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North Florida farms honored for sustainable practices
Business Matters - by Dave Hodges, Editor
June 27, 2010
Sidney Koon, a farmer in Lafayette County, knows the importance of a good balance in his business operation, where care for both his land and his crops can be achieved in a sustainable manner.
Koon’s Farm Inc. totals 2,200 acres and produces corn and peanuts. The business is one of 24 in the Suwannee River Basin being honored Tuesday by CARES, the County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship.
“We are always looking for ways to save money and make ourselves more efficient,” Koon said. “These days, our profits are so thin on what we make, we have to be efficient.”
Darrell Smith, coordinator for the Suwannee River Partnership that sponsors CARES, said the improved practices being utilized are having a big impact. “We have some progressive or demonstration farms where they are reducing their nitrogen use by 50 pounds per acre,” he said. That amounts to 2,500 tons less per year across the whole program.
The change in water usage is equally dramatic. In the last five to six years the program has had 325 to 350 irrigation systems retrofitted to make them better. “We estimate they save a billion gallons of water per crop-year by making those improvements,” Smith said.
In the use of fertilizer, Koon’s Farm has tissue tests done on the plants to determine the amount of nitrogen they have absorbed. That’s an indicator of how much should be applied to achieve plant growth, but avoid creating a pollution source in the Suwannee River watershed.
“Before we moved to tissue sampling, you ‘guess-timated’ about what you needed,” Koon said.
In application, tractors and sprayers are outfitted with global positioning system units, which show the vehicles’ exact location on a screen inside the cab. With each pass across the field, the map on the screen changes color to show where the product has been distributed.
Chemical and fertilizer applications are now more precise. Koon says his costs for those products is down 25 to 30 percent because he uses less.
He has also picked up 400 to 500 more pounds of peanuts per acre when harvesting because the GPS tracking shows any parts of the field that may have been missed.
See Monday's Tallahassee Democrat for more reporting on this story.


Trash by tons soils Lee County canals
June 27, 2010
1:10 A.M. — When it storms, Susan Adams watches long clots of crumpled milk jugs, Coke bottles and Publix bags scud through her Fort Myers canal and into the Caloosahatchee.
The police even came once, when two hog carcasses turned up in the same canal, which runs through an upscale neighborhood off McGregor Boulevard.
“They thought they were human remains,” said Adams’ neighbor, Michael Cooper.
Yes, littering is illegal in Florida.
Yes, volunteers and governments work to clean and restore local canals.
No, the trash flowing through Adams’, Cooper’s and most of Lee County’s canals has not stopped.
It all adds up to trouble, for the whole county — not just those who live on canals.
“Our economy is based largely on tourism and real estate,” said Karen Bickford, Lee County’s water quality coordinator. “People don’t want to invest in a community that’s trashed. And if tourists come and see messed-up beaches and waterways, they’re not coming back and they’re going to tell all their friends.”
These man-made channels — just more than 1,000 miles of them — are overseen by a tangled web of government agencies and special districts, leading to misunderstandings, territorial squabbles and gaps in enforcement.
The jurisdictional fuzziness stems from the fact canals exist for different, though often overlapping, reasons.
“Canal maintenance is generally handled in a very reactionary way. Unless somebody sees trash, calls it in and asks for help, we’re probably not going to know about it,” Bickford said. “We don’t patrol all the stretches of canal in the county — we can’t. We just don’t have those resources.”
Yes, it is a crime
Those miles of canals also are conduits for tons of trash, much of which winds up in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.
“When someone throws a cup or water bottle out of the car window, where does it go?” asked environmental scientist Whitney Gray of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. “Think someone comes along and picks it up? Not likely.
“And if you’re on a bridge when you commit this crime — yes, crime — the trash just goes right into the river, creek or stream you’re over, floats downstream and winds up in the bay, then the ocean, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces and getting spread over a larger and larger area.”
Trish Fancher, program director at the nonprofit Keep Lee County Beautiful since 2003, has never heard of anyone being arrested for littering or dumping in canals.
“And I’m pretty sure I’d hear about it,” she said.
The state attorney’s office has handled 380 cases of littering in the last seven years, but spokeswoman Samantha Syoen couldn’t immediately say if any of those involved canals.
Punishment for breaking Florida’s litter laws range from fines of $100 to $5,000 plus forfeiture of any vehicle used to dump litter.
This year, Keep Lee County Beautiful and its volunteers have gathered more than 38 tons of junk, much of it from rivers and canals. That puts it on track to beat out the 66 tons collected in 2006, which included debris from Hurricane Charley.
Even debris picked up on land would likely end up in a waterway, points out Fancher, who’s seen everything from tires to TVs — not to mention mountains of cigarette butts and fast-food wrappers — pulled from area waterways.
Getting worse
More than 4 feet of rain fall here every year; canals carry much of that away while providing watery highways for the county’s 51,000 boats and draining homesites built on land that would otherwise be underwater half the year.
“Without canals, we couldn’t live here,” said Nora Demers, FGCU associate professor of biology. “This is the Everglades. And the Everglades is a river.”
The Caloosahatchee River itself is technically a 75-mile-long canal. Many of its tributaries, such as the Orange River and Manuel’s Branch, begin as canals, too.
While cleanups do help, the problem is cumulative, said area water expert Rae Ann Wessel.
“Yes, without such efforts, conditions would be even worse today,” she said. But “the rate of accumulation of litter and garbage hasn’t slowed down — and with more people in the area, we expect the problem to get worse.”
And that’s bad not just for people near canals — “Who wants to live next to a dump?” Wessel asked — but for the wildlife that depends on them and for the larger bodies of water into which they empty.
“In the last decade we have seen nothing but ever-decreasing quantities of wildlife and poorer water quality flowing past our dock on the Caloosahatchee,” said commercial fishing guide Pete Quasius.
Messy red tape
Determining who’s in charge of canals can be tricky.
“Generally, a municipality oversees its canals and in unincorporated areas, it’s the county,” said Randy Smith of the South Florida Water Management District, which permits and regulates water use from Disney World to the Keys, but doesn’t clean canals. “The water management district has no law-enforcement capacity.”
Likewise, the state Department of Environmental Protection oversees water quality but doesn’t actually do the physical work to protect it.
“These agencies may mandate it and sometimes they fund it, but they don’t actually put boots on the ground,” Bickford said.
That falls to a hodgepodge of municipalities and special taxing districts.
Unless people volunteer for trash patrol, as they can in Fort Myers’ and Cape Coral’s Adopt-a-Canal programs, cleaning is done on a crisis-by-crisis basis, Smith said.
“Like when you get so much stuff in there you run the risk of having the thing back up and flood,” he said, “but there’s nobody to specifically regulate them unless it turns into a real health issue.”
William Todd has lived on Cape Coral’s Sierra Canal for 30 years. In that time, he said he’s seen everything from dead dogs to dock timbers in the canal.
He volunteered for the city’s Adopt-a-Canal program for years, but eventually left in frustration when the city didn’t respond to his repeated reports of lawn services blowing trash and grass clippings into the canal.
“I photographed them in the act, sent the pictures along with the name of the business and the truck tag number to the city,” he said, “(but) because the city does nothing I resigned my volunteerism.”
Cape Coral environmental resources supervisor Connie Jarvis sympathizes, but said the city does as much as it can.
“You may be able to catch person A in the act, but you’re probably not going to see B, C and D,” she said. “It’s not like we sit back and say, ‘Oh, we’re just lazy government workers; we’re not going to do anything.’”
The city organizes annual cleanups and regularly dredges segments of its canals on a rotating schedule, but it’s impossible for workers to keep them all clean all the time.
“Some people just aren’t going to be satisfied with what we can do,” Jarvis said.
Yet it can be hard for a motivated resident to take action, as Jerry Poppe of south Fort Myers learned a few months ago.
Rain of trash
In March, Poppe, the CFO of Waterman Broadcasting, noticed the canal on Carrell Road in front of Lee Memorial’s Wellness Center was loaded with trash. After months of trying to find the responsible agency, he learned volunteers at DEP’s Fort Myers office had taken it on through the city’s Adopt-a-Canal program.
On April 22 — Earth Day — the volunteers took out five cubic yards of junk.
For a while, the canal looked great, but soon, the trash started accumulating again.
Then the rains came.
“All that stuff that was back in the canal is gone now,” Poppe said, “Flushed down through the (Fort Myers) country club and out into the Caloosahatchee.
“It just blows me away. We’re trying to have a pristine community that will attract tourists and instead we have this.”
Meanwhile, the rain of trash continues.
“I watched somebody do it yesterday on the Caloosahatchee Bridge,” Gray said.
“Just rolled down the window and tossed out a plastic drink cup.”


