucrats. Unfortunately, these actions will have a chilling effect on other states, discouraging future collaborative efforts with EPA to restore our environment.
As our state struggles with an unemployment rate of 11.8%, the likely financial burdens resulting from these regulations could not come at a worse time.
• Local governments will be forced to add costly new pollution control measures to current stormwater management programs. Utilities in the Florida Panhandle estimate that capital costs for treating waste water could result in substantial increases in utility fees.
• Private employers will bear the cost of litigation when a water body is misclassified as being impaired.
• Pollution control technology will be costly to obtain, if it is even available to meet the proposed standards. According to DEP, the technology does not exist for conventional municipal wastewater facilities and agricultural operations to meet the EPA proposed criteria.
• Overall, DEP claims that “the cost of compliance will force an investment of billions of dollars without environmental benefit.”
Furthermore, the proposed rule does not adequately account for nutrients which flow into Florida from neighboring states. Floridians will be forced to bear the burden for pollution caused by residents of other states. The foreseeable conflicts this will create between our neighboring states is like watching a slow moving train-wreck.
In conclusion, I once again urge EPA to truly collaborate with DEP in developing attainable numeric nutrient standards. To date, the only collaboration I have seen is between EPA and a few litigants. According to DEP Secretary Sole, under the proposed rule, 80% of pristine Florida rivers and streams will be classified as “impaired.” I fail to see how these contradictory conclusions between scientists will be helpful for the public in understanding these proposed rules. Indeed, despite the potentially widespread impacts these regulations will have on the state, Floridians do not yet understand their costs and benefits. They have also not been subject to debate by elected representatives. More public hearings and discussions are necessary and appropriate. We all share the same goal and desire to protect Florida’s waters. And I believe we are close to having attainable, science-based standards. It is my hope EPA will address these concerns and use the collaborative approach as a model for future environmental protection measures.
Since 2001, Putnam has represented Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes most of Polk County and portions of Hillsborough and Osceola counties.

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EPA holding hearings on Fla. water rules
BusinessWeek - Bill Kaczor
February 17,2010-02-17Opponents of tough new environmental rules for Florida's farm and urban runoff aired their concerns Tuesday at a federal hearing, while an environmentalist accused state officials of using misinformation and scare tactics to stir up that opposition.
State environmental and agricultural officials held meetings around Florida with agriculture and business interests and local government officials "scaring the heebie-jeebies out of 'em," Linda Young told a panel of four EPA officials.
"This is why these people are panicked because they've been misinformed and they have been scared by our own taxpayer funded agencies," said Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole, who was at the hearing, denied Young's allegation.
"There were no scare tactics at all," Sole said in an interview. "It merely is a statement of fact, of areas of concern and ramifications to Floridians."
Environmentalists say the new rules for farm and urban runoff that EPA plans to impose for the first time in any state are needed to clean up Florida's algae-choked lakes, streams, rivers and canals, and that they're long overdue. The Florida rules may serve as a precedent for similar federal action in other states. Some states have adopted their own standards but most have not.
Opponents say the regulations would amount to a water tax costing billions and further set back Florida's recession-battered economy. They contend the rules are overly broad and would require remedial action for waters that don't need it while making Florida pay to clean up pollution flowing down river from Georgia and Alabama. They urged the federal officials to at least delay action until more research can be conducted.
Sole agreed that numeric limits are needed but said the state questions the scientific approach the federal agency is taking in some areas. He said the EPA proposal for springs and lakes is fairly well done and similar to his agency's approach but the science is "not as robust" for rivers, canals and streams.
Scott Dudley, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, put it more bluntly.
"Bad science makes for bad public policy," Dudley told the panel. "We believe that the recommendations for the numeric nutrient criteria are in fact bad science if they can be considered science at all. We might suggest that science fiction may be a more appropriate term."
Dudley said the rules would make a new $220 million project to upgrade Tallahassee's wastewater treatment system obsolete the day it begins operating after the city raised rates up to 50 percent to pay for it.
Ray Hodge, public affairs director of Southeast Milk Inc., a dairy cooperative, said the rules would drive up costs that farmers would pass on to consumers.
"My one question is ... what is the rush? " Hodge asked, noting state officials already are working on similar rules. Answering his own question, he said environmentalists got "impatient."
The Florida Wildlife Federation sued EPA in federal court, alleging the agency failed to enforce the federal Clean Water Act in Florida by deferring to the state, which has taken no action. EPA agreed to pass its own rules for Florida in a consent decree that settled the lawsuit.
David Guest, an Earthjustice lawyer who represented the Wildlife Federation, told the panel the state has been working on its rules for 12 years and done nothing.
"That is not too fast," Guest said, holding up an aerial photo of an algea-clogged lake. "Time is passing and waterways like this are being destroyed."
Guest said state officials let pollution go unchecked, removed monitoring wells and adopted a policy that "agriculture doesn't have to pay any costs to comply."
Other hearings are scheduled Wednesday in Orlando and Thursday in West Palm Beach. Citizens also can submit comments in writing through March 29. A final rule is due Oct. 15.
The agency also has until Jan. 14, 2011 to propose similar rules for estuaries and coastal waters with final action by Oct. 15, 2011.

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Everglades Restoration Program Pays Ranchers to Protect Water
Circle of Blue WaterNews
February 16, 2010‎
Source: Palm Beach Post, Olympian
A program that pays ranchers to use pastures as water-retention ponds could provide one-sixth of the water needed to restore the Everglades for a fraction of the cost of current treatments, according to program proponents the Palm Beach Post reports.
The plan presently in place is a multi-billion dollar system of reservoirs and storage wells.
The pilot program run by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) involves eight ranchers in the lands surrounding the Kissimmee River north of Lake Okeechobee. The goal is to turn low-lying pastures into wetlands through a system of pumps and ponds. Ranchers would collect wet season rains in their fields and release the water southward in the dry season.
In 2010 the ranchers will be paid $660,000 to use 10,000 acres. Expanding the program to a proposed 250,000 acres would cost $16.5 million per year for land use, plus several million more in infrastructure costs, according to the Post.
Setting the proper price is one concern for the project. The ranchers are currently paid a premium for their participation, but the program’s director envisions a future bidding process that would lower prices.
However, ranchers must have enough financial incentive to buy into the program.
“Ranchers have the capacity to store water if — and it’s a big ‘if’ — it becomes profitable to do so,” Sarah Lynch, who leads the project for WWF, told the Post.
Despite uncertainty over the future price of ecosystem services, the cost is far less than the system of reservoirs currently on the table. The South Florida Water Management District, which leads the Everglades restoration, increased reservoir cost estimates by 10 percent this week to account for wildlife protection, the Olympian reports. Those redesigns will add $50 million to the cost of the largest planned reservoir.
Critics of the WWF program argue that the plan doesn’t prevent ranchers from selling land to a developer once their storage contract expires.
“The bad thing is that you don’t have permanent conservation,” said Keith Fountain, land protection director for the Nature Conservancy in Florida, to the Post. “We want to achieve permanent conservation.”
That was idea Florida Governor Charlie Crist had when he signed a $536 million land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. in 2008.
The 73,000 acres–reduced from 180,00 because of the financial crisis–would be used to construct the reservoirs in the state’s plan to restore natural flows between Lake Okeechobee and south Florida. The deal is opposed by rival sugar company Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, which lives on a reservation in the Everglades. They argue that the deal is a waste of tax dollars and that the state does not have the funds to build the reservoirs. Both are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against the state.
The Florida Supreme Court said it will give a final ruling on the case at the beginning of April, the Miami Herald reports.

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Naples Bay 'fishable and swimmable' in 20 years under new plan
NaplesNews.com - by ERIC STAATS
February 16, 2010
NAPLES — The city of Naples’ point man on Naples Bay restoration said Tuesday that he underestimated the job.
In 2005, Naples Natural Resources Manager Mike Bauer had set a goal of making the bay “fishable and swimmable” in five years.
The city missed that mark, but the Naples City Council on Tuesday embraced a new 20-year plan and “visionary guide” Tuesday for tackling Naples’ biggest environmental challenge.
“If people really and truly want to restore the bay, it’s possible, it really is,” Bauer, the plan’s author, said.
City Council members said the new plan advances the cause of Naples Bay restoration by laying out steps the city can take to get there and, for the first time, setting five-, 10- and 20-year benchmarks to measure progress.
What the plan doesn’t set out is how much it will cost — or who will pay for it.
Restoring Naples Bay won’t be easy or inexpensive, said Naples City Councilman John Sorey, also a member of the Big Cypress Basin water management board.
“There are a lot of things we need to do sooner than later, consistent with our resources,” Sorey said.
Bauer acknowledged there is little in the plan that is new. The fix for Naples Bay has been known since a landmark 1979 report first outlined the problem.
On average, 250 million gallons per day flow into the bay from the Golden Gate canal, chasing off marine life that can’t survive the dramatic swings in salinity between the wet and dry seasons.
Shoreline development and dredging destroyed 90 percent of the bay’s seagrass beds, 80 percent of its oyster reefs and 70 percent of its mangroves since 1950, according to a study by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Runoff from the city’s own drainage system empties into the bay, polluting it with nutrients that cause algae blooms and suck oxygen out of the water.
Bauer’s budget includes $75,000 to sample water quality, create new oyster beds, clean up the city’s stormwater lakes and implement the city’s fertilizer limits.
He also has $500,000, split between city money and grant money, to build a filter marsh along the Gordon River north of U.S. 41 East.
The big bucks, though, are coming from the South Florida Water Management District through its local arm, the Big Cypress Basin.
The basin has about $7 million in its budget this year to retrofit weirs along the Golden Gate canal and improve regional and neighborhood stormwater systems to control how water flows into the bay.
That is just a start though, the basin’s executive director Clarence Tears said.
Tears said a project, estimated at between $4 million and $6 million, would divert water from the Golden Gate canal and into Henderson Creek instead of into Naples Bay.
“We are committed to the bay and its restoration,” Tears told the City Council on Tuesday.
With the city’s budget crunched by the recession, the kind of big money boost needed for Naples Bay restoration might not happen for years.
“We’ve got to see a turn in the economy,” Bauer said of the chances for more money.
He said restoration — and the money to go with it — is limping along for now, but that will have to change in order for the city to meet the plan’s 10-year goals.
In the plan, he calls the 10-year mark “the critical point.”
“If we’re hitting those, I think we’re on our way to restoring Naples Bay,” Bauer said.
The new plan still includes a goal of making the bay fishable and swimmable.
That goal is listed under a category Bauer calls “the legacy” — 20 years from now.
“Twenty years from now, I think the bay will look a lot different than it does today,” he said.

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Water managers put Everglades matter on hold
Bradenton Herald - Andy Reid
February 15, 2010‎
Mounting financial concerns could pose renewed hurdles to Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed $536 million Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
The South Florida Water Management District will wait until next month to decide whether to extend the deadline on the contract to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar. The delay allows the Florida Supreme Court to rule on a pending legal challenge to the land deal.
In March, the district board also will be discussing the implications of a difficult budget situation, which could imperil the costly land deal. Property tax revenue has declined because of drops in home values.
The district board still can back out of the land deal if it is expected to become too much of a strain on providing core services such as flood control and protecting the water supply.
District Attorney Sheryl Wood said waiting until the board’s mid-March meeting still gives the district plenty of time to take action before the March 31 contract deadline.
The district faces, in addition to a tight budget, the expense of responding to newly proposed federal water pollution standards. It could cost billions of dollars to address those standards.
“I’m not panicking,” said District Board Member Shannon Estenoz, a vocal supporter of the U.S. Sugar deal. “Do we still need the land? Oh, yeah. ... Buying land is more important now than ever.”

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Reservoir would aid Caloosahatchee River health
The News-Press - Kevin Lollar
February 14, 2010
A proposal to create a water reservation for the Caloosahatchee River could be good news for the river’s freshwater plants and animals.
Water reservations set aside water specifically to help the natural system rather than development and agriculture; creating a water reservation in the Caloosahatchee would be part of the massive Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
“Everglades restoration is coming up with better distribution of water: The right amount at the right time,” said Tommy Strowd of the South Florida Water Management District. “Reservations are a way to protect water for future uses.”
Beginning in March, the water district will hold a series of public workshops to help draft a rule for the Caloosahatchee Estuary Water Reservation.
At the center of the water reservation idea is the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir Project, a 170,000-acre, foot-above-ground reservoir to be built on the south side of the river in Hendry County.
Before the water district can receive federal matching money for the $201 million reservoir, it must come up with a way to protect water intended for the estuary.
When the reservoir might be built depends on availability of money.
“From the district’s perspective, funding is a significant issue,” Strowd said. “We don’t have the funds to initiate a large project like this. We’d be prepared to do it if the economic situation was different.”
Water flowing from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee River has become a big issue in the last decade.
During and after the extremely wet rainy seasons of 2004 and 2005, water managers released huge amounts of nutrient-rich fresh water down the river.
Excess nutrients caused massive algal blooms, and the fresh water upset the balance of fresh and salt water in the estuary.
During drought conditions, salt water moves upstream and causes other problems, including killing tape grass, an important freshwater plant.
The reservoir would capture water released from the lake during the wet season and release it during the dry season to keep the upper estuary from becoming too saline.
“When it’s dry, and people are looking for water and there’s none to be had, this project develops new water,” Strowd said. “If we release water from the reservoir to go to the estuary, we don’t want consumptive uses taking it away.
“Say the estuary needs ‘x’ amount of water. We release that ‘x’ from the reservoir. If there’s additional demand on the river from other uses, public use or agriculture, we’ll release that amount from Lake Okeechobee.”
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, who has said that the water district favors the east coast over the west coast, said this week that the reservation plan might indicate the district is taking the west coast’s needs into consideration.
“I’m optimistic, tempered with the reality that there will be opposing views,” he said. “Water should be equitably distributed for users such as the environment. We have to make sure environmental releases are treated on the same playing field as utilities and agriculture.”
At this point, Ron Hamel, general manager of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, said agricultural interests have no worries about a water reservation for the Caloosahatchee.
“When we get into these real dry periods, our biggest concern is, obviously, having enough water to get through the dry season,” he said. “Our position is the more water they can keep in the lake for a backup supply, the better it is. Anything they can do to supply the estuary area without dipping into the lake’s supply is useful.”
Michael Valiquette, chairman of People United to Restore Our Rivers & Estuaries, said water reservation is a good idea, as long as the water released into the Caloosahatchee is clean.
“We are in favor of anything that’s going to store water so they don’t have to over-dump it during the wet season,” he said. “If they save it for winter to benefit the estuary, more power to them.”

