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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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Could All the Freezing Weather Lately Have Anything to Do With Climate Change?
AlterNet - Scott Thill 
January 29, 2010
Anthropogenic warming has thrown what was once a stable climate into disarray, and may be leading as much to ruinous droughts as to record-breaking freezes.
Climate change is an issue of literal and figurative polar extremes. As the planet inexorably warms, deniers mix in assertions of global cooling with their usual Al Gore insults and political assaults like the recent so-called Climategate snafu.
So far this year, icy temperatures have frozen parts of England, the eastern United States, and even Florida, where iguanas have fallen out of the trees, lured into hibernation by low temperatures.
Meanwhile, untoward heat has gripped the West Coast of the U.S. broken up only by a recent Pacific storm event that has summarily soaked its fire-ravaged mountains. In the course of one week this January, America learned that December 2009 was wetter and colder than average, while its first decade of the new millennium was the hottest on record.
No wonder, then, that people around the globe are dizzy with confusion. Careening between these extremes, they are easily manipulated by seeming opposites, environmental, political and otherwise. All of this, in the end, is complicated by the lack of consensus from gun-shy scientists, who are lately more busy fending off (or feeding off of, depending on the scientist) ludicrous sideshows like Climategate than they are confidently extrapolating the destabilizing scenarios to come, a move that might give all their number-crunching some real-world meaning.
Like, for example, the possibility of a shutdown in thermohaline circulation, the oceanic conveyor belt that circulates warm weather and water poleward, which could plunge some landmasses of the North Atlantic into a scenario reminiscent of the Little Ice Age. That's a period of cooling that, you guessed it, occurred after extensive warming called the Medieval Warm Period. Talk about your vertigo of information.
"One of the things is that there are gaps in what we scientists understand, because of gaps in technology," Sharon LeDuc, chief of staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climatic Data Center, explained by phone to AlterNet. "A lot of looking forward depends on the modeling and simulations we do, and they don't always agree.
"What they do agree upon is, predictably enough, extremes. Extremes that are further empowered by what little consensus their modeling can cobble together. There are certain things they agree on, such as the hydrological cycle," LeDuc added. "There will be drying in the subtropical regions but precipitation in higher latitudes. The smaller scales are where the uncertainty lies. The resolution of these models is very coarse."
Unfortunately for the rest of us, we live, work and die in those smaller scales LeDuc spoke of. And we need to be able to connect dots from the macro-environmental changes taking place to the micro-environmental situation in our own cities.
Sure, the planet was the hottest it's ever been on record in the '00s, but what does that have to do with frozen iguanas falling into Floridian truck beds? So far, it's getting mostly noise from scientists, some of whom explain that the dots can't be connected.
The overall warming of the globe and the volatile temperature fluctuations you're experiencing? No comment.
"Be very careful here," Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and contributor to the blog RealClimate, told AlterNet. "There is some evidence for more intense precipitation occurring with climate change, but claiming that volatile temperature fluctuations are related is not supported at all. There is no evidence whatsoever that the cold temperatures at the beginning of the year were related to climate change."

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Crist calls for $3 billion budget boost
Florida Capital Bureau Chief, Jim Ash
January 29, 2010
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Charlie Crist this morning unveiled an election-year budget recommendation that, if agreed to by the Legislature, would see spending grow by nearly $3 billion.
Crist called for $69.2 billion in spending for 2010-11, up from the current $66.5 billion, a plan that includes increases in per-student funding by $179, and a $100 million increase for state universities without tuition increases.
Crist would also restart the Florida Forever environmental land buying program, using a few million to back up to $50 million in bonds, and another $50 million for Everglades restoration, including improvements to Lake Okeechobee that would improve the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie Rivers.
The plan also includes $32.6 million for Space Florida, the public-private development arm, to respond to the retirement of the space shuttle later this year that could cost 7,000 jobs.
Crist acknowledged that a sizeable portion of the increases are based on wishful thinking, that Congress will approve $1.01 billion in increased subsidies for Medicaid and that the Legislature will approve a $430 million compact with the Seminole Tribe that House Republicans have flatly rejected.
“I am pretty confident that even members of the Florida House are interested in moving forward in that area,” Crist said of the Seminole gaming compact.
The plan does not include new taxes and fees, but sweeps the $700 million Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund by another $230 million. The plan is also propped up with $4 billion in federal stimulus dollars that will begin running out the following fiscal year, when Crist will no longer be governor.
Crist said the next governor and next Legisalture won't have to worry. By then, he said, the economic recovery will be in full swing. He pointed to new tax revenues of $2 billion this year, reversing a trend of falling revenues.
“For the first time since I’ve been governor, we have more money coming in than we have less,” he said.

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OMB Cuts Army Corps Funding by 12% in Draft 2011 Budget
New York Times by Taryn Luntz
‎January 28, 2010‎
The Army Corps of Engineers would face a 12 percent funding cut next year under a draft budget request from the Obama administration.
According to the Office of Management and Budget "passback," shared with top Army Corps officials in early December and recently obtained by E&E, the White House will propose $4.81 billion for the agency in the fiscal 2011 budget.
That is $630 million less than the Army Corps received in this year's appropriations bill and $310 million less than the Obama administration requested for the agency last year.
"If that's what's in the budget proposal next Monday, we view it as a significant decrease in investment in water resources overall," said Marco Giamberardino of the Associated General Contractors of America. "To say that this is a disappointment is almost an understatement."
While the proposal may have undergone changes in recent weeks, it reveals areas of priority for the administration and signals a pullback in sponsoring new water resource projects.
The corps' investigations budget, which funds project studies, would garner $90 million in the request, down from $160 million in this year's spending bill. The White House would set aside $15 million of the line item for the Louisiana coastal area.
The construction budget also would be slashed in the proposal, winning $1.6 billion in the White House request compared with $2 billion from Congress this year.
The administration would fully fund all dam safety and Endangered Species Act projects and would allow any existing construction project to move forward if it meets a cost-benefit threshold of 1.0 and will be completed in 2011.
The White House proposes at least $154 million for Columbia River restoration projects, at least $45 million for the CALFED Bay-Delta program and $175 million for the Florida Everglades. The Everglades' Modified Water Deliveries Project would be funded separately in the National Park Service budget.
The administration would zero out the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project account, which funds flood damage reduction projects in the Mississippi River Valley. Money for the projects would be spread among the other accounts.
The move is "a big surprise," Giamberardino said.
"I can't imagine them doing that after what the Gulf Coast has been through the past couple of years," he said. "Even if the dollars were exactly the same, I think it would be viewed pretty negatively by that region. I think it's going to be viewed as looking away from the needs down there."
One area that would win additional funding in the proposal: operations and maintenance. The White House proposes $2.5 billion for the account, including $15 million to conduct an inventory of federal levees.
Ohio, Upper Mississippi and Illinois waterways would garner $285 million, climate change initiatives $15 million and the Coastal Data Information Program $3 million.
Other proposed numbers include:
$185 million for general expenses.
$41 million for flood control and coastal emergencies.
$130 million for the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program.
For more news on energy and the environment, visit www.greenwire.com.

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Canal work begins in Everglades project
Miami Herald by Curtis Morgan
January 27, 2010
Water managers and environmentalists Tuesday celebrated breaking ground on a $30 million overhaul of a canal cut across the southern Everglades in the 1960s -- the third Everglades restoration project to begin this year.
The C-111 canal, which helps drain South Miami-Dade farm fields, also has diverted fresh water from Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, raising salt levels to unhealthy levels for coastal marshes, sea grass and fish.
The initial work will allow water levels to be slowly raised -- by one-tenth of a foot a year for five years -- to gauge the impact on the Glades, the bay and also land to the north, where some farmers have flooding concerns.
-- CURTIS MORGAN

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Experts say we’re running out of water. Is “toilet to tap” the answer?
The Daily Loaf by Mitch Perry
January 26, 2010
Tampa consumers use an enormous amount of water — between 70 to 75 million gallons a day, 25 percent of which is currently used for lawn irrigation.
And with population growth in Florida predicted to rebound in coming decades, there’s no question that we will need more. We’ll either have to find a way to increase our supply, change the way we currently use it, or both.
One of the most promising strategies for meeting this challenge is called indirect potable reuse (IPR), a technique that has been successful in California, Virginia, Texas, Israel and parts of Africa. Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda is hopeful that it can be adopted, or at least considered, here.
The trouble is, IPR has an image problem, one that’s inextricably related to its descriptive, if derisive (and only partially accurate) nickname: “Toilet to Tap.”
Councilman Miranda (below right) was a vocal supporter of the Tampa lawn-sprinkling ban during last spring’s stifling drought, accusing fellow Council members of waffling on the issue when they called to reverse the ban. “I don’t know why we flip-flop. We should be at McDonalds, flipping and flopping hamburgers. What we have here today is a serious situation that’s not getting any better.” He’s passionate about adjusting water consumption in the area, and wants voters to be given the chance to vote on a proposal in March of 2011 that would call for construction of a treatment plant that would transfer sewage water into potable water.
But he knows that getting people to feel positive about such a system will be a challenge. Especially with headlines like one that ran last year in a local paper: “Taking the Plunge With Toilet Water.” But, he says, “I feel very confident with the technology improving every day, there is no doubt in my mind that this is only way [to go].”
He’s facing some serious doubters — like Phil Compton, one of the area’s most respected environmentalists (Sierra Club, Friends of the River). Emphasizing that he speaks for himself and not the groups he represents, Compton asks, “What are the effects on human beings after they consume such water? How much do we know about that? I can’t tell you it’s safe, and I’d like to see Charlie Miranda show me that data otherwise.”
University of South Florida Integrative Biology Professor Thomas Crisman says that there are essentially three ways to get water throughout the world: 1) capturing storm water runoff; 2) using seawater (as with the desalination plant in Hillsborough County, which has been severely hampered since its inception); or 3) reuse, or IPR.
Crisman’s department, in addition to the USF College of Public Health and other sponsors, will be hosting two public information workshops on IPR at USF’s College of Public Health auditorium, with the first event taking place on Thursday, January 28, entitled, “The Impending Water Crises of Tampa Bay: Waste, Reuse & Environmental Protection.”
“We are running out of water. Period,” Crisman says flatly. “In the world in general, and Tampa in particular.”
So how does IPR work?
Currently, the city of Tampa is dumping 55 million gallons of treated sewage water into Hillsborough Bay. The goal would be to take that water (which now goes to the Howard Curren treatment plant) and put it through two more processes. The plant would send the sewage water through reverse osmosis and ultraviolet processing. Then the water would go into the Hillsborough River, where it would ultimately flow to the David Tippen treatment plant. There the water would be treated again before being sent directly to citizens’ homes.
Currently, about 2 million gallons of that treated wastewater is being used by residents for irrigation purposes, as part of the city’s STAR Project. But distribution of that resource is limited to residents in the South Tampa region, where currently about 4,000 residents use the service. Though there has been talk about expanding the program, the costs seem prohibitive.
But the city must find a way to do something with the 55 million gallons of highly treated water currently being dumped into the bay. It’s not clear how much nitrogen the water contains, and there are concerns that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and/or the EPA could someday rule that the city can no longer continue to dump that much water.
That’s why Charlie Miranda wants to use the IPR system to take the 55 million gallons and treat it for ultimate potable consumption. But he wants Tampa citizens to have the opportunity over the course of the next year to vet the situation fully.
Some city officials think it’s a reasonable position to take. Ralph Metcalfe is the director of the city’s wastewater department. He’s observed the Upper Occoquan service authority in Northern Virginia. There the plant’s wastewater is treated and mixed with the city’s drinking water supply and then discharged into the historic creek called Bull Run.
“They’ve been doing it for a number of years. It looked like a Coors beer commercial,” Metcalfe says, reflecting on the purity of the water running down the creek. “It worked there. The thing is, I know it can work [here].”
But at what cost? According to Councilman Miranda, it would take $200 million to renovate the Howard Curren treatment plant. That sounds expensive, except in comparison to how much it might cost to try to expand the STAR program citywide.
But then there’s the image problem. People have concerns about drinking such water, concerns generally referred to as “the yuk factor.” The fears may be unfounded, but the prejudice is powerful.
Some Council members think the issue could get so politicized that it might be best for them to decide among themselves whether to go ahead with the project.
John Dingfelder says he recognizes that IPR is being used in other parts of the U.S. and around the world, but says “most of those places are generally very desperate for water.” He also voices “suspicions” about the health effects of dumping reclaimed water into the drinking water system, citing a recent report in the Tampa Tribune that found low levels of antibiotics and chemicals in the city’s drinking water supply right now.
Linda Saul-Sena is concerned about whether the city can pull enough information together by the time the election rolls around next year, but says, “I’m open-minded. We need to collect further information at this point.”
That’s why Saul-Sena is encouraged by the two public meetings that USF Professor Crisman and his colleagues will hold over the next month on the subject. Crisman says the ground rules will be that there are “no political questions or comments.”
The politics will come afterwards. The Tampa City Council is scheduled on February 25 to discuss the matter. Last September, Mayor Pam Iorio issued a memo in which she said it was possible to treat reclaimed water for potable purposes, but she stressed that the public should hear a full discussion about the issue before going to the ballot box.
Councilman Charlie Miranda said that’s what he’s willing to do over the next year, but a referendum campaign will need cash if it’s going to convince the public that IPR is a safe proposition. In an interview with CL late last year, Miranda admitted that it’ll take money to get the message out, but he hopes to be able to recruit public speakers to sell the idea (presumably at little to no cost). He says he hopes to “create 250 Charlies out in the street,” spreading the message of IPR.
It won’t be easy. Though Orange County, CA, uses such a system, it’s sandwiched between two major cities, Los Angeles and San Diego, that have both rejected IPR so far, even though California continues to suffer from serious droughts. A spokesperson for the Orange County Water District tells CL that an extensive public education campaign, as well as buy-in from local environmentalists, has made their system relatively non-controversial. However, politicians never took the issue to the public.
Miranda says he could try to get four Council members to pass a proposed bill this year, but believes it’s such an important issue that the public should have their say. He warns, “Sooner or later, if we don’t do something about this, that water faucet is going to stop to a drip.”

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Groundbreaking marks start of restoration work for Florida Bay, Everglades
TCPalm.com by South Florida Water Management District
January 26, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and its federal and state partners today broke ground on a project that represents a significant step forward for restoration of Florida Bay and America's Everglades. The C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project will help restore freshwater flows to Florida Bay, preserve clean water for Everglades National Park and maintain flood control for eastern communities.
"This groundbreaking is a gratifying moment for the many people who have worked so hard to bring this Everglades restoration project to fruition. The C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project is a major achievement that will significantly benefit Florida Bay's ecology and all who depend on its health," said SFWMD Governing Board member Michael Collins. "Starting construction on this project is real progress that moves us closer to fulfilling restoration goals vital to South Florida's ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions of residents."
The C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, located west of Florida City in Miami-Dade County, is a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) approved by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. In 2004, the project became a part of the State's expedited construction plan, supported by a total $44 million investment to improve water quality and achieve restoration goals in South Florida — $30 million in construction and $14 million in land acquisition.
"The District's commitment to Everglades restoration is evident with each shovel that turns dirt on a project of this magnitude," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann. "And this groundbreaking represents our determination to reach many more restoration milestones."
A central goal of the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project is to help achieve healthy salinity levels in Florida Bay by restoring the quantity, timing and distribution of freshwater flows via Taylor Slough to the bay ecosystem. Florida Bay is an integral component of the Everglades ecosystem and is a valuable economic resource for the region. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study found that Florida Bay contributed approximately $1.7 billion in the form of "destination spending" in 2003 alone.
"As significant as achieving healthy salinity levels in Florida Bay, the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project will help prevent clean water from seeping out of Everglades National Park through South Florida's porous underground rock layers," said Kenneth Ammon, P.E., SFWMD Deputy Executive Director of Everglades Restoration and Capital Projects. "Reducing seepage out of the park preserves clean water for Taylor Slough and Florida Bay and reduces the cost of treating and moving additional water into the park from other sources."
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is a framework for restoring, protecting and preserving the water resources of central and southern Florida. CERP is a 50-50 partnership between the State of Florida and the federal government. The State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District have invested approximately $2.4 billion toward this effort, including approximately $300 million in construction. Through September 30, 2009, 60 percent — or approximately 232,767 acres — of the estimated lands needed to implement CERP have been acquired.
The C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project builds on momentum from another recent groundbreaking. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broke ground last month on a complementary project to improve water flow under the Tamiami Trail into Everglades National Park.
For more information, visit http://www.sfwmd.gov/everglades. Also see, Just the Facts: http://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/jtf_c111_western_project.pdf"
C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project.
Praise for the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project
STATEMENT FROM FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION SECRETARY MICHAEL W. SOLE
"We are elated to see this vital Everglades restoration project move forward. Re-establishing clean, freshwater flows is essential to restore America's Everglades and revitalize Florida Bay. The bay is a significant environmental and economic resource for South Florida, and the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project represents a wise investment in the bay's future health."
STATEMENT FROM COMMANDER OF THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, JACKSONVILLE DISTRICT, COL. AL PANTANO
"HOOAH! to our partner, the SFWMD, and to all who care so much about the ecosystem. Breaking ground on the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project is a huge and important step in Everglades restoration. The SFWMD's tremendous initiative, persistence and resilience were critical to getting us to this groundbreaking today. The C-111 project is huge in terms of regaining the essential naturally distributed flow of fresh water to Taylor Slough and into Florida Bay. Because it is the third Everglades project groundbreaking in two months, we maintain momentum in this new era in Everglades restoration. The importance of momentum can't be overemphasized. It is essential to making more of these extraordinary restoration projects a reality. These are phenomenal times!"
STATEMENT FROM EVERGLADES TRUST CHAIRMAN THOM RUMBERGER
"The C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project ensures that the splendor of Florida Bay will be safe for generations to come. It is a testament to the amazing value of Everglades restoration that so many organizations have worked together with the South Florida Water Management District to make this project a reality."
STATEMENT FROM EVERGLADES AND DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARKS SUPERINTENDENT DAN KIMBALL
"This project represents another significant step forward in the restoration of Everglades National Park — specifically restoring the health of Flamingo Bay — and we reached this achievement because of the leadership of the South Florida Water Management District and then working together with all of our governmental partners as well as the local agricultural community and non-governmental organizations."
STATEMENT FROM EVERGLADES FOUNDATION CEO KIRK FORDHAM
"A countless number of people would reap the benefits of a healthy Florida Bay. The restoration project will sustain and create jobs while enhancing the recreational opportunities that so many people who live here and who visit Florida enjoy, especially lifestyles centered around fishing and boating."
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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Affects of cold weather lingering
Tampa Bay Newspapers by SUZETTE PORTER
January 25, 2010
Dead fish are still washing up on the banks of Pinellas County water bodies, and officials are scrambling to assess the damage done to the state’s marine life during the early January cold snap.
Thousands of sea turtles found suffering from cold stun were rescued and an untold number died. At least two manatees died in Florida waters due to the effects of cold water temperatures.
Officials in south Florida also are reporting severe coral bleaching and coral death due to the sustained cold water temperatures.
"The Keys have not seen a cold-water bleaching event like this since the winter of 1977-78, when acres of staghorn coral perished," Dr. Billy Causey, southeast regional director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said in a press release.
Causey has lived and worked in the Keys since 1971.
Kelli Hammer Levy, Pinellas County Environmental Management Watershed Division director, said reports have been coming in about dead fish in local waters. She said the effects of the prolonged period of cold weather have caused greater numbers of salt and freshwater fish to be impacted.
Residents are encouraged to report fish kills resulting from the recent cold weather to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Kill Hotline at 1-800-636-0511.
In response to the many inquiries, Pinellas County Solid Waste Operations is waiving all charges for the proper disposal of dead fish to alleviate the financial impact on municipalities, collectors and others who are picking up the dead fish.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued an executive order, effective until Feb. 1, which temporarily removes specific harvest regulations for all dead saltwater fish of any species that have died because of prolonged exposure to cold weather in Florida waters. 
The executive order also modifies general methods of taking dead saltwater fish from Florida's shoreline and from the water to allow the collection of saltwater fish by hand, cast net, dip net or seine.
Residents now are allowed to pick up dead fish that died from the cold and dispose of them. The fish may not be consumed or sold. This allows residents, municipalities and others to pick up the dead fish from yards, shorelines and waterways.
Those who collect the dead fish and transport for disposal are not required to possess a saltwater fishing license.
One of the executive orders temporarily extends closed fishing seasons for snook statewide until September.  It also establishes temporary statewide closed seasons for bonefish and tarpon until April because of the prolonged natural cold weather event that caused significant, widespread mortality of saltwater fish in Florida. 
Snook season currently is closed in Florida under regular FWC rules, and there are regular closed snook seasons that occur in the summer.  However, the FWC executive order extends the statewide snook closed seasons continuously through Aug. 31 and provides that no person may harvest or possess snook in state and federal waters off Florida during this period unless the fishery is opened sooner or the closure is extended by subsequent order.
The order also establishes a temporary prohibition on the harvest and possession of bonefish and tarpon from state and federal waters off Florida through March 31, unless these fisheries are opened sooner or the closures are extended by subsequent order.
For more information, visit MyFWC.com.