SWFWMD to limit farmers' water use
myfox - Tampa Bay
June 25, 2010
PLANT CITY - Think back a few months to our colder-than-usual winter. Farmers were watering the crops almost non-stop to protect their investment.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District says farmers used too much water to save their crops. The result from the extra-cold winter was 750 dry wells, about 140 sink holes, and millions of dollars worth of damage in the Dover and Plant City area.
"We looked at that data and realized that it would take about a 20 percent reduction in existing frost-freeze quantities in order to keep those impacts from happening in the future," said SWFWMD spokeswoman Robyn Felix.
SWFWMD is proposing several measures: the reduction in existing frost freeze quantities that Felix mentioned as well as a cap on new frost freeze quantities. This is the first proposal of its kind by a water management district in the country.
"This is a fairly unique situation," said Felix. "We have a very large quantity of water being used in a small concentrated area which is what caused those dry wells and sink holes."
Carl Grooms has been a farmer for more than 35 years. He's also a board member for Florida's Strawberry Growers Association. He is not happy with the proposals, but he says some farmers are willing to come to an agreement.
"A little harsh on the statistics that they're using to come down with the water level that they're saying is a must that we stay above," said Grooms. "Because they're basing it on last year which was one of the harshest freeze years we've ever had."
Last year, strawberry season left a bitter taste in Grooms' mouth. 11 days of consecutive below-freezing temperatures killed many of the crops in the area, leaving farmers with tens of thousands of dollars in losses.
Even so, SWFWMD says farmers used about one billion gallons of water a day during the winter, and that must change.


Fishermen’s advocate who lived through Exxon Valdez tells Everglades City anglers what to expect – by Kelly Farrell
EVERGLADES — Waiting until Southwest Florida is drowning in oil is not the time to learn how to swim through such a disaster, several Everglades City fishermen decided Thursday.
About 50 fishermen and people in economically related fields gathered in the Everglades City Community Center on Thursday to learn from Riki Ott, a marine biologist, author and commercial fisherwoman with fist-hand oil spill experience.
Ott was fishing in 1989 during Exxon Valdez when about 250,000 barrels of oil spilled in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and became an advocate for fishermen.
“I don’t want to be caught unaware of the long-term effects this might have,” said Howie Grimm, the owner of Grimm’s Stonecrab in Everglades City, who had invited Ott to speak.
Ott warned them not to put their fate into the hands of the oil companies.
“Their contingency plan is the biggest piece of marine fiction since Mobey Dick,” she said.
The effects in Alaska lasted more than 20 years and included human health problems, environmental devastation, economic depression and psychological stress, Ott said.
When she first heard of the BP Deep Horizon Spill on April 20, the past came flooding back.
“Exxon came in promising the moon. ‘If your nets don’t fill up, if your hotels go bankrupt, we’ll fill your claim,’” Ott recalled. “We were dumb enough to believe them.”
BP has promised the same thing and it’s great if they come through, she said, but don’t wait for BP to take care of you.
The entire ecosystem collapsed four years after the spill in Prince William Sound, Ott said.
If BP fulfills the fishermen’s claims of loss now, don’t spend it on a new boat, Ott advised. Many Alaskan fishermen did that and regretted it years later.
“We can’t fish when there are no fish,” she said.
So after the environmental collapse, came the economic collapse. By that time, Exxon had paid claims and was gone and the media was gone, Ott said.
“Booms, burning and disbursements didn’t work in Exxon Valdez and it’s not going to work now,” Ott said.
She recommended a medical doctor’s approach: “The number one rule is ‘do no more harm.’”
Chemical disbursements are more toxic than the oil itself and disbursing the oil throughout a larger area to deeper layers of water can harm more species in various stages of life, Ott said.
Cleanup crews’ stories on the water aren’t making their way back to the land in the stories told by BP, she said.
Exxon called the sick workers’ symptoms the cold or the flu, she said. BP is now claiming heat exhaustion or food poisoning, but Ott says it’s chemical poisoning.
A network of people, including the Louisiana Shrimp Association, banded together to get respirators to the workers, but BP threatened to terminate the workers if they used them, she said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not requiring BP to provide them and Ott wants that changed.
So far, fishing near Everglades City remains unaffected, reported Lee Marteeny of Everglades City.
It’s off-season and the area’s main fishing grounds remain about 100 miles from the closure.
Stone crab is Everglades City main seafood product and season doesn’t start until October.
Bill Shelburne, an Everglades City Chamber of Commerce board member and owner of Parkway Motel and Marina in Chokoloskee, is concerned that the oil spill could devastate Florida’s economy. Fishing was already hurt by the cold snap and Floridians are already suffering economically.
“Now we have another assault on us,” Shelburne said.
Johnny Brown of Naples said he is feeling that assault. Brown earns 40 percent of his annual income fishing in Louisiana each summer, but oil changed that.
“I don’t know what to do. That’s all I do this time of year,” Brown said.


Rock-mining moratorium gets unanimous okay
Palm Beach Post - by Jennifer Sorentrue, Staff Writer
June 24, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County commissioners gave preliminary approval for a year-long moratorium on rock mining in the Everglades Agricultural Area, to give county planners time to craft long-term restrictions.
Commissioners voted unanimously this morning in favor of the moratorium. A final vote is scheduled July 22.
The 700,000 acres of former Everglades marsh, south of Lake Okeechobee, was drained decades ago to create farmland. Over the last four years, the commission allowed seven new or expanded gravel mines there, over objections of environmentalists that the blasting could interfere with Everglades restoration.
A plan unveiled earlier this month would have required a change to the county's long-term growth plan before any new mine is approved. Mining interests objected because it would require them to undergo a lengthy Department of Community Affairs approval process.
On Tuesday county administrators announced they were backing away from that plan. In its place they proposed less stringent requirements.
The new proposal would require landowners in the agricultural area to seek a zoning change from the county commission before they could mine. That process is quicker and doesn't require state approval.
Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the change would give commissioners more control over development in the agricultural area. "The path we are on now really leaves all the decision making at the local level," Baker said.