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South Florida faces tough new water pollution rules that could soak taxpayers
Sun-Sentinel by Andy Reid
‎February 14, 2010‎
South Florida rivers, lakes and drainage canals could come under tough new federal water pollution rules intended to help the environment — but with potentially costly consequences for local taxpayers.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes setting tougher restrictions on the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waters.
In South Florida, that could create costly regulatory ripple effects from Lake Okeechobee to the drainage canals that protect coastal cities from flooding.
"Insane" and "kooky" were among the descriptions used last week by officials at the South Florida Water Management District as they bemoaned the financial consequences of standards they say go too far at too great a potential cost.
Water managers warn that complying with the new standards could require expensive new pollution control facilities or costly chemical treatments to clean up stormwater that washes pollutants off roads, farms and lawns into waterways.
The EPA counters that tougher pollution rules are needed to protect public health, aquatic life and the long-term recreational use of Florida waters, a vital part of the state's economy.
The state estimates that 90 percent of surface water may not be able to meet the new standards.
Meeting the new requirements could end up costing Florida $50 billion, according to the Florida Water Environment Association, which represents public and private utilities across the state.
This comes during an economic downturn that has the state and many local governments struggling with budget shortfalls that are expected to continue for the next few years.
"We can't have a strategic plan that is predicated on the insane," Jerry Montgomery, a water district board member, said of the EPA's proposed rules.
Broward County doesn't have the remaining open spaces needed to build costly pollution control facilities that could be needed to clean up urban canals, district board member Shannon Estenoz said. Estenoz called the proposed rules "kooky."
Elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen come from fertilizer, sewage, livestock manure and other pollutants washed into waterways by stormwater.
The pollution increases algal blooms, made up of toxic microbes, that can lead to fish kills and damage drinking water supplies, according to the EPA. The public-health risk associated with water pollution includes nervous-system damage, cancer and even death, the agency says.

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Florida Cold Snap Killing Hundreds of Manatees
Treehugger - Jennifer Hattam
‎Feb 13, 2010‎
Unusually harsh winter temperatures in much of the United States have had a tragic effect on one of Florida's most oddly charismatic animals, killing up to 5 percent of the state's endangered West Indies manatees.
A record 280 or more manatees have already died this year from "Florida frostbite" and other illnesses related to exposure to cold, CNN reports. According to marine biologist Andy Garrett, who works for the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
when water temperatures dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, these subtropical animals simply can't cope with the cold. Last month, Florida's water temperatures dropped as low as the 40s. While manatees are round and plump like seals and other marine mammals, their fat is not designed to insulate them from the cold.
Taking Refuge Near Power Plants
Compared to their relatives in the Caribbean, West Indies manatees spending the winter in Florida are already "at the marginal edge of their habitat, and are always susceptible to the cold," CNN says. Hundreds have taken refugee near Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Power & Light power plants, where water discharged into rivers and canals keeps temperatures high. Dr. Martine de Witt at the state wildlife conservation commission's necropsy lab in St. Petersburg says she's seen a surprisingly high number of full-size adults succumbing to the cold.
"That is a very bad sign," she said. The cold water shuts down their internal systems. Many were unable to eat; others drowned because they were unable to breathe. Garrett and de Wit believe that this may just be the beginning. They fear that more manatees will die during the spring, unable to recover from the trauma of Florida's deep freeze.
Weather Fatal to Fish, Sea Turtles Too
Manatees are not alone in their struggle to survive the winter: Florida has also seen massive fish kills of snook, bonefish, and tarpon, as well as hundreds of green sea turtles, though many were rescued after being "paralyzed by the cold." Sea turtles in Texas were hit hard too.
Animal deaths aren't always necessarily a bad thing, though; the cold snap has also killed off a variety of non-native species in the Everglades, including Burmese and African rock pythons, iguanas, and fish, potentially indicating, the Sun Sentinel reports, that "South Florida is not as welcoming to invaders as originally thought."
More about manatees:
Adopt a Manatee and Help This Fascinating Creature Survive
Save the Manatees or Let Them Go Extinct? It's Our Choice
Good News: Great Dane-Size Manatee Droppings Smother Florida's Humiston Park Beach
Helping the Manatees Help Themselves

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Is Jacksonville draining Ichetucknee?
Gainesville Sun - by Nathan Crabbe, Staff writer
February 12, 2010
When Jacksonville residents open their faucets, they might be drinking water that once flowed down the Ichetucknee River.
The river has lost about a quarter of its flow since 1900, with most of the decrease happening in the past 45 years, according to U.S. Geological Survey figures.
A survey hydrologist linked the decrease to the water demands of the Jacksonville area. Hydrological maps show that hundreds of square miles of groundwater that once flowed through springs into the Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers now are being drawn to northeastern Florida - and the area of the aquifer being diverted there is growing.
The issue comes as the Suwannee and St. Johns river water management districts are working together to determine how to supply water to the region over the next two decades.
"It's a wake-up call to all of us," said David Flagg, vice chairman of the Suwannee district's governing board.
Fed by nine named springs, the Ichetucknee River is a popular tubing spot that winds through a state park before joining the Santa Fe River. U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Trey Grubbs studied measurements taken since the late 1800s at a river location where U.S. 27 now crosses.
He found the average flow had fallen about 25 percent since 1900, with two-thirds of the drop happening since 1965. He factored in differences in rainfall over the years in reaching the conclusion.
While an increase in water pumping in the area near the river contributed to the decline, he said withdrawals from Duval and Nassau counties appeared to be the most significant factor.
"That's the most likely explanation," he said.
Hydrological maps show that in 1980, an area of the aquifer roughly 1,200 square miles in size that used to flow to the Suwannee River basin instead was flowing toward those counties. Grubbs said more recent maps show the area has grown larger.
Officials from the St. Johns district, which includes Duval and Nassau counties, acknowledge that increased demand has caused groundwater levels to drop both inside and outside the district's borders. But they question whether those withdrawals are the main factor draining the Ichetucknee, suggesting pumping closer to the river might have a bigger influence.
The Ichetucknee's decreased flow needs to be factored into a bigger study of water flow in the region, said Al Canepa, the St. Johns district's assistant director of resource management
"This is just a piece of information that gets considered," he said.
The St. Johns and Suwannee districts are working jointly on plans, with drafts expected this summer and finished versions in December, outlining how water will be supplied to the public until 2030. The St. Johns district's plan covers northeastern Florida while the Suwannee district's plan covers Alachua, Bradford, Columbia and Union counties.
If groundwater resources are being overtaxed, the districts will have to develop alternative supplies, said Jon Dinges, director of water supply and resource management for the Suwannee district. Conservation, desalination and water reuse are possibilities, he said, dismissing fears of an alternative feared by some residents.
"Alternative water supply doesn't mean piping water from one district to another," he said.
Flagg said the information about the Ichetucknee suggests a larger problem and shows the need for increased water conservation.
The fact that a widely known natural attraction is being affected could help spur action, he said.
"It's an icon. So if our icon is being diminished, hopefully we can use it as a jump-start to keep us from losing it entirely," he said.
The Ichetucknee's decreased flow has environmental and aesthetic consequences, said Jim Stevenson, coordinator of a state-funded group charged with protecting the river and its springs.
He said decreased flow means park visitors tubing down the springs are more likely to brush against the bottom, potentially killing vegetation. Manatees also are less likely to swim into the river as a refuge during cold weather, he said.
Beyond those concerns, he said the issue has environmental implications across the region.
"If the water management districts continue to issue permits for more and more withdrawals, we will see greater impacts to the springs and rivers," he said.

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Proposed federal water quality standards will be costly
Examiner.com - Lloyd Brown
February 12, 2010‎
Florida taxpayers are about to get whacked with a “water tax” – and Jacksonville residents could be among the hardest hit.
The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to impose draconian limits on nutrients that wind up in Florida waters. Although proponents say the cost will be paid by industries, agricultural interests and local governments, critics say Florida residents ultimately will pay the costs as they are passed along to consumers.
The EPA says the cost will be $1 billion. Local officials say Jacksonville’s cost alone will be more than that.
Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries, said the cost to Florida residents will be closer to $50 billion.
One study estimated average sewer bills in the state could go up a whopping $62 a month because of the regulations.
For Jacksonville homeowners, this could be slightly less, but would be added to the $5 a month they already are paying for stormwater runoff.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection spent years collecting data on nutrient levels. A radical environmental organization called Earth Justice obtained the data and filed suit, along with four other organizations, demanding limits that Bishop says have no scientific, financial, or rational basis.
Florida expected support from the EPA. Instead, the federal agency gave in to the environmentalists, Bishop said, settled the suit and ordered the new regulations.
Florida has 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes, and 900 square miles of estuaries that allegedly are “impaired” by nutrients
Excess nutrient levels can cause algae blooms and harm fish, but Florida has been aware of the problem for years and state and local agencies were addressing the problem with total maximum daily load levels.
No body of water in Florida meets the new limits on phosphorous and nitrogen, Bishop said. He didn’t mince words: “It’s onerous, stupid, ridiculous and idiotic.”
Florida is the only state affected by this new mandate. Because the Sunshine State is a leader in collecting such data and addressing the problem, Bishop says the punitive action by the EPA will serve as a deterrent to other states that might follow Florida’s lead.
Public hearings are being held throughout the state next week to determine the exact nutrient levels that will be allowed. The final rule is expected in October.
No viable technology exists to treat water to the proposed standards, according to Doug Mann, legislative representative for the American Waterworks Association.
He also notes that water flowing into Northeast Florida from Georgia, which has no standards, would have to be treated in Florida and paid for by Florida residents.
Mann said 80 percent of the streams in Florida now deemed “pristine” would be declared “polluted” under the new standards -- including many outstanding streams in state parks, where no ugly corporate polluters exist.
Jacksonville is undertaking extensive work in water re-use, which helps to limit withdrawals from the Floridan Aquifer. But the water produced by re-use – some 15 million gallons per day -- would not meet the proposed standards.
JEA began removing additional nitrogen from the wastewater more than 10 years ago, before it was required, and has cut the nitrogen from its discharge by nearly 50 percent since 1998.
But here is the rub. Sewage comes into the JEA system with nitrogen at 40 parts per million. It was being reduced to 12 ppm in 1999, and now on average is at 4-5 ppm.
Paul Steinbrecher, JEA director of environmental permitting, told the Examiner that 3 ppm is the best that can be done with biological treatment.
The EPA standards would require reducing the nitrogen level to about 1 ppm.
Reverse osmosis is the only technology that could meet that standard, he said. It is very expensive and produces byproducts that would require disposal.
Steinbrecher is also vice president of the Florida Water Environment Association utility council, which commissioned the study that estimated the average cost per home of the new standards. He said “one horrible consequence” of the new standards is that they would derail the current restoration efforts taking place throughout Florida.
Steinbrecher will speak at the public hearing in Tallahassee Tuesday and plans to tell the EPA officials that the cost to Jacksonville of complying with the proposed standards will be $1.3 billion.

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Water managers discourage plan to build rockets in Everglades
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN,  cmorgan@MiamiHerald.com
February 12, 2010
A company's pitch to reopen an abandoned rocket plant in the Everglades didn't fly with water managers or environmentalists.
An out-of-the-blue pitch to relaunch the rocket-building business at a defunct Space Age plant in the Everglades may have little chance of getting off the ground.
Water managers on Thursday pretty much shot down a proposal by a company called Omega Space Systems to take over a sprawling plant in deep South Miami-Dade County built in the 1960s for the Aerojet Corp., which had hoped to build massive rocket motors for moon missions but lost out on a contract.
Company president William Childers, a North Palm Beach businessman with experience working for NASA contractors, briefed the South Florida Water Management District on a surprising plan: He wants to reopen and upgrade the deteriorating facility, now owned by the district, to produce rockets for launching commercial satellites, a business he said is now dominated by French, Chinese and Russian manufacturers.
He told water managers the plant could employ 600 people and begin turning out rocket motors 18 months after getting a go-ahead.
``We are going to bring a lot of high-paying jobs to the state of Florida,'' Childers said Wednesday as he outlined the idea to the district's governing board. ``This is the wave of the future.''
Childers, who has not filed formal plans, said the site was specifically developed for such work and that a new plant could produce ``zero discharge'' to the surrounding Glades.
Environmentalists quickly lined up against the idea. The site, abandoned for decades, is deep in the Everglades south of Florida City. The board recently canceled a lease on a fish farm nearby because of plans to raise water levels in the area as part of an Everglades restoration project.
Last month, the district launched the first project to overhaul damage from the C-111 canal, a portion of which was dug for the facility. The rockets, too large to be moved by truck, were to be barged to Cape Canaveral. The C-111 canal, also known as the Aerojet canal, has remained, sucking water that once flowed into Florida Bay and piping it 20 miles the wrong way, east across U.S. 1 into Barnes Sound.
The district was not receptive. Board member Shannon Estenoz, echoing other board members and environmentalists, said, ``This seems like a non-starter to me.''