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Everglades's restoration project…estimated to take until 2017….”
Naples Daily News (blog) by Dennis Vasey
January 24, 2010
The Everglades is an endless plain of Jamaica swamp sawgrass in shallow, slowly moving water that extends to the horizon. It is almost feature less. Here and there is a hummock (a tree island); here and there a mound of earth in the marsh that represents an alligator's den-digging work.
There are many native species that call the everglades home that also includes crocodiles, panthers, turtles, and over 300 bird species notably, the Everglades kite, short-tailed hawk, bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon, wood ibis, roseate spoonbill, mangrove cuckoo and Cape-Sable sparrow. The Everglades are also rich in plant life, such as the lilypad, water shield, sawgrass, bald cypress, and palmetto. In the freshwater rivers that run through the saw grass prairies there are many types of fish such as the largemouth bass and bluegill.
No ground water flows into the Everglades from subterranean springs or seepage slopes as in north Florida. The Floridan aquifer, which is relatively close to the surface in central and north Florida, is a thousand feet below the surface in south Florida. Immediately beneath the Everglades is a sand-and-gravel aquifer that fills only with rain and empties by evapotranspiration (and pumping). All of the Everglades' water is from rain, some falling directly and some flowing overland from hundreds of miles to the north.
The Everglades keys first emerged above sea level between 100,000 and 15,000 years ago. The ocean withdrew off the land of south Florida, first exposing the highest limestone islands, then exposing the slightly lower limestone ridges that connected them and finally draining off altogether, leaving the grooves between the ridges filled with fresh rain water. Flowing rain water has moved through the Everglades ever since, eroding the grooves ever deeper. The marshy waterways are the youngest parts of today's Everglades that began to develop only some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago or less. Most of the plants and animals that came to colonize the marsh, however, have been around for thousands of years.
It will be wonderful to experience seasons in the Everglades, i.e., no spring, summer, fall, or winter just wet and dry. The marsh will be green in the rainy season, brown in the dry. Depths and seasons of inundation will define the habitats and determine the life cycles of all living things in the marsh where the rains begin in May, sometimes late May. They may go on all summer, or they may hold off at times, but storms set in, in earnest, in late July through September. Sometimes a single storm will drop 10 to 12 inches on part of the marsh in an hour and thunder rocks the earth and lightning splits the sky. All the silence becomes rattling, booming noise. All the emptiness is filled with blasts…of light. The whole wide horizon is a sound and light show, and the windows of Heaven open when the Everglades rise up a foot and the desert turns back into a river.
2017 isn’t that far off and then I expect a low-tech, energy-efficient, yet highly effective method for cleaning and holding surface water while providing the benefit of excellent wildlife habitat with little or no impact on Big Cypress Basin which is an isolated basin that receives no, or insignificant, benefit from the Everglades Area, Okeechobee Basin or Everglades restoration project.
Duke

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Florida’s water showdown with EPA heads to Orlando
Orlando Sentinel by Kevin Spear
January 25,2010
The perilous road to the state’s water future swerves through Central Florida this week when separate groups look to unify the region to share water, clean up iconic Wekiwa Springs and draft a far-reaching water bill for this year’s Legislature.
As if that’s not challenging enough already, the deliberations will take place under a newly formed cloud — or rainbow, depending on your perspective — arising from a federal-government move to impose stringent pollution limits on Florida facilities such as sewage plants, dairy-cow operations and industrial plants.
“It will have a huge impact if it’s implemented,” said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Tallahassee, of the federal initiative. “The big question is if it is all for show.”
The recent intervention by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, brewing for a decade, has been cheered by environmental groups, vilified by business interests and given mixed reviews by state authorities.
“Their [EPA] numbers, I agree, are protective, but I do question whether they go farther than they need to,” said Mike Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
At stake is the health of Florida’s rivers and lakes — many of them sick with rampant algae growth — versus the likelihood that compliance with federal pollution controls would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. EPA officials in Washington are preparing a trio of hearings in Florida, with one in Orlando on Feb. 17, to hear public comment en route to adopting the proposed rule later this year.
“EPA is proposing these standards based on the best science to protect people’s health and preserve Florida’s water bodies used for drinking, swimming, fishing and tourism,” said Peter Silva, assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Water in Washington.

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Governor Crist Recommends $2.1-Billion Environment Budget, Revives Florida Forever
WCTV.tv
January 25, 2010
Governor's Press Office Press Release:
ROOKERY BAY NATIONAL ESTUARINE RESEARCH RESERVE – Governor Charlie Crist announced his $2.1-billion 2010-11 budget recommendations to safeguard Florida’s natural resources. Highlighting projects that will secure Florida’s economic future, the Governor proposed investments in the Florida Forever land conservation program, renewable energy, water supply, Everglades restoration, and state park improvements.
“Florida’s present and future economy depends on the stewardship of our natural resources and our continued efforts to set aside land for water resource protection, recreation and the enjoyment of Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State,” Governor Crist said. “As we continue restoring America’s Everglades and investing in renewable energy, Floridians will gain a cleaner and safer environment that will endure for generations to come.”
Governor Crist unveiled his environmental budget priorities while visiting the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Collier County. Along with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael W. Sole, Governor Crist announced the following items:
· Florida Forever – Since 1963, Florida has committed more than $7.5 billion to preserve and conserve roughly 3.8 million acres of land. However, the program was temporarily halted last year due to economic challenges. This year, Governor Crist revives Florida Forever by recommending $50 million to continue the preservation of Florida’s unique natural resources and wildlife.
· Green Energy Technologies – To ensure continued progress toward advancing Florida’s energy future and growing Florida’s low-carbon economy, Governor Crist proposed $10 million for solar energy rebates. Additionally, almost all of $176 million in federal funding received in Fiscal Year 2009-10 will be expended this year in the following ways:
o $126 million for the State Energy Program providing opportunities for state agencies, local governments and businesses to deploy renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies, resulting in economic development and job growth in Florida’s clean technology sector. Projects will include:
§ Solar for Schools and Shelters, $10 million
§ Solar Energy (Water Heating) Loans, $10 million
§ Solar Energy Rebate Program, $14.4 million
§ E-85/B20 Public Fueling - Conversion Revolving Loans, $5 million
§ Compressed Natural Gas Fleet Fueling Facilities - Matching Grants, $4 million
§ Florida Residential Retrofit Program, $15 million
§ Shovel Ready Energy Project Grants, $ 19.5 million
§ Florida Clean Energy Grants, $10 million
§ Florida Energy Opportunity Fund, $36 million
o $30.4 million for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant to assist local governments, state agencies and citizens with programs to reduce fossil fuel emissions, total energy use, and improve energy efficiency in transportation, building and other sectors. Projects will include:
§ Competitive Grants to Local Governments, $18.6 million
§ Sunshine State Buildings Initiative, $8.4 million
§ Energy Conservation Initiatives and Program Administration, $3.2 million
o $17.5 million for the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate program to provide consumer rebates for qualifying new ENERGY STAR appliances.
o $1.8 million for the Energy Assurance Grant Program to develop new energy emergency response plans and revise existing ones to address Smart Grid applications and vulnerabilities, critical infrastructure, cyber security and energy supply systems.
· Everglades Restoration – Continuing his focus on protecting the health of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries, Governor Crist proposed $50 million to ensure that Everglades projects will continue to restore a more natural water flow for this unique ecosystem and improve water quality for all of South Florida. Lake Okeechobee is the upstream water source for the Everglades and provides the water supply for nearby towns, agricultural operations and downstream ecosystems. The lake supports a multi-million dollar recreational and commercial fishery, as well as flood control for surrounding communities. During the past three years, Governor Crist has signed budgets designating $300 million toward Everglades restoration.
· Sustainable Water Resources – To ensure adequate quantities of water to support Florida’s population growth and environmental health, Governor Crist proposed $20 million in matching funds for wastewater and drinking water revolving-loan programs and alternative water supply projects, as well as $6 million for water quality programs vital to the preservation of Florida’s springs, rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
· Underground Petroleum Tank Cleanup and State Park Repairs – To ensure the health and safety of Floridians and visitors, Governor Crist proposed $144 million to clean up underground petroleum tanks and $29.2 million to remediate and restore other previously contaminated sites. The Governor also proposed $11.2 million for repairs and renovations to existing state park facilities.
· Protection of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife – Florida’s vibrant boating, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing industries economically benefit the state while providing important recreational opportunities for Floridians and visitors. To ensure continued protection of wildlife species, their habitats and economically important recreational activities, Governor Crist proposed $283.4 million to support the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
· Agriculture – More than 270 different crops are grown in Florida, making the Sunshine State’s agricultural industry the eleventh largest in the nation. Governor Crist proposed $319.5 million to support the programs and functions of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, under the leadership of Commissioner Charles Bronson, to ensure continued production and promotion of Florida’s vibrant agricultural and aquacultural industries; the wholesomeness and safety of consumer products; protection from deceptive business practices; and the conservation and protection of Florida’s agriculture.
About the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Governor Crist announced his 2010-11 environmental budget recommendations during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the pedestrian bridge that stretches from the reserve’s Environmental Learning Center across Henderson Creek to the planned trail system that offers visitors the opportunity to view native habitats and wildlife. Completed in November 2009, the bridge project was developed through the application of approximately $444,000 of state funds during Fiscal Year 2005-06, along with a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and private donations. The reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Water regulators to discuss sinkholes, dry wells from farm pumping
Tampabay.com - Craig Pittman
January 25, 2010
BROOKSVILLE — State water officials are set to discuss the sinkholes Tuesday that resulted from this month's freeze, though it's unclear they'll actually decide anything.
During the freeze, farmers sprayed millions of gallons of water on their crops to keep them from being damaged by the cold, and as a result the water level in the underground aquifer dipped lower than it had in decades.
Geologists say the dip caused some two dozen sinkholes to open up around Plant City, swallowing a mobile home, closing roads and shuttering an elementary school.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, fielded calls from about 600 people reporting malfunctioning or dried up wells as a result of the heavy pumping from the aquifer.
The meeting of the board begins at 9 a.m. in the agency's Brooksville headquarters. Follow this link to download the meeting agenda (PDF).
CORRECTION: Swiftmud officials will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010. Earlier versions of this story posted online gave an incorrect date.

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Water issues deep as a sinkhole
Tampa Tribune by Neil Johnson, Keith Morelli –
January 24, 2010‎
PLANT CITY - If nature sends another string of freezing nights our way this winter, pumps in strawberry fields will again spew millions of gallons of water over the crops, and residents of east Hillsborough County would see the same results.
Household wells would go dry. Sinkholes would pock the landscape and buckle roads.
The situation is not going to change anytime soon.
Even with hundreds of pumps churning nearly a dozen nights this month, it is unlikely that any farmers exceeded limits set in permits issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The district, known as Swiftmud, bases the amount of water farmers can use during a freeze on recommendations from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida that say each acre of berries needs 6,800 gallons an hour to coat crops in a protective layer of ice.
"They're allowed to do that under their permits," said Robyn Felix, a spokeswoman for the district.
That means a 20-acre farm can use 3.2 million gallons - the equivalent of five Olympic-size swimming pools - in 24 hours, or 136,000 gallons an hour. The average household in the Tampa Bay area uses about 8,000 gallons a month.
Growers farm 7,000 to 8,000 acres of strawberry fields in a 110-square-mile area surrounding Plant City.
At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the water management district's governing board will meet at its headquarters in Brooksville to hear a staff report on the pumping. It will also consider a recommendation to hold public workshops in Hillsborough County to explore ways to avoid a repeat of what happened this year.
It's a process that is not built for speed. Changes to water-use permit restrictions take months if not years - if changes are challenged in court - to be fully implemented, Felix said.
How long?
"It's difficult to answer that question," Felix said. "There will be a lengthy discussion on Tuesday, and certainly we want to step back and evaluate everything that has happened and look at new strategies. The goal is to have any changes in place before next winter."
If changes to water-use permits are made, she said, that would affect existing permits.
"We will be working closely with strawberry growers, the Plant City and Dover communities, neighbors and local governments," Felix said. "We want to include everybody. But we want to make science-based decisions."
That may not sit well with residents who have dry wells or live on the edge of a sinkhole.
"It's chaos in Plant City right now," said Terry Rabon, a 23-year city resident who was incensed about the dry wells and sinkholes this month.
Three eastbound lanes of Interstate 4 were closed by a 24-foot-wide depression for four days. The state Department of Transportation spent $300,000 to repair it.
In addition to the interstate disruption, several roads were completely shut down because of depressions or sinkholes, and Trapnell Elementary School was forced to close when a suspected sinkhole was discovered near the administration building.
Residents near the strawberry fields filed more than 625 complaints with the water management district about dry wells.
And the bill to taxpayers keeps rising. On Thursday, the county commission agreed to add $2 million to a contract for stabilizing sinkholes, bringing the county fund to repair sinkholes to $2.6 million.
During a freeze, farmers in the Plant City and Dover areas tap groundwater in amounts greater than that consumed by 2 million people in the Bay area. That pumping has resulted in reports of 45 sinkholes in the Plant City and Dover areas.
During the first two weeks of the month, the aquifer in some places dropped the height of a six-story building. Freezes in previous years caused the water table to fall 20 to 30 feet, compared with 40 to 60 feet this year.
Despite the pumping, farmers may have lost as much as 30 percent of their crops to the cold. There is no insurance against crop loss, agricultural experts said.
The pumping permits give growers 72 hours to get water to residents whose wells go dry and 15 days to fix the well or reimburse the homeowner if repairs have already been made. Residents who buy bottled water are repaid by the farmers.
Growers say dousing their crops with groundwater is the cheapest, most effective way to protect the berries.
There is no talk about reducing the amount of water farmers can use in a freeze.
"We all will look at long-term solutions," said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, which says it has more than 100 growers as members. "At this point we don't think that's an imminent threat. There are ways to make everybody viable and coexisting, and to reduce future impact situations. It will certainly be under heavy discussion."
He said farmers are aware of the effect their water use has on the community - the same community that has supported them through the years.
"We certainly want to be empathetic to people in need," Campbell said.
One farm in the community, according to its water-use permit, is responsible for 50 neighboring wells.
"We understand people have a problem," Campbell said. "We want to do what's right."
Reducing the flow of water that farmers are allowed to use would translate into lost crops during freezes, he said.
"Cutting water off," he said, "is not the solution."
Plant City Commissioner Mike Sparkman, a fifth-generation resident, sees both sides of the water argument. He recognizes the importance strawberry farming has on the community, culturally and economically, yet is disturbed by the sinkholes that have formed and wells that have run dry.
The city, he said, is "extremely lucky" over the past few weeks that the sinkholes didn't cause any substantial structural damage or injuries. This is not a time to panic and restrict development or prohibit farmers from watering, Sparkman said.
Alternatives to watering might be pushed to the front burner, he said. Using groundwater to protect berries has been widely done only within the past 20 years. Before that, growers used pine needles to cover tender berry plants during freezes, Sparkman said. "But that's not as effective as watering."
There are problems around the berry fields nearly every year when a freeze hits. Last winter, Swiftmud received 150 complaints about failed wells, but never has the problem reached such a crescendo.
The relationship between the Plant City community and growers "has always been strong," but now it's strained, though not irrevocably broken, Sparkman said.
"Abuses are cropping up," Campbell said. "Fields are being vandalized, and farmers are being challenged at gas stations. There is a hostile sentiment out there. It's isolated - amateur stuff like broken pumps and cracked sprinkler heads. It's reflective of the intelligence of the people who do that."
Over the past quarter-century, the complexion of the town has changed from being a devotee of agriculture to a bedroom community of Tampa, said Sparkman, who also is president of the Florida Strawberry Festival this year. The festival, which draws some 600,000 people, is the focal point of the community.
Sprawling subdivisions are filled mostly with people who aren't tied to the strawberry fields. They live in communities such as Walden Lake, Country Hills and Magnolia Green, and drive past lush green berry farms on their way to work in Tampa, Lakeland, Sarasota or Orlando.
Those developments also draw water.
"I can't blame it all on the farmers," said Bill Hunter, who has lived in his home on Mindedahl Road for 23 years.
Hunter was without water for about a week, as were most of the residents on his street. He pointed to the nearby Trapnell Ridge subdivision with new houses and paved roads. "A lot of the blame is on the new development," he said.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, whose district includes most of the strawberry fields of the eastern reaches of the county, said no one's to blame.
"I'm going to say the result of this is an anomaly in the weather," Higginbotham said - not the farmers; not development.
Higginbotham said he plans to attend the water management district meeting Tuesday.
"Every aspect of this needs to be looked at from this day forward," he said. "I don't think this is the time to make any decisions."
Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at (813) 259-7731.
Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.