On Obama's Cue, La. Senator Pushes Ambitious Gulf Coast Restoration Vision
New York Times - by PAUL QUINLAN of Greenwire
June 23, 2010
Sen. Mary Landrieu wants to create a new government agency funded to the tune of as much as $1 billion annually to direct the long-term Gulf Coast environmental restoration that President Obama called for in his Oval Office address last week.
Some have compared the ambitious plan to the creation of a new Tennessee Valley Authority or Port Authority of New York & New Jersey -- government agencies charged with carrying out economic and environmental tasks within their regions.
Landrieu (D-La.) said overlapping responsibilities of the various state and federal agencies now involved have bogged down the decades-long effort to restore Louisiana's endangered coastal wetlands, considered essential nursing grounds for fish and shellfish and protection against hurricanes and storm surge.
Obama's speech and appointment of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to oversee the restoration effort following the BP PLC oil spill has given new urgency to what could surpass the Everglades restoration, undertaken in 2000 and now estimated to cost upward of $12.5 billion, to become the world's largest environmental rehabilitation project.
"We need $500 million to $1 billion per year to get the job done," Landrieu said. "We need fast implementation because this can't wait."
Landrieu sent Mabus a letter yesterday inviting him to accompany her on a trip to Louisiana to tour the coastline and meet with scientists and stakeholders. The letter also urged that oil and gas production revenue sharing with Gulf Coast states set to take effect in 2017 instead be implemented immediately to help fund restoration.
"To fulfill President Obama's promise to leave the Gulf Coast better than it was before the BP oil disaster, Gulf Coast states need a dedicated and robust stream of funding to restore and protect our coast for the long-term," Landrieu wrote. "In the short-term, these funds should be provided by a fair distribution of revenue from offshore oil and gas production similar to what interior states have received since 1920."
The Gulf Coast has lost more than 2,000 miles of wetlands, the remainder of which are now swimming in crude oil and eroding at the rate of a football field every 38 minutes. The loss stems from both the vast network of offshore oil and gas transmission pipelines that carve the coastline and the channelization of the Mississippi River, which has prevented currents from spreading wetland-replenishing sediments across the delta.
In a 13-page white paper (pdf) Landrieu prepared in April and sent to the White House last week, the senator calls for "a new governing authority" to coordinate and expedite completion of restoration plans already sitting on the books in various stages of analysis and completion.
The proposal amounts to a vast consolidation and overhaul of existing state and federal programs to restore the coastline, maintain shipping channels and protect against flooding, many of which are now overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan would transfer all these responsibilities to the new agency and assume control of virtually the entire civil works budget of the local Army Corps district, as well as programs now overseen by a myriad of other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Interior and Agriculture departments and others.
Paul Harrison, the Environmental Defense Fund's senior director of the Mississippi River, said a new agency -- as opposed to simply a task force -- is likely needed to carry what he expects to be a 50- to 100-year project to completion, as parties come in and out of power and presidential administrations change.
Everglades restoration, for example, which is overseen by a task force and carried out by pre-existing state and federal agencies, languished during the George W. Bush administration, only to be reinvigorated under President Obama, who campaigned on the promise to renew the federal government's stalled commitment.
"As with any government institution, when you're asking them to change things, the bureaucrats will look around and say, 'Do you really mean that?' Nobody in the government ever got in trouble for not doing anything," Harrison said. "That's why you create a TVA or a Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. You create purpose under the law. Then you don't rely on having the politicians putting their shoulder into it."
Landrieu has proposed that such an agency be led by state and federal co-chairmen and immediately begin drawing up a federal-state master plan for coastal protection and restoration based on existing plans. Membership would be presidentially appointed, with Louisiana representation being recommended by the governor. Jurisdiction would cover Louisiana's nine hydrologic basins along the coastline as well as the Mississippi River watershed.
Landrieu also calls for establishing an independent science and engineering program to guide decisionmaking and address technical challenges similar to Deltares, a Dutch-based water institute that researches solutions for deltas, coastal areas and river basins.
The timing may never be better to push through such a plan, given the BP disaster and the president's call, as Landrieu said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
"What the Gulf Coast needs is a long-term restoration plan, and this is the first president that's used those words from the Oval Office," she said. "And that's music to the ears of people who are now up to their knees in oil."
Click here (pdf) to read Landrieu's white paper.


Bad data must not stop crucial Everglades land buy:  Ray Judah - special by Ray Judah
June 22, 2010
A recent guest opinion by George Wedgworth, president and CEO of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, to discredit state purchase of 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corporation land south of Lake Okeechobee was deceitful and fundamentally flawed
Mr. Wedgworth suggests that the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will adequately address the need for storage and treatment of polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee that has caused adverse impact to coastal estuaries on the west and east coast of South Florida.
Unfortunately, the Central and South Florida Flood Control project model used as the basis for Everglades restoration under CERP is seriously flawed because the model incorporated data collected from a 30-year dry cycle between 1965-95. The South Florida Water Management District underestimated the need for water storage to restore the Everglades and properly manage Lake Okeechobee.
An evaluation of the annual water budget for Lake Okeechobee is another cause for alarm when considering the total storage capacity of the reservoirs and storm-water treatment areas to be built under CERP. Annually, approximately 4.7 million acre feet of water enter Lake Okeechobee by inflow and rainfall, with 2.4 million acre feet of water lost to evaporation. The cumulative amount of storage expected to be provided by the additional reservoirs and storm-water treatment areas under CERP is approximately 800,000 acre feet of water. Another 500,000 acre feet of water is used by agriculture, indicating a need for an additional 1 million acre feet of water storage to minimize the devastating impact of excessive fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee.
The SFWMD proposed plan to build 330 aquifer storage and recovery wells around the lake to store the excess water would cost in excess of $3 billion. The uncertainty of injecting water below ground raises serious questions as to the recovery rate and release of arsenic, contaminating ground water supplies.
Mr. Wedgworth suggests that the SFWMD Acceler8 efforts focused on building reservoirs such as C-43 on the west coast will benefit the Caloosahatchee River. Unfortunately, the design of the C-43 reservoir does not include a water quality component, and will serve as an incubator for bacteria and toxic blue-green algae that is becoming more prevalent in the Caloosahatchee River and creating public health concerns. Heavy nutrient loading of phosphorus and nitrogen, warm water, and limited circulation in the reservoir create an optimum environment for the proliferation of bacteria and algae.
The use of aerators in the reservoir to enhance circulation prevents nutrients in the water from settling to the bottom, causing nutrients to remain in suspension, resulting in further degradation of our coastal estuaries.
Mr. Wedgworth further comments that "the lake and estuary problems are not caused south of the lake" when, in fact, the sugar industry uses hundreds of thousand of acres of publicly owned lands south of the lake, known as storm-water treatment and water conservation areas, to treat and store water from their sugar cane fields, thus depriving the use of these publicly owned lands for treatment and storage of excessive surface water runoff from Lake Okeechobee.
For decades, Lake Okeechobee, a public resource, has been managed by the SFWMD to ensure adequate storage and water supply to meet the irrigation needs of sugar cane producers. In periods of high water, the sugar industry has been allowed to back pump into Lake Okeechobee to avoid flooding of sugar cane fields resulting in excessive nutrient discharge of phosphorous and nitrogen in the lake. During periods of low water, the SFWMD has historically reserved water for irrigation of sugar cane fields and eliminated minimum fresh water flow to our coastal estuaries.
The current SFWMD Governing Board is at long last representing the public interest and recognizes that the purchase of 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land is a landmark decision to restore the Lake Okeechobee watershed and Florida Everglades.
- Ray Judah is LeeCounty commissioner for District 3