RELATED ARTICLES (Miami Herald):
•  Everglades canal overhaul faces obstacles
Of the many engineering atrocities inflicted on the Everglades, the C-111 ranks high on the list. The canal was cut across deep South Miami-Dade in the 1960s for the Aerojet Corp., which was then building moon rocket engines so big they had to be barged.
The rocket plant closed decades ago. The C-111, also known as the Aerojet canal, has remained, sucking water that once flowed into Florida Bay and piping it 20 miles the wrong way, east across U.S. 1 into Barnes Sound.
Now, after years of delay, the South Florida Water Management District is poised to begin healing the unnatural wound of the C-111 with $25 million in projects.
•  Delayed canal overhaul OK'd
Delayed canal overhaul OK'd
Back in the 1970s, when Mike Collins was a young flats guide in the Keys, old-timers like legendary fly-fishing pioneer Jimmie Albright already knew what was ailing Florida Bay.
They'd point north, toward the C-111 canal.
Collins pledged to do something about it. On Thursday, he finally did. Along with other board members of the South Florida Water Management District, he approved a $25 million overhaul for the canal that was cut across the southern Everglades in the 1960s.
•  Long wait for help is over
Long wait for help is over
F lorida Bay patiently has been waiting her turn for environmental restoration efforts. Although scientific studies in the bay have been ongoing, crucial projects upstream and nearer to Lake Okeechobee took precedence for the past decade. But now, with two project groundbreakings in Miami-Dade County in the past two months, Florida Bay's long wait is over.
Late last month, the South Florida Water Management District broke ground for the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project. Because of my long tenure on the agency's Governing Board -- and an even longer advocacy for Florida Bay and the southern Everglades -- I have a special appreciation for the project the District and our partners have brought to fruition.
The C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, now under construction, is a well-engineered system of water retention areas, conveyance canals, culverts and pump stations that will increase water delivered across the Everglades landscape toward Florida Bay.
•  FPL agrees to assessment of mysterious saltwater plume near Turkey Point nuclear plant
FPL agrees to assessment of mysterious saltwater plume near Turkey Point nuclear plant
Florida Power & Light will spend millions to assess whether the massive cooling canal system at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant is fueling salt contamination of the aquifer in South Miami-Dade County.
After nearly a year of balking at demands from water managers and county and state environmental regulators, FPL has bowed to expanded monitoring. It's a step the utility agreed to in its quest to complete an ``uprating'' plan intended to coax more power from its two reactors along Biscayne Bay.
The proposed agreement, designed to measure an underground plume of salt water thought to extend inland to at least Homestead-Miami Speedway, will be reviewed Wednesday by the South Florida Water Management District governing board.
•  Salt near FPL plant could harm water supply
Salt near FPL plant could harm water supply
With cooling canals at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant a prime suspect, water managers Wednesday signed off on a broad investigation of a briny plume that threatens to taint drinking water in South Miami-Dade County.
The board of the South Florida Water Management District approved new monitoring wells, water quality sampling and ecological assessments around Florida Power & Light's plant on Biscayne Bay -- an effort intended to pinpoint the size, speed and, critically, source of a salt front that has pushed miles inland.
After months of resisting demands from the district, state and Miami-Dade environmental regulators, FPL sought to reassure water managers and skeptical environmentalists that the utility was committed to resolving questions about whether its massive canal system is fueling salt intrusion.

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Canals test new US rules
MiamiHerald.com – by CURTIS MORGAN
February 11, 2010
South Florida's network of canals could make it harder to meet tougher proposed federal water quality standards, water managers say.
Water managers this week began grappling with the complexities of imposing controversial new federal pollution standards, a process made more complicated -- and potentially expensive -- in South Florida by the vast network of drainage canals.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month proposed stringent limits for nitrogen and phosphorus, two nutrients that flow into lakes and streams from fertilized lawns, sewage plants, farms, pastures and a host of other sources. Farmers, businesses, utilities and other opponents contend that the rules could cost the state upward of $50 billion.
A joint meeting of the South Florida Water Management District's governing board and its largest advisory committee in West Palm Beach produced a series of questions about the rules, which the EPA intends to finalize by October after a public comment period.
Among the questions: At what point would the Miami River and the New River in Fort Lauderdale shift from classification as rivers to canals? Should an irrigation ditch through sugar fields be as clean as an Everglades marsh? Is there a difference between a reservoir and a lake? Would the new federal rules override existing state standards for an array of other pollutants? What is this going to cost?
The agency's scientists and a top state environmental aide admitted they did not yet have clear answers. Garth Redfield, the district's chief of restoration science, was skeptical about the EPA's proposed limits -- particularly for canals, which he said were less sensitive to nutrients than lakes and streams.
``The numbers are nonsensical,'' he said.
VIOLATIONS
Under one preliminary assessment by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 60 percent of South Florida's canals would violate the proposed rules.
The EPA, after prodding state regulators to update vague ``narrative'' pollution standards for a decade, issued its proposals after reaching a settlement in August with five environmental groups that sued the federal government in 2008 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.
The federal agency went further than state regulators by proposing standards for canals and calling for more rigid standards on upstream nutrients, to protect downstream lakes and estuaries.
Drew Bartlett, a deputy DEP director, said the state was working with the EPA to allow more flexibility. Cleanup deadlines could be up to 15 years, he said, and the EPA was considering allowing numbers to be adjusted for specific sites as well.
The state was also pushing to allow local governments to impose rules tougher than the EPA standards, a proposal that could ease concerns in Broward, the only county that already has its own water quality standards for canals.
Still, governing board member Michael Collins complained the rules could have serious unintended consequences, hampering environmental releases to coastal estuaries and even Everglades restoration efforts.
``All you have to do is announce some impossible-to-meet standards for clean water and you've solved everybody's problems,'' he said sarcastically.
$1 BILLION SPENT
The state already has spent more than $1 billion in efforts to clean up phosphorus flowing into the Everglades, and more projects will be needed to meet that goal.
The EPA put the estimated cost for polluters to comply with its new rules for other waterways and lakes -- other than the Glades -- at $1.1 to $1.5 billion.
A powerful coalition of critics -- including Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Stormwater Association, Florida Tax Watch, Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida and some 60 other organizations that collectively wield considerable political clout -- argue the broader economic impact could be staggering, as much as $50 billion, and outweigh the environmental benefits.
But Drew Martin of the Sierra Club, one of the environmental groups that sued the EPA, called on water managers to put their energy into solving long-standing problems instead of fighting the rules.
He said there were simple steps that could put a huge dent in nutrient pollution, such as banning lawn fertilizer.
The EPA has scheduled three statewide hearings on the rules, including one in West Palm Beach on Feb. 18.

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Collins expected to exit South Florida water board
SunSentinel.com - by Andy Reid
February 11, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District next month is expected to lose an outspoken, long-time leader.
Michael Collins has served on the district’s appointed board for 11 years and his latest four-year term expires in March.
First appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, Collins helped reshape the agency that oversees South Florida’s water supply, guards against flooding and leads Everglades restoration.
But Collins has become the board’s most vocal critic of Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposal for the district to spend $536 million to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration.That makes it unlikely Crist would re-appoint Collins to the nine-member district board that could still back out of the still-pending land buy.
Board members are appointed by the governor and ratified by the state Senate. Crist so far has not kept any of Bush’s former appointees.
The governor is still reviewing applications for Collins’ at-large seat on the district board, said Chris Cate, Crist’s deputy press secretary.
Collins, a Keys fishing guide who lives in Islamorada, has been an advocate for protecting Florida Bay but during his tenure he also often found himself at odds with environmental groups. Collins has become a supporter for agriculture’s water rights and has been critical of groups that file lawsuits over environmental issues. He has argued that the U.S. Sugar deal, hailed by many environmental groups, would prove too costly and take money away from other planned Everglades restoration projects.
At the district board’s monthly meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, agency officials heaped praise on Collins for his 11 years of service.
Bush sent a letter crediting Collins for helping further “Florida’s steady progress” toward restoring the Everglades.
During Collins’ tenure, the district acquired 230,000 acres for Everglades restoration and built more than 30,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas to clean up water headed to the Everglades.
Board Chairman Eric Buermann called Collins a “tremendous public servant.”
Whether serving on the board or not, Collins is expected to continue to be an outspoken advocate for Everglades restoration, fellow Board Member Shannon Estenoz said.
“It’s naive for us to believe that Mike Collins is going to start playing golf and fishing every day,” said Estenoz, whose term also expires in March.
Collins during his years was known to dominate board discussions, but on Thursday he was a man of few words. Collins said there was “a lot of joy” and “a lot of frustration” during his years on the board.
“I’ve said it all,” Collins said. “It’s been an honor and a privilege.”
POSTED IN: South Florida Water Management District (10)

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Everglades fundraising gala features Sting, McEnroe
Palm Beach Post – by Paul Quinlan
February 11, 2010
PALM BEACH — Environmentalism never looked so swank.
The Everglades Foundation once again proves it knows how to party, with its fifth annual benefit set to go off Friday night at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, a shindig that will be emceed by tennis great John McEnroe and feature live music by Sting.
And that's just the entertainment.
With tickets starting at $500, the guest list topped 820 as of Thursday — beating last year's record attendance of 625.
RSVPs include Gov. Charlie Crist, novelist Carl Hiaasen, golf legend Jack Nicklaus and a variety of other boldface names, such as Steve Schwarzman, co-founder and chairman of the Blackstone Group, Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, former Sony Music boss Tommy Mottola and Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross.  A bevy of state politicos will also be there, including Chief Financial Officer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.
The jump in ticket sales mirrored a surge in donations, organizers said.  From 2008 to 2009, donations rose from $3.9 million to $4.7 million as the list of donors grew from 497 to 1,194, according to foundation CEO Kirk Fordham.
Fordham said all of it reflects the foundation's growing reach and influence and the extra attention being paid to (and money being lavished on) the Everglades from the Obama and Crist Administrations.
"I think people realize that we're at a critical turning point with the leadership that exists in both Washington and Tallahassee right now," Fordham said.
Behind it all: foundation co-founder and chairman Paul Tudor Jones, legendary hedge fund manager, who ranked No. 224 on Forbes' 2009 World's Billionaires list.  A part-time resident of Islamorada, Jones amassed much of his fortune when he predicted the 1987 stock market crash, returning 125 percent to investors that year.

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Everglades rocket plant proposal could launch a familiar environmental fight
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid,
February 11, 2010
A new bid to manufacture rockets in the Everglades created a case of space-age déjà-vu on Wednesday that threatens to relaunch an explosive environmental battle.
William Childers, of North Palm Beach, on Wednesday submitted a proposal to the South Florida Water Management District to open a commercial rocket manufacturing plant at the old Aerojet site built near Florida City in the 1960s in an ill-fated attempt to produce rockets for NASA.
Environmentalists fought Aerojet for decades. A canal once intended to float rockets out for shipping is now part of the multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration effort.
Childers said his Omega Space Systems could create 600 much-needed jobs for South Florida, using the old Aerojet site to produce rockets to deliver satellites to space.
"We are going to bring a lot of high-paying jobs to the state of Florida," Childers told the water management district board on Wednesday. "This is the wave of the future."
However, the plan assumes that Omega Space Systems could overcome huge environmental hurdles standing in the way of getting a rocket manufacturing plant off the ground.
"I think there are some really challenging issues … in a pretty environmentally sensitive area," district board member Jerry Montgomery said.
Aerojet once owned thousands of acres alongside Everglades National Park in Miami-Dade County. The water management district has since acquired much of the Aerojet property, including buildings designed to withstand rocket blasts.
The Aerojet property included a 150-foot-deep, 52-foot-wide concrete chamber where rockets were to be built.
The district in October approved construction contracts to start repairing environmental damage caused by the 15-mile canal dug through southern Miami-Dade County decades ago to allow barges to float rocket equipment to Cape Canaveral.
The initial $44 million phase of the environmental project to alter the canal is intended to control the volume and timing of water released to Florida Bay and also stop draining water away from Everglades National Park.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504.

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SFWMD Protects Water for the North Fork of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon
TCPalm  -  by the SFWMD
February 11, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board took action today to protect fish and wildlife within the North Fork of the St. Lucie River and support Indian River Lagoon restoration by adopting a rule that reserves water for the natural system.
“The St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon provide a foundation for our recreation and destination-based economy, and we must protect the ecosystems that define our way of life,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Kevin Powers, who represents the Treasure Coast. “Water reservations help guarantee that the natural system has the water it requires long into the future.”
Developed with citizen input, a water reservation is a legal mechanism to set aside water for the protection of fish and wildlife or public health and safety. When a water reservation is in place, volumes and timing of water at specific locations are protected for the natural system ahead of consumptive uses, such as new development. The water reservation is also necessary for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with construction on project features such as reservoirs for the Indian River Lagoon - South Restoration, a key component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
The Indian River Lagoon – South Restoration, authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, will reduce harmful freshwater inflows and generate habitat and water quality improvements in the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon. As of 2009, the District has invested more than $480 million and acquired 66 percent, or 50,540 acres, of the land necessary for the project.
“The public played an integral role in this process, and their input through six workshops and information sharing with the District shaped the water reservation effort,” said Kenneth Ammon, P.E., SFWMD Deputy Executive Director - Everglades Restoration and Capital Projects. “This action will provide significant benefits for the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and residents for a long time to come.”
The St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon are home to more than 4,000 species, including 35 species listed as endangered or threatened, making it the most diverse estuarine environment in North America. The lagoon supports a multitude of activities and industries, from fishing and recreation to tourism and agriculture. A recent study concluded that the economic benefits of the Indian River Lagoon totaled more than $3.7 billion in 2007 alone.
The North Fork water reservation is the second of its kind in Florida. The first water reservation for America’s Everglades was adopted for the protection of the Picayune Strand, Fakahatchee Estuary and related ecosystems and wildlife on Florida’s southwest coast for decades to come. Approved by the Governing Board in February 2009, the first water reservation allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue construction on the Picayune Strand restoration project, which is designed to restore surface water flow to vital wetlands to ensure that plants and animals thrive, including the endangered Florida panther, and to improve the Ten Thousand Islands estuaries.
For more information, please visit the St. Lucie River Water Reservation Web page

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South Florida's floodgates 'vulnerable' to rising sea levels
Sun-Sentinel – by Andy Reid
February 11, 2010
Rising sea levels already threaten South Florida's coastal floodgates, likely prompting the need for costly retrofits to protect some of the state's most populated areas, water managers warned Wednesday.
While worldwide debate continues over the potential long-term effects of climate change, the South Florida Water Management District on Wednesday identified 28 flood-control structures along the southeast coast that it considers vulnerable to rising sea levels.
Flood control structures in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are at the most immediate risk, according to the district.
South Florida needs to wake up to the problems of climate change, Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said Wednesday at a meeting in West Palm Beach of South Florida water managers. The group was shown pictures from an "extreme" high tide in September that was eight inches higher than usual, breeching a seawall on Las Olas Isles.
"This isn't some 100-year scenario we are talking about," Jacobs said. "The impacts are [happening] now."
Long-term, scientific models project a 5- to 20-inch sea level rise in South Florida due to climate change during the next 50 years, according to the water management district's ongoing analysis.
But South Florida already has experienced periods of extreme high tides where sea levels rise higher than the point where stormwater water from coastal drainage canals would normally get dumped out to sea, said Jayantha Obeysekera, who is leading the district's response to climate change.
That forces water managers to keep flood gates closed, increasing the risk of flooding in coastal communities and beyond if canals become overwhelmed.
"This is a real problem we already have," Obeysekera said. "We cannot get the water out."
To fix the problem, the district anticipates building pumps that could push stormwater out to sea while also keeping the flood gates closed to counterbalance elevated sea levels. The first three flood control structures on the to-do list are the S27, S28 and S29 facilities in north Miami-Dade County.
The district has not determined how much building the pumps would cost, but officials Wednesday braced for the possibility of costs running into the billions, stretched over the next few decades.
Officials from Florida's southeastern counties are trying to get $15 million from the federal government to help pay for planning how to deal with climate change.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504.