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Work about to begin on $53M Everglades restoration project
Naples Daily News
January 24, 2010
Schoolchildren tossed shovelfuls of dirt to mark the ceremonial groundbreaking for an Everglades restoration project at Picayune Strand State Forest.
Now the real work is set to get underway in about 30 days, project managers said Friday.
The $53 million job will bring scores of workers and heavy equipment — and big changes — to what is now a quiet corner of rural Collier County.
Jacksonville-based Harry Pepper & Associates is building a pump station and levee along the Merritt Canal, tearing out roads and plugging the canal.
Job No. 1, though, will be building a temporary construction access to the state forest from Interstate 75.
As road removal work progresses, it will mean closing a popular campground and restricting access to a huge swath of the state forest.
 “It is a construction project and we’ll certainly try to minimize any disruption,” said Chip McCutcheon, senior project manager for Harry Pepper. “But at the end of the project, the community will have a much better project out there that will be worth the inconvenience.”
The Merritt Canal pump station is the first of three planned south of I-75 to capture water flowing down Merritt, Faka Union and Miller canals and spread it across 55,000 acres where developers once dreamed of carving a huge subdivision out of the wilderness.
In all, the project is estimated to take until 2017 to finish and cost $435 million, including $250 million already spent to buy 19,000 lots from owners around the world.
A tangle of permitting issues has held up the start of work, including questions about whether the federal project needs county building permits and site plan approvals, McCutcheon said.
“I think we’ve just about resolved it,” he said.
Collier County permitters could not be reached for comment.
Before much work on the pump station begins, though, crews need a way to get loads of concrete and other materials to the remote site.
Plans call for a temporary access to be built from I-75 to Everglades Boulevard. Access will be restricted to safety vehicles and construction traffic only, project managers said.
While the access could be there for years, it won’t remain once the work is done, Division of Forestry supervisor Kevin Podkowka said.
He said the temporary access has nothing to do with the permanent interchange that Collier County is pushing to build at Everglades Boulevard.
For one, the temporary access won’t be built like a cloverleaf-style interchange, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Thomas Leicht said.
Still, the temporary access is likely to cause confusion, Podkowka said.
“It is truly temporary,” Podkowka said.
As work gets started, crews will simultaneously build the pump station and start removing roads, McCutcheon said.
Road removal will start at the southern end of the state forest and work its way north, toward the pump station, he said.
As the work progresses, the contractor will have to complete wildlife surveys and look for Florida panther dens, he said.
Once the pump station is finished and ready for service, crews will begin filling the canal, working from the north back to the south, he said.
The pump station is expected to be ready for testing in February 2011, and the contract allows for another year to work out any kinks, McCutcheon said.
Work will ramp up over the next four months, with some 200 workers on the project at its peak, he said.
Road removal work will block access to roads between the Merritt and Faka Union canals, starting in 45 days or so, McCutcheon said.
Janes Scenic Drive, also known as Stewart Boulevard, the main route through the state forest, will remain open, foresters said.
McCutcheon said he will work with the Division of Forestry to determine the timing for closing the so-called T-canal campground, so named for its location on the banks of intersecting canals at the state forest’s southern end.
“We won’t be kicking anybody out,” said Podkowka, with the Division of Forestry.
He said the Division of Forestry is still looking at sites to replace the 32 campsites at the closed campground.
The state forest also will continue to offer hiking, bicycling, horse-riding, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing, Podkowka said.
“Those opportunities are not going to go away,” he said.
East Naples resident James Smith has his own ideas for recreation in the state forest — and they don’t include the restoration project about to start there.
Smith, the leader of a fledgling grassroots movement against the restoration, says it will destroy wildlife habitat and ruin the woods where he has spent most of his life hunting and fishing.
He has drawn up plans to turn the Picayune Strand into a state park — complete with a visitor center, gift shop, meandering horse and swamp buggy trails and 52 campsites laid out at the end of roads that butt up against the canals.
The attraction would be a gold mine, he said, bringing thousands of people to Collier County to spend millions of dollars.
“Everybody don’t like golf courses,” Smith said. “Everybody don’t like tennis courts. Everybody don’t like fine dining.
“Believe it or not, some of us just like the wildlife,” he said.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/

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Gov. Crist proposes $2.1 billion for environment
Associated Press by BRIAN SKOLOFF, Writer
January 22, 2010
NAPLES, Fla. - Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday proposed including $2.1 billion in the state's 2010-2011 budget to protect Florida's environment, including $50 million for Everglades restoration.
Crist made the announcement at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Naples, one of several stops he planned Friday in southwest Florida.
The governor also said he wants to devote $50 million to the Florida Forever program to purchase and preserve land throughout the state. Florida Forever wasn't funded last year because of budget constraints.
"Because of our challenging economy of last year, we held back on continuing that important legacy," Crist said. "This year, I'm honored to revive it."
According to the governor's office, since 1963, the state has committed $7.5 billion to preserve about 3.8 million acres of land in Florida.
Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, called the resurrection of Florida Forever "good news," noting the state lost momentum by not funding it last year.
"I think he's right on target," Draper said. "The big news here is that he's not going to let Florida Forever lapse another year."
The Republican governor, who is running for U.S. Senate, called it an "investment we want to restore."
Crist also said he'd like the budget to include $10 million in rebates for installing solar energy panels, $283.4 million for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and $319 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He said an additional $176 million in federal funding received last year would go, in part, to state agencies, local governments and businesses interested in installing renewable energy components and more efficient technologies. The governor said the move could also spur economic development and job growth.
"Florida's present and future economy depends on the stewardship our natural resources and our continued efforts to set aside land," Crist said. "As we continue restoring America's Everglades and investing in renewable energy, Floridians will gain a cleaner and safer environment that will endure for generations."
Among the world's largest wetlands recovery efforts, the state and federal governments have been entrenched in a decades-long effort to clean pollutants and restore some natural water movement through the Everglades after years of diversions to make way for farms and development.
The state is working to buy 73,000 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. in the Everglades in a $536 million deal. Officials hope to use that land to build reservoirs and marshes to clean the water before it heads south into the rest of the ecosystem.
Crist now must submit his budget to the Legislature, which will decide final details in what is expected to be another tight year. State economists estimate a gap of up to $3.2 billion between estimated income and spending levels needed to maintain high-priority programs including public schools and Medicaid.

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Don’t let developers kill Amendment 4
Ponte Vedra Recorder - Letter
January 21, 2010
We moved back to Florida because we remembered the beautiful abundance of our home state’s natural resources. Florida remains a wonderful friend to those of us who enjoy its beaches, parks, rivers, canals, springs, fishing holes and estuaries, but not for long if some developers have their way next November.
Some Floridians are working hard to preserve what’s left of our state’s natural resources, like the all-volunteer group from "Hometown Democracy". They have convinced me to vote yes on Amendment 4 in November, because (as they explain) when we don’t protect these resources, we pay a very steep price.
Take water, for example. In south Florida, the destruction of wetlands through developers’ (and their political friends’) appetite for growth has cost them their watersheds. Pavement has replaced wetlands, with their necessary ecological and water filtration systems. As the Everglades watershed recedes, developers and their friends have raised loud voices for deeper drilling in the Florida aquifer, reverse osmosis and desalination.
These "solutions" are all expensive to implement, six to eight times the cost of a natural water supply, according to John Arthur Marshall in the Sept. 19 Palm Beach Daily News. He suggests that we can grow our natural water supply by restoring our watersheds, as New York City did in the Catskills.
State rules mandate planning for new water sources when 80 percent usage of available water is reached. The 2008 MOR Supply Use report informed me that last year, my own Atlantic Beach community had reached 65.3 percent of available water supply usage (an average of 2.39 million gallons a day), and a neighboring community, Jacksonville Beach, had used 70.88 percent of available water. All of Duval County used 63.25 percent, or 124.46 million gallons per day.
Watering our lawns only on Saturdays or Sundays might help temporarily, but until we stop allowing over-development in Florida, the problem will soon worsen and become more costly to fix.
Vote for Amendment 4 next November so that citizens can have a voice (their votes) when developers want to make a change to their district or county’s comprehensive land use plan, the state-mandated, locally administered guideline for development that guides our zoning laws. In court cases that involve land use, courts must adhere to the rules and regulations of these plans. Developers will do all they can to kill Amendment 4 before the election. Remember our water. Don’t let them.
Diana Townsend, Atlantic Beach

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Fat Tires in the Everglades
Counterpunch by ALAN FARAGO
January 21,2010
A New Place to Ride ?
It was a gamble what time to leave Coral Gables. I would either make the meeting on the other side of the state or waste the day missing it.
A hundred miles away in Naples, Collier County commissioners scheduled a 9:00 AM public hearing on its growth management plan. Included, an item brought forward by Miami-Dade County commissioners: whether or not to amend their comprehensive growth map to create a recreational area for off road vehicles in the middle of the Everglades in land owned mostly by Miami-Dade County but on the border with Collier County and designated within the federal boundaries of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Driving west down Bird Road then across to SW 8th, Tamiami Trail, toward the Everglades, more rush hour traffic. Cars seep in from everywhere, every subdivision, nook and cranny: hundreds of thousands of commuters pouring from the urban fringe and ring suburbs to jobs in Miami. The engineers, consultants, road pavers, construction crews, builders; they made their money upfront.
Most live in gated communities in Coral Gables or Pinecrest. Out here as the newest suburbs push against the housing crash, the world is clearer: at the edges of failing places, it is all hit and run. All about flood control. And, now, about giving people more space in wilderness beyond the last subdivision, an hour into the Everglades, a new place to ride.
The rock mines are on the north side of Tamiami Trail; the original way across the Everglades. The mines are hidden behind fences and stands of invasive exotics. Hundreds of acres of denuded and poisoned Melalueca. Krome Avenue. A barbeque joint. Then the tribal lands of the Miccosukee Tribe.
From the roadway, you can’t see the Everglades to the north. The Glades are obscured by a rock spoil dredged from the canal running the entire length of the Trail, except for breaks where water district pumps are built up on berms; their massive motors idle and quiet.
To the south, off the road, are tribal villages and indifferent tourist traps of one kind or another, selling trips to view from airboats a damaged panorama.
There were two agenda items before the “recreational” issue I was gambling my day on, as volunteer conservation chair for Friends of the Everglades. The planners urging the change were from Miami-Dade that shares a border with Collier. They had to cross the Everglades, too. Maybe they spent the night at a Super 8 in Naples or spent a few unpredictable hours driving across the Everglades like me.
When the road crosses into the Big Cypress National Preserve, the landscape changes dramatically. On this cold winter morning birds were huddled in the trees by the canal or at the shoreline, protected from a sharp northeast wind in the wide open just beyond sight. White ibis and herons, anhingas, wood storks, vultures and hawks, cormorants. As I sped by I spotted a kestral perched high on a branch intently focused on a water bird in a lower branch drying its wings. Panther crossing signs. Mercury warning signs.
There it is: an hour from Miami, the road to the north for the Everglades Jetport. In the 1960’s this was the dream plan to destroy the rest of the Everglades and deliver billion dollar increments of growth through a massive new airport serving both coasts of Florida.
Although the massive runway was built in the middle of the Glades, the airport was halted by controversy, including the birth of Florida’s movement to save the Everglades and the intervention of senators and a US president. It is used lightly, today, as a training facility (called the Miami-Dade Collier Training Facility) and the entire area—the Big Cypress—is subject to forays by operators of swamp buggies with elevated platforms and huge, fat tires and smaller, more nimble off road vehicles, or ATVs like little raptors.
For decades, groups like Sierra Club have fought a simmering, low intensity war with regulators to control the access and destruction of delicate, fragile resources in the 700,000 plus acre preserve. Ochopee. The post office.
The wilderness gives way to signs of civilization. A development built in the euphoria of the boom on the Turner River, arcing off towards the Ten Thousand Islands.  Signs for Chokoloskee, Imokalee, and Fakahatchee Strand.
These are famous places in Florida’s short history of settlement. They are ancient places too that thrived not so long ago with a diversity of wildlife nurtured by the intersection of a vast flow of pure freshwater and the ocean and bays.
It will cost taxpayers twenty billion and counting to keep its beating heart alive. And in the middle, that’s where local elected officials see nothing wrong with inserting a 1680 acre park with off road vehicles; controlled, it is claimed, by a visitor's center.
Suburban Collier County collides with the Everglades, forty-five minutes drive from the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Tamiami Trail, on the other side of Florida, looks like every other place in Florida nurtured by the crack cocaine of the building boom.
The development on the west coast of Florida in the past decade has been even more efficient than in Miami where an urban development boundary and more intense flood control infrastructure at least checked leapfrog sprawl to a degree. Just like Miami-Dade, in Collier County the flatness of the landscape underscores the same mistakes of automobile centric growth. Strip malls. Shopping centers. Massage Envy. Mattress Giant. Nail Palace. All the appeals to what consumers want.
Traffic, on this side, slows to the same crawl. Soon enough, right on the Trail, the largest building of all: the seat of county government. Inside, a security checkpoint, officers with guns, an x-ray machine for briefcases, plastic containers for cell phones and metal objects: everything inspected for conformity and everything ordered by the protocol of risk.
A stroke of good fortune. I arrive, at ten thirty, just as the off-road vehicle park in the Everglades is about to be heard. 
A third floor hearing room, raised dais, television monitors, proscenium seating on a single level. Five commissioners seated behind their microphones and the quotidian exercise of municipal authority. Stenographer and the county attorney to one side. Planners and staff at the other side. Two lecterns for speakers, supplicants, and applicants.
On a table outside I leaf through the planning document. It is three inches thick with photos, testimonials, maps and engineering drawings; all prepared with great care and expense by consultants. Grist for the permitting mill.
A Miami Dade parks official gives a twenty minute presentation on the plan. Well rehearsed, fully briefed. Collier County planning staff has objected to the plan clearly and succinctly in its own written comments, ignored by Miami-Dade’s representative.
So far, I’ve invested hours and days in conversations and reviewing documents. I haven’t spoken to a single Collier County or Miami-Dade County Commissioner about the idiocy of putting loud off road vehicles in the middle of public lands that are designated with the highest standards of environmental protection.
The pretense of a level playing field is just so ridiculous, like an $18 billion nuclear power plant on the edge of Biscayne National Park or an inland port and rock mines at the western  edge of Palm Beach County: if a single person or even a dozen activists had five lifetimes, they still wouldn’t be able to keep up.
I have three minutes to make my comments. It is eleven thirty. I won’t return home until late afternoon. Three minutes.
I use two minutes to explain how forty years ago the disposition of this land embroiled the nation in one of the signature battles to protect and preserve America’s fabled natural heritage. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who received the highest presidential medal for her work for the Everglades, founded the organization where I serve: Friends of the Everglades.
I take a minute to be sincere and convincing when I state that on a scale of one to ten, that the objection to this plan is more or less, a ten.
Two decades ago, when I first began to speak in public hearings, I used to stammer with anxiety. I spent hours writing speeches that exceeded the allotted time for the public in public hearings. I rarely looked up from my pages, printed and covered in edit scribbles and notes.
By this point, having waited for hours to speak, I had already jettisoned paragraphs like bags from an over-weighted plane. I changed. Now I scribble a few phrases at the last moment. I might not even refer to my notes.
What I value as I speak—and I’ve become a connoisseur of this moment—is to look into the eyes of officials I am speaking to, for any sign of life. From the audience, or the view of a television camera, the local commissioners appear to be listening. That is a different matter from hearing.
In all these cases where the imperatives of the economy and of special interests conflict with the environment, at all these “hearings” where legal requirements are subject to the shadings of influence peddlers, the scripts are thoroughly written beforehand. The environmentalists ask for a stop to all damaging uses, a user asks for more. A commissioner smiles and says, ‘Don’t be greedy. This is a start.’
The county planning staff asks for protections that include “shall” in enabling language, the special interests push for “may”. Between “shall” and “may” a small fraction of birds and panthers occupy an irritating space that is nonetheless very good for the business of attorneys and lobbyists. It is a good space for consultants and engineers, and anyone banking the arbitrage between the intent and result of environmental rules and regulations.
Now, as I look into the eyes of the county commissioners behind the dais, I can tell that each is as indifferent to what I am saying as someone navigating around an empty shopping cart trying to find their car in a Walmart parking lot.
The first step toward putting an off-road vehicle park in the middle of the Everglades passes by a vote of 4-0.
With the two other environmentalists in the audience, I adjourn for lunch in a strip mall across Tamiami Trail. There is no accommodation for pedestrians. Crossing eight lanes of traffic by foot makes you alert as a panther. As we step over low shrubs and pine bark chips in the median, I remark that this protected area is our own wildlife corridor.
The crab cakes covered in melted cheese and French fries taste like punishment. I clean my plate.
I’m halfway back across the Everglades before I realize it is so hot in the car because the temperature thermostat is turned up to 76 degrees.  The birds by the canal haven’t moved, dipping in the water, moving their necks like rubber bands or still and immobile as a painting.
Finally, the Christian broadcast channels—everywhere on the dial on the west coast of Florida—blessedly fade to static. There is a place where reception of public radio from the west coast of Florida ends and from the east coast, begins.
A moment of quiet. It is right about at the Everglades Jetport. I can’t imagine truckloads of all terrain vehicles being hauled into this wilderness for riders to race their engines and such pleasures.  Let them have at it at the edges of suburbia, with their gear and fat tires and engines or in the urban acres blasted by foreclosures and real estate pipe dreams and Glen Gary Glen Ross times 10,000.
However wrecked Florida is, however the most remote parts of the state are damaged by our persistent, invisible fingerprints: there are places we honor by shielding them, imperfectly, from our mudding, rutting, insistent desires.
Alan Farago, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades, lives in south Florida. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net