Rock-mining moratorium weighed for Everglades Agricultural Area
Palm Beach Post - by Jennifer Sorentrue, Staff Writer
June 22, 2010
Palm Beach County commissioners on Thursday will consider a year-long moratorium on rock-mining in the Everglades Agricultural Area, to give staff time to craft long-term restrictions.
The 700,000-acre area of former Everglades marsh, south of Lake Okeechobee, was drained decades ago to create farmland. Over the last four years, the commission has allowed seven new or expanded gravel mines there, over objects of environmentalist that the blasting could interfere with Everglades restoration.
A plan unveiled earlier this month would have required a change to the county's long-term growth plan before any new mine is approved. Mining interests objected because it would require them to undergo a lengthy Department of Community Affairs approval process.
On Tuesday county administrators announced they were backing away from that plan. In its place they proposed less stringent requirements.
The new proposal would require landowners in the agricultural area to seek a zoning change from the county commission before they could mine their property. That process is quicker and doesn't require state approval.
Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the change would give commissioners more control over development in the agricultural area. "The path we are on now really leaves all the decision making at the local level," Baker said.
But environmental watchdogs say it doesn't go far enough.
"The proposal that was laid on the table would change very little about the way mines are approved today," said Richard Grosso, of the Everglades Law Center. "…I was amazed to see how quickly staff changed its mind. It is time for the county commission to take leadership of this."
The proposed rule change, to require only a rezoning for mining in the agricultural area, would itself require state approval. The county also would need to set criteria that a landowner would have to meet to qualify for rezoning.
Landowners expressed concerns Tuesday that the proposal could threaten their property rights. Some urged county officials not to set in motion with the state any changes until the proposal is finalized and publicly vetted.
County commissioners are expected to discuss the new rules at a meeting next month.
Since 2006, about 1,700 acres have been under excavation for the rock, which is used for road building and other construction materials. Mining has already been approved on another 18,000 acres, leaving enough inventory for the next 70 years, county officials have said.


US judge rules against Obama's 6-month ban on Gulf deep-water drilling; White House to appeal
International Business Times - by S. Chatterjee
June 22, 2010
The Obama administration's decision to impose a six month moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico spill received a blow on Tuesday when a federal judge in New Orleans ruled against the ban.
"The Court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium," Judge Martin Feldman wrote in his order, granting a temporary injunction against the drilling ban.
"An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country," the judge wrote.
The White House said it will appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, "The president strongly believes...that continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened does not make any sense, and puts the safety of those involved...and the environment in the Gulf at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford right now."
"We will immediately appeal to the 5th circuit," he said.
On May 6, the Obama administration had proposed a one month ban on offshore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. However, on May 27, the moratorium was extended for six months as the Interior Department said it needed time to study the risks of deepwater drilling.
The state department said a moratorium was necessary to give industry regulators more time to study the risks of deepwater drilling and identify ways to make it safer. "A second deepwater blowout could overwhelm the efforts to respond to the current disaster," the department said.
The Deepwater spill, which followed an explosion on April 20 killing 11 people on an oil rig, has become the largest environmental disaster in the country's history, surpassing that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.
The spill has cost British oil giant BP Plc (LON.BP), the majority-owner of the leaking oil well, over $2 billion in recovery costs and legal damages and could add billions of dollars more to its costs.
The leaking oil well has spewed over 120 million of gallons of oil into the Gulf up to now and oil has been washing up from Louisiana to Florida, wrecking the environmentally fragile Gulf Coast by killing shrimp, oysters, crabs, fish, birds, and other wildlife and coating marshes and wetlands and covering pristine beaches with tar balls and oily debris. It's likely to be at least August before recovery crews finish two relief wells that are the best chance of stopping the flow of oil.
The US government had imposed a ban on offshore drilling following the Gulf oil spill to allow enough time to ensure that existing exploratory drilling proceeded safely.
However, the ban, which has halted the operations of 33 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, was challenged by the oil industry. A suit challenging the ban was filed by Louisiana-based Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC and was joined by more than a dozen companies involved in offshore drilling operations. They all complained that the ban was arbitrary in nature and there was nothing to assume that because one oil rig failed, all companies and rigs posed an imminent danger.
Jay Pryor, the global vice president for business development at US No.2 oil giant Chevron Corp. (NYSE.CVX) was critical of the ban, saying it would "constrain supplies for world energy" and be a "step back for energy security." The Gulf region pumps one-third of the US's domestic oil supply.
"There's no zero probability for everybody in this room," Pryor told delegates at the World National Oil Companies Congress in London. "There's always going to be that one chance in 10 million there's an accident. Just like the nuclear and airline industries."
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had also protested against the ban, saying the moratorium will force drilling rigs to leave the Gulf of Mexico for lucrative business in foreign waters. Offshore drilling business has created thousands of high-paying jobs in Louisiana, where the only other major economic sector is tourism, a largely low-wage industry.
Jindal's office had filed a brief supporting the plaintiffs' suit, saying the federal government had violated federal law by imposing the moratorium without consulting Louisiana officials. "Even after the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, the government only shut down the airlines for three days," Louisiana said in court papers seeking to lift the ban. Incidentally, Louisiana is taking the major brunt of the effects of the oil spill.
"Our marsh will recover, our tourism will recover," said Brady Como, vice president of Delmar Systems Inc., an offshore mooring service company in Broussard, Louisiana. "But to think that for a political reason Washington just took our jobs? From that, we may not recover," he said.
However, Catherine Wannamaker, a lawyer for environmental groups that intervened in the case and supported the moratorium, said "The harm at issue with the Deepwater Horizon spill is bigger than just the Louisiana economy."
"It affects all of the Gulf," she said.

Shares of Chevron closed down 2.27 percent at $74.00 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday at 3.49pm (EDT). BP closed down 4.38 percent at 334.20 pence on the London Stock Exchange

Amendment 4 : Big Business vs. Environmentalists - by - Jarrett Terril
June 21, 2010
If you want to know how you should vote on Amendment 4, you only need to take a quick look at the lists of supporters and opponents to figure out what’s happening. On the side of passing Amendment 4 into law are the Sierra Club, Friends of the Everglades, the Native Plant Society, the Audubon Society, Save the Manatees Club, the Student Environmental Association and the Urban Environment League.
On the side opposing Amendment 4 are the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, the Florida Propane Gas Association, Utility Contractors Association of North Florida, Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast, various chambers of commerce and the Martin 9/12 Tea Party Committee.
Amendment 4 essentially allows Florida’s locals to vote on big development enterprises and possibly say:  “No, we don’t want this built here.”  Supporters of Amendment 4 argue that if something like this had been in place earlier, we would have been able to prevent Florida’s “development bubble,” which is widely blamed for today’s economic and environmental woes.
In April, The Miami Herald issued an editorial that blasted everyone from the Florida legislature to lobbyists for the construction and development industries. “When it comes to the laws and enforcement of growth management, the Florida Legislature excels at playing games. Last year, in the name of fostering jobs, lawmakers adopted a bill allowing builders of large developments to evade paying for the road improvements these projects inevitably require. Now, local taxpayers must foot the bill.”
But an editorial or two in a newspaper might not be enough to compete with the advertising power of Florida’s business interests when it comes to influencing an election. The group called “Citizens For Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy” was formed to challenge Amendment 4 with the threats of job losses, higher taxes, and an unsound economy. Their website is bold and aggressive, with black and red lettering, and fully integrates with all your favorite social-media outlets.
Ranking far lower in a Google search is Florida Hometown Democracy’s website. They are the grassroots citizens group that gathered the petitions to put Amendment 4 on the ballot. Their website, while not quite as glossy or design-heavy as the “No on 4” site, does connect to a network of well-established environmentalists and voter-advocacy groups that have outlined the case for Amendment 4 in certain language.