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Surfrider Florida: Ocean & Coastal Coalition Oil Drilling Factsheet
Surfline.com Surf News - PRESS RELEASE
February 11, 2010
Today the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, a group of organizations working together to conserve, protect and restore Florida's coastal and marine environment, released a factsheet that explores the impacts of offshore drilling on Florida's coast. The factsheet shows that drilling off Florida's coasts will not only endanger the environment Floridians treasure, but also cause significant economic losses to the state at a time when it is trying to recover from other economic impacts.
"Catastrophic oil spills, such as the recent Australian spill, remind us of the serious environmental consequences even state of the art technology can create" stated Lindsey Pickel, FCOC Coordinator.
"It doesn't make economic sense to threaten Florida's valuable ocean and coastal economies that depend on clean water, beautiful beaches and abundant fish and wildlife with the pollution and industrialization that accompanies offshore drilling" said Sarah Chasis, Director of NRDC's Ocean Initiative and a member of the Coalition's Steering Committee. It makes more sense to invest in clean energy strategies that will create more jobs, spur new business and safeguard Florida's great assets--its coasts and oceans."
The facts present clear evidence that Florida's coastal and ocean economies provide far greater resources and revenues than projected drilling revenues. Ericka D'Avanzo, Florida Regional Manager of Surfrider Foundation stated, "The proposed oil royalties pale in comparison to the potential damage caused by new coastal infrastructure to support drilling operations, the costs of drilling-related accidents, and, most importantly, Florida's coastal recreation and marine economies which generated over $550 billion in 2006-- almost 300 times more than the driller's projected annual revenue."
"The oil industry's track record across the Gulf of Mexico should be reason enough for Floridians to oppose drilling right off our coast" said Joe Murphy, Florida Program Coordinator, Gulf Restoration Network. "Spills, pollution, industrialization, and tar balls are all part of the deal, and it would be a bad deal for Florida. Our coastlines support a fishing industry and tourism industry that is the envy of the nation, and that is too valuable to place in the hands of the oil industry."
The Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition's Factsheet discusses issues such as oil drilling byproducts, oil spills, ocean currents, Florida's coastal and ocean economies, and the myth that drilling off Florida's coasts will lower gas prices. "Florida's coastal water quality is critical to the economic lifeblood of Florida's long term survival, and any economic recovery in Florida will be driven by the quality, and continued protection of our coastal water resources. People don't visit, start new sustainable businesses, or buy homes around polluted beaches and estuaries", stated George Jones, Executive Director, Indian Riverkeeper.
Florida's world renowned beaches support coastal economies and also provide critical habitat for threatened and endangered species "These beaches host 90% of all the marine turtle nesting in the United States", said Gary Appleson, Policy Director of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the world's oldest marine turtle conservation organization. "These beaches are already under threat from inappropriate shoreline development and coastal erosion. As Florida works to reduce these threats it should not be adding new ones posed by oil drilling."
"Any spills from peninsular Florida could rapidly move to the coral reefs and mangrove forests of the Florida Keys and southeast Florida via the Loop Current, (a major ocean current in the Gulf of Mexico) creating a major ecological and economic disaster for our state", said Paul Johnson, Programs and Policy Director for REEF RELIEF, based out of Key West, Florida. "What is needed is a comprehensive national energy policy in concert with marine spatial planning of existing ocean activities and resources, before Florida moves forward with any consideration of offshore oil and gas".
To view the Coalition's Factsheet, go to www.flcoastalandocean.org

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Cold snap killed many pythons in Everglades
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler and Lisa J. Huriash
February 10, 2010
About half the Burmese pythons found in the park in the past few weeks were dead.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Vultures circled over Everglades National Park's Anhinga Trail, where thousands of dead nonnative fish floated in the marshes.
About half the Burmese pythons found in the park in the past few weeks were dead.
Dead iguanas have dropped from trees onto patios across South Florida. And in western Miami-Dade County, three African rock pythons — powerful constrictors that can kill people — have turned up dead.
Although South Florida's warm, moist climate has nurtured a vast range of nonnative plants and animals, a cold snap last month reminded these unwanted guests they're not in Burma or Ecuador any more.
Temperatures that dropped into the 30s killed Burmese pythons, iguanas and other marquee names in the state's invasive species zoo.
Although reports so far say the cold has not eliminated any of them, it has sharply reduced their numbers, which some say may indicate South Florida is not as welcoming to invaders as originally thought.
"Anecdotally, we might have lost maybe half of the pythons out there to the cold," said Scott Hardin, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's exotic species coordinator. "Iguanas definitely. From a collection of observations from people, more than 50 percent fatality on green iguanas. Green iguanas really got hit hard. Lots of freshwater fish died; no way to estimate that."
The cold snap has played into a highly politicized debate over how to prevent nonnative species from colonizing the United States.
Reptile dealers and hobbyists strongly oppose a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the import of and interstate trade in Burmese pythons and several other large snakes. They say South Florida's cold snap shows these species don't threaten to spread north, as some claim, and a federal crackdown is unnecessary.
"Pythons are tropical animals," said Andrew Wyatt, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers. "When temperatures fall below a certain level, they are unable to survive. It reinforces the idea that the pythons can't exist more than a short period of time north of Lake Okeechobee. Even the pythons in the Everglades are dying during the cold snap."
Wyatt said scientists are downplaying the effect of cold weather on the pythons because that would undermine their ability to win grants to study a problem that has received international publicity.

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Compromise allows major port expansion, preservation of mangroves
SunSentinel.com, Broward Politics (blog) - Scott Wyman
February 9, 2010‎
A breakthrough deal to preserve coastal mangroves will allow Port Everglades to move ahead with a major expansion of its cargo business.
State and Broward County officials reached agreement Tuesday that the port will preserve 16 acres of mangroves and pay for improvements to West Lake Park in exchange for the right to expand. The port wants to build a new wharf that can handle super-freighters and accept imports of crushed rock needed for construction.
The new cargo terminals are a key part of a $2 billion expansion of Port Everglades planned over the next 20 years. Another segement of the plans -- new cruise terminal -- opened last fall and was custom-built to accommodate the world's largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.
The fate of the cargo expansion has been uncertain for several years because of objections raised by environmental activists. The expansion requires the port to destory part of wetlands that it promised in the late 1980s to preserve forever.
“This is a criticial step for the port because we need more berths to expand business,” said Margaret Kempel, head of Port Everglades’ business association. “There is no other place to put more berths except for this area. The port is thriving now, but we need to look to the future.”
The secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection accepted the compromise of swapping out the properties last month, and county commissioners gave their blessing Tuesday. The county will spend $11 million to improve the 16 acres of mangroves and the West Lake property and will then deed a total of 60 acres of wetlands in the port to the state.
The port plans are to build two new berths within the next three years and then add more within the next 15 years. One of the two berths to be built immediately would accommodate a super-freighter or two normal freighters, while the second berth would be used by freighters bringing in shipments of aggregate rock.
The port’s turning notch would to be widened and extended westward. The discharge canal for the Florida Power & Light Co. plant would also be rerouted.
Without the longer berths and wider turning notch, the port will not be able to accommodate the larger ships that will deliver goods from Asia to the East Coast once the widening of the Panama Canal is complete in 2014.
A second step is needed before Port Everglades can handle super-freighters. The entrance channel also would have to be deepened, and environmentalists have raised concerns about those plans as well.
Port administrators said they expect to an update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the prospect of dredging the channel, but they and port businesses said the extra berths are needed regardless. If super-freighters can’t come, the port expects the berths would then be used by the smaller traditional freighters.
The county included no port property in its original plans to offset the environmental damage from building the new berths, but rather pay to preserve Deerfield Island. Environmentalists challenged the Deerfield Island idea because the island is not in danger of development.
The South Florida Audobon Society endorsed the compromise plan. But other environmentalists continue to be skeptical.
“We aren’t quite sure why you need the expansion if you aren’t committed yet to dredging the channel,” said Dan Clark of the Cry of the Water conservation group. “I kind of look at this as the notch to nowhere.”

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Tampa council members to revisit 'toilet to tap' idea
Tampa Tribune - Christian M. Wade
February 9, 2010
TAMPA - A proposal to convert Tampa's wastewater into drinking water is back on tap.
City Councilman Charlie Miranda, who never shies from taking a controversial stand on water and energy issues, said he plans to ask his fellow council members to support a move to put the controversial question on the ballot in the 2011 municipal elections.
"I want the citizens to decide," Miranda said. "After all, they'll be the ones drinking it."
Miranda's proposal, to be discussed at an upcoming council workshop, calls for building a new treatment plant to purify effluent to drinkable quality, then inject it into the ground before it flows into the Hillsborough River, the city's primary source of drinking water.
Such a move would require state and federal permits. Miranda estimates the project would cost about $200 million, though the city hasn't yet conducted a cost analysis.
Miranda said utilities in Virginia, Texas and California return treated wastewater to their drinking water supplies that well exceed state and federal water-quality standards.
In some cases, wastewater is filtered by reverse osmosis, which pressurizes the water and pushes it through a sheet of plastic. In others, it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation and mixed with hydrogen peroxide to destroy any remaining micropollutants and organic matter.
Mayor Pam Iorio has cautioned against rushing the question onto the ballot, saying that building a new treatment plant would likely mean higher rates for the city's customers.
"As a city, we do not know what it would cost to implement a system that would turn reclaimed water into drinking water," she said in a recent memo. "Further, we would have to translate the costs to water rate increases that are currently unknown."
Beyond the stigma attached to drinking something that flowed through a sewer system, scientists have recently begun raising concerns about the potential for health risks.
Tampa's reclaimed water is treated enough for agriculture purposes, but not for drinking.
In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study of the treated wastewater from the city's Howard F. Curren Wastewater Treatment Plant and found 27 different kinds of micropollutants in the recycled water even after it passed through a filtration process.
These included estrogens, steroids and anti-seizure and antibiotic medications.
The idea has been floated by the city in the past, but never got very far.
In the mid-1980s, Tampa spent more than $6 million on research for a similar proposal but backed away from it because of cost concerns and a lack of support from the public.
Reclaimed water from the city's wastewater treatment plant was fed to rodents in the 1990s to test for bacteria levels, toxicity, virus counts and chemicals. A panel of experts hired by the city to study health risks determined it was safe for consumption.
Tampa has for years struggled to expand its distribution system to put more reclaimed water on lawns and gardens to offset the city's potable water use. The reclaimed system serves only about 3,500 households in the South Tampa area, and plans to expand it to reach more residential customers were put on hold last year due to revenue shortfalls.
Both Tampa and Hillsborough County are under pressure from state environmental regulators to stop dumping unused treated wastewater into Florida's waterways. More than 55 million gallons of reclaimed water is dumped into Tampa Bay every day.
Even though the water is highly treated, it still contains high levels of nitrogen that can rob natural water bodies of oxygen needed by fish, shellfish and other marine life.
Miranda says the drought – which resulted in Tampa adopting the toughest watering restrictions in the state last year – proved that the city needs to save every drop.
"Sometime in my lifetime, this proposal will pass," he said. "Because we'll need it."
The workshop will be held at 9 a.m. Feb. 25 at City Hall, 315 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Reporter Christian M. Wade can be reached at (813) 259-7679