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Fla. Farm Bureau blasts new EPA standards
So.Florida Business Journal
January 21, 2010
The Florida Farm Bureau Federation has joined a growing number of groups blasting new water quality standards proposed last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The state’s largest general agricultural organization said the new standards, which would apply only to Florida, would levy a “de facto water tax” on Floridians by increasing water and sewer bills and “will impose onerous economic burdens on agricultural producers.”
Last week, the Don’t Tax Florida Coalition, made up mostly of agricultural interests, along with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, criticized the proposal, which was initiated, in part, in response to a consent decree between the EPA and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The new standards would place limits on phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients that come from fertilizer and wastewater – for Florida waters that are different from the rest of the U.S.
“For nearly a decade, Florida’s agricultural community has been proud to cooperate with other businesses and government agencies in the state’s Total Maximum Daily Loads program,” FFB President John L. Hoblick said in a news release. “The TMDL program, which established numeric nutrient criteria based on watersheds, has caused Florida to be recognized as a national leader in water quality protection and restoration. This action by EPA abruptly changes that.”
The FFB criticized the new standards as an “overly simplistic approach,” and fears that the agriculture industry would not be able to bear the costs.
“That should be of great concern to every citizen in Florida because a reduced domestic food supply would ultimately push food costs upward,” Hoblick said.
According to the EPA, nutrient pollution can damage drinking water sources; increase exposure to harmful algal blooms, which are made of toxic microbes that can cause damage to the nervous system or even death; and form byproducts in drinking water from disinfection chemicals, some of which have been linked with serious illnesses, such as bladder cancer.
The EPA is planning three public hearings on the proposed rule. The hearings are scheduled for Feb. 16, 17 and 18 in Tallahassee, Orlando and West Palm Beach, respectively.
The West Palm Beach hearing will be 1-5 p.m. and 7-10 p.m., at the Holiday Inn Palm Beach International Airport, at 1301 Belvedere Road

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Should exotic snakes be banned?
7-KPLC by Crystal Price
January 21, 2010
LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - On Wednesday the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that he will make a proposal that will prohibit the importation and interstate transportation of exotic snakes.
Salazar feels these snakes are injurious to the sensitive ecosystems, particularly in the Everglades.
These snakes include the Burmese python, northern African python, southern African python, reticulated python, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, Beni or Bolivian anaconda, DeSchauensee's anaconda, and the boa constrictor.
Tonight we'll tell you what problems the lake area has seen with snakes and how snake owners feel about the ban.
Tune in tonight for the full report.

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Water Supply Plan Meeting
6-WCTV2, Email Address: news@wctv.tv
January 21, 2010Suwannee River Water Management District Press Release:
Public meeting on Jan. 28 to discuss planning for future water supplies.
LIVE OAK, FL,—
The Suwannee River and St. Johns River water management districts will hold a joint public meeting on Jan. 28 to encourage public participation in the development of the Suwannee District’s Upper Santa Fe River Basin Water Supply Plan and the St. Johns District’s Water Supply Plan 2010.
The informational meeting with senior technical staff from both agencies will be held from 6:30–8 p.m. at the Alachua County Health Department Auditorium, 224 S.E. 24th St., Gainesville.
The agenda includes an overview of the water supply planning process, discussion led by each of the water management districts on the water supply assessment in northeast Florida, and opportunity for public comment.
The Suwannee District’s Upper Santa Fe River Basin Water Supply Plan and the St. Johns District’s Water Supply Plan 2010 are designed to meet the requirements of the water supply planning provisions of Chapter 373, Florida Statutes.
Through meetings of the Northeast Florida Water Supply Planning Area Work Group, the planning process concentrates on a 10-county area including the eight St. Johns District counties in northeast Florida, as well as portions of Columbia and Union counties in the Suwannee District. Alachua, Bradford and Baker counties span both water management districts.
Both districts are coordinating on the water supply planning process. The process is open to the public and involves local governments, water supply utilities, self suppliers, other governments and other interested parties.

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New EPA water rules worth every penny
Miami Herald
January 20, 2010
OUR OPINION: Proposed standards will clean up state's waters
EPA's plan to set water-quality standards in Florida, a national first
In a move cheered by environmental groups, the federal government on Friday proposed stringent limits on ``nutrient'' pollution allowed to foul Florida's waterways.
The ruling -- which will cost industries and governments more than a billion dollars to comply -- marks the first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has intervened to set a state's water-quality standards.
``I'm thrilled,'' said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network, an advocacy group. ``It is something that will ultimately start restoring Florida's waters.''
EPA sets limits for water pollution in Florida
 (AP) -- Environmental groups on Friday afternoon lauded long-awaited action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set legal limits for farm and urban runoff that is polluting Florida's waterways.
A consent decree signed Wednesday settled a lawsuit filed last year by the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation and others against the EPA seeking to get the federal agency to set numeric standards for nutrient runoff. Florida and most other states currently have only vague limits on waste and fertilizer pollution.
The groups say rain sends the runoff, which includes fertilizers and animal waste, into rivers and lakes, contaminating waterways and nourishing algae blooms that poison the ecosystems. The runoff can also contaminate drinking water supplies and sicken or kill people.

Florida coalition targets pending federal pollution rules
Florida coalition targets pending federal pollution rules
After losing on the legal front, a powerful coalition of agriculture and business interests, wastewater utilities, water managers and tax watchdogs is mounting a lobbying assault on pending federal rules that could force Florida to clean up pollution fouling lakes, canals, streams and beaches statewide.
The target: A settlement a federal judge in Tallahassee approved last week in a lawsuit brought by five environmental groups against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It requires that federal regulators, for the first time, step in and set a state's water quality standards for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that flow into waterways from fertilized lawns, sewage plants, farms fields, cattle pastures and a host of other sources.

EPA gets busy
EPA gets busy
W hether it's because the Environmental Protection Agency is operating under a more environmentally friendly administration or because of a lawsuit, the agency has announced -- after many years of delay -- that it will revise standards for water discharges from coal-fired power plants to reduce pollution.
Either way, the decision is good for our drinking-water supply. The standards now in effect were issued in 1982 and are hopelessly out of sync with today's electric power industry.
Florida has fewer coal-fired power plants than many other states, but it only takes one to contaminate nearby waterways. When the EPA adopts the new standards they will be applied by the state.

EPA proposes water pollution legal limits in Fla.
EPA proposes water pollution legal limits in Fla.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed the first numeric limits in the nation for farm and urban runoff polluting Florida's waterways, limits supporters say could set precedent and lead to similar federal standards in other states.
The agency released its proposed rules after reaching a settlement last year with environmentalists who sued EPA in 2008. They claimed the agency was failing to force Florida to meet requirements under the Clean Water Act, and sought the numeric standards for runoff such as fertilizers and animal waste that are causing toxic algae blooms and poisoning ecosystems.
Friday's proposed rules mark the first time the EPA plans to force numeric limits of so-called nutrient runoff on any state. A handful of other states, at the urging of the agency, have already acted to set their own standards. The remainder have vague limits on waste and fertilizer pollution, while some are in the process of developing their own numeric limits.
Few things are more deadly to a healthy watery ecosystem than algae, much of which comes from nutrients in fertilizers and pollutants that wash from the land into waterways during rainstorms.
Remember when Lake Apopka, once a center for bass fishing in Central Florida, was essentially declared dead, devoid of qualities that could support living organisms? The culprit was land pollution, most notably phosphorus and nitrogen.
Lake Apopka is once again reasonably healthy, thanks to intense cleanup efforts and improved water-quality standards. Now the Environmental Protection Agency proposes new, tougher statewide standards that would ensure there would be no more Lake Apopka travesties.
Despite the opposition of a coalition of agriculture and business groups, state residents should support the EPA's proposals. It's in the interests of every Floridian to have healthy estuaries, rivers, lakes, streams and canals, which not only are used for recreation but also supply some communities' drinking water. Polluted streams and rivers can contaminate offshore fish hatcheries, too, threatening commercial and recreational fishing industries.
Last year the EPA settled a lawsuit with five environmental organizations by agreeing to set higher water-quality standards to limit nutrients. The suit was filed in 2008 after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality.
Florida has never had very good water-quality standards. Phosphorus and other pollutants from agriculture and other industries, as well as runoff from ever-growing urban areas, was allowed to be dumped at dangerous rates into waterways.
About a decade ago the EPA gave Florida a 2004 deadline to set tougher pollution limits, but the state was slow to comply. Worse, during the Bush administration, the EPA relaxed its own rules, allowing states to set standards.
The lawsuit challenged both the EPA and the DEP, calling for stronger protections for the state's waterways. Not long after the Obama administration came into power, the EPA chose to settle the suit -- to everyone's ultimate benefit.
In the short term the new proposed standards will cost businesses and local governments a lot of money to comply. But the EPA is giving Florida time to create a procedure to gradually phase in compliance and even to set its own standards in certain areas.
The EPA proposals, which are set to go into effect in October, are not that different from new standards the DEP was working on when the settlement was announced last year. One way or another, either through the state or the feds, tougher water-quality rules were inevitable in Florida -- because they are very much needed to keep the state's waters healthy for all to use and enjoy.
• The EPA is seeking public comments on the proposed standards for the next 60 days. Go to www.epa.gov/waterscience/standards/rules/
florida/

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Cold inflicted major toll on fish in Florida
MiamiHerald.com by CURTIS MORGAN
January 19, 2010
Everywhere he steered his skiff last week, Pete Frezza saw dead fish.
From Ponce de Leon Bay on the Southwest Coast down across Florida Bay to Lower Matecumbe in the Florida Keys -- day after day, dead fish. Floating in the marina at Flamingo in Everglades National Park alone he counted more than 400 snook and 400 tarpon.
``I was so shook up, I couldn't sleep,'' said Frezza, an ecologist for Audubon of Florida and an expert flats fisherman. ``Millions and millions of pilchards, threadfin herring, mullet. Ladyfish took it really bad. Whitewater Bay is just a graveyard.''
Fish in every part of the state were hammered by this month's record-setting cold snap. The toll in South Florida, a haven for warm-water species, was particularly extensive, too large to even venture a guess at numbers. And despite the subsequent warm-up, scientists warn that the big bad chill of 2010 will continue to claim victims for weeks.
``Based on what I saw in 1977 and 1989, there is a good chance we'll have a second wave,'' said William Loftus, a longtime aquatic ecologist for Everglades National Park.
During those last two major cold fronts, weakened survivors succumbed to infections from common bacteria, such as aeromonas, that they would normally ward off, he said.
``It's a nasty-looking thing,'' he said. ``It's a tissue eater. It creates open ulcers on the side of the fish.''
In response, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Friday ordered an emergency statewide closure of the snook fishery until at least September, and imposed temporary closures for bonefish and tarpon until April. Catch-and-release is still allowed for all three species.
Veteran Everglades fishing guide Benny Blanco believes the die-off was so severe -- particularly for snook, a prized game and eating fish particularly sensitive to cold -- that he would support taking them off the dinner table for years.
``I haven't see a swimming snook in 10 days,'' Blanco said Monday, after returning from a charter trip to the Glades. ``All I have seen is floating snook.''
Judging by the floating carcasses, the most widespread kills were in Florida Bay and Whitewater Bay in the park. Water temperatures in the bay hovered in the low 50s for days and, according to the National Weather Service, dipped to a record 47.8 degrees at their lowest.
DEEPER WATERS
But even denizens of the deeper, warmer waters of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean didn't escape the cold, said Jerry Ault, professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School, who oversees annual counts of bonefish and reef fish.
His research staff collected about 200 bonefish from the Florida Keys, he said. ``It wasn't just bonefish. It was grunt, snapper, pilchards, moray eel. When the water temperature drops below 50 degrees, that's reasonably lethal for most of these species.''
The duration of the cold and high winds worsened things, Ault said, pushing colder, heavier waters off shallow flats into deeper channels where fish typically seek warm refuge. ``Even the channels became a tomb,'' he said.
GAME FISH
While it might take snook and other saltwater game fish years to rebound, the cold snap should at least temporarily help less-popular freshwater natives such as sunfish by knocking off walking catfish, Mayan cichlids and other tropical exotics that have invaded the Everglades and many of South Florida's canals and ponds, said Loftus, who retired from the park last year and now runs a consulting business, Aquatic Research and Communication in Homestead.
It also might help him in his current job of trying to knock back exotic fish populations at Fairchild Tropical Gardens, he said.
``I'm dancing a jig here,'' he said.

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Everglades restoration ... if only it weren't necessary
Naples Daily News, Editorial
January 19, 2010
 “The key to all this is keeping the momentum.”
So said an official at the ground-breaking ceremonies the other day for a $53 million Picayune Strand State Forest project in Collier County to help jump-start Everglades restoration.
Actually, the key to “all this” is money.
The price tag is a reminder of how much money we could save by getting it right the first time and recognizing environmental damage in advance of when it’s done. Everglades restoration overall is now estimated at $435 million.
So, while we can applaud the political courage required to commit such resources to protect our quality of life, which includes habitat for wildlife and pollution/drainage control, we are compelled to think of all the good that could be accomplished in other areas if these repair bills were not due.

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Glades menace
MiamiHerald.com
January 19, 2010
A hunt for Burmese pythons in the Everglades turned up an even scarier predator: the African rock python. Biologists say it's larger than the Burmese and meaner.
Authorities found three rock pythons. They caught two, but the third got away. Everglades National Park and South Florida Water Management officials are very concerned that the rock pythons are a new breeding population in the Glades. There are also worries that they will breed with the thousands of Burmese pythons believed to be in the River of Grass.
The rock pythons eat alligators, goats and have attacked children in their native lands. They don't belong in the Everglades or anywhere in North America.
There's good reason to believe that the rock pythons came here as pets but eventually got out of control, so their owners released them into the wild.
This latest Glades menace is yet another good reason why importation of all exotic animals should be strictly limited to legitimate outlets such as public zoos.

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Nature lovers can celebrate at Everglades Day Festival on Feb. 6
Sun-Sentinel
January 19, 2010
Join nature lovers, artists, photographers and wildlife handlers during the 11th annual Everglades Day Festival at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of Boynton Beach.
The free "Arts in the Everglades" will take place Feb. 6 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the refuge, 10216 Lee Road.
There will be painting, arts and crafts workshops, art shows and ecology exhibits, nature walks and bus trips to Everglades marshes.
Guest speakers include Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher and birding guide author Kenn Kaufman.
The year 2010 has been designated as the year of the Everglades, and the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation has championed Everglades restoration and education.
For more information, visit http://www.artmarshall.org or call 561-805-8733.

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New Calif. water policy aims to save state's key estuary, but critics say it ...
Los Angeles Times, Associated Press by SAMANTHA YOUNG, Writer
January 19, 2010
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — It was just five years ago that fishing guide Bob Sparre had all the salmon he could handle. He brought beaming clients back to shore loaded with prized Chinook salmon after a morning trolling the rivers and channels of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in northern California.
On a recent day, heading out on the Sacramento River amid a chilly, mid-winter fog, the guide of 20 years couldn't catch even a single fish for his lone client.
It was the kind of unproductive and unhappy trip that he and other guides say has become all too common in recent years, as the populations of salmon and other fish in the delta have plummeted. The number of fall-run Chinook salmon returning to the Central Valley to spawn has declined from more than 750,000 in 2002 to 66,000 in 2008.
"The numbers are getting scary," he said. "At this rate, it doesn't look like we will have a fishery if it continues the way it's going."
The perilously low populations of salmon and native fish are symptoms, according to numerous scientists, of a crashing ecosystem in the West Coast's largest estuary. Numerous theories abound for the decline, from too much water being pumped from the delta for drinking and irrigation to the use of agricultural chemicals.
Whatever the cause, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers believe they took a step to restoring the delta when they passed policy reforms last November and approved an $11 billion water bond to go on the November ballot. Schwarzenegger said it would launch the nation's largest environmental restoration project since the federal effort to save the Florida Everglades.

"Now the hard part begins, and it's going to be a real effort to restore the delta and bring that certainty back to water supplies," said Sue Sims, chief deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources.
Sprawling across a region about the size of Rhode Island, the delta is the heart of the state's water-delivery system and supplies drinking water to some 25 million Californians and irrigation water to thousands of farms. Rivers that drain from the northern Sierra Nevada meet in the delta before emptying in San Francisco Bay.
In recent years, federal courts and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have restricted pumping from the delta to protect fish. Among those rulings was a 2007 court directive to cut pumping, a decision that contributed to thousands of acres of agricultural land being fallowed and new pumping limits.
Making matters worse, a three-year drought also has limited the amount of fresh water that passes through the delta.
The legislation's two main objectives are to increase the reliability of water deliveries and to restore the ecosystem for plants, animals and fish. Under the measure, a council will develop a management plan for the estuary, new statewide conservation and groundwater monitoring mandates will be implemented, and penalties for those who fail to report water diversions will be increased.
The bond measure would provide some of the funding that will be needed over the next decade for delta restoration, dams and underground water storage, water recycling and cleanup projects.
Critics say the bills fall short in several key areas:
— The Delta Stewardship Council, to be formed this year, lacks the clout it needs to implement change. For example, major decisions about wildlife habitat and water pumping still need to be approved by state and federal agencies that often have competing priorities.
— The state Water Resources Control Board will determine how much freshwater ought to flow into the delta, but it will not be required to follow its own guidelines when reviewing permits to divert water.
— The legislation fails to identify ongoing funding for the delta council, restoration efforts, a new science panel and enforcement of the state's water laws. The $11.1 billion bond before voters would provide only a portion of the money needed.
Scientists, fishermen, environmentalists and some lawmakers long involved in California's water disputes question whether the environmental problems can be solved under those circumstances. They note that state lawmakers and Congress have devoted billions of dollars to restoring the delta and improving water transfers over the years with little to show.
"There are a lot of grand ideas and a lot of things that don't seem to have a lot of authority behind them," said Peter Moyle, a fish biologist at the University of California, Davis.
Farmers and some delta residents also say the delta will never recover until tough guidelines are implemented to guarantee how much river water must continue flowing through it — a way to ensure that pumping does not deprive the estuary of the freshwater it needs.
That's been a thorny issue for years as water agencies dependent on delta exports are eager to protect the water they have traditionally received.
"Just throwing money at something isn't going to do it," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "They could give us a trillion dollars and it's not going to restore the fish unless there's water for them at the right times and then that it's good quality water."
Supporters of the legislation emphasize that it was not intended to solve all the state's water problems or repair the delta overnight. But they also say more needs to be done.
For example, the state, delta residents, water and wildlife agencies, farm interests and environmental groups need to agree about how the delta is used in the future — how much land is set aside for flood bypasses, as habitat for native species, and for farming and housing.