New Everglades takes shape: Palm Beach County project latest in transformation
Palm Beach Post
June 20, 2010
Twenty years ago, it was to be Palm Beach County's next garbage dump. Now, it's a symbol of the state-federal commitment to the Everglades.
The 1,600-acre Fran Reich Preserve, named for the late west Boca Raton community organizer who led the fight against the dump, will be converted over the next four years into a $120 million reservoir as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The first phase, costing $38 million, is moving forward with federal stimulus money.
Under President Bush, the first eight years of the supposed 50-50 federal-state partnership to restore the Everglades were all state and no federal. That has changed since President Obama's election. The reservoir on the property formerly known as Site 1 is the fourth major restoration construction project to start in the past year, and the first in Palm Beach County. A fifth project, the vital bridging of the Tamiami Trail, also has begun, but that was authorized long before the state-federal partnership came together in 2000.
The projects represent hope that the massive $12 billion plan to restore the Everglades and assure a sustainable water source for South Florida will succeed. Palm Beach County dropped plans for the garbage dump and sold the land in 1996 to the South Florida Water Management District for $8.4 million. Four years ago, when the county considered running a road through the property, the district protested, preserving the reservoir option.
Rather than dump storm water to tide during the rainy season, the new reservoir will hold it for dry times. The result is an offset: Water that previously was released to farming and urban needs in the Lake Worth Drainage District will remain within the Arthur R. Marshall National Wildlife Refuge, a northern remnant of the Everglades. "We're growing the water pie," Everglades Foundation Chief Executive Kirk Fordham said, "so we stick the straw in the Everglades less often."
The project's first phase reconstructs a canal and erects the first wall of the reservoir. Congress has to authorize the second phase in a far-reaching water bill that won't happen this year. Another project of local importance, reservoirs and treatment marshes in Martin County to save Indian River Lagoon, also await congressional action.
Still, there's cause for optimism. For the first time, the federal government is keeping its end of the deal. The result is that the public is seeing movement on a long-term plan that until recently has been all talk. And a proposed garbage dump at the junction of natural Florida and suburban Florida is part of the solution, not part of the problem.


'Nice Guys,' Big Sugar stand in way of true Everglades restoration
TCPalm – by Karl Wickstrom
June 18, 2010
An old, somewhat cynical saying is “Nice guys finish last.”
Don’t count on it.
In politics, we find that nice guys of no substance too often finish first.
Last month we warned about the Bright Greenies. These are the extremists who rail against fishing and hunting even as they munch on animals they apparently think emerged from nowhere.
The nice guys, to us, are similar in their smiling hypocrisy.
Just when we most need straightforward, honest commitments, we get hugs and laughter and inane promises that at first blush seem just fine.
Recently, several of us lunched with a handsome young millionaire who found himself in high office. Full of friendliness (and another substance), he pledged to assign his staff to work closely with us and, it seemed, work for our goals.
“He’s a nice guy,” a friend murmered to me.
As we broke up, all smiles of course, I asked the pol if he would seek to reduce the government’s support of Big Sugar.
“Well,” he said after pausing. “I wouldn’t want to go up against all their money.”
And thus we knew that the jillionaire sugar barons would keep their stranglehold on Florida, the subsidy giveaway being one of our more sacred traditions.
I immediately thought back four decades to our most powerful politician’s cozy ties to Big Sugar, enjoying a seat on the board of the biggest sugar company as well as a mega-mansion in the Dominican Republic.
Meantime nowadays, ordinary folks pay $2 billion extra for sugar at the supermarket to help prop up an unneeded and destructive industry that profits from a ridiculously low import limit set each year by the friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Occasionally, a renegade limb of the media will make a peep about the sugar scandals. But the industry Nice Guys know how to snuff out such peeps. And on it goes.
So we’re left helpless and hopeless against the big private profits and smooth public relations of the type that once convinced everyone that the best doctors smoke and recommend cigarettes. For a superb and amusing exposé of the public relations industry, read “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You” by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton (check a bookseller or search engine.)
Well, we’re not quite hopeless right now, because for a combination of reasons, U.S. Sugar is willing to sell its farms at a reasonable price for Everglades restoration. The acquisition could provide for a critically needed flowway south from Lake Okeechobee, bring back groundwater and save marine life on both coasts from the assaults of excess freshwater that destroy estuaries.
There’s simply no other alternative to save the ’Glades.
Only the Nice Guys and their Pollution Establishment stand in the way.
Wickstrom is founder of Stuart-based Florida Sportsman Magazine, which will print this column next week. E-mail:


Red Tide found in low concentrations in Lee County
Naples Daily News
June 18, 2010
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is reporting that red tide was found in a low concentration from a water sample in Lee County waters.
Red tide is a algae bloom that can cause massive fish and marine life kills. It can cause respiratory problems like coughing and throat irritation in humans exposed to the bloom.
Southwest Florida waters have been relatively clear of red tide in recent years, although a 2005-2006 outbreak killed tens of thousands of fish.


Everglades Offers Model for Massive Gulf Restoration, Says Senior Obama Admin Official
New York Times - by PAUL QUINLAN of Greenwire
June 17, 2010
President Obama's vow to restore a ravaged Gulf Coast ecosystem figures to test the limits of a law intended to hold oil companies accountable for environmental restoration.
President Obama's vow to restore a ravaged Gulf Coast ecosystem figures to test the limits of a law intended to hold oil companies accountable for environmental restoration.
The scope and structure of the "Gulf Coast Restoration Plan" that Obama proposed in his Oval Office address Tuesday night are still unknown, but senior administration officials say it will go far beyond mopping up crude on beaches and marshes. The plan, they say, will seek to reverse a century's worth of damage caused by oil and gas production, the straitjacketing of the Mississippi River with levee walls, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The cost could be tens of billions of dollars, officials and outside experts say.
The plan will be the focus of a discussion today in the Oval Office, where Obama is scheduled to meet with the man he has tapped to oversee the restoration, Navy secretary and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus.
Experts say the plan could both resemble and yet dwarf the world's largest environmental restoration project under way: the Everglades project. That plan, which Congress approved in 2000, is now expected to cost $12.5 billion.
Like the Everglades, drained to half their original size and polluted by sprawling suburbs and sugar farms, the Gulf Coast has suffered at the hands of ambitious efforts to tame the landscape.
"The cardinal thing to remember about the Mississippi River Delta wetlands is that they have been suffering from an ecological collapse for the last 90 to 100 years, even before the oil disaster happened," said Paul Harrison, senior director for the Mississippi River and East Coast at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.
The delta once scoured itself with the help of the Mississippi River, which regularly shifted paths, evenly scattering its sediments across marshes that serve as nurseries for marine life and protect against hurricanes. But decades of dredging and dam-building have deepened the river and created a chute that sends sediments off to the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That has starved coastal marshes that are eroding at the rate of a football field every 45 minutes, Harrison said.
Meanwhile, the region has become home to a third of U.S. oil and gas production and 50 percent of its refining capacity.
Administration officials say the work of a federal interagency task force charged with Gulf Coast restoration, which in March released a "Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability," will guide the restoration effort.
A big part of the restoration challenge will be combining under one umbrella the various state and federal efforts already under way along the Gulf Coast, including five federal programs launched between 1990 and 2007.
Probing limits of oil-spill law
Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill, a council of trustees is charged with carrying out a natural resources damage assessment that includes planning the scale of restoration.
The incident command system, headed by the Coast Guard, and the trustee council, comprising state, federal and tribal officials, are charged with making claims of the responsible company, in this case BP PLC, whose damaged well is spewing oil into the Gulf.
But just how much can be claimed for longer-term restoration, given the little-understood scope and extent of the ongoing oil spill and the decades of abuse to the Gulf Coast, remain a key question, according to one senior administration official.
"Recently, the question's been asked, are these two systems adequate to deal with everything that we need to be doing?" said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.
"Some of the internal questions that the administration or executive branch is asking itself are: Are we lifting every stone? Have we thought about everything we could or should be doing to respond and to recover and to restore?"
Some discussions have centered on creating a new federal agency or corporation, similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority, although this official said planners "winced" at the proposal of creating a new bureaucracy and discarded the idea.
A task force may be the solution, similar to the one that oversees the Everglades restoration effort, a project whose costs are split 50-50 between the state and federal government and that is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, an existing state agency.
"In order to take those moneys and spend them in a more holistic way, it may take some legislation and certainly the formation of an interagency, Everglades-restoration-like coordinated team," said Lynn Scarlett, a former deputy secretary of the Interior.
Scarlett could not speculate on an exact dollar figure that would be asked of BP but noted that the Exxon Valdez spill settlement would be $14 billion in today's dollars.
"There's no serious number at this point. The only thing that can be said at this point is that it likely will be very big," she said. "This is clearly larger than Exxon Valdez. Several times larger, and it's not even over."