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Farming water: new plan for Everglades restoration would pay ranchers to use ...
Palm Beach Post by Pul Quinlan
February 8, 2010
SEBRING — Jimmy Wohl's father got his unlikely start in the cattle business in 1962, snapping up 320 acres of military surplus land in western Broward County for $25 an acre and setting 10 cows loose on the property.
He lost the cows almost immediately. Had to hire a real cowboy to wrangle them back.
But the worst problem, by far, was the water. Rain turned his fields into swimming pools.
"The cows were belly-deep in water six months out of the year," Wohl said.
Fast forward half a century: South Florida's 2,000-mile grid of canals has proven too efficient at draining the landscape. The Everglades is now half its original size. Water is increasingly scarce. Every time it rains, the canals flush billions of gallons into the sea.
Now the water that so tormented Florida's early ranchers could become a cash crop for hundreds of Central Florida landowners, if an unlikely alliance of ranchers and environmentalists gets its way.
Wohl is one of eight ranchers in a pilot program led by World Wildlife Fund to develop a new tool for water management that could forever change Florida's cattle business — one that pays ranchers to, essentially, farm water.
The program would pay ranchers to perform an environmental service — flooding pastures — without requiring that they sell or permanently give up any rights to their land.
It's a variation on decades-old programs that buy land and development rights in the name of conservation. Wohl says the programs, known as "conservation easements," ask too much and pay too little.
The new program "is what I've been talking about for 20 years," Wohl said. "I'd like to be a part of it."
The project — officially called "payment for environmental services" — has its critics. Some fear that a rancher may agree to turn a 1,000-acre pasture into a wetland for 10 years, then decide after that period to develop a shopping center. Regulators could not step in — even if a few bald eagles have since moved in.
"The bad thing is that you don't have permanent conservation," said Keith Fountain, land protection director for the Nature Conservancy in Florida. "We want to achieve permanent conservation."
For all the hoopla surrounding the idea — state Chief Financial Officer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink told Everglades conference-goers she's a "longtime fan" of the concept — one big question remains: Can a price be set that's good enough for ranchers and acceptable to taxpayers?
"Ranchers have the capacity to store water if — and it's a big 'if' — it becomes profitable to do so," said Sarah Lynch, who leads the project for World Wildlife Fund.
The project comes amid scientific consensus that the Everglades teeters on the brink of collapse, putting South Florida's water supply and fisheries in grave peril. Restoration plans call for finding a way to store the equivalent of 740,000 Olympic-size swimming pools full of water and flow enough of it from Lake Okeechobee southward, across the marsh and into Florida Bay, to keep the ecosystem healthy.
The World Wildlife Fund idea could provide up to one-sixth of that water at a cost much cheaper, proponents say, than current plans to spend tens of billions scattering reservoirs and deep storage wells around the state.
The project targets what some view as the largely ignored headwaters of the Everglades: the Kissimmee River area north of Lake Okeechobee, where decades of ranching, farming and Orlando-area urban development have polluted the system.
Lynch wants to recreate much of the area's historically marshy landscape by paying potentially hundreds of ranchers to outfit low-lying pastures with the pumps, berms and culverts necessary to turn grazing fields back into wetlands.
Under five- to 20-year contracts, ranchers would catch the June-through-October wet season rains. They would slowly release the pooled water through the dry season into the nearby tributaries of Lake Okeechobee, the liquid heart of the Everglades and South Florida's backup water supply.
Rain or shine, ranchers get paid — extra income that could save them from the thinning margins of the cattle business, in which feed prices alone have soared in response to rising demand from the ethanol industry. Rising costs and the end of the real estate heyday that brought one lucrative offer after another to large rural landowners has caused landowners to flock to environmental land-buying programs in recent years, experts say. For Buck Island Ranch, a 4,250-acre cattle ranch in Lake Placid, the pilot program "was the difference between making money and losing money last year," said the ranch's Patrick Bohlen.
On a tour one recent afternoon, Wohl gestured across a grassy, 100-acre field at his Rafter T Ranch, which is bordered on the east by Arbuckle Creek, along which his father built a dike to prevent flooding. "This whole area is going to be a filter bed," said Wohl, who stood near a mess of pipes, piled dirt and earthmovers. "From June to October, this will not be suitable for grazing at all."
After project leaders recently flooded a 2,400-acre pasture at the Lykes Bros. Ranch, the croaking of the frogs was a "deafening" sign that nature was healing itself, said Joe Collins, the ranch's engineering manager, who sits on the board of South Florida Water Management District.
"It's not brain surgery," he said. "We're putting water back where it used to be."
Costs remain a concern. In 2010, the pilot will pay out $660,000 to use about 10,000 acres of pasture across all eight ranches. Expanded across 250,000 acres at the same rate, the one-year cost would run $16.5 million. Installation costs could run several million dollars as well.
But Lynch says current participants are paid a premium for being guinea pigs.
"We're imagining a competitive process, where many would be interested in selling this service," Lynch said. If that comes to be, competition for bids would lower the price, she said.
Lynch and others say savings will be realized when the restoration effort is — at least in part — freed from its reliance on reservoirs, which have cracked, run badly over budget and remain largely untested on such a grand scale.
"If you give an engineer a problem, they're going to come up with an engineered solution. Engineers like to build four-sided things," said Audubon lobbyist Eric Draper. The program, he said, is an answer to the question: "How did the landscape work naturally, back when the best way to store water was to leave it in the swamps?"

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Town Hall meeting to look at drinking water quality
Pensacola News Journal - ‎Feb 8, 2010‎
February 8, 2010
A town hall meeting exploring the controversy over contaminants in local drinking water is set for Wednesday at Pensacola Junior College.
The free event will be held at PJC's Hagler Auditorium from 6 to 8 p.m.
The public meeting is sponsored by Emerald Coastkeeper, the University of West Florida environmental studies and PJC paralegal studies departments.
Coastkeeper Chasidy Hobbs will lead a panel of experts discussing a recent study by the Environmental Working Group that gave Pensacola's tap water poor marks for purity.
EPA and Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials will discuss how drinking water standards are set at the federal and state level.
Bill Johnson of the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority will explain what ECUA is doing to meet drinking water standards. UWF environmental scientist Enid Sisskin will discuss potential health implications posed by contaminants. Carl J. Mohrherr of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation will discuss pollutants in the local aquifer.
A question-and-answer session will be held for the public during the meeting.

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Anglers not happy with Glades project
MiamiHerald.com - by SUSAN COCKING, scocking@MiamiHerald.com
Anglers say a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to restore water flow in the Everglades could ruin their fishing-based economy.
For nearly a decade, South Florida anglers, hunters and airboaters have been urging officials in charge of the multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration project to not harm a lucrative bass fishery in an effort to restore natural water flow into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
South Florida Anglers for Everglades Restoration (SAFER) was formed to fight proposals by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to backfill the L-67A and C canals that separate Everglades Water Conservation Areas 3A and 3B north of Tamiami Trail.
The parallel canals are among the top public water bodies in the state for catch rates of largemouth bass and other freshwater gamefish. Numerous tournaments are held there, generating millions for the local economy, according to studies by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
But scientists and engineers said these man-made waterways are barriers to the natural sheet flow of water across the South Florida peninsula, and their removal would help restore the hydrological connection among the two water conservation areas, Shark River Slough and Big Cypress National Preserve.
All along, SAFER members have been urging them to prove it. Now the Corps is prepared to do just that.
Lt. Col. Michael Kinard, the Corps' deputy district engineer for restoration, and his colleagues held a public meeting Thursday night in Homestead to get feedback on a two-year, $10.3 million field test scheduled to begin late next year.
The Corps proposes to construct eight gated culverts allowing water to flow from the L-67A into a deeper area known as the ``pocket'' between the L-67A and C. The culverts would discharge directly into sloughs in a 1.8-mile area oriented along the water's historic flow path. To establish sheet flow and evaluate water speed and quality, a 3,000-foot gap would be opened in the L-67C levee downstream of the culverts. To test backfilling options, levee material would be piled up to create a 1,000-foot-long segment that's completely backfilled. Another 1,000-foot-long segment would be partially backfilled, and a third would be left alone.
Engineers say that after the field test is over, the area would be reconstructed to pretest conditions.
Rick Persson, one of the founders of SAFER, was generally in favor of the experiment but concerned that Corps officials plan to time their field test early in South Florida's dry season.
``My worry is, this should be a nature-driven test, not a man-driven test,'' Persson told the gathering Thursday. ``We are subject to drought and flood. I would prefer to see a natural test over five years. Study natural sheet flow, natural rainfall, hurricanes, whatever. If you fill in the canals in the Everglades, you've lost control of that water. You still need to have these canals to some degree.''
Several anglers were concerned that fishing will be interrupted during the test. A representative of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians said the experiment should wait until after other phases of the restoration are complete.
Byron Maharrey, president of the Everglades Coordinating Council, said engineers should look at other ways to restore sheet flow, such as degrading levees and using the fill to create tree islands for game animals, which have been stressed by prolonged high-water levels in the area.
``You fill in these canals, the economy is going to hurt in that area,'' he said.
Megan Tinsley of Audubon of Florida supported the project.
``Audubon sees this as a step toward the more important project, which is the decompartmentalization of water,'' she said. ``This is a field test. It's reversible.''
The Corps will accept public comment on the project through Feb. 11. Comments can be e-mailed to Adam.C.Stuart@usace.army.mil.

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Earth and the Balance of Powers: What the Citizens United Ruling Means for the ...
Huffington Post (blog)
February 6, 2010‎
During the past decade, all three branches of American government -- Judicial, Legislative and Executive -- have acted to expand the influence of corporations in elections. The Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission further tips the balance of power away from the individual voter, perhaps with significant impact on our democracy. Furthermore, this decision may portend doom for environmental protection if corporate influence expands and short-term profit takes even greater precedence over long-term environmental health.
Judicial Branch Undermines
Legislative Branch's Efforts to Curtail Corporate Power
In 2000, then-Governor George W. Bush narrowly won the presidential election courtesy of the U.S Supreme Court handing him Florida's electoral votes before that state's election recount was even finished. In Bush v. Gore, the Court, deeming Florida's recount process unconstitutional, ordered an immediate cessation of the state's recount, effectively giving Bush the presidency despite Al Gore winning the nation's popular vote by approximately 500,000 votes.
While the Court can be blamed for only the first four years of his presidency, President Bush brought eight years of unparalleled environmental deregulation, lack of enforcement and permitted pollution. Bush even managed to undermine his own father's environmental legacy by abusing the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which his father signed into law to reduce smog and atmospheric pollution.
A new decision by the Court now threatens to ensure that Bush's legacy of deregulation and corporate power over environmental protection will endure. Struggling to deliver on his promises to change the impact of Bush's corporate greed over public need agenda on the country, President Obama lamented that he now faces a new challenge: " ... the United States Supreme Court handed a huge victory to the special interests and their lobbyists -- and a powerful blow to our efforts to rein in corporate influence. This ruling strikes at our democracy itself."
In Citizens United, the Court overturned more than a century of law and bipartisan campaign finance legislation written by U.S. Senators John McCain (R-NM) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), ruling that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech that encompasses and protects advertisements advocating a particular candidate right up to an election's eve. The Court left alone the restriction on corporations making direct contributions to candidates recognizing a significant governmental interest in protecting quid pro quo corruption.
The danger with corporations having unlimited spending on electioneering is that it makes candidates more beholden to these special corporate interests to get elected and may distort the issues in favor of profit driven institutions that can afford to blanket the market place of ideas with their own. It is naive or worse of the Court to throw out as insignificant the hundreds of pages of Congressional testimony that went into the law-making process leading to the McCain-Feingold limitations on campaign spending. Corporations are not just citizens united to make protected speech, but artificial structures entitled to legal and tax advantages different from individual citizens and, unless corporations are specifically classified as not-for-profit, they exist for the avowed purpose of making money-not advocating policy. They speak for their shareholders only for the purpose of returning profit to those shareholders. They clearly have many advantages during an election period, possessing a unique ability through their wealth and access to selectively magnify or distort a message that is not really reflective of the general population or even the persons that make up the corporation. Congress clearly understood this unfair advantage when it passed the McCain-Feingold protections.
More corporate influence on elections means it will be harder for Congress to withstand the pressure of the oil, manufacturing and coal industries, which already have made bipartisan progress on climate change solutions extremely challenging. It will be even more difficult for progressive legislators to get elected and to pass environmental legislation without acquiescing to those interests with the deepest pockets. When our legislative and executive branches are for sale through relatively unlimited corporate spending, we will elect hired guns, not leaders who are willing to resist corporate prerogatives in order to fight injustice.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) observed, "[The Court's] ruling, decided by the slimmest of majorities, guts our system of free and fair elections. The bottom line is this. The Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November's elections. It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be corporate America."
With More Corporate Pressure on Congress,
All Hope Rides on Executive Branch
One of the topics of governance most sensitive to corporate pressure is our environment. The corporations invested in fossil fuels are no less powerful today despite Obama's efforts to shift the dialogue and the nation's agenda from the familiar conservative rubric of the economy versus the environment to a new ideal of a green economy that grows through investment in sustainable energy and technology. These interests weigh heavily on congressional decision makers, especially from states where coal or oil literally fuel the lifeblood of their state economies. Increased political power to the giants of traditional fuel and technologies will only amplify pressure to vote on their behalf, especially in a time of recession when investment in sustainable new technology may take longer to recoup than terms in office or in the executive suite.
With legislative safeguards less likely, hope for environmental progress will be through administrative action under the auspices of Lisa Jackson, Obama's head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Administrator Jackson, who grew up in Louisiana not far from the toxic corridor known as cancer alley where petrochemical companies have perennially dumped their poisons while buying influence in the state capitol, knows the realities of corporate influence to the detriment of the people. In her office, Jackson keeps a copy of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax, perhaps the best known parable illustrating the dangers of putting industrial profit before protection of the environment. "The American people can be outraged when we're not living up to the P part of our name. The Protection part," says Jackson.
When there is so much at stake in the context of environmental protection, much of Jackson's first year has been dedicated to reversing industry-favoring policies of Bush's administration. Within a week of taking office, Obama ordered the EPA to reconsider Bush's policy of preventing states from implementing stricter standards for tailpipe emissions than dictated by federal law. The Bush-era policy stemmed from that administration's siding with auto manufacturers in opposition to public health experts in order to undercut California's law requiring a 30% reduction in average emissions. Obama's EPA is currently implementing new protective smog rules like California's across the nation.
Jackson also used her first year at the EPA to embark on an aggressive campaign to clean up the nation's air and drinking water. Jackson revoked patently illegal Bush-era rules like the one allowing oil refineries to report emissions by smokestack instead of by refinery in order to circumvent air quality regulations. Jackson also reversed a Bush administration permit for the nation's largest mountaintop-removal coal mine.
Perhaps most significantly, Jackson's administration announced its intention to shift the EPA's focus from industrial concerns to issues of environmental justice. The first case on the agenda in this new direction takes the EPA to an impoverished California migrant farming community where a cluster of facial birth defects and other health issues may be linked to a nearby toxic waste dump. The EPA's Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator announced, "Our job is to make sure that we look under every rock and try to see if there is a relationship between all these activities and the health impacts on the ground. We need to provide real information, based on science, not just from the company proposing a project."
The revitalized EPA mandate extends from issues of local environmental justice for those with the least political power, like the migrant farm workers, to issues that impact the entire planet, like climate change. Responding to the international call for cooperation on climate change solutions, Jackson has expanded EPA's mandate to include bold new initiatives to crack down on climate-warming pollution from cars and industry.
The poor environmental condition and lenient Bush-era rules that Jackson inherited "requires that we use our time and resources to look back when we absolutely need to be moving ahead," she says. And moving ahead is what the world is requiring of America as we tackle the global problem of climate change. "If Congress doesn't pass legislation on climate change, EPA will follow through under the requirements of the Clean Air Act," says Carol Browner, Obama's climate czar.
Environment Teetering in the Balance
So the environment hangs in the balance of governmental powers. Which branch will have the strength to protect us from our worst impulses to put corporate profit over the future of our planet and humankind? Congress is paralyzed by political infighting that prevents bipartisan solutions and an economic crisis that seems to put the environment in further jeopardy. The Supreme Court with its current makeup is actively protective of corporate power. Unless Obama gets re-elected, the Executive Branch with Jackson wearing her capital P for environmental protection, has only three more years to undo a lot of damage and to stem climate change.
Al Gore tells a story in Earth in the Balance describing how the George H. W. Bush administration calculated the value of our environment:
"When President Bush welcomed an international conference on the global environment in the spring of 1990, his staff prepared materials for the visiting negotiators that contained a graphic illustration of the administration's approach to balancing short-term monetary gains against long-term environmental destruction. In the illustration, several bars of gold rested on one tray of a scale; on the other tray perched the entire earth and all its natural systems, seemingly with a weight and value roughly equivalent to the six bars of gold. A scientist, or perhaps an economist, is noting the careful balance on her clipboard. Although several delegates from the other countries commented privately that it seemed to be an ironic symbol of Bush's approach to the crisis, the president and his staff seemed wholly oblivious of the absurdity of the willingness to put the entire earth in the balance."
The problem with allowing corporate interests to sway environmental decision making is that their calculations are often weighted entirely toward short-term profit without evaluating the cost of losing the resources that we all depend upon for survival. We have a significant interest, the interest of survival, in protecting decision making from the bias of monetary enrichment. The voice of the people, and the voices of future generations, deserve protection against the voices of corporate greed. Obama proposes crafting a legislative response to the Citizens United ruling. Let us hope, for everyone's sake, that our governmental system of checks and balances is restored to support democracy and the wellbeing of our planet.