"We're going to have to set targets for what we want to do to save the delta ecosystem, and we're not there yet," said Gary Bobker, director of the delta program for the Bay Institute, which is based in Novato, north of San Francisco.

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Everglades advocates raise concerns about Palm Beach County Commission
Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Politics (blog) by Andy Reid
January 19, 2010
Everglades advocates are increasingly pointing to the Palm Beach County Commission as an impediment to restoring South Florida’s famed River of Grass.
They blame development decisions by the County Commission in recent years for threatening to get in the way of using western agricultural land for Everglades restoration.
The state is in the midst of a half-billion-dollar effort to buy up 73,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area from U.S. Sugar Corp. to build reservoirs and water treatment areas that would help restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
Despite warnings from environmental groups, the commission during the last few years approved the expansion of rock mining as well as the creation of a new “inland port” industrial distribution center in parts of the vast Everglades Agricultural Area – which stretches over almost 700,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee.
During this month’s 25th Annual Everglades Coalition Conference, held Jan. 7-10 in Palm Beach Gardens, speakers on numerous occasions criticized the Palm Beach County Commission for supporting zoning changes and other development approvals that would allow more mining and industrial development in the agricultural area that was once part of the Everglades.
“Stop the industrialization of this area,” Drew Martin of the Sierra Club, told state officials attending the Everglades Coalition conference.
The coalition has called for a regional approach to development decisions in the Everglades Agricultural Area, potentially adding more state oversight to the local decision-making process.
The idea appears to at least be gaining some traction with state leaders.
“It is a land use issue I think we need to do a better job on,” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said about the Everglades Agricultural Area. “The ad hoc way is probably not the smartest way.”
The South Florida Water Management District, which leads Everglades restoration, is considering playing a more vocal role in land use decisions in Palm Beach County and elsewhere, Executive Director Carol Wehle said.
“We can do more to communicate our message to local government … to ensure that we don’t have further degradation to the environment,” Wehle said at the conference.

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A partial Everglades answer: It can't replace US Sugar deal, but it can help
Palm Beach Post‎
January 16, 2010
Cleaning and storing water that flows into Lake Okeechobee from the north isn't the whole solution to Everglades water needs south of the lake. Still, it's part of the Everglades solution. In addition to being worthwhile, the idea to work with cattle ranchers and farmers might be innovative.
Under a $5 million demonstration project led by the World Wildlife Fund, eight landowners have been implementing relatively simple steps, such as filling ditches or adding culverts, creating wetlands to trap stormwater before it gets flushed quickly down river to Lake Okeechobee. By saturating pastureland that often is too wet for grazing during the rainy season, the approach recreates animal habitat and removes damaging concentrations of phosphorous and nitrogen left by fertilizer and manure.
The public, however, has to understand what the approach is not. This plan will not reduce the amount of land needed south of the lake to store water for release into the Everglades during droughts. Therefore, the program north of the lake would not reduce the need for the $536 million U.S. Sugar land deal. And even if the approach were started now, it would be very hard to carry it out on a scale needed to help the state meet its 2015 phosphorous-reduction goal for Lake Okeechobee. That deadline already has been extended by a decade.
Critics — notably U.S. Sugar's biggest competitor, Florida Crystals — suggest that the U.S. Sugar deal will shortchange water storage north of the lake while failing to meet the needs south of the lake. Florida Crystals consultant Sam Poole, a former South Florida Water Management District executive director, made that argument Monday to the Joint Legislative Committee on Everglades Oversight. Florida Crystals, however, is looking to disrupt the U.S. Sugar deal, which it views as the state bailing out a financially struggling rival.
The push for more water storage north of the lake has the initial backing of the water management district, which matched a $1 million federal grant in 2005. The plan calls for entering into contracts with landowners to manage the land, but the World Wildlife Fund has not yet calculated how much it would cost to conduct the program on a large scale.
To be effective, it would have to cost less than buying land and building costly above-ground reservoirs. A similar proposal from The Nature Conservancy calls for the purchase of easements, instead of annual contracts. Both proposals give ranchers an incentive to continue managing their lands — relieving the water district of a major expense — while resisting pressure to sell to developers. The vast region north of the lake includes the proposed city of Destiny at Yeehaw Junction and the Heartland Parkway, a highway contrived to develop rural lands. Destiny would be the wrong city in the wrong place.
The proposal also would offer more control over the flow of water into Lake Okeechobee, which environmentalists argue persuasively needs to be kept at a depth of between 12.5 feet and 15 feet. If water comes in more slowly, the lake won't rise so quickly. The proposal wouldn't meet needs south of the lake because ranchlands would dry up every year, with the expectation of being replenished during the rainy season.
The district has disputed Florida Crystals' suggestion that there can't be water storage both north and south of the lake. If the district continues to get positive reports from the demonstration project north of the lake, though, the district will have to find the money to do both.

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Everglades still in decline, group says
UPI.com
January 14, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The subtropical Florida Everglades wetlands are still deteriorating a decade after Washington began a multibillion-dollar plan to restore them, advocates say.
The Everglades, a victim of a half-century of environmental damage, remains unhealthy, with few species of wildlife other than birds still there and a growing number of invasive species like iguanas, Brazilian pepper plants and Australian pine trees, retired biologist Allen Trefrey told The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
Trefrey was part of a flotilla of 12 researchers and volunteers who kayaked down South Florida's 12-million-acre "river of grass" to call attention to its failing health.
"We wanted to bring big visibility to the plight of the Everglades," said John Marshall, chairman of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, which champions Everglades restoration and funded the trip.
The flotilla members also collected water samples to measure water quality, foundation Executive Director Josette Kaufman said.
Ten years ago a $7.8 billion project, split between the federal government and Florida over 36 years, promised to restore the Everglades, whose ecosystem lawmakers ranked with that of the Mississippi River, the Grand Canyon and the redwood forests of California.
The project has since shrunk in scope, in part because Congress failed to match Florida's commitment of more than $2 billion, The New York Times reported.
At the same time, the project failed to halt the wetlands' decline because of bureaucratic delays, a lack of financing from Congress and overdevelopment, a 2008 study found.
The study by the National Research Council, required by Congress, warned the Everglades was quickly reaching a point of no return.
Without "near-term progress," more species will die off "and the Everglades ecosystem may experience irreversible losses to its character and functioning," it said.

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FPL suspends work on $10B in projects

South Florida Business Journal - Paul Brinkmann
January 14, 2010
Florida Power & Light Co. lashed out at state regulators late Wednesday for what it calls a “deteriorating regulatory and business environment,” announcing it would suspend work on $10 billion in energy infrastructure projects planned for the next five years.
The announcement came in a bitterly worded press release the same day the Florida Public Service Commission decapitated FP&L’s request for a hefty rate increase during the worst recession since the 1930s.
Lew Hay, chairman of FPL Group, the utility’s parent company, spoke of disappointment, lost opportunities, $1 billion in stock value destroyed, and an increasingly “hostile” regulatory environment in his statement.
Others, however, were relieved that the PSC turned back a possible increase in their utility bills.
“We are very pleased with the action by the Public Service Commission,” said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, which opposed FP&L’s rate hike.
Citing the recession, the PSC voted late Wednesday to reduce the utility’s revenue request for more than $1 billion to $75.5 million. Commissioners also denied the utility’s request for a base rate increase in 2011, and reduced the return on equity from its requested 12.5 percent to 10 percent.
The exact impact on rates has not been calculated, but it is expected to be negligible compared to the average $12 that FP&L’s request would have added to the average residential bill.
New FP&L base rates for all customer classes will be addressed at a conference set for Jan. 29. PSC staff is scheduled to file its rate recommendation on Jan. 22.
Florida’s largest electric provider, FP&L serves about 4.5 million customers. Its last general base rate increase was granted in 1985.
In a press release, the PSC said it was committed to making sure that Florida's consumers receive their electric, natural gas, telephone, water and wastewater services in a safe, affordable and reliable manner.
FP&L said the projects it is suspending would have created an estimated 20,000 direct and indirect construction jobs and related jobs over the next five years. It did not say whether such projects might restart soon.
The projects it will suspend are:
Development of two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point in southern Miami-Dade County, beyond what is required to receive a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Modernization of the Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral plants.
The proposed Florida EnergySecure natural gas pipeline.
Numerous discretionary infrastructure projects targeting improvements in efficiency and reliability within FPL’s power generation, transmission and distribution units.
The rate hearings, which started in August, exploded in controversy over cozy relationships between PSC members and FP&L executives. Two PSC members resigned over the allegations. Gov. Charlie Crist also came out against the rate increase.
PSC members also took FP&L to task on Wednesday for having a large communication and marketing group. Commissioner Nathan Skop said such a “deep bench” of marketing personnel should be paid for by private shareholder money, not by rates.
Hay said in the release: “This decision was about politics, not economics, and, unfortunately, it comes at a time when our state urgently needs jobs and investment. In addition, the decision will likely increase customer costs and diminish reliability over the long term because the commission failed to recognize the true cost of providing reliable service to customers.”
Hay pointed out that FP&L’s past investments have provided FPL customers with bills that are 10 percent lower than the national average and the lowest of the state’s 54 utilities, along with high reliability ratings.
The power company is the target of a lawsuit, filed this week, which alleges it failed to handle the electrical load during the most recent cold spell.
Earlier this week, Fitch ratings placed FPL Group and its subsidiaries on negative watch.
FPL Group shares dropped $1.43 to $50.07 in afternoon trading. The 52-week high was $60.61 on July 24. The 52-week low was $41.48 on March 9.

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Farmers' water use blamed as the trigger for sinkholes
The Orlando Sentinel - Wire Reports
January 13, 2010
PLANT CITY - Traffic was backed up on Interstate 4 near here Tuesday night, with two lanes closed to eastbound traffic as officials were investigating whether a sinkhole caused an obvious dip in the road.
It was possible that if the problem is related to a sinkhole, repairs could take days, and even more lanes could be affected
Since Monday, several sinkholes have opened around the Central Florida area of Plant City, forcing the county to close parts of six streets.
Meanwhile, near Lake Wales, U.S. 27 was closed in both directions after two sinkholes were found about midnight Monday. And those two sinkholes were found following the discovery earlier of a larger sinkhole in the community of Frostproof. That sinkhole swallowed a carport and threatened a house.
Many are blaming the sinkholes on groundwater levels plummeting as farmers pumped millions of gallons of water to protect oranges and strawberries from freezing temperatures.
The aquifer level in some places fell 60 feet since the string of freezing nights started, said Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
She could not say whether the pumping caused the sinkholes, but lower aquifer levels can be a trigger.
“We know that an aquifer level drop can contribute to sinkholes,” she said.
Last winter when freezes threatened, aquifer levels around Plant City fell 10 to 30 feet.
“Sixty feet is a fairly large drop,” she said. “To be pumping night after night is unusual.”
Sinkholes form when water dissolves soft limestone and creates an underground cavity. Pressure from ground water in the cavity supports the layer of earth between the cavity and surface, said Tony Gilboy, geologist with the water management district.
When the groundwater is removed, the top of the cavity collapses, creating the sinkhole.
“The cavities that exist in the limestone are already there. They are part of Florida,” Gilboy said. “The catalyst is lowering of the water level that holds things up.”
But unless farmers and grove owners resume heavy pumping, new sinkhole formation should slow or stop, Gilboy said Tuesday night.
The National Weather Service says the string of freezing nights in the Tampa Bay area should be ending.
At the I-4 site near Plant City on Tuesday night, Florida Department of Transportation workers were conducting tests to determine what happened to the eastbound roadway near the Branch Forbes Road exit.
A preliminary study showed a 11/2- to 2-inch dip in the roadway, covering part of the center and left lanes, said Marian Scorza, a DOT spokeswoman. DOT officials were not calling it a sinkhole.
“Right now it's a depression in the roadway,” Scorza said.
DOT used ground-penetrating radar to determine what was happening underneath the roadway, Scorza said.
Lowered water levels are causing problems besides sinkholes for residents around the Dover area.
About 150 homeowners reported their wells are dry because the aquifer dropped too low, leaving them with no water.
Sherri Thomas is one of those residents without water. She said at least a half dozen wells are dry in the mobile home park on Sydney Dover Road where she lives.
“What are we supposed to do? We haven't had water since last night and I don't even know if my pump is burned out,” she said today.
“I can't cook, do laundry, wash dishes or take a shower. It's not fun. The strawberry fields across the street have sucked all the water dry,” Thomas said.
The water district requires farmers to provide water to residents whose wells go dry and pay for any repairs if pumps are damaged.
Farmers have 72 hours to get emergency water supplies to residents and 15 days to fix the well or reimburse the homeowner. If someone already bought water, they should save receipts for repayment by the farmer responsible.
Information from The Orlando Sentinel and The Lakeland Ledger is included in this report.

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More sinkholes discovered overnight in Tampa and Hillsborough County
St. Petersburg Times by Emily Nipps, Times Staff Writer
 Jan 13, 2010
TAMPA — Four more sinkholes were reported in Hillsborough County early Wednesday morning, adding to the list of others that have been blamed on cold weather.
Vida Morgan of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said newly formed sinkholes were being investigated at the following sites: 11801 50th St. N, and the intersection of 50th Street and Fowler Avenue in Tampa; the intersection of McIntosh Road and Tall Redwood Lane, and 3310 Joe Sanchez Road in eastern Hillsborough County.
Drivers should avoid these areas as the sinkholes are being inspected and repaired.
At the sinkhole on 50th and Fowler, water crews were at the scene Wednesday morning. The approximately 9-foot hole near the edge of the University of South Florida's campus may have caused a break in a water line.
Across the street from the hole, MOSI was without water for part of the morning, though it's unclear if it was related to the sinkhole.
Tampa Electric workers were also on the scene to make sure a power line pole on the edge of the whole is secure. About a block of 50th Street was blocked off.
On Joe Sanchez Road in Plant City, 81-year-old Rufus Powell and his wife Betty, 73, discovered the sinkhole near their driveway around 9 p.m. Tuesday. Their niece triggered an outside ssecurity light as she was leaving and the couple spotted the 8-foot-wide hole.
Neighbors stopped by throughout Wednesday morning, snapping photos of the hole, while the Powells watched it closely. They were hoping to drive to Jacksonville to visit Betty's sister Wednesday, but postponed their trip.
"I'm not going anywhere," Betty Powell said. "I don't trust that ground.
More than a week of cold weather is the suspected source of a rash of sinkholes and dry wells in eastern Hillsborough. Farmers across the area have been sprinkling plants with water overnight to cover them with a protective layer of ice, draining some water supplies.
Many farmers continued to spray water on their fields Wednesday morning as near-freezing weather was expected overnight. The rest of the week should be considerably warmer throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Hundreds of people in the Plant City area also reported to the Southwest Florida Water Management District that their personal wells had gone dry Tuesday.
Swiftmud officials suggest that people near trouble spots check their homes' foundations for cracks and listen closely for cracking noises.
Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

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Twelve paddle the Everglades to survey its health
Palm Beach Post by Jason Schultz
Jan. 13, 2010
A flotilla of researchers and volunteers paddled halfway across the state and through much of western Palm Beach County last week to raise awareness of the decline of the Everglades.
The team of 12 kayaked and canoed 78 miles in six days from where the Kissimmee River empties into Lake Okeechobee near the Okeechobee-Glades county line through Martin County and western Palm Beach County through The Acreage and Royal Palm Beach before arriving in the late afternoon of Jan. 7 at the Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach, but just east of The Acreage. They camped along the way.
"It got down to 30 degrees at one point," said one of the paddlers, 67-year-old kayaker Libby Taylor, of Jacksonville, who usually paddles about 20 miles per day. "There was ice on things when we woke up."
The trip was put on by the nonprofit Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, which champions Everglades restoration, to try to get people interested in restoring the Everglades, said foundation board Chairman John Marshall.
"We wanted to bring big visibility to the plight of the Everglades," John Marshall said.
The paddlers, which also included school teachers and college professors, foundation interns, a photographer, South Florida Water Management District official Susan Sylvester and retired biologist Allen Trefrey, used the trip to survey the health of the Everglades and try to bring publicity to the declining health of the natural system.
"It's not in the healthiest state it's ever been in," Trefrey said of what the researchers found during the trip, saying they spotted lots of birds but few species of other wildlife and a growing number of invasive species like iguanas, Brazilian pepper plants and Australian pine trees.
The group basically followed the path that water takes as it flows from Lake Okeechobee to eventually become drinking water served to West Palm Beach residents. Foundation Executive Director Josette Kaufman said the paddlers collected water samples along the way to measure the quality.
Each day the paddlers used a special camera and laptop they had with them to send a live broadcast to students at six elementary schools throughout the county, such as Pine Jog Elementary School in suburban West Palm Beach, Trefrey said. The idea was to educate the younger generation about restoring the Everglades because the effort required to fix past environmental damage is so massive it will require future generations to continue the work, Marshall said.
The paddle in celebration also opened the Everglades Coalition Conference, an annual gathering of environmentalists focusing on the Everglades. This year was the 25th anniversary of the first Everglades Coalition conference and was held in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, said foundation President Nancy Marshall.