Sour grapes should not stop Everglades restoration: Malcolm S. WADE, Jr., V-P US-Sugar Corp.
June 17, 2010
With all due respect to the Sugar Cane Co-op’s elder statesman George Wedgworth, I must take issue with the way that he blatantly misrepresented both my prior statements and U.S. Sugar’s current position regarding Everglades restoration. (“U.S. Sugar land buy costly, not needed for Everglades restoration,” June 8.)
Wedgworth quoted a 2006 statement I made regarding water storage in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) not solving Lake Okeechobee and the estuary problems.
Back then, South Florida was reeling from multiple hurricanes and their attendant heavy rainfall that resulted in massive, damaging discharges to both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
Coastal residents were outraged and called for sending more water south to be stored in the EAA.
My position in 2006 and now is that those who understand the technical and scientific facts of the South Florida system should understand that the lake suffers from both poor water quality and tremendous stormwater discharges coming from the large watershed north of the lake.
The estuaries suffer from massive discharges of poor quality water from the lake, but a significant volume of poor quality water is also discharged locally between the lake and the estuaries.
Storage of Lake Okeechobee water on U.S. Sugar land or other land is an important and high-priority first step, but without water quality facilities north of the lake and water quality and storage features upstream of the estuaries, Lake storage alone will not solve all the lake and estuary issues.
This is why I said water storage in the EAA will not solve the Lake Okeechobee and estuary problems. It cannot be the solution alone, but it can be a vital part of the total solution. The other side of the coin is that any solution without a significant EAA component won’t solve the problem either.
Understanding these sound science and engineering priorities is why the Florida Legislature stepped in with the Northern Everglades and Estuary Recovery (PEER) plan that committed hundreds of millions of dollars to protect these resources.
In addition, the State and South Florida Water Management District put a billion dollars into restoration projects that benefit Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries on the fast track with their Accelr8 projects.
Today, as Wedgworth admitted, many of those projects are already under way to provide additional storage north of the Lake.
The one indisputable constant, both then and now, is that South Florida’s water management system must deal with massive volumes of water in a much smaller natural system than existed historically.
As evidenced by the recent flush of damaging releases from Lake Okeechobee, there remains a vital need for even more water storage and water treatment. From a purely scientific standpoint, storage is storage. Ideally, it would be located close to Lake Okeechobee and be easily connected to other parts of the natural system.
That being said, the main difference between 2006 and today is the presence of a willing seller of large amounts of land south of Lake Okeechobee — U.S. Sugar.
The benefit to the entire system is that our land is located next to the lake and in the natural flow path of the Everglades.
Also, agricultural land south of the lake sells for a fraction of the cost of land north, east or west of Lake Okeechobee.
With nearly 200,000 acres of U.S. Sugar property available, water managers, scientists and engineers can design truly large-scale water storage and treatment projects that will be much more efficient and economic than a bunch of smaller such projects scattered throughout the system.
U.S. Sugar has always believed that sound science and engineering rather than emotion or rhetoric must drive restoration. We believe that still today.
Unfortunately, some of our sugar competitors remain mired in the past and refuse to look beyond their own self-interests. Don’t let their sour grapes impede restoration.
In addition, the State and South Florida Water Management District put a billion dollars into restoration projects that benefit Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries on the fast track with their Accelr8 projects.
Today, as Wedgworth admitted, many of those projects are already under way to provide additional storage north of the Lake.
The one indisputable constant, both then and now, is that South Florida’s water management system must deal with massive volumes of water in a much smaller natural system than existed historically.
As evidenced by the recent flush of damaging releases from Lake Okeechobee, there remains a vital need for even more water storage and water treatment. From a purely scientific standpoint, storage is storage. Ideally, it would be located close to Lake Okeechobee and be easily connected to other parts of the natural system.
That being said, the main difference between 2006 and today is the presence of a willing seller of large amounts of land south of Lake Okeechobee — U.S. Sugar.
The benefit to the entire system is that our land is located next to the lake and in the natural flow path of the Everglades.
Also, agricultural land south of the lake sells for a fraction of the cost of land north, east or west of Lake Okeechobee.
With nearly 200,000 acres of U.S. Sugar property available, water managers, scientists and engineers can design truly large-scale water storage and treatment projects that will be much more efficient and economic than a bunch of smaller such projects scattered throughout the system.
U.S. Sugar has always believed that sound science and engineering rather than emotion or rhetoric must drive restoration. We believe that still today.
Unfortunately, some of our sugar competitors remain mired in the past and refuse to look beyond their own self-interests. Don’t let their sour grapes impede restoration.
— Malcolm S. “Bubba” Wade, Jr., is senior vice president of sugar operations for U.S. Sugar Corp.


Let Cuba supply sugar; let Okeechobee be lake
TCPalm – Letters, by reader submitted
June 16, 2010
Here’s a thought: Stop subsidizing Big Sugar and start buying sugar from Cuba. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper.
With the money saved, relocate Belle Glade, blow up the dike and let the lake return to its natural shoreline and water flow.
Subsequently, you can stop the water releases into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, thereby helping those poor bodies of water get healthy again.
Get the Army Corps of Engineers out of the picture and get back to basics.  Let nature take over.  There never should have been a dike in the first place; agriculture and the people involved should have accommodated the lake, not the other way around.
This way you would be helping the lake, the Everglades, the aforementioned rivers, the estuaries, even the poor Cuban farmers.
Heaven knows, I’d rather help them than continue to help Big Sugar, which has been helping itself for far too long.  In closing, I remind you, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” 
Cindi LaVoie, Palm City, FL


Reservoir will increase South Florida water supply – by Eric P. Newcomer
June 16, 2010
Few attended Wednesday's community meeting to discuss plans
West Boca — Water management officials outnumbered residents at a meeting Wednesday to discuss the water reservoir scheduled for construction in the northern reaches of the Everglades.
To at least one leader from the area, that means they're OK with the proposal.
"If they weren't [content with the plans], this room would be full," said Sheri Scarborough, president of the West Boca Community Council, who said she sent an e-mail to approximately 1,000 people about the meeting.
Officials from the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers held the 6:30 p.m. meeting to give residents a chance to ask questions about the project. The few members of the public seemed to agree that the proposed reservoir is better than the alternative: a landfill that was considered for the 1,800-acre plot of land 20 years ago.
"What would you rather have?" Burt Aaronson, chairman of the Palm Beach County Commission, asked rhetorically. "The landfill that was intended there?"
The water reservoir, which is scheduled to be completed in 2016, is designed to hold water that can be used to boost the supply of drinking water during dry periods.
Part of the reservoir project includes improving the levees, which sit in a plot of land next to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. They are also designed to reduce water seepage from nearby areas, according to a presentation given by the Army Corps.
The South Florida Water Management District purchased the land, but the reservoir project experienced delays due to financial constraints, until President Barack Obama's stimulus program opened up $41 million of federal funds last year.
Work on the first phase of the water reservoir — during which the levees will be reinforced — is scheduled to begin after a contractor is awarded the project in September. Canals, pump stations and recreational facilities will be constructed during the second phase of the project. The design for that phase is scheduled to be completed by April 2011.
The reservoir eventually will be able to hold an estimated 4.4 billion gallons of water. During the dry season the water will be about 5 feet deep and in the rainy season it will be 8 feet deep, according to Jason Harrah, project manager for the Army Corps.
The reservoir will look like a "big bathtub," Harrah said.
Only one resident strongly criticized the plans, referencing the levees that collapsed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
"It could be a tragedy," said Linda Gianni, who said she is worried a hurricane could cause the levees to fail and release water on neighboring homes. "I just don't feel comfortable. This impacts the community."
Several residents asked if they considered adding bike trails to the project.