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Paddling The Nobel Hammock Trail In Everglades National Park
National Parks Traveler (blog) by Kurt Repanshek
February 6, 2010‎
I must admit that the only paddling I've done south of the Mason-Dixon Line was on the white-water rivers of West Virginia. The thought of paddling the watery tendrils of Everglades National Park conjures thoughts of swarms of insects that'd keep me swatting the air more than paddling the water. But a recent report by the park on paddling the Nobel Hammock Trail has given me a change of heart.
Contained in See!, a photographic journal published by the park staff, the report creates images of paddling through thick, leafy tunnels of mangroves while craning one's head in search of orchids and bird life.
The Nobel Hammock Trail, a roughly two-mile loop, is one of three water trails you can access off the main road that runs towards Flamingo. If you go to the park's map, you can easily spot the loop. Here's the park's report:
If paddling is one of the most intimate ways to experience natural South Florida, then the canoe trails near Flamingo are one of the best ways to explore Everglades National Park. Right now, it’s a good time of the year to hit the water. The weather is agreeable and there is still plenty of water in the trails, which can become too shallow later in the dry season.
Three canoe trails leave from the main park road about 10 miles from the road’s end at Flamingo. The Hells Bay canoe trail accesses raised wooden platforms, or chickees, for overnight camping. Hells Bay is also the longest trail in the area at 11 miles round trip if you make it all the way to Hells Bay chickee. The Nine-Mile Pond canoe trail, despite its name, is a 5.2 mile round trip. Nine-Mile Pond is a great trail for all skill levels and meanders through both open sections of water and tight mangrove paths. Today, we’ll explore the Noble Hammock canoe trail, the shortest of the three at only 2 miles round trip.
The Noble Hammock Canoe Trail is short in length, but twists so tightly through the mangroves that it makes for a true excursion. The narrow path and the sharp turns will test your steering skills, but the advantage to this trail is that it’s well protected from wind even on blustery days. The entrance to the trail is well marked and roadside parking is available.
On this and other canoe trails, navigation is made simple by a series of orange and white markers that guide you along. The markers keep you from getting lost in the maze of mangroves and come into view just as you’re wondering which way to turn. Also handy are small docks at the entrance and exit of the trail that ease getting into and out of your boat.
One of the nicest features of the Noble Hammock trail is its wide array of plant species. The trail winds through small to medium sized mangroves that are covered in epiphytic bromeliads and orchids. A few of these airplants are locally abundant along the trail, but rare elsewhere in South Florida. The powdery strap airplant, Catopsis bertoniana, can be seen throughout the trail, yet is a State listed endangered species. If careful, you can even spot wormvine orchid, Vanilla barbellata, with thick brown and green roots snaking around a host tree.
The tight nature of the trail requires paddlers to take it slow and this tempered pace makes it the perfect trail for a botanical foray in a unique landscape.
Just when you are beginning to wonder if you passed the hammock without notice, a sign and path beckon your attention. You can glide up to the edge of the hardwood forest and note the sudden change in sights and sounds. The tree island, rumored to be a hideaway for moonshiners in days past, is now a quiet refuge of dry land amongst a sea of mangroves.
Not feeling quite so adventurous? Don’t have your own gear? No problem! Ranger guided canoe tours, with provided boats, paddles and safety equipment are offered everyday until April 4, 2010. Departure times, duration and location vary, and reservations are strongly recommended. For more information, contact the Flamingo Visitor Center at 239-695-2945.

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Putnam jumps into clean water debate
The Ledger (blog)  by Tom Palmer
 February 5, 2010‎
U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam recently announced that he and the rest of the Florida Congressional delegation want  EPA officials to extend the coment period on proposed pollution limits for lakes and rivers in Florida.
Putnam, R-Bartow, is running for Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumer Services, a post that is hard to obtain without strong support from the agribusiness lobby.
Agribusiness, through the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, one its main lobbying arms, p has been a  strong critic of EPA’s proposal rules because agribusiness  is one of the regulated industries that would be affected by stronger anti-pollution rules.
Other business groups, lobbying under the typically misleading name,  Florida Water Quality Coalition , are pushing for the same kind of delay, too.
Local government officials, who will be affected as well, are monitoring the situation, but haven’t been as publicly vocal as the commercial and industrial lobby groups..
Frankly, I want to see how this unfolds before I get too excited. One thing experience has taught me is to be skeptical of end-of-the-world predictions regarding pending regulatory decisions. We’ll see what eventually is enacted and, more significantly, what the compliance schedule turns out to be. 
This issue came to the fore as a result of lawsuits against EPA  by environmental groups who were tired of the foot-dragging that had occurred in implementing the federal Clean Water Act, which has been around since the 1970s. 
Additionally, there are  counterargument against the industry lobbyists’ go-slow approach.
The simple fact is that  letting water-quality conditions continue to  deteriorate has an economic cost as well.
According to the Fiscal Coalition for Water Quality, which is composed of mainstream environmental groups and local governments, clean water is one of things that drives Florida’s economy.
Tourism depends on it. So our drinking water supplies, which are increasingly gonig to be drawn from surface waters. The more polluted the surface waters, the more expensive water treatment will become.
There are always two sides to these arguments.
Keep that in mind as this issue develops.

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Schedule Changes for Hearings on EPA Numeric Nutrient Criteria
Southeast AgNet
February 5, 2010‎
The U S Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled three public hearing dates for their new water regulatory criteria for the state of Florida (see below). Pre-registration is strongly encouraged especially if you would like to speak at the hearings. http://yosemite.epa.gov/ost/WaterSciHearingReg.nsf/SignUp_Web?OpenForm
The EPA recently notified pre-registered participants of the following changes in the schedule:
In light of the large number of preregistrants, the Agency has adjusted the times of the hearings on the Proposed Water Quality Standards for the State of Florida’s Lakes and Flowing Waters to allow for as many speakers as possible during each session. The dates of the hearings remain the same. Below you will find the new times of the hearings and important information on the process by which speakers will be able to make oral comments.
REVISED SCHEDULE
February 16, 2010 at the Holiday Inn Capitol East
1355 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, FL 32301
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon (NEW Session)
1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
February 17, 2010 at the Crowne Plaza Orlando Universal
7800 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32819
1:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (this session has been extended 1.5 hours)
7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (this session will begin 30 minutes later than originally planned)
February 18, 2010 at the Holiday Inn Palm Beach Airport
1301 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33405
12:00 noon-5:00 p.m. (this session will begin 1 hour earlier than originally planned)
6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. (this session will begin 1 hour earlier than originally planned)
Any written comments are due by March 29, 2010.

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Christmas Bird Count documents 99 species at Everglades Treatment Wetland
TCPalm - by South Florida Water Management District
WEST PALM BEACH — An Everglades restoration project maintained its status as a national bird watching destination as volunteers with the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society partnered with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to document 99 species and nearly 106,000 individual birds during the 110th Christmas Bird Count this January. Known as "citizen science," bird counts are vital to studies of the long-term health and status of bird populations.
On January 2, Audubon and its 35 volunteers made the trip to Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 5 just south of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County for a day of intensive bird watching. Of the diverse array of bird species sighted at the constructed wetland, American coots were by far the most abundant — as they were in 2009 — with more than 60,000 counted. Birders also took note of 45 endangered snail kites, which are native to South Florida and the Everglades, and spotted some rarer species such as a short-tailed hawk and a Cassin's kingbird, a species more common in states west of Texas.
"We are honored to be part of a more than century-old tradition that helps us follow trends in bird diversity and numbers, which ultimately aids in their protection," said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. "We manage treatment wetlands to improve Everglades water quality, yet their extensive use as havens for wildlife demonstrates the significance of our restoration work."
The District recently renovated STA-5 by enhancing plant growth and water movement through the treatment marsh to improve its ability to remove phosphorus from Everglades-bound waters. In conjunction, the District is expanding the treatment wetland by 4,656 acres, connecting STA-5 to STA-6 to the south and more than doubling water treatment capability at the site. Both of these significant efforts to improve Everglades water quality will benefit bird watching in the area.
The bird count at STA-5 once again served as a prelude to another partnership year of Audubon/SFWMD birding tours that showcase wildlife and public access on lands managed in perpetuity by the District for Everglades restoration. The 6,000-acre constructed wetland, just south of Clewiston, is today one of 489 sites on The Great Florida Birding Trail. Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the sites are selected for their prolific bird watching or bird education opportunities.
Renowned as havens for birds and wildlife, Stormwater Treatment Areas are the water-cleaning workhorses of Everglades restoration, naturally using plants to remove phosphorus from water flowing into the fabled "River of Grass." The District operates a network of six STAs south of Lake Okeechobee with a combined area of more than 52,000 acres. Since 1994, the treatment areas have retained more than 1,200 metric tons of total phosphorus that would have otherwise entered the Everglades.
Birding, a national pastime, is also big business, with 48 million people observing birds both around the home and through vacation travel. A 2001 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that nationwide birding generated $32 billion in retail sales and created 863,406 jobs.
Non-consumptive bird use (non-hunting activities) supported more than 19,000 jobs in Florida in 2006, and wildlife viewing activities generated more than $3 billion statewide that year, according to a state report. Second in the nation only to California, birding generates an estimated $477 million in retail sales in Florida every year.
The South Florida Water Management District is steadily increasing recreational access to public lands while continuing to manage them to support environmental restoration, water supply, water quality and flood control missions. At present, the District actively manages 621,000 acres of public land. Many of these properties are in their natural state or have enhancements such as picnic tables, informational kiosks, campsites and hiking trails. For more information on recreational opportunities throughout the District's 16-county region, visit www.sfwmd.gov/recreation.
For more information on Florida bird watching, visit floridabirdingtrail.com.
This story is contributed by a member of the Treasure Coast community and is neither endorsed nor affiliated with TCPalm.com

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Florida's take on EPA water standards: 'Be afraid'
Tampabay.com (blog)
February 4, 2010
Florida's Congressional delegation sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today asking the agency to extend the comment period and expand public hearings on its water quality standards issued last month.  The letter -- signed by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux and 18 U.S. House members, led by Rep. Adam Putnam -- follows the first detailed remarks from Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole, who told a state House committee Wednesday to "be afraid" of some components of the new rules.
EPA is hosting two public forums at three locations Feb. 16 (Tallahassee), Feb. 17 (Orlando) and Feb. 18 (West Palm Beach) and soliciting comments for 60 days.
Sole and EPA critics -- including Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson -- were surprisingly quiet when the standards were released. But now the campaign to fight them is gearing up. State lawmakers joined the chorus Wednesday with Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, wondering aloud why the lawsuit against the federal government isn't already filed. "What do we do other than seceding from the Union?" he asked.
Find the full text of the letter from the Congressional delegation below.
Dear Administrator Jackson:
As you know, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a proposed rule establishing numeric nutrient criteria for Florida water bodies. As part of a consent decree EPA entered into with several litigants, a commitment was made by EPA to issue a final rule by October 15, 2010, for lakes and flowing waters, and for estuaries and coastal waters by October 15, 2011. The proposed rule is lengthy, technical, and will take time for experts, much less lay stakeholders, to understand its implications. Moreover, there is some disagreement between scientists at the EPA and at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding the data each entity is using. It is our understanding the EPA will accept comments for sixty days from the date of publication in the Federal Register and has scheduled only three public hearings on the proposed rule to be held in Tallahassee, Orlando, and West Palm Beach from February 16 -18.
These regulations will impact every citizen, local governments, and the business community. The more time and information the public has to understand these rules provides more time to plan and consider the costs and benefits of implementation. Hosting three hearings in a narrow time period, in a state with more than 18 million residents is simply inadequate to review this complicated proposal. Furthermore, a sixty day comment period, which expires forty days after the date of the first public hearing, provides insufficient time for stakeholders to submit meaningful and comprehensive comments.
Therefore, we strongly urge you to extend the comment period and host additional public hearings throughout the state. Florida residents deserve a full and thorough public airing of these proposed regulations and adequate time to understand what will be required of them when the rules are implemented. An administration that has consistently advocated for more transparency within the governing process should welcome the opportunity to provide more stakeholders with a better understanding of these complex regulations in urban and rural areas alike.
Signers of the letter include:
Senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux, and Congressmen Tom Rooney, Allen Boyd, John Mica, Alcee Hastings, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Vern Buchanan, Cliff Stearns, C.W. Bill Young, Connie Mack, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Corrine Brown, Ander Crenshaw, Gus Bilirakis, Ginny Brown-Waite, Jeff Miller, and Suzanne Kosmas.