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Picayune Strand restoration is a keystone for the Everglades - Guest commentary
Naples Daily News
January 12, 2010
Restoring Picayune Strand is one of those rare opportunities to put back what humans destroyed and, in doing so, to revive 55,000 acres of wetlands, sloughs and upland habitats so important to sustain wood storks, Florida panthers, black bears, bald eagles and many other western Everglades wildlife species.
Picayune Strand is the final piece in a conservation puzzle. With its acquisition and pending restoration there will be a continuous network of natural lands in the western Everglades, from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Recreating the timing and patterns of water flow to the strand’s marshes, cypress strands and mixed-swamp forest will not only enhance habitat for wetland-dependent wildlife, but will also benefit the estuarine ecosystems of the Ten Thousand Islands by reducing the volume of freshwater that flows into the mangrove estuaries though the Faka Union Canal
The ground-breaking on the Merritt Canal portion of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project is a win for wildlife and is a moment well worth celebrating. Once called the Southern Golden Gate Estates, the acres of marshes, sloughs, uplands and estuarine habitat to be restored were destroyed decades ago in a failed attempt to develop part of “the world’s largest subdivision.”
Just purchasing the land required a Herculean effort by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and supporting organizations. There were more than 17,000 individual landowners who had purchased acreage that could just as easily been sold by the gallon.
The Picayune Strand Restoration Project is the largest in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and involves removing 227 miles of roads, plugging 45 miles of canals and installing three pump stations. Once complete, natural water flows and historic water levels will be restored to replenish the sloughs, wetlands and upland habitats and create ecological connections to the natural lands around Picayune.
As the largest project in the CERP, the ground-breaking of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project marks another important landmark. With this restoration, the stage will be set for achieving the ecological benefits possible in all 68 components of the nation’s largest ecosystem recovery plan.
We applaud the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, including its Big Cypress Basin, for taking this important step to undo previous harm and restore America’s Everglades. It is amazing what partners can achieve when they really work together.
The Picayune Strand ground-breaking marks an important recommitment by the U.S. Congress and federal partners to work with Florida to actually return the abundance of wildlife that once was found in the western Everglades.
We also recognize the countless individuals and organizations who expended so much time and effort helping with the land acquisition, attending and speaking in support of the acquisition and restoration at innumerable public meetings, and the volunteers who have helped in many ways. They are all partners in this unprecedented attempt to restore an ecosystem of international importance.
But this is a beginning, not an end. The work of restoration must go on. We call on the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Interior, Florida DEP and others in Florida and local governments to build on the success of this keystone first step.
Cornell is Southwest Florida policy associate, Collier County Audubon Society/Audubon of Florida; McElwaine is president, Conservancy of Southwest Florida; and Payton is Southwest Florida field representative, Florida Wildlife Federation.

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Everglades projects see progress during conference
The Associated Press
January 11, 2010
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Everglades advocates and restoration agencies say they see progress ahead for several projects despite a decade of delays.
Ten years ago was the landmark state-federal agreement to restore the Everglades. Environmentalists wanted to revive flows to parched Everglades National Park, manage suburban growth to protect wetlands and water, among other projects.
Although those goals seem years away, environmentalists spent the weekend professing they've gained their momentum after much delays, lawsuits and red tape.
The Obama administration said some $600 million of federal stimulus and budget cash would be pumped into Glades projects. The White House sent five aides to the 25th annual Everglades Coalition conference, which ended Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens.

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Everglades Coalition expands its focus
news-press.com  by KEVIN LOLLAR • klollar@news-press.com
January 10, 2010
1:10 A.M. — WEST PALM BEACH — When most people think about the Everglades, they envision the great freshwater river of grass south of Lake Okeechobee.
But a panel discussion at the 25th annual Everglades Coalition Conference on Saturday at the PGA Resort and Spa focused on the importance of South Florida's estuaries.
"These estuaries are part of our coastal ecosystem," said Lee County Commission Chairwoman Tammy Hall. "We are part of Everglades restoration. We are not disconnected from the Everglades. We are not an appendage. We are the Everglades."
The Everglades Coalition is an alliance of 53 local, state and national organizations dedicated to the restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.
Its members include the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association and the Audubon Society of Southwest Florida.
Among the coalition's goals presented in its 2020 Vision for the Everglades are continued land purchases for Everglades restoration, sufficient clean fresh water for the Everglades and South Florida's estuaries, and restoration of biological diversity throughout the system.
After the extremely wet years of 2004 and 2005, the Caloosahatchee River estuary suffered massive algal blooms caused by excess nutrients, the result of releases from Okeechobee and runoff from the land between the lake and the Gulf of Mexico.
So, too much fresh water can harm the estuary, but too little can be a problem as well because in times of drought, salinities rise in the estuary and can kill organisms that prefer fresher water.
"Because we've had a pretty dry couple of years, the appearance of the estuary is pretty good," said Rae Ann Wessel, SCCF's natural resources policy director. "As long as we get proper flows that keep water running through the system, without massive dumps out of the lake, we're fine. We have a system that's trying to find its balance."
Brian Lapointe of Florida Atlantic University said his work in Florida Bay dating back to 1982 shows that system has been damaged by nutrients flowing from the Everglades.
Excess nutrients have caused blooms of the red boring sponge, which smothers and kills coral heads, and algal blooms that have killed seagrass beds and corals.
"The Caloosahatchee suffers from many of the same issues - excess flows and nutrient loads," said Lapointe, who also has studied nutrient loading in the Caloosahatchee. "Those excessive flows are linked to red drift algae blooms and red tide, which obviously causes major resource losses and has a huge economic impact."
Florida's estuaries are extremely productive ecosystems; 75 percent of all recreationally and commercially important fish and invertebrates spend at least part of their lives in estuaries.
In addition, they're important habitat for wading birds, dolphins and endangered manatees.
Because they're so productive, they are a significant tourist destination, said George Jones of the Indian River Lagoon Riverkeepers.
"It's important that we understand in these tough economic times that these systems are major economic drivers," he said. "Gas stations, motels, restaurants: Estuaries drive them all. When these systems start to decline, the economy suffers.
"Every estuary on the east and west coast of Florida is terribly important and needs to be figured into every phase of Everglades restoration."

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Federal stimulus money injects new life into Everglades restoration
Tampabay.com by Craig Pittman, Times staff writer
January 9, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH — The multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration program, which for 10 years has moved with the speed of a tortoise with a broken leg, suddenly turned into a jackrabbit over the past two months. Federal officials broke ground on two massive segments of the restoration project and expect to launch a third within two weeks.
All it took to turn things around was the collapse of the nation's economy.
Federal and state officials say the economic stimulus package that Congress passed last year has given the Everglades project new life, allowing federal officials to pump nearly half a billion dollars into some of its shovel-ready segments in the past few months.
"The stimulus money has given a real shot in the arm to this project," Jo Ellen Darcy, the Army assistant secretary for public works, told reporters during the annual Everglades Coalition conference in West Palm Beach on Friday.
A decade ago, Congress and the state Legislature approved the ambitious restoration plan, which called for ripping out some of the canals and levees that had drained the River of Grass, while supplementing its flow with man-made marshes and gigantic pumps.
At the time it was envisioned as an equal partnership, with the funding split 50-50 between state and federal budgets. But after Sept. 11, the federal funding largely dried up, thanks to the high cost of the war on terror.
So the state's taxpayers carried the load alone. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush spent millions buying up land for the project segments and lining up the necessary permits to do the work, even as his brother's administration failed to carry out the federal part.
The federal government's post-Sept. 11 change in priorities led to lengthy delays in the start of several segments of the project, driving up their cost. The 2000 price tag for Everglades restoration was $7.8 billion, and the new estimates are double that.
However, since President Barack Obama was sworn in, the project has gotten "the most federal funding in one year that we've ever seen," said Susan Fain, co-chair of the Everglades Coalition, a consortium of 53 environmental and civic groups that has been pushing for 25 years for restoration.
That's because the economic stimulus bill was aimed at providing funding for job-creating projects that already had their plans and permits in place. Because of all the work the state did during the delay, there were several key segments of the Everglades project that were ready to go "when a chunk of change hit the ground," said Sam Hamilton, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
First, on Dec. 4, came the groundbreaking for raising a 1-mile segment of the Tamiami Trail, the highway that cut off the flow of the River of Grass into Everglades National Park like a dam. Environmental groups want a total of 15 miles of road raised to allow a freer flow of water beneath the highway, and Interior Department officials have hinted that next month they will recommend Congress approve raising another section of the trail.
Then, on Thursday, administration officials flew down from Washington to pose for pictures as the first shovels were turned on a project that's now called Picayune Strand. When developers were carving the swampy land southwest of Naples into a subdivision, they called it Southern Golden Gate Estates.
State officials tracked down the 17,000 people who owned the soggy, sometimes inaccessible lots in Golden Gate Estates and bought all 55,000 acres of it back. This week bulldozers began wiping the landscape clean of 227 miles of roads and plugging 83 canals the developers had built. All told the work, expected to be completed in 2013, will cost more than $50 million.
And later this month they will break ground on a Miami-Dade County part of the project called the C-111 canal, which will employ big pumps and other structures to restore what was once a natural flow of water into Florida Bay.
The question now is who will have the money to push the Everglades project forward from here. Both state and federal officials concede they're facing tough budget challenges in 2010.
"Next year's budget scares the hell out of me," state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole told the coalition gathering.
There's little likelihood of more federal stimulus money coming from Congress to push things along. Meanwhile environmental activists say they worry that whichever candidate replaces Gov. Charlie Crist in the Governor's Mansion won't make the Everglades a priority, as he did.
Ironically, state officials say they have plenty more segments of the restoration project ready to roll — except now they're tied up in federal red tape concerning how the bidding process works.
"If only there were some way we could be more creative with this," said Carol Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, the lead state agency on planning and building the restoration projects.

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Collier County's grand restoration plan unfolds
The News-Press by kevin Klollar
January 8, 2010
The Restoration starts in the Everglades
The theme of Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony for a major Everglades restoration project in Collier County was fixing the mess left by another misguided attempt to develop South Florida's wilderness..
More than 200 people endured temperatures in the 40s to kick off the Picayune Strand restoration project, which will return 55,000 acres of a failed housing development to environmental health.
"We are gathered here on this chilly morning to celebrate the next major step in restoring Mother Nature's river of grass as closely as we possibly can to the way Mother Nature intended," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando. "Picayune Strand is going to be transformed from a raped and scraped housing development that had been hacked into plats to prime habitat for panthers and other endangered species."
Restoration of Picayune Strand is a part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a joint effort of the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers.
Last November, the Army Corps awarded a $53 million contract to Harry Pepper and Associates of Jacksonville to construct a pump station, plug 13.5 miles of Merrit Canal and take out 95 miles of roads in Southern Golden Gate Estates - $40 million of the cost is from federal stimulus funds.
Eventually, pump stations will be built on the Faka Union and Miller canals, and a series of plugs will be put in the canals - contracts for those parts of the project have not been awarded.
The entire project is expected to cost $435 million.
Flora
Part of the strand's importance is it's almost surrounded by public land: Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Collier Seminole State Park, the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
"Our ultimate object is to restore the cypress forest and other associated plant communities - pine forest, wet prairies and a small amount of hammock habitat," Army Corps biologist David Bauman said. "Filling the canals will eliminate them as drains and will raise the water table. We also want sheetflow to travel across the project area, so we'll be de-grading roads."
Material from the roads will be used to plug the canals.
Exotic plant species have badly infested Southern Golden Gate Estates. Scientists have documented 35 species in the restoration area, including Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, air potato, Old World climbing fern, cogan grass and torpedo grass.
Exotic plants often out-compete natives, so exotic plant removal will be a continuing part of the project.
As natural water flow is restored and native plant communities return, native animal species also will come back, including the Florida panther, one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
"This area would have been the next suburb of Naples," said panther expert Paul Souza. "Along with Fakahatchee Strand and the Big Cypress, it's some of the most important panther habitat in the world. There are panthers using it now. Restoring the natural hydrology will make more natural habitat for panther prey like deer."
Fauna
Florida panthers are not the only animals that should benefit from restoration of the Picayune Strand.
Several agencies and organizations have been studying the strand to see what species are there now; these data will be compared with data collected for years after the project is complete to see how restoration affects native populations.
Researchers from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida have been looking at fish, amphibian and invertebrate populations in the study area for 10 years — for comparison, they’re also looking at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.
“In less-disturbed areas, we’re catching a greater abundance of native fishes and invertebrates,” Conservancy biologist Ian Bartoscek said. “This is the prey base for wading birds. If the area is rehydrated, it will become a tremendous foraging ground for wood storks and many wetland bird species.”
Restoring Picayune Strand will have positive effects beyond the restoration area, said Charles Dauray, a member of the water district’s governing board who represents Lee, Collier, Hendry and Charlotte counties.
“If Golden Gate Estates had been developed, it would have been the death knell for the the whole area,” Dauray said. “The Ten Thousand Islands would have been a catch basin for nitrates, phosphates, contaminants and other pollutants.
“But now, this massive 55,000-acre piece of property is going to become a watershed flowway, adding life and promise to that estuary system.”
Some positive effects of Picayune Strand restoration will be seen almost immediately; others will take decades.
Ultimately, Picayune Strand will become an important and healthy piece of Southwest Florida’s environmental mosaic, said Janet Starnes, the water district’s principle project manager for Everglades Restoration.
“The project is surrounded by all this public land: Picayune Strand is the hole in the doughnut,” Starnes said. “The hole is 55,000 acres. That’s a big hole.”
Restoration
In many ways, the restoration project is the typical South Florida story of the past century:
Somebody decided some of those worthless wetlands east of Naples could be put to better use if they just didn’t have so much water. So, in the 1960s, the Gulf American Land Corp., which also developed Cape Coral, dug four large canals, built hundreds of miles of roads and chopped the land into 1.25-acre lots on 175 square miles between Interstate 75 and U.S. 41.
Although thousands of people bought lots, the development went bust, but the damage to the environment was done:
The canals drained the wetlands and dumped excess fresh water into downstream estuaries, and the roads disrupted natural water flow.
Wetlands became uplands; exotic vegetation moved in, and many native plant and animal species moved out.
Endangered species occupying Southern Golden Gate Estates include the Florida panther, wood stork, snail kite and red-cockaded woodpecker.
Over the past three decades, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Department of the Interior have bought land from 17,000 property owners at a cost of more than $150 million.

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Everglades advocates try to jump-start restoration
SunSentinel by Andy Reid, Staff writer
January 8, 2010
The Everglades, suffering from decades of damage and neglect, can't afford to wait out a dreary economy for help to restore life-giving water flows, environmentalists warned Friday.
The Everglades Coalition on Friday released a 10-year plan that calls for state and federal officials to deliver hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by 2011, and billions in the years to come, for projects to revive South Florida's famed River of Grass.
That includes getting another $305 million in the next federal budget and at least $100 million from the state for targeted restoration projects.
In addition, the coalition is urging the South Florida Water Management District to finalize a $536 million deal to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. that would be used for restoration.
The coalition also called on Congress to authorize four long-planned restoration projects, including a 7,700-acre water storage area in western Broward County.
The Everglades suffers from decades of draining and pollution due to farming and development spreading across South Florida.
Restoration plans call for building a series of reservoirs and treatment areas to re-create water flows that once naturally cascaded south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
Supporters contend that reviving the Everglades protects a one-of-a-kind ecosystem, as well as South Florida's drinking water supply.
"We know that we can't wait any longer," said Sara Fain, co-chairperson of the coalition. "Every day that we don't restore the Everglades, it gets worse."
Environmentalists and political heavyweights are meeting this weekend at the Everglades Coalition's 25th annual conference, being held this year at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens
State and federal officials on Friday pledged their support for restoring the Everglades, but stopped short of committing to the total dollar figures sought by the coalition. A nationwide economic downturn has resulted in budget crunches for local, state and federal government.
Getting the federal government to deliver on its commitment to split restoration costs with the state had slowed construction since 2000. But under President Obama's administration, Everglades construction funding surged to more than $500 million.
"We are doing our best to get our act together in the federal government," said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Thomas Strickland. "The commitment is real. … The determination is real."
State and federal officials said Friday that the money to help the Everglades would have to come without raising taxes.
"We have to work within some significant fiscal restraints," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The coalition contends a vital lift for the Everglades would come from Gov. Charlie Crist's proposal for South Florida taxpayers to pay U.S. Sugar $536 million to buy 73,000 acres that would be used for restoration.
U.S. Sugar land, once off limits to restoration efforts, could be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas or swapped for more strategically located land.
A legal fight, still pending before the Florida Supreme Court, could torpedo the deal. The Miccosukee Tribe and sugar producer Florida Crystals oppose the deal, saying it costs taxpayers too much and takes money away from other stalled restoration projects.
Cost concerns in the Legislature also pose a potential threat to the U.S. Sugar land deal, said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
"The clock is ticking," Fordham said.
In recent months, Everglades advocates celebrated groundbreakings on two delayed restoration projects: raising a stretch of Tamiami Trail to increase water flows to Everglades National Park and restoring the 55,000-acre Picayune Strand, a failed development in Southwest Florida.
"We need to keep that momentum going forward," said Fain, of the Everglades Coalition. "It's ambitious, but it's attainable."
Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504

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Everglades Coalition conference to discuss restoration
Miami Herald by CURTIS MORGAN
January 8, 2010
Progress, or the lack of it, on Everglades restoration is the focus of a major environmental conference this weekend in Palm Beach Gardens.
Top White House aides and state political leaders will address the Everglades Coalition's 25th annual conference, the largest gathering of environmental groups in the state.
The meeting comes a decade after a state and federal agreement to restore the Everglades. There has been recent progress and groundbreakings, the latest on Thursday for a $53 million project to turn a long-failed subdivision in the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida back into 55,000 acres of wetlands.
But the effort remains dogged by delays and continual controversies -- the latest and hottest being Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial $536 million deal to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar. Though the deal has been approved by water managers, it still faces legal challenges from the Miccosukee Tribe and rival growers.
Another top concern for environmental groups is whether the Obama administration plans to continue its initial impressive funding of restoration projects. The White House has pledged nearly a half-billion dollars.
Among the highlight speakers are Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer and a Democratic candidate for governor. U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican from Martin County whose district includes a large swath of farmland, is the keynote speaker Saturday night.
Other speakers include U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida; Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton; state Senate President Jeff Atwater, a Republican from Palm Beach County; former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and Tom Strickland, an assistant U.S. Interior secretary.
The conference runs through Sunday at the PGA National Resort & Spa. The public can attend but there is a registration fee of $110 per day or $190 for the entire conference. For information and a schedule, go to www.evergladescoalition.org.