"Bike paths don't fall under our purview," said Jeffrey Needle, the lead project manager with the South Florida Water Management District. But officials said they would work with the Palm Beach County

SFWMD exploring options for regional water storage
June 16, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH — With the annual rainy season under way, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is evaluating strategies that could increase regional storage and lessen the volume of future freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
“The St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries are vital to the way of life of residents and businesses on both of Florida’s coasts,” said SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. “The options currently under evaluation will not prevent future lake releases by themselves, but they are part of the long-term solution for easing the burden on the estuaries. We recognize that a lot more work needs to be done.”
At its May 13 meeting in Stuart, the SFWMD Governing Board heard the concerns of residents on both coasts about the harmful effects of freshwater lake releases on the estuaries. District staff shared information on its alternative water storage and treatment initiative and opportunities to expand shallow water storage on public and private lands. Staff has been building on existing efforts and developing new strategies, including:
• Expanding surface water storage capacity around Lake Okeechobee. Since 2005, the District has been working with a coalition of other agencies, landowners, environmental organizations and researchers to add 127,100 acre-feet of surface water storage capacity on private, public and tribal lands. The District is continuing to evaluate these projects while looking to further expand storage capacity for emergencies and the long term by:
o Determining the feasibility of storing water on District lands and sites set aside for Everglades restoration projects on an interim basis. For viable District and state properties with lessees, the District is asking the lessees to retain more storm water on site. Some District lessees have already made system modifications to retain more storm water. For properties that do not have a lease or reservation, the District is in the process of developing designs, construction and operation cost estimates and schedules.
o Developing a dispersed water and treatment solicitation program to select cost-beneficial projects for implementation to obtain more storage and retention capacity. The District is currently reaching out to private landowners to gauge their interest in holding storm water on their land or storing regional runoff and exploring project concepts.
• Partnering with the City of West Palm Beach on a pilot project to store storm water that would otherwise be lost to tide. The pilot project involves intercepting water from the C-51 canal, which runs parallel to Southern Boulevard, during times when the canal is releasing water to tide. The intercepted storm water would be treated at the city’s existing Renaissance Project facility and stored in Clear Lake near Okeechobee Boulevard.
• Partnering in Palm Beach County with Florida Power & Light (FPL) to improve water quality at the L-8 Reservoir and temporarily increase storage capacity. FPL will soon install temporary pumps to use approximately 10 percent of the reservoir water to cool its new West County Energy Center. In early 2011, FPL’s reclaimed water system will be in place. Until then, the withdrawals will make room for additional water storage for the District to use during the 2010 rainy season. In addition, the partnership will create an opportunity for rainfall and stormwater runoff to lower chloride levels in the reservoir, allowing it to be used for its intended environmental purpose as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
• Utilizing aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). ASR involves injecting and storing water within underground aquifers until it needs to be recovered. The District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are pilot testing two ASR systems as part of CERP. The most recent test at the Kissimmee River ASR pilot well was able to store 1,500 acre-feet of water.
• Releasing water south to the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and when capacity is available in the regional system. Over the course of the 2009-2010 dry season, the District sent 73,731 acre-feet of water south from Lake Okeechobee to maintain EAA canal levels, helping to lower the lake level.
o During a recent eight-day combined water supply and water storage release in late May, the combined average flow of water south, as measured at the S-351, S-352 and S-354 structures, was 1,351 cubic feet per second (cfs) per day, or 21,438 total acre-feet. For comparison, the Corps’ targets for its most recent round of releases were 1,170 cfs per day to the St. Lucie Estuary and 3,000 cfs per day to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.
In addition to the District’s current efforts, the long-term solution for reducing freshwater releases from the lake to the estuaries includes:
• The Corps is continuing its efforts to rehabilitate the 75-year-old Herbert Hoover Dike, which will eventually allow it to safely hold more water in the lake. The Corps recently awarded a $40 million contract for repairs to the most vulnerable section of the dike between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade.
• The completion of CERP projects will enable the District and the Corps to send more clean water south to the Everglades.
• The District’s pending purchase of strategically located land owned by the United States Sugar Corporation south of Lake Okeechobee, which would significantly increase water storage south of the lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps bases operational decisions — whether to retain or release water in the 730-square-mile lake — on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the District.
Since late March, the Corps has been periodically releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to lower the lake level for the rainy season for public health and safety purposes. During the November-to-May dry season, South Florida received an average of 24.67 inches of rainfall, nearly 6 inches above normal. The water level in Lake Okeechobee reached as high as 15.15 feet in early May. The Corps strives to manage the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet to protect the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
Details of the goals, roles and responsibilities for managing Lake Okeechobee can be found here:
More information about the South Florida Water Management District’s efforts to enhance water storage and treatment around Lake Okeechobee is available in this fact sheet:


EPA Numeric Nutrient Update
Farm Bureau South Florida Report - by Gary
June 15th, 2010
This in today from Florida Farm Bureau’s Charlie Shinn, who keeps pretty close tabs on water goings on in the south Florida region.
EPA Extends Deadlines for Enacting New Numeric Nutrient Criteria in South Florida Waters including Canals
On June 7, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Plaintiffs in the numeric nutrient litigation filed a notice of extension of the Consent Decree deadlines on moving the date from October 15, 2010 to November 14, 2011 for South Florida Waters, including canals. The purpose for the extension is to allow sufficient time for peer-review by EPA’s Science Advisory Board of the underlying methodologies, analysis and data to confirm the best available science is being appropriately used to support development of the criteria.
This confirms that EPA is having the same difficulty that Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) was having in deriving limits for nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll that could be statistically significant in our varied waters.
It is especially difficult and I may deem near impossible to derive concentrations of nutrients that are ‘natural’ in an unnatural water body such as a canal. Although canals have varying levels of biological species (flora and fauna), these cannot be considered natural or background in a structure with the sole purpose of moving water from point A to point B in an efficient, unrestrictive manner.
The final promulgation of numeric nutrient criteria for lakes and flowing waters (streams) did not change and remains October 15, 2010.
Dispersed Storage Remains a Hot Topic at Governing Board Meetings
In several different agenda items, holding waters back on public and private lands to increase regional storage capacity remains a hot topic with governing board members. The goal is to decrease ocean outfall of fresh water by holding additional water where possible, both upstream and downstream of Lake Okeechobee. On private property, holding water for profit has been coined the term ‘Water Farming’.
A presentation to the governing board by The Nature Conservancy highlighted specific measures to store water on lands in the Northern Everglades (north of Lake Okeechobee). Goals of the Conservancy besides hydrological restoration are protection and linkage of high quality habitats for threatened and endangered species and the sustainability of the cattle industry in the region.
Florida Farm Bureau remains in favor of water farming as an alternative income stream for farmers where it is feasible and cost effective if issues are resolved to allow the farmer to continue cropping the land once water is removed. These include wetland re-creation and management of threatened or endangered species that may relocate due to the flooded conditions. As this process moves forward, Florida Farm Bureau will remain diligent to make sure that safeguards are in place for farmers that wish to participate. Additionally, we are keeping an eye on the process to insure that current property rights are not threatened. It is a constant process to inform others of the ecological benefits of working ranchlands.