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Obama sets aside $284M for Everglades
KeysNet – by Kevin Wadlow
February 3, 2010
Projects needed to restore the Everglades and Florida Bay could be in for a $284 million boost, as outlined in President Obama's proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2011.
"The Obama Administration [on Monday] demonstrated its ongoing commitment to America's Everglades by requesting $284.8 million in its fiscal year 2011 budget for the restoration of South Florida's ecosystem," said Randy Smith, spokesman for the state's South Florida Water Management District. The nonprofit Everglades Foundation agreed.
"Even as the budget is being trimmed, it is encouraging to see Everglades restoration remains a top priority of the Obama administration," said Kirk Fordham, the foundation's chief executive.
The budget includes $180 million for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program, which includes the Everglades and Florida Bay.
A Corps statement said the money will fund engineering and construction at restoration projects including:
  The C-111 Canal, in western Miami-Dade County, considered a key to providing Florida Bay with more fresh water.
  The massive Picayune Strand restoration near Naples.
  The Site 1 Impoundment, a 1,700-acre water storage facility in northern Broward County to hold fresh water that would otherwise be channeled into the Atlantic Ocean.
  A Tamiami Trail bridge to bring water to Taylor Slough.
  Work toward changing the Kissimmee River back to its more natural flow.
"The projects are part of the massive effort to restore and improve water flows and water quality and ensure a healthy, sustainable environment," the Corps said in a prepared statement. "Restoring the Everglades is the Corps' single largest ecosystem restoration effort."
The U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service, is slated to receive $74 million toward efforts to protect Everglades National Park.
Said Fordham of the Everglades Foundation, "In addition to the critical benefits to our environment and water supply, Everglades restoration projects are now creating jobs in Florida. In this economic climate, initiatives that have both economic and environmental benefits appear to be the winners in this year's budget proposal."
Smith, from the Water Management District, noted, "The proposed investments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior would build on the significant momentum for Everglades restoration established over the past year."
Sean Morton, acting superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, alerted sanctuary advisors that the budget "includes a significant increase in funding request for all NOAA line offices."
Precise budget figures for the National Marine Sanctuaries Program were not broken out in the budget, but the National Ocean Service will receive additional money for monitoring threats such as ocean acidification and harmful algae blooms, according to a summary.

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Fla. Supreme Court to hear Everglades case
The Associated Press
February 2,2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear a legal challenge to a state deal aimed at buying 73,000 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration projects.
The court says it will hear the case on April 7.
The deal calls for the state to pay $536 million for the land. The state plans to use it to build reservoirs and water treatment marshes intended to clean water and restore natural flow through the Everglades. The deal also leaves open the option for the state to buy more land from the nation's largest cane sugar producer.
U.S. Sugar's main rival, Florida Crystals, and the Miccosukee Indians, who live in the Everglades, have argued the deal is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and could further delay Everglades restoration.

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Grappling With Pythons
NY Times
February 1, 2010
The Internet is full of ads: “clean, smooth, hypoallergenic” is the pitch for boa constrictors on one breeder’s site. Other snakes can be delivered to your home the next day. The problem is that owners often tire of these living conversation pieces.
Some snakes, like the Burmese python, can grow to more than 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds. And their preferred diet runs to live animals instead of little pellets from the pet store. So far too many owners do the worst thing possible for the environment: they let these animals loose.
Florida’s fragile Everglades are of particular concern. Over the last decade, more than 1,300 Burmese pythons and other constrictors have been removed from the Everglades. And the rule of thumb is that for every one you can see (and their markings make them very hard to see), there are another 1,000 out there. With no natural predators, these eating machines are stripping the delicate ecosystem of birds, mammals and fish.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced plans to ban the import or interstate transport of nine snakes that are not native to the United States: Burmese and three other types of pythons, boa constrictors and four different kinds of anaconda. Over the last 30 years, about a million of these snakes have been imported into the United States, according to federal wildlife officials, and domestic snake breeders are believed to have added another million, at least, to the constrictor population. The import and transport ban is a good start.
As with other invasive species, like Asian carp or zebra mussels, it is much more difficult to get rid of these pests once they have arrived. Florida’s wildlife officials are allowing snake-hunting this spring in state areas — permits come with advice about how the skins make lovely boots and wallets. This sounds like a good, if temporary, fix — python hunting for fun, profit and preservation of the Everglades.

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Much of Collier, Lee counties put at risk by rising sea
The News-Press 
February 1, 2010
For the first time, three big government agencies in South Florida are issuing a red alert on global warming.
They all acknowledge that global warming is happening and may be accelerating, that the climate is changing and the sea is rising because of it.
Now they want to do something about it, with each issuing new climate change directives in the last six months.
• Alert 1: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a new policy directing staff to take rising sea level into account in planning new projects, and to review existing projects to see how they will be impacted.
• Alert 2: The South Florida Water Management District released a report that says South Florida is highly vulnerable to sea level rise. The district is investigating the effects on regional flood control and water supplies and how to offset them.
• Alert 3: The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, in partnership with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, completed a 311-page climate change assessment that says there will be a 5-inch rise in sea level, killing some fisheries and washing out sea turtles and shore birds.
This means that any remaining debate, complacency or indecision government agencies once had about the threat of global warming has given way to urgency.
The water management district report states: “The question for Floridians is not whether they will be affected by global warming, but how much — that is, to what degree it will continue, how rapidly, what other climate changes will accompany the warming, and what the long-term effects of these changes will be.”
Those words come from a 2009 report prepared for the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.
“We haven’t begun to scratch the surface about examining these issues,” Murley said.
A fluid scenario
Just how much and how fast will sea level rise?
That depends on how much and how fast global warming causes the oceans to warm and expand and the polar ice sheets to melt.
Three years ago, climate experts were predicting a rise of two feet by 2100.
In December, a group of 26 scientists warned the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen that the rise could be more than triple that — six and a half feet by 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions are not capped within 10 years.
In Florida, the water from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean will rise anywhere from five inches to 27 inches in the next 50 years, depending on which scientists or agency you talk to.
Why the broad range?
The basis for all the predictions is a 2007 report by the International Panel on Climate Change, a group of 2,000 scientists formed by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization.
The panel projects a 5- to 20-inch rise in sea level by 2060.
Higher predictions from other scientists arise from criticism that the panel did not fully include new data showing the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting more quickly than expected.
One worst-case scenario, from a U.S.-based international research group: If world-wide emissions continue unchecked, 15 percent — or 124 square miles — of Lee County would be submerged by 2060, water would encroach up to 24 miles into the Everglades and the Keys would disappear.
Change inevitable
While the three government agencies agree that climate change is inevitable, not all are willing to say whether human activities play a role in speeding it up.
The Southwest Regional Planning Council believes humans are contributing to the acceleration.
The South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shy away from making that link, saying their job is to investigate the ramifications of global warming, not its causes.
The planning council expects a 5-inch rise in sea level by 2050, because that is the 90 percent probability in the climate panel’s range of predictions, said Jim Beever, principal planner for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council and a Southwest Florida climate change expert.
Even at 5 inches, storm surge would be more pronounced, sea grass beds would retreat, some fisheries would disappear, and beach erosion would be more pronounced, Beever said.
There would be sea turtle and shore birds nesting washouts. The edge of upland habitats would start to become salinated. Saltwater would inundate coastal freshwater aquifers. There would be more overtopping of sea walls in seasonal high tides.
Florida's ground zero
The water management district embraces the international panel’s projection of a 5- to 20-inch rise in sea level within 50 years, without settling on a specific number. The district says this provides a lower and upper boundary for planning purposes until more specific regional data is available.
Because parts of the district’s infrastructure are more than 50 years old, any significant change in natural cycles could limit flood control effectiveness, make sea water seeping into groundwater supplies more likely, “and virtually inundate the southernmost tip of the (Florida) peninsula and other low-lying areas,” their report says.
“We’re kind of a ground zero for the problem, more vulnerable than New Orleans,” said Dan Trescott, principal long-range planner for the regional planning council. “We have nothing to protect us from the sea.”
Building systems of levees like in New Orleans is not a viable option, said Glenn Landers, senior project manager for climate change studies in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Everglades Division.
South Florida’s surface rock is an extremely porous limestone that varies in depth from 30 to 80 feet, he said. “It allows for tremendous amounts of seepage if you build a levee.”
Paying now or later
“Economics is going to dictate what happens, really,” Trescott said.
The cost of not acting to combat climate change will be ruinous, says a study by Elizabeth Stanton and Frank Ackerman of the U.S. Center of the Stockholm Environment Institute, an international research organization affiliated with Tufts University.
The study, “Florida and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction,” compares the most optimistic scenario, which has the world taking steps to greatly reduce emissions by 2050 and beyond, vs. the most pessimistic scenario, which the authors call “business as usual.”
Their projection of a 27-inch rise by 2060 is the scenario if the emissions continue unchecked.
That would mean that 9 percent of Florida’s land area, or 4,700 square miles, would be submerged at high tide. In Lee County, 15 percent of the county’s area would be submerged, or 124 square miles. About 69,000 county residents would be in the vulnerable area.
In Collier County, 18 percent of the land area would be submerged, or 370 miles. About 56,000 people would be affected.
Water would encroach 12 to 24 miles into the broad low-lying area of the Everglades. The Florida Keys would be gone.
The loss to the state would include $130 billion in real estate, half of Florida’s beaches, 99 percent of mangroves, 68 hospitals, 74 airports, 140 water treatment facilities, 334 public schools, 341 hazardous-material cleanup sites, 1,362 hotels, motels and inns and 1,025 churches, synagogues and mosques.
“This is an uncertain business,” Ackerman said.
“Our study intentionally contrasted relatively bad versus relatively mild climate scenarios; we argued that the bad scenario, which included the 27- inch sea level rise in 50 years or so, was among the likely outcomes that had to be considered.”
Preparing for that is like taking out insurance, he said. “The most likely outcome is that you will never use the fire insurance on your home, for instance, but everyone still thinks they need fire insurance. We tried to estimate the worst end of the range of likely outcomes. This is fundamentally an insurance-type problem, not a precise estimate of most likely results.”

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President calls for increased funding for Everglades restoration
Palm Beach Post - Paul Quinlan
February 1, 2010
Amid his cost-cutting proposals to freeze federal spending and cancel a NASA program to send astronauts back to the moon, President Barack Obama called on Congress to spend more money on the Everglades in 2011.
Obama's budget request, released today, seeks $262 million for the Everglades — $14 million more than what Congress appropriated last year for the ecosystem's restoration, according to the Everglades Foundation, which praised the administration for its continued commitment.
"Even as the budget is being trimmed, it is encouraging to see Everglades restoration remains a top priority of the Obama administration," foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said in a news release.
The request includes $188 million for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and $74 million for U.S. Department of the Interior work that will create jobs and ensure a healthy water supply, the foundation said.
Obama's budget request to Congress kicks off months of dealmaking and horse-trading that will determine what gets spent in 2011.
Everglades proponents saw today's request a sign that Washington may yet make good on its promise to split the cost — now estimated at more than $12.5 billion — of the restoration plan that the state and Congress approved in 2000.
Since then, Florida has largely outspent its federal partners, although the gap is closing, thanks to an infusion of cash under the Obama administration, including more than $100 million in stimulus money.
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Tough questions follow in wake of invasive species
The Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin, Staff Writer
January 31, 2010
Which is worse? Closing two locks on a critical waterway that's used to ship millions of dollars' worth of goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi basin? Or allowing a voracious Asian carp to chow down on the native fish sustaining a Midwestern fishing industry that nets $7 billion a year?
And how do you put a price tag on the damage caused by the Burmese python and other constrictor snakes that are strangling the precious ecology of the Everglades?
Invasive species -- long the cause of environmental hand-wringing -- have been raising more unwelcome questions recently, as the expense of eliminating them is weighed against the mounting liability of leaving them be.
Those questions became more urgent Tuesday when a team of scientists led by the University of Notre Dame disclosed that silver carp dominating stretches of the Mississippi River and its tributaries had infiltrated Lake Michigan. The federal government had spent $22 million on electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep carp out, but it clearly wasn't enough. An additional $33 million is going into the effort next year.
A coalition of six Great Lakes states and the Canadian province of Ontario have sought a preliminary injunction from the Supreme Court to shut down two major locks immediately on the grounds that an Asian carp invasion would cause "irreparable harm." The court declined to grant the injunction this month, but it will accept briefs next month on the broader question of whether to close them at all.
Army Corps of Engineers officials say it's too early to shut down the locks. They are focused on building a third electrical barrier to provide yet another obstacle to Asian carp infiltrating Lake Michigan. "It's not a silver bullet, but it's a good tool to impede the movement of the silver and bighead carp," said Col. Vincent Quarles, commander of the Army Corps' Chicago District.
But the barriers are not surefire, and experts say it's difficult to say how many Asian carp would have to make it through to establish a viable population.
Southern catfish farmers began importing silver and bighead carp from China in the 1970s to eat up algae in their ponds. Some carp escaped during flooding, and now the fish so thoroughly dominate the Illinois River that communities have annual fishing tournaments targeting them.
U.S. officials have been fighting invasive species for many years, but efforts have intensified in recent years as the impact has become clear. For instance, zebra and quagga mussels that were once restricted to the Great Lakes have moved west, clogging systems at critical dams.
In the Washington area, state and federal officials have been waging war against the snakehead, a voracious fish that has infiltrated the Potomac River and now occupies 70 river miles. Scientists first detected the fish in 2004. Now thousands swim there, posing a threat to such native species as the American shad and alewife herring.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last week that he would ban the importation and interstate trade of the Burmese python and eight other large constrictor snakes that threaten the Everglades. And he recently instructed his staff to review how Interior can better combat exotic plants and animals.
"It sometimes takes dramatic evidence to bring public attention to something that's been a problem for some time," said Tom Strickland, Interior's assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. "We're seeing a wake-up call."
Although the impact of these invasions can take years to become clear, researchers estimate that nationwide they cause environmental losses and damages of nearly $120 billion a year. Silver and bighead carp have enormous appetites and consume vast amounts of food that native fish depend on, and Fish and Wildlife Service senior biologist Art Roybal calls pythons "all-terrain eating machines" that have been swallowing imperiled wading birds and the nearly extinct Key Largo wood rat.
Sam Hamilton, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, called exotic species "probably the single greatest threat in our country to our native wildlife." But despite the growing concern, some say the United States is just beginning to come to terms with one of its most formidable environmental foes.
"It seems to me we are in denial," said Lindsay Chadderton, aquatic invasive species director for the Nature Conservancy's Great Lakes Project and one of the researchers who found the Asian carp's genetic fingerprint in Lake Michigan. "By the time we understand the severity of the problem, it's too late. Prevention is the only cost-effective way of dealing with this."
The dispute has spurred competing economic analyses. Illinois, which uses the canal system to move wastewater from sewage, chemical and power plants as well as to ship a slew of commercial goods, argued in its recent Supreme Court brief that closing locks would "have a devastating effect" on the region's economy and hamper boat rescue operations. And the American Waterways Operators, the trade association for the nation's tugboat, towboat and barge industry, estimates that closing the Mississippi locks to Lake Michigan would cost suppliers tens of millions of dollars and perhaps thousands of jobs.
But Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who has led the legal battle to close the locks, said those numbers look modest compared with the potential collapse of the Great Lakes' $7 billion annual fishery. In his Supreme Court brief, Cox noted that the Army Corps of Engineers stated in one report, "The prevention of an interbasin transfer of bighead and silver carp from the Illinois River to Lake Michigan is paramount in avoiding ecologic and economic disaster."
Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and several senior Obama administration officials will meet with Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D), Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) on Feb. 8 in Washington to attempt to broker a resolution to the Asian carp dispute.
"Keeping the numbers low is key," said Phil Moy, a fisheries and invasive species specialist at the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. Moy said measures such as electrical barriers "buy us time, but it's not the end-all solution. We've got to move towards this ecological or hydrological separation."
For Michiganders focused on the fish encroaching on their turf, the response couldn't come soon enough.
"Everywhere I go in Michigan, everyone talks about it," said Cox, who is now crisscrossing the state in his bid for governor. "It's on the minds and lips of everyone here, more so than health care, more so than anything else going on, outside of the economy. I thought it was the issue of the week. It's become the issue of the month."
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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Florida Keys desal plant starts pumping water
KEYSNET.com - by KEVIN WADLOW
January 30, 2010
$38M facility supplements potable water
Newly filtered water from the newest addition to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority system may be flowing through your pipes right now.
The Floridan Aquifer Desalination Facility at the FKAA's main water-treatment plant in Florida City officially opened Jan. 21.
"We have been using [water from the desalination plant] as part of the testing phase, so people could have already been drinking it from their tap," spokeswoman Colleen Tagle said.
The $38 million plant has the capacity to treat 6 million gallons of brackish water per day to supplement the supply of potable water pumped to the Keys.
"Because it costs so much more to use desalinated water, the idea is not to use this as the first choice," Tagle said. "But when the demand exceeds what we are allowed to draw from the Biscayne Aquifer, it's good to know this is there."
The desalination facility was added to the FKAA's main treatment plant to tap into brackish waters of the Floridan Aquifer, located more than 1,700 feet below the surface.
For most of its history, South Florida has relied on the Biscayne Aquifer, a thin lens of fresh water 30 to 100 feet below the surface, for its drinking and irrigation water.
But an ever-growing population combined with long spells of dry weather prompted the South Florida Water Management District to limit the amount of fresh water drawn from the Biscayne Aquifer.
Water taken from the deeper Floridan Aquifer is mixed with higher amounts of saltwater, which requires desalination in addition to regular water treatment.
The FKAA now cannot draw more than 17 million gallons per day from the Biscayne Aquifer. Cities in Miami-Dade County also are capped in how much they can take from that source.
In periods of peak demand during the busy winter tourist season -- which coincides with the time of least rainfall -- the Keys' need for fresh water approaches the 17-million-gallon-per-day limit, Tagle said.
That was a primary reason the FKAA moved forward on the Floridan Aquifer Desalination Facility.
"The FKAA was the first of all the South Florida water utilities to go this way," Tagle said. "We're the poster child for developing an alternate water source."
As a pioneer in the field, the FKAA received a number of grants that helped defray costs for local consumers, she said. "Now those grants have largely dried up," she added.
The FKAA has existing desalination plants that convert seawater to drinking water on Stock Island and in Marathon. Together, those plants can produce about 3 millions daily, but costs mandate they be limited to emergency situations.
"It's a lot more expensive to use desalination on seawater than brackish water," Tagle said. "Both those [Keys] plants also run on diesel fuel, which costs more. At Florida City, we have a very favorable contract with FPL to supply power."
New wells, reaching down some 1,800 feet, will bring the water up to the plant. Reverse osmosis removes salt by forcing the water through fiber membranes.
"The technology has improved by leaps and bounds since the Stock Island and Marathon plants were built," Tagle said, "but it's great to have them in case of a hurricane."
The new desalination "came in under budget and ahead of schedule, which we love to see," Tagle said.
The FKAA was able to trim the $40 million cost estimate by using its sources to purchase construction material, and doing some engineering work.