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Everglades Coalition Releases Its 2020 Vision for Everglades Restoration
CommonDreams.org, Press Release
January 8, 2010
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - January 8 - At its 25th Annual Conference, the Everglades Coalition today released its 2020 vision for Everglades restoration. Elected officials, environmental groups, and community leaders gathered to discuss the Changing Face of Everglades Restoration, and develop solutions for the next ten years of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
“As state and federal partners and the environmental community gather to celebrate a year of change, we must work together to ensure the next decade of restoration puts us well on our way to a restored Everglades,” said Sara Fain, National Co-Chair of the Everglades Coalition and Everglades Restoration Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Over the last year, the Everglades has finally received significant federal funding, ground has been broken on two key projects—Tamiami Trail and Picayune Strand—and the State of Florida’s planning for the River of Grass Initiative has moved into its second phase. As we enter the second decade of restoration, the Coalition says it is time to fully fund and build critical projects, and set an example for the world.
“This is an exciting time in restoration, but we can’t stop now,” said Mark Perry, State Co-chair of the Everglades Coalition and Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. “As the Everglades continues to decline, we believe our list of priorities for 2020 is key to turning restoration around.
Highlights from the Everglades Coalition 2020 Vision for Everglades Restoration include:
1. The U.S. Congress and the Florida State Legislature must fund key restoration projects. Adequately fund the Indian River Lagoon, Picayune Strand, Site One Impoundment, and Modified Water Deliveries projects and other critical projects and programs in FY2011 with $305 million, which will result in critical on-the-ground benefits throughout the ecosystem. Ensure the state of Florida continues its financial support for restoration at or above previous funding levels.
2. Congress must authorize four key restoration projects in the 2010 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Four projects that must be authorized in WRDA include the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, C-111 Spreader Canal phase 1, C-43 Reservoir, and the Broward County Water Preserve Area.
3. The State of Florida must, upon closing its first deal with U.S. Sugar Corporation this summer, immediately announce the commencement of a restoration project on the newly-acquired lands and begin negotiations to act on its option to acquire the remaining 100,000+ acres. This unprecedented opportunity to fix long-standing shortcomings in restoration projects and our ability to meet the region’s water supply, ecosystem restoration, and flood protection demands must be seized for the benefit of all Floridians.
4. Everglades Coalition 2020 Vision for restoration provides detailed recommendations to successfully move restoration towards completion. Building on the Coalition’s Priorities for 2010, the 2020 Vision will provide direction for local, state, and federal officials as they proceed forward with restoration planning and projects, as well as decisions that may impact restoration goals.
“For more than a quarter of a century, the Everglades Coalition has dedicated its efforts to protecting and restoring our River of Grass,” said John Marshall of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, this year’s conference host. “We are delighted to host this year’s conference, as Palm Beach County must be a full partner in Everglades restoration for the benefit of the entire ecosystem and our community.”
“If we are successful here over the next decade, we will set an example for all other ecosystem restoration initiatives nationally and internally,” said Mark Perry. “With the establishment of the Great Waters Coalition to create a united agenda to benefit all ecosystems, we must strive for the Everglades to serve as a model to follow.”
Joining the Coalition for its 25th anniversary conference, keynote speakers include U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham, Thomas Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Sam Hamilton. Sessions focus on topics such as growth management, political and public partnerships, endangered and invasive species, wildlife habitat, energy policies, and water quality.
The Everglades Coalition annual conference is the largest annual forum for Everglades conservation and restoration, bringing together the Coalition’s 53 allied organizations with local, state, and federal partners. Senators, members of Congress, and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.
To view the Coalition’s 2020 Vision for the Everglades Restoration, visit: www.evergladescoalition.org.
NPCA is a non-profit, private organization dedicated to protecting, preserving, and enhancing the U.S. National Park System.
CONTACT: NPCA
Shannon Andrea, Media Relations Director, Ph: 202-365-5912
Sara Fain, National Co-Chair, Everglades Coalition, Ph: 305-546-6689

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Obama administration officials assure Everglades group funding will continue
Palm Beach Post by Paul Quinlan, Staff Writer
Jan. 8, 2010
PALM BEACH GARDENS — An Obama Administration delegation descended on a major Everglades conference this weekend with a crowd-pleasing message: Rising anxiety about federal spending will not deter the White House from sending money to the Everglades.
Three top environmental officials who travelled to Palm Beach Gardens this weekend for the annual Everglades Coalition Conference reiterated promises made on the Obama campaign trail, saying the administration views the Everglades as a national concern and restoration efforts as means of creating needed jobs.
"My message is simple," Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told conference-goers in a lunchtime speech today. "The Obama Administration is committed to the restoration of this iconic ecosystem."
But the pledge comes as Obama faces growing pressure to cut back on spending. Deficit reduction is expected to be a major theme of Obama's upcoming State of the Union address, after a year of aggressive federal spending designed to jump-start the economy has simultaneously caused the national debt to balloon to more than $12 billion.
Earlier in a meeting with reporters, Sutley acknowledged that "these are tight budget times" and would not specifically address how much the administration intended to commit to Everglades projects in the 2011 federal budget, which is now being drafted.
"When the 2011 budget comes out, I think you'll see a continued commitment not only to the Everglades but other ecosystem restoration projects," she said.
Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tom Strickland echoed Sutley's comments, saying that the Everglades restoration effort was "at the top of the list" of areas where his department has a role to play.
"The money will be tight going forward, but this will be a high, high priority," Strickland said.
The changing of the guard in Washington has been good to the Everglades.
More than $600 million has been committed over two years to the ecosystem, money that has led to recent groundbreakings on two major restoration projects: raising a one-mile section of Tamiami Trail to allow better flow of the Everglades, and conversion of a failed subdivision back into 55,000 acres of wetlands.
Groundbreaking for the latter was held Thursday. "It's just exciting to see dirt move, finally," Strickland said.
But organizers of this weekend's Everglades conference said the burst of support in Obama's first year was just a fraction of what's needed. The federal government still remains far behind on its pledge to split 50-50 with the state the cost, now estimated at $12.5 billion, of the landmark Everglades restoration plan Congress passed in 2000. The commitment was largely neglected during the Bush years, as the state outspent the feds 6-to-1 on Everglades restoration.
"We're doing our best to get our act together," said Strickland.
Conference organizers are asking for $305 million more from Washington to continue building reservoirs and restoring wetlands intended to restore the Everglades to something resembling its naturally working order, which they say would provide an almost inestimable economic boost in the form of fishing, tourism and drinking water.
"We can't build projects if we don't have continuous funding," said Sara Fain, national co-chair of the Everglades Coalition, which sponsors the conference.
Jo Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the administration viewed continued spending on Everglades as worthwhile, for both its job-creating and ecosystem-restoring potential.
"We're trying to stimulate the economy in the short term, but we're also trying to make investments in our long-term future," Darcy said.
paul_quinlan@pbpost.com

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Canoe trip gives paddlers unique view of wild Florida
Sun Sentinel by Erika Pesantes,
January 7, 2010
It was part of the 25th annual Everglades Coalition Conference in Palm Beach County
West Palm Beach - A caravan of canoes emerged from the horizon at the lily-studded Grassy Waters Preserve on Thursday, the last stop for a 73-mile, six-day expedition through the River of Grass.
The canoes glided past dome-like patches of trees and toward the dock beneath a welcoming sun, but it was 11 paddlers -- five women and six men -- in six canoes who endured the entire journey that followed the flow of our drinking water from the north end of Lake Okeechobee. About 20 kayaks and canoes joined in for the last two-hour leg of the trip in a show of solidarity.
The River of Grass Canoe Expedition was part of the 25th annual Everglades Coalition Conference hosted by the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation and kicked off 2010 as the year of the Everglades.
"The whole purpose was not [just] to canoe," said canoeist Tomas Boiton, 31, a Grassy Waters volunteer and a transportation consultant. "The whole purpose was to bring awareness to the Everglades and sustain it as a resource."
While in the middle of the Everglades, the paddlers used a laptop to broadcast their surroundings live to students at several schools, including Bak Middle School of the Arts, Lantana Middle and Pine Jog Elementary. The group interacted with students who were curious about the natural world the paddlers were experiencing.
That world brought about an unusually persistent wave of cold weather that coincided with the expedition that took off on Jan. 2. The canoeists saw frost on top of their tents on the coldest mornings, they said.
Paddlers would start their days by 7 a.m. and usually set up tents by nightfall. They protected themselves from the cold by wearing layers, and reveled in seeing wildlife that included alligators, bald eagles, king fishers, spoonbills, ibis and even a flighty otter. There was hope of catching a glimpse of a Florida panther, but no such luck.
"If you live in Florida and you paddle, you see gators all the time," said Libby Taylor, 67, of Jacksonville, who made the journey. "The mayor could have ordered some warmer weather."
West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel couldn't quite do that, but she joined the paddlers for 20 minutes "in paradise" as they moved past the expanse of tall grasses and onto land.
Janice Kerber, a science lab teacher at Pine Jog Elementary — the county's first public "green" school — said she experienced hypothermia the first night after paddling for 19 miles.
Still, she was awestruck by the sunset on that first night and the bright stars that followed: "We were under a miraculous dome of lights," Kerber said.
This is the world she hopes her students will learn to appreciate.
"We have to start with these kids at a very young age to be stewards of the land," Kerber said, "We're all responsible for keeping our lands and waters clean."
The canoeists, who were mostly strangers before their journey last week, said it was the camaraderie and their like-mindedness in drawing attention to the Everglades that made the trip special.
"That was just like a dream," said canoeist Susan Sylvester, director of operations for the South Florida Water Management District. "This is a magnificent place and a treasure and it's just a blessing to be a part of it."
Erika Pesantes can be reached at epesantes@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6602.

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Everglades: Success in sight
The Palm Beach Post
Jan. 6, 2010
The Everglades' greatest champion, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, delivered the keynote address at the first Everglades Coalition meeting in January 1986. She urged then-Gov. Bob Graham, who brought the coalition together, to hurry the cleanup.
But in 1986, there was no Everglades cleanup. There was no federal commitment. There was no comprehensive plan to save what Ms. Douglas named the "River of Grass." There were just scattered projects, some only now reaching completion, and a growing acknowledgement that the old approach could not continue.
As the coalition opens its 25th annual conference today in Palm Beach Gardens, the change is startling. It started with Gov. Graham's decision to create a coalition, first including all parties but eventually dominated by environmental organizations. He aimed to make the federal government a full partner of his 1983 Save Our Everglades program.
The coalition delivered the lobbying might of national groups. It drew federal officials to an Everglades ecosystem that stretches from the Kissimmee River basin south of Orlando through Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Nothing short of a national effort would work, Gov. Graham argued, because Florida didn't have the money, expertise or legal authority.
"We stopped using the phrase 'Florida's Everglades,'" Mr. Graham recalled Wednesday in an interview. "Instead, we used 'America's Everglades.' It was important to elevate it to the status of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. … Anybody who thought the story in the Everglades was going to be a 100-yard dash is mistaken. It's been a super-marathon from the beginning and will continue to be."
By the 1990s, federal and state scientists were working together to undo the damage from nearly a century of flood control. The partnership led in 2000 to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which called for a 50-50 federal-state split of costs now projected at $11 billion. Despite a 2002 pledge signed in the Oval Office by Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush, federal money didn't flow.
That finally changed with congressional approval in 2007, over a Bush veto, of the first water resources bill since 2000. Meanwhile, restoration of 22 miles of the Kissimmee River, just a demonstration project in 1986, is complete. After 20 years of debate, work to elevate a section of the Tamiami Trail and deliver water to Everglades National Park at the right time is under way. President Obama has appointed high-ranking officials familiar with and supportive of Everglades restoration, including Carol Browner, the energy "czar," and Terrence "Rock" Salt, the Army's deputy assistant secretary.
As Mr. Graham notes, the coalition's work is far from done. It must keep up the pressure on Washington. Gov. Crist's plan to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar for $536 million is no reason for Congress to stall projects. Washington must deliver long-promised money to restore the Indian River Lagoon in the Treasure Coast.
In 1986, sugar growers had a sharp reaction to Gov. Graham's Everglades initiative. As he said, "They had taken a sort of 'Hell, no!' position early on." Now, Florida Crystals runs TV ads touting its environmental stewardship. Measured day-to-day, the effort to save the Everglades seems as slow as the movement of water Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote about. Looking back to 1986, the progress is nothing short of amazing.

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Politicians migrate to Everglades restoration conference
The Palm Beach Post by Paul Quinlan, Staff Writer
Jan. 6, 2010
PALM BEACH GARDENS — Don't expect a mob of paparazzi, but a major annual Everglades conference has come to town — and with it, appearances (and potentially conspicuous absences) by a few big-name politicos.
The Everglades Coalition Conference, now in its 25th year, runs four days starting Thursday at the PGA National Resort & Spa. This one falls 10 years after the landmark state and federal agreement to partner on a massive Everglades restoration plan and split the now-$12.5 billion estimated price tag 50-50.
The theme is "The Changing Face of Everglades Restoration" and the mood, anxious.
The state had outspent the federal government about 6-to-1 until this year, when the Obama Administration pumped hundreds of million of dollars into the Everglades, ending the long drought of the Bush presidency. Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Crist expects to close on his blockbuster Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. this year.
But the prospect of a Marco Rubio Senate win (one activist called Rubio's Everglades record in the state legislature "abominable") and a Republican take-back of Congress could mean more setbacks for the high-cost restoration effort, some environmentalists say.
So could a shift of Obama administration priorities from stimulus spending to deficit reduction, a change he's expected to emphasize in his upcoming State of the Union address. The handful of ranking Obama appointees in from Washington for the conference can expect to be pressed to pledge support.
"We want to see that the commitment is there going into the second and third year of his term," said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
The boldfaced names in attendance will not include Crist, even though he accepted an award at last year's conference and gave the primetime, Saturday night keynote speech touting his plan to buy swaths of farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration.
The deal, announced in June 2008, has been increasingly derided as a favor to Crist's backers at U.S. Sugar, and twice downsized by Crist himself because of the its $536 million price. It's expected to close by June of this year.
But is Crist, the once proud moderate, worried about sullying his conservative credentials? Environmentalists still love it but will want to hear the feds renew their commitment to include the planned purchase of 73,000 acres of sugar land in the 50-50 calculus.
Crist's rival in the Senate race primary, Rubio, is not expected to attend, either.
This year the Saturday night keynote goes to Congressman Tom Rooney, the Tequesta Republican whose district includes portions of the Glades and the farm-heavy regions of the Kissimmee north of Lake Okeechobee. Farmers and Everglades advocates often don't see eye-to-eye, so attendees will be eager to hear what he has to say. The freshman congressman's record on the Everglades is largely undefined, save for his leaping aboard the anti-Burmese Python bandwagon earlier this year.
Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater is scheduled to speak at the conference. So will Congressman Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. They're on for Friday morning and afternoon, respectively.
Sen. Bill Nelson will address attendees Thursday night. Former Senator and longtime Everglades devotee Bob Graham will speak Saturday afternoon, alongside state chief financial officer and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Alex Sink, a newcomer.

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Judge Approves Settlement in US Sugar Lawsuit
The Associated Press
January 4, 2010
Judge approves settlement in US Sugar federal lawsuit in West Palm Beach
A federal judge in South Florida has approved a settlement in a lawsuit filed against U.S. Sugar Corp. by its employee shareholders.
The judge on Friday approved the agreement reached in October between plaintiffs and the nation's largest cane sugar producer. It calls for U.S. Sugar to pay $8.4 million. If a planned $536 million deal with Florida goes through to buy 73,000 acres of farmland from the company for Everglades restoration, U.S. Sugar then would pay plaintiffs an additional $7.5 million.
The lawsuit was filed in 2008 on behalf of more than 4,000 employees who claimed U.S. Sugar's board didn't inform them of two buy-out offers before rejecting the deals. U.S. Sugar, which did not admit wrongdoing, is a privately held company owned largely by employees.

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2009's wet weather helps keep Lake O levels at healthy levels
South Florida Sun Sentinel by Andy Reid
January 3, 2010
Welcomed wet weather in 2009 helped rescue Lake Okeechobee from back-to-back years of dipping to depths below environmental protection standards.
However, in 2010 and the years to come, continued manipulation of water levels is expected to strain the environmental health of the lake that doubles as South Florida’s back-up water supply.
Twice in the past six years, Lake Okeechobee dropped too low for too long, violating state standards — called minimum flows and levels — used as environmental benchmarks for the water body that historically fed the Everglades.
Dikes and draining turned Lake Okeechobee into a giant reservoir, sacrificing the health of the lake for the sake of agriculture and development.
In recent years, growing public-safety concerns about the earthen dike that protects lakeside communities from flooding prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to start keeping the lake about a foot lower than usual year round.
That leaves less lake water to use for irrigation and to back up South Florida water supplies. During dry weather, it also makes the lake more prone to dropping below the minimum-level standards intended to protect its environmental health.
Water managers say the answer is completing ongoing repairs to strengthen the lake’s dike and also building reservoirs planned for Everglades restoration that would provide a water supply alternative to the lake.
The problem is both of those solutions are expected to take decades to complete.
“It’s not a good thing, but until the levee is fixed that lake is going to be violating,” said Ken Ammon, deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. “I would expect this to happen frequently.”
Those frequent occurrences are expected to mean more receding water lines that allow lakeside marshes to dry out, damaging habitat vital for the endangered Everglades snail kite.
It also can lead to worsening water-quality problems that choke out the life-giving underwater grass beds needed for fish habitat.
In addition, lower water levels can result in a higher concentration of polluting phosphorus ending up in the water that heads south toward the Everglades.
Without more funding to jumpstart dike repairs and Everglades restoration, the problem of yo-yoing lake levels is expected to continue.
“We don’t like to see minimum flow and level (exceeded), but it’s just a fact of life,” said Paul Gray, a scientist for Audubon of Florida. “They are not getting addressed fast enough.”
Lake Okeechobee once naturally replenished the Everglades with water that drained in from the north, overlapping the lake’s southern rim and sending a sheet of water that slowly made its way to Florida Bay.
Decades of draining South Florida led to the dike and canals that allow lake levels to be manipulated.
During the rainy season, Lake Okeechobee serves as a massive retention pond and when the level rises too high for the dike to bear, water is dumped out to sea to avoid flooding.
During the dry season, lake water is sent south for irrigating the hundreds of thousands of acres of sugar cane fields and other farms that now separate Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades. Lake Okeechobee water also can be used to boost South Florida drinking water supplies.
The standards for minimum flows and levels are intended to ensure that there is enough water remaining to protect the environmental health of the lake.
According to the minimum flows and levels standard, Lake Okeechobee should not be allowed to drop below 11 feet above sea level for more than 80 days during any 18-month period. Environmental groups prefer to keep the lake in the 12.5- to 15.5-foot range.
The endangered Everglades snail kite is the poster child of Lake Okeechobee environmental concerns, Gray said.
Lake Okeechobee once was the heart of snail kite territory. But the up-and-down water levels all but wiped out the lake’s apple snail population — which is the primary source of food for the medium-sized bird of prey.
The snail kite population dropped from about 3,000 birds to 700 during the past 15 years, Gray said.

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All alligators want from us is to be left alone — seems fair to me
Gazetteonline.com by Mike Hlas
Jan 03, 2010.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Flocks of Hawks came here Sunday to see eagles and vultures.
The birds were just a bonus to the many Orange Bowl-bound Iowa Hawkeyes fans who used Everglades tour companies on Sunday. They came for the alligators.
But for those who went out on guided air boat tours on the “River of Grass,” seeing a gator emerge from the 4-feet-deep water was highly unlikely.
“You probably have a better chance of seeing a penguin today,” admitted Sawgrass Recreation Park boat Captain Paul Walker.
“We’ll have about 1,000 people (taking one of the privately funded company’s half-hour tours) today, Walker said. “Of course, it’s the coldest day of the year so we’ll see the least alligators.”
Gazette photojournalist Liz Martin and I saw no alligators on our half-hour ride that Walker piloted. But we did see a fish eagle, and some turkey vultures. And for 30 minutes, we felt almost as cold as the people back in Iowa.
OK, I exaggerate. But when Walker had his boat zipping into a stiff wind on a 55-degree morning, you felt like half the water in the Everglades was coming from your own eyes.
The alligators normally show themselves in the familiar spots Walker and his fellow captains bring people. But reptiles don’t like cold any more than two-legged mammals. They tend to stay close to the bottom of the water where it’s warmer when it’s not a typically comfortable day in their subtropic ecosystem.
That would have been more of a disappointment to the tourists at Sawgrass Recreation Park had the park not featured an area to see alligators of different sizes and get an informational talk on the reptiles from “Gator Tim” Schwartzman.
“It’s a very, very misunderstood animal,” Schwartzman said. “Hopefully, we’ll change some peoples’ minds. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t like them.”
That’s because we think alligators look at us and think dinner. When in fact, they want to be left alone.
“They’re like bears in the north,” Schwartzman said. “Attacks on humans are very rare, and mainly because of human encroachment of their territory. They only react to humans by force if necessary.”
Schwartzman introduced us to Cannibal, an alligator he said was pushing 50 years old. At 13 feet long, he tips the scales (no pun intended) at 1,000 pounds.
We were allowed to hold a 2-year-old named Smiley, who was surprisingly soft. When Smiley started to try to wriggle free from my grasp, I was more than a little glad Schwartzman had taped shut the youngster’s mouth.
Overall, though, I shed my fear of alligators. As long as their mouths are taped, or like Cannibal, they’re on the other side of a chain-link fence.
Big snakes, however, remained very low on my list of favorites from the animal kingdom after our visit.
Walker said about 30,000 Burmese pythons are believed to be in Everglades waters, with as many as a half-million possibly here in five years if they aren’t thwarted.
Some either were released into the wild by their owners or escaped. When they reproduce the females can lay as many as 100 eggs at a time. Oh boy.
“Burmese pythons can get 25 feet long,” Walker said. “They’re able to kill a 7-foot alligator and eat it.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has licensed snake experts to stalk the pythons.
Let’s hope the results aren’t the other way around, for the sake of the snake-stalkers and those poor 7-foot gators.

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Kissimmee River wetlands restoration makes progress
Orlando Sentinel by Kevin Spear,
January 3, 2010
OKEECHOBEE — Biologist Lawrence Glenn knows how to sell the concept of spending $1 billion to bring the Kissimmee River and its wetlands back from the dead.
On a recent chilly morning, Glenn whisked visitors on an airboat into the midst of the river's restoration. He cut the vessel's throbbing engine and waited for its propeller to stop turning and for the air to be still — sort of.
Speckling the blue sky and the green vegetation in all directions were storks, herons, cranes, roseate spoonbills, ducks and ospreys. Their honks, squeaks and peeps rose as a noisy conversation from the river's newly revived wetlands.
"This used to be cattle pasture," Glenn said.
Although the scene is about two hours' drive south of Orlando, it has a special significance for Central Florida.
Scientists are beginning to understand that the 40 square miles of reborn river and adjoining wetlands, once complete, will need a lot of water — water the Orlando area might eventually covet to quench the thirst of millions of future residents.
One of those scientists is Glenn, a fish biologist with the South Florida Water Management District and one of many overseers of the Kissimmee's restoration. His agency has calculated specific water needs for specific plants, animals and insects. But it doesn't take that kind of precision to comprehend the notion that a newly thriving wetlands needs more water than pastureland, Glenn said.
"We've counted 320 fish and wildlife species that have come back since we reconnected the floodplain to the flow of water," he said.
Ambitious project
The modern history of the Kissimmee River is one of colossal folly. Federal workers came in the middle of the last century with draglines to render 103 miles of serpentine waterway into 57 miles of straight and deep canal. That reduced the risk of flooding and converted thousands of acres of wetland into ranchland Yet almost as soon as that work was finished in the 1970s, a clamor began to restore the river, which flows south from Central Florida to Lake Okeechobee. Even then, ecologists knew it was far easier to wreck nature than to heal it.
District officials, describing their project as the world's most ambitious river restoration, estimate it will cost federal and Florida agencies $1 billion by the time land purchases and construction work are done in the mid-2010s.
Just the task of shoving all that earth around is staggering. In recent weeks, bulldozer operators finished refurbishing another six miles of river channel — and backfilling four miles of canal channel that was as much as 900 feet wide and 30 feet deep in places.
Backfilling the deep canal forces the Kissimmee's waters into the shallower river channel and spreads it across vast stretches of adjacent land.
Species are returning
While the deep canal and amputated segments of original river channel had been relative dead zones, the restored river channel flows with oxygen-rich waters that are reviving dozens of original species of insects, fish and birds.
As the river and the wetlands rehabilitate, the type of ecosystem that's expected to emerge is called broadleaf marsh. Dominate plants include pickerelweed, arrowhead and maidencane, all of which need to be more than wet — a healthy broadleaf marsh is flooded most days of the year.
The South Florida Water Management District is likely to decide this year how much — or little — surplus water can someday be pumped by utilities from the river's headwater lakes in north Osceola County.
Also coming this year is a transformation of nearly 1,400 acres of pasture, thanks to $18 million worth of the recent heavy-equipment work, as marsh plants reclaim their natural place.
"It's going to be great," Glenn said.
Kevin Spear can be reached at kspear@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5062.

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Citrus growers: We're struggling to save industry
Sarasota Herald-Tribune by TOM BAYLES
January 2, 2010
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Citrus growers are starting out the new decade in what many of them view as their final fight for survival.
The threat from so-called citrus greening - also called Huanglongbing or yellow dragon disease - is so great that growers, who by nature grouse at any levy on their fruit, have voted to further tax themselves to pay for the international last stand against the tree killer.
Coupled with money from a previous tax on each box of citrus produced, $10 million per year will be spent on nearly 100 research projects conducted by scientists from Florida, California, Brazil and Spain.
Joe Davis Jr., a former president of Florida's Natural Growers and former chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, sees greening as the biggest game-changer since "Spanish explorers brought citrus to Florida."
"Greening is a disease that could take out the whole Florida citrus industry," the 58-year-old Davis said. "It is a disease so serious that production could be driven so low, so quickly, we could hit tipping point where we could no longer be a reliable source for orange juice."
The last decade already has been a time like no other for Florida's citrus farmers.
Never before has the state's seminal industry - one that defined Florida long before Disney World or its discovery by silver-haired snowbirds - been beset by so many pressures: hurricanes, diseases, pests, development and foreign competition.
The starkest indicator is the size of the industry: down to 568,814 acres from more than 1 million at the peak in 1970.
Greening is only the most recent threat, but it has rapidly dawned on growers that it could be the last if they do not find a way to effectively combat it.
The insect-borne disease starts as a yellowing of veins and tissues in a leaf, but it progressively kills twigs, branches, the trunk and even root system of citrus trees. Infected trees have stunted growth and produce small, irregularly shaped fruit with a thick, pale peel that remains green at the bottom.
The fruit is bitter.
Greening has becomes endemic in all of Florida's citrus-producing counties, though it is worst in the areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
Some growers are "pushing and burning" trees infected with greening in hopes it will not spread to 20 percent of a grove, the tipping point at which the profit margin evaporates, Davis said.
Others are learning to live with the diseased trees and spending millions in addition nutritional sprays to keep them productive for as long as possible.
A full 90 percent of the nearly 100 science experiments paid for by citrus growers deal with greening and with finding a way to stop the seven-year death spiral for a tree.
The carrier for the disease - the Asian citrus psyllid - also has shown up in Texas and California. Though citrus groves in those two states are so far clear of the disease, conventional wisdom says that it is just a matter of time.
Mexican citrus farmers already are dealing with greening as are those in South Africa, Brazil and other citrus-producing countries worldwide.
The nonprofit Citrus Research and Development Foundation has been formed to oversee the science projects, the remaining 10 percent of which will examine ways to handle citrus canker, another disease now endemic in the U.S. citrus belt.
Greening has cost Davis and his father Joe Davis Sr. - an 86-year-old grower who might represent one of the last citrus barons Florida may ever produce - a fortune.
"I'd imagine we personally have spent more than $1 million so far in extra care-taking because of greening," the elder Davis said. "It's a bunch of money."
Recently, the Davises decided to try both approaches to combat greening - pushing and burning in groves with little infection or spraying extra nutrition on trees where greening has infected more than 5 percent of the trees.
"From where I sit this morning I think we're probably going to have to learn to live with it," the senior Davis said during a recent interview. "It will raise the cost of production and lower that production - in other words we will get less while spending more money."
In the long term, without a scientific breakthrough from the dozens of research projects during the next six years, greening will be far worse than maladies that growers had previously considered doomsday attackers: canker and the Mediterranean fruit fly.
"Canker and the Medfly were 'economic diseases' that drove up costs and hurt production a little bit," the elder Davis said. "This is much different."
Despite the odds, there are still Floridians attracted to the time-honored citrus their families have carried on for decades.
One of the newest entries is Justin Sorrells, now a third-generation grower.
Sorrells' grandfather and his three brothers moved to Florida from Atlanta to open the Sorrells Bros. Packing Co. in Arcadia during the 1940s and sent fresh tangerines and oranges to northern markets.
As their success grew, the brothers also started buying groves. The family's holdings today number about 650,000 trees.
The recent graduate from Florida Southern College has gotten rapid firsthand knowledge of the threats to his industry.
Sorrells, who worked in the industry while earning his bachelor's degree in citrus, was on the job for little more than a year when Hurricane Charley blew through the family's 5,000 acres of groves in DeSoto, Hardee and Polk counties.
"Walking out into an orange grove you've spent an entire year on - and in two hours it's all on the ground - is an awesome sight," Sorrells said. "And not in a good way."
The Sorrells lost millions to the storm.
Their 29-year-old scion's education continued during the 2007-08 season, when a rebound from the spate of hurricanes after Charley fizzled as overproduction dropped box prices below what it cost to fill them.
Then another killer - freezing cold - hit the Sorrells family groves in early February. They lost 30,000 trees.
Replacements for frozen trees can be replanted. Those blown over by hurricanes can be righted. But whole groves stricken with yellow dragon present a whole new level of destruction.
"It is bad," Sorrells said. "We are all praying that greening does not take us all out."
"There is a lot of money going into research to find a solution before we lose the battle and lose the war," he said. "I don't think you can find a citrus grower who isn't scared about greening and is using every precaution we can think of to protect the infrastructure."
Sorrells hopes to be married someday. He also has a vision of a fourth-generation of Sorrells taking over the family farm.
So for now, he will fight.
"No matter how bad something is, no matter how bleak it looks, you have to keep moving forward," he said. "You can't just say, 'That's it.'"

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Everglades National Park To Offer Second Season of Nike Missile Base Tours
National Parks Traveler by Kurt Repanshek
January 1, 2010
A Cold War relic surrounding by Everglades National Park will be opened to the public for tours through the end of March.
The facility, Nike Hercules Missile Base HM-69, was built in 1963 in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union flared. At a time when national security against Soviet attack was America’s main priority, the United States Army chose this strategic site within Everglades National Park, located 160 miles from the Cuban coast, to build a missile site.
Military use of the Everglades site ended in 1979, however, and the facility was turned over to the National Park Service. Last winter marked the park's initial foray into offering ranger-led tours of the base, and they proved so successful that Everglades Superintendent Dan Kimball is bringing them back this winter. In fact, the park has expanded the scheduled tours to twice a day during the week and once a day on weekends.
These ranger-guided tours bring the park visitors through one of the best-preserved relics of the Cold War in Florida. This significant historical site is physically the best overall example of the Nation’s missile defense system close to Cuba and remains virtually the same as it was when official use of the site was terminated in 1979.
The base was listed on the U. S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places on July 27, 2004, as a Historic District. The area includes 22 contributing buildings and structures associated with events that have made a significant contribution to American history and embodies distinctive characteristics of the period. Some of the structures that are part of the tour include three missile barns built to contain 41-foot missiles (some with nuclear warheads) a missile assembly building, a guard dog kennel, barracks, control centers within berms that served as blast protection, and a number of other features, notes the Park Service.
The interpretive tours will be held every week day at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. through March 28, 2009. The tours are free but park entrance fees apply. You'll need to reserve a spot to join one of these tours, and that can be done by signing up at the park's Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, or by calling 305-242-7700. Tours are by car caravan, so you'll need to be at the visitor center 30 minutes before your tour and be prepared to drive 14 miles roundtrip from the visitor center. The Ernest Coe Visitor Center is located 9 miles southwest of Homestead on State Road 9336.

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Canoe enthusiasts set to tackle 'River of Grass'
Sun-Sentinel by Erika Pesantes, Staff writer
December 31, 2009
They will be floating along in the Everglades as part of annual conference.
A dozen canoers will begin paddling 78 miles down the Everglades' River of Grass on Saturday from Lake Okeechobee to Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach, following the natural flow of our drinking water.
The River of Grass Canoe Expedition, being held as part of the 25th annual Everglades Coalition Conference, will culminate with a flotilla of up to 30 kayaks and canoes that will join in for the last two-hour leg of the trip.
The conference and expedition are being hosted by the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation.
Palm Beach County, the School district and other municipalities have dedicated 2010 as the year of the Everglades, said Nancy Marshall, president of the Foundation, which focuses on Everglades education, restoration and conservation efforts.
"Its turn has come," she said.
Nature photographer and author, Dudley Edmondson, will also paddle along during the six-day journey and film the canoe caravan for a documentary.
Susan Sylvester, director of operations for the South Florida Water Management District, will be one of 12 canoers making the grueling trek. She studies the Everglades water system remotely from her office and will now be in the midst of the River of Grass.
"This is an opportunity to really get out there. Time slows down when you're out there and you really get a feel for the system in real time, moment by moment," she said. "You feel the wind blowing, the raindrops; whatever's going on, you're part of it."
Sylvester has been training for the 78-mile trip by commuting to work by canoe from her West Palm Beach condo. It's four miles via waterways near her home and along the C-51 canal, she said.
She's looking forward to the migratory birds she may encounter, but admits that possible low temperatures might be taxing as the group camps at night.
The group, which also includes a high school teacher, a University of Miami professor, and a biologist, will return on Jan. 7.
They will be updating the public along their journey by tweeting about their whereabouts and scientific findings on Twitter, a social networking website. They can be followed on their Twitter account: @MarshallFoundat.
Environmental enthusiasts may greet the canoers at 4 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Bingham Nature Pavilion at the Grassy Waters Preserve, 8264 Northlake Boulevard, in West Palm Beach.
Erika Pesantes can be reached at epesantes@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6602

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PICAYUNE STRAND RESTORATION PROJECT GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY SET FOR JANUARY 7
Black PR Wire: US Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
December 30, 2009
(BLACK PR WIRE) A groundbreaking ceremony for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project will take place on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010, beginning at 10 a.m. This event celebrates the start of the Merritt Canal component of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, a feature that builds upon earlier efforts to reclaim this land from the ravages of a failed housing subdivision from decades ago. This project will restore water flow across the landscape, rehydrate drained wetlands, improve estuarine waters, and return habitat to threatened wildlife communities.
WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 at 10 a.m.
WHERE: The event will be held at the intersection of 56th Ave. S.E. and the Merritt Canal in Collier County. Parking for all participants is being provided at the Division of Forestry Office located at 2121 52nd Ave. S., Naples, FL 34117. Shuttle busses will transport attendees to and from the event.
WHO: The project is being constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the South Florida Water Management District, and the State of Florida.
SPEAKERS: Speakers include Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for public works; Thomas Strickland, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, U.S. Department of the Interior; Sam D. Hamilton, director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Michael W. Sole, secretary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Eric Buermann, chairman, South Florida Water Management District; Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr., commander of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and other federal and state leaders.
MEDIA INSTRUCTIONS: A designated on-site media area will be set aside and will provide a good view of the ceremony for video and still cameras. A media-availability session will occur immediately following the event. Special note: Space for satellite-linked trucks is limited. Space must be reserved in advance and on-site equipment must be set up by 8:30 a.m. Other members of the news media are encouraged to be at the parking area by 9:15 a.m. to allow time for shuttle transport and equipment set-up. A map with directions is available through the online event invitation: http://63.138.19.20/picayune_strand/evite.html
EVENT LENGTH: The ceremony is expected to last approximately 90 minutes.
MEDIA TOUR: A media tour will be held the previous day, Jan. 6, from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the project site. RSVPs are required for this activity. Please contact Susan Jackson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at 904-704-6870, if interested in participating. (Please call on or before Jan. 5.)
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Please contact Nanciann Regalado at 904-334-8954 or Susan Jackson, USACE, at 904-232-1953 or (cell) 904-704-6870.
FOR INFORMATION ONLINE: Visit www.evergladesplan.org

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