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Lake Belt' mining OK'd
MiamiHerald.com - Curtis Morgan
January 30, 2010
Though environmentalists won a legal battle against mining near the Everglades, federal regulators approved more rock pits in West Miami-Dade's wetlands.
Environmentalists spent eight years in court arguing that federal regulators should never have approved plans to blast and dredge limestone from 5,600 acres of Northwest Miami-Dade wetlands bordering a well field supplying drinking water to more than 1 million people.
They scored a legal win last week when an appeals court in Atlanta upheld a ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler that tossed the mining permits.
There was little time to savor victory.
On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan that reinstated most of the remaining unmined tracts and cleared the way for miners to nearly double the expanse of rock pits to 10,044 acres over the next 20 years.
The industry hailed the decision, saying the Corps and other agencies had resolved concerns raised by Hoeveler and environmentalists over the original 2002 permits the Corps issued for an area dubbed ``the Lake Belt.''
``This is an important development, not only for our industry, but for creating jobs in Florida,'' said Kerri Barsh, an attorney for the Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association. ``Most important to the public is that state and federal environmental regulators have found that plans for ongoing limestone operations in the Lake Belt present no threat to the water supply, and fully comply with all environmental standards.''
QUICK TURNAROUND
The move by the Corps, which has been weighing the new applications from mining companies while Hoeveler's decision went through two appeals, disappointed environmentalists, coming just eight days after the ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
``With the ink barely dry, the Corps appears to have decided to allow more than 10,000 acres of mining -- including the exact areas that the court agreed were unlawfully permitted before,'' said Brad Sewell, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Council sued the Corps in 2002 along with the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association.
Still, it wasn't surprising. Last year, the Corps completed a new study ordered by Hoeveler that found no significant environmental or health risks from plans to dig as much as 18,500 more acres of rock pits between Everglades National Park and the Northwest wellfield, the county's largest source of drinking water.
The Corps, in a press release, said it issued its ``record of decision,'' along with one of several pending permits to the Cemex Corp., after ``extensive study and coordination with the public and other state and federal agencies.'' The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife Service both signed off on the mining decision.
WHAT IS AFFECTED
The decision covers 2,717 acres of yet-to-be mined wetlands permitted in 2002 as well as 7,327 of ``new'' wetlands divided between two areas of about 4,600 acres and 2,700 acres.
The Corps said it added conditions intended to address environmental concerns. They include a 1,500-foot no-mining strip to protect wetlands between the Everglades and development, ``seepage'' controls to keep quarries from sucking water from Everglades National Park, restoration of nearby wetlands and expanded water quality monitoring. The plans was also subject to five-year agency reviews.
The Corps found more mining ``not contrary to the public interest,'' but Sewell called the decision, which he had not yet reviewed, slanted to protect the private interests of mining corporations.

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Water supply may run low earlier than thought
Ocala.com - by Fred Hiers
January 30, 2010
Water management district officials say Marion no longer expected to have sufficient groundwater to meet the demand in 2030
Marion County's luck in having enough groundwater to not need alternative sources is expected to soon run dry.
St. Johns River Water Management District officials said during a Thursday planning meeting that most of the area, which has been designated as having enough groundwater to meet 2030 population demands, probably won't be on that list any longer when the water agency finishes its water supply report and recommendations this year.
That means counties like Marion and Alachua will have to make plans as to where they will get the water they will need some future day, other than tapping into more groundwater sources.
"To them, it's going to make a big difference," St. Johns River Water Management District project manager David Hornsby said, when discussing how utilities will have to change strategies.
For the past seven years, the water agency tagged seven counties in its district - which included Marion - as "potentially" not being able to meet 2030 water demands using groundwater without doing unacceptable harm to water resources and related environment.
The alternative designation, which is more severe, is to be in a priority water resource caution area. That means the area's proposed water sources would for certain not meet water demand needs without doing harm.
About half the water district's counties currently fall in that category.
Once a utility area has the harsher designation, the water agency determines the maximum amount of groundwater it would be allowed to siphon and the date it is expected to be reached.
Marion County's luck in having enough groundwater to not need alternative sources is expected to soon run dry.
St. Johns River Water Management District officials said during a Thursday planning meeting that most of the area, which has been designated as having enough groundwater to meet 2030 population demands, probably won't be on that list any longer when the water agency finishes its water supply report and recommendations this year.
That means counties like Marion and Alachua will have to make plans as to where they will get the water they will need some future day, other than tapping into more groundwater sources.
"To them, it's going to make a big difference," St. Johns River Water Management District project manager David Hornsby said, when discussing how utilities will have to change strategies.
For the past seven years, the water agency tagged seven counties in its district - which included Marion - as "potentially" not being able to meet 2030 water demands using groundwater without doing unacceptable harm to water resources and related environment.
The alternative designation, which is more severe, is to be in a priority water resource caution area. That means the area's proposed water sources would for certain not meet water demand needs without doing harm.
About half the water district's counties currently fall in that category.
Once a utility area has the harsher designation, the water agency determines the maximum amount of groundwater it would be allowed to siphon and the date it is expected to be reached.
From then on, the water agency decides how much water the utility is required to get from alternative sources, such as lakes, rivers, desalination or conservation.
Marion County's lesser designation meant it has been able to avoid having to start drawing up plans for the water agency as to how it might one day have to get water after groundwater was limited.
Although population projections for Florida are down since the beginning of the recession, Hornsby said water agency staffers will almost certainly this summer recommend to their board that the seven counties be bumped into the more stringent category. The final report and recommendations will be submitted in December.
About 50 people were at the meeting on Thursday in Gainesville, which was hosted by the St. Johns River Management District and the Suwannee River Water Management District.
The meeting was one of many required by Florida law in determining the state's water assessment needs, and more will be held in coming months.
The water assessments are re-established every five years.
The issue of alternative water sources has been one of contention between Florida water agencies and environmentalists.
The St. Johns River Water Management District is already studying how much water utilities can draw from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers, something environmentalists oppose.
While requiring counties to start making plans for alternative water sources will require much more planning, many utilities say they saw the shift coming.
"These things are planned for years in advance," said Gainesville Regional Utilities spokesman Dan Jesse. "(GRU) is familiar with the trends. We plan for things like this all the time."
City of Ocala Utilities is also preparing for the groundwater tap to one day limit the city's draw. City officials have already told St. Johns they are interested in the Ocklawaha River as a potential water source if the water agency allows utilities to tap into the river.
Some people attending Thursday's meeting said they were concerned the water agencies weren't doing enough to protect Florida's waters, especially springs and rivers.
Kathy Cantwell of Gainesville said water agencies were too eager to designate surface waters as alternative water supplies.
"If you're taking surface water, isn't it going to impact the groundwater?" she said during the meeting's question and answer period. "We're all connected, so I don't know why it's an alternative."
Gainesville resident Bob Palmer complained that water agency measurements for ground and surface waters don't reflect that those levels have been decreasing for decades. He said healthy levels should be determined using water levels dating back many more decades before Florida's huge development.
But Hornsby said surface water won't be the only alternative source to be considered. Instead, water reclamation will be on the forefront, Hornsby said, and utilities will be urged to do all they could to reuse what water they have.
"We're going to ride that horse as hard as we can." Hornsby said.
Contact Fred Hiers at 352-867-4157 or fred.hiers@starbanner.com.

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Wildlife safety concerns could boost costs of Everglades reservoirs
Sun-Sentinel- Andy Reid
January 30, 2010
Making the proposed reservoirs' embankments more animal-friendly could add to the cost — by $50 million for just one reservoir — of long-delayed water storage considered vital to reviving parts of the Everglades.
South Florida water managers contend the proposed changes could save taxpayers money in the long run, but the up-front costs would add yet another hurdle to Everglades restoration.
It is "insane" to let concerns about potential wildlife deaths within the reservoirs add to the costs, and potential delays, of water-storage structures intended to save dwindling animal habitat in the Everglades, said Michael Collins, a member of the South Florida Water Management District board.
"We have totally lost our focus," Collins said. "If we have got to take care of every field mouse, we are never going to get there."
Multibillion-dollar restoration plans call for a series of reservoirs and stormwater-treatment areas that could recreate southward water flows from Lake Okeechobee.
Wildlife officials say the proposed stair-step design for the interior of the more than 30-foot-tall reservoir embankments could end up stranding turtles and fledgling wading birds that wander up there.
Administrators at the South Florida Water Management District, which leads Everglades restoration, contend they could change to a smoother design without significant delays. That would add about 10 percent to the cost of each reservoir, according to the district.
For the proposed 11,000-acre C-43 reservoir, which would store water west of Lake Okeechobee, the embankment design changes would add about $50 million to the $500 million estimated construction cost.
At least two other major reservoirs are planned south and east of Lake Okeechobee.
Paying more now would prevent having to pay for costly fixes later if animal die-offs become a problem, according to district administrators who supported making the change.
Changing the design also could save the agency millions in annual costs to monitor the reservoirs' effects on wildlife, according to the district.
Those monitoring costs, required by state and federal agencies, could otherwise amount to more than $5 million a year just for the reservoir planned west of Lake Okeechobee, said district Executive Director Carol Wehle.
It would be proactive to make the change now, said district board member Shannon Estenoz.
Yet during an economic downturn with more government budget cuts coming, adding millions in construction costs would be a new, frustrating hurdle to long-stalled restoration efforts.
"We have to move forward. We got to get this stuff built," said board member Jerry Montgomery.
South Florida taxpayers already are shouldering steep costs for an unfinished reservoir in western Palm Beach County. The district in 2008 stopped work on the 16,700-acre project after taxpayers had invested $250 million in the reservoir west of U.S. 27.
District officials initially blamed an environmental lawsuit when they stopped construction.
But a few weeks later, they announced plans for a land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. that would change the face of Everglades restoration. The pending deal could move the water storage needs farther west and result in the unfinished reservoir being turned into a stormwater treatment area.
As for potential changes to the C-43 reservoir, district board member Charles Dauray warned that protecting wildlife "by any means possible" could end up in more delays that paralyze restoration.
The district this year still faces the daunting task of getting Congress to authorize moving ahead with the C-43 reservoir.
"Reason seems to have gone by the wayside," Dauray said.
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504.

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