Palm Beach County commissioners considering one-year ban on new rock mining proposals
Palm Beach Post – by Andy Reid
June 15, 2010
After four years of opening the door to rock mining on 20,000 acres of western farmland, Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to consider a moratorium on digging up former Everglades land.
Since 2006, the County Commission has allowed seven new or expanded rock mines despite environmentalists' warnings that the deep digging and blasting threatens to pollute water supplies and get in the way of Everglades restoration.
Now the commission on June 24 plans to consider imposing a one-year moratorium. The idea is to give the county time to craft new regulations for commercial rock mining on agricultural land.
Even if the County Commission puts the brakes on new mining, there still could be plenty of digging to come.
Since 2006, about 1,700 acres have been under excavation for the rock used for road building and other construction materials. That leaves rock miners with an inventory of about 18,000 acres of approved land that could still be tapped during another 70-plus years.
"We have all this inventory. What possible harm could there be ?" Commissioner Jess Santamaria said about the moratorium. Santamaria and Commissioner Karen Marcus in April cast the only two votes against the most recent rock mining proposal to go before the board.
Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida, are still waging a legal fight to try to overturn some of Palm Beach County's rock mine approvals in the Everglades Agricultural Area - 700,000 acres of former Everglades land south of Lake Okeechobee drained to make way for farming.
Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham on Tuesday welcomed the proposed moratorium, but said it would have been "more prudent" for the commission to take that action before approving thousands of acres of rock mining.
"We are optimistic that the commission will … hit the pause button on mining," said Fordham, whose group is not one of those that filed suit against the county.


Proposed EPA regulations for Florida water waterways meet opposition
June 15, 2010
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Tough new water pollution standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the state of Florida have been met with fierce opposition from industrial and agricultural interests, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Paper, citrus and power companies have expressed concern over the potential staggering costs of the proposal, the article stated.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, the new standards could cost more than $1 billion per year.
Environmental groups, however, insist the standards are necessary to protect water bodies from fertilizer and other pollutants from lawns, farms and industrial operations, according to the story.
The new rules are intended to control algal blooms in springs, lakes and rivers in North and Central Florida, but EPA has included criteria for all of the state’s water ways including South Florida’s canals.
“Regional canals are not natural systems and were primarily intended for flood-control purposes,” wrote Albert Perez, Hollywood’s utilities director, in a letter to the EPA. “These constructed waterways are being held to a proposed standard that is more reflective of a natural environment.”
EPA will announce a final decision in October, the story reported.
To read the entire article, click here.
For related information, click here.


SFWMD website opens visitors’ eyes to science
June 15, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH — As part of the ongoing redesign of its website, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has launched a series of webpages that highlight the agency’s role in protecting and restoring South Florida’s ecosystems.
“The District is conducting cutting-edge scientific research to improve regional water quality, hydrology and ecology,” said Deena Reppen, SFWMD Deputy Executive Director for Regulatory and Public Affairs. “It is fitting that our website reflect that level of technological sophistication by presenting timely and relevant information in an engaging way to the public and our stakeholders.”
The new and improved webpages on use interactive graphics, multimedia and fact sheets to tell the story of the District’s ecosystem restoration efforts and the science behind them. The pages include:
• An overview of Florida’s habitats and wildlife. For each of seven habitats, visitors can open a panoramic photo with related information on plants, animals, recreation opportunities and scientific research.
• A multimedia look at the District’s Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs). These are constructed treatment wetlands that use plants to naturally remove phosphorus from water flowing into the Everglades. The webpage has videos and animations that explain why the District built the network of six STAs, how they work and what water quality improvements they have delivered. Visitors can also explore a panoramic view of an STA with information on its components.
• A new page that outlines the role of sound science at the agency and the expertise of District scientists, researchers and modelers.
• Information and a video on the District’s efforts to control nuisance and invasive exotic vegetation and animals throughout the agency’s 16-county region.
• Regional overview pages detailing work to protect and restore the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, coastal watersheds and America’s Everglades.
This latest phase in the ongoing redesign and re-engineering of the District’s website contains more than 25 new or improved webpages. In addition to the sections on protecting and restoring ecosystems, this phase includes a page on what residents can do to improve water quality, plus a new interactive search function for recreational activities.
The redeveloped is being produced in-house to be the authoritative source of information about the District and the agency’s primary line of communication with 7.5 million residents across 16 counties. Additional pages for the site — which drew 512,263 unique visitors in Fiscal Year 2009 alone — will be transitioned into the new Web redesign through mid-2010.
More information about the ongoing redesign of the District’s website can be found in a Q & A at:


Gulf of Mexico oil spill reaches Florida beaches – NASA Photo
June 14, 2010
NASA took a new image of the Deepwater Horizon well oil spill that now is visible across the entire Gulf of Mexico. The photo was taken by NASA's Aqua Satellite. You can see the oil on the beeches, even at Florida you can see the oil reached the beach.
On June 12, 2010, oil from the still-leaking Deepwater Horizon well was particularly visible across the northern Gulf of Mexico when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image at 1:55 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Oil appears to have reached beaches and barrier islands in Alabama and the western Panhandle of Florida.
Close to the location of the well, the oil appears gray, but to the northeast, it is bright silver. The increased brightness does not necessarily mean the oil is thicker or more concentrated there; it may simply be that the oil is located in the sunglint region of the image—the spot where the Sun’s reflection would appear if the water surface was as perfectly smooth as a mirror.
Normally, waves blur the Sun’s reflection, diffusing its brightness. Oil smoothes the water surface, making it a better mirror. When the slick appears in that part of the image, viewing conditions are ideal, and the patches and ribbons of oil are extremely bright. When the oil slick is not in the sunglint part of the image, however, it may be imperceptible against the dark background of the ocean.
The large image provided above is at MODIS’ maximum spatial resolution (level of detail). Twice-daily images of the Gulf of Mexico are available from the MODIS Rapid Response Team in additional resolutions and formats, including a georeferenced version that can be used with Google Earth.


Muddin' haven or off-road raucous ? - by Bill Thompson, Staff writer
June 14, 2010
County Commission's primary advisers split on approving a special-use permit.
The family of a prominent South Florida developer seeks to create a local haven for mud-bogging enthusiasts on the cusp of the Ocala National Forest.
Marion Acres LLC, a company owned by Fort Lauderdale businessman Ron Bergeron, has proposed a vehicular racetrack and practice facility on a 392-acre sod farm located about 3.3 miles north of State Road 40 on County Road 315.
According to plans submitted by Marion Acres, whose lead person in this project is Bergeron's son, Lonnie, the facility would offer four various-sized mud pits for use by trucks, buggies and all-terrain vehicles; 60 acres of ATV trails; a 70-acre campground; a vehicle wash area; a concert stage; and space for vendors.
The County Commission will decide whether to grant the developer a special-use permit for the facility at its zoning hearing next Tuesday.
The board's decision will come after considering split recommendations from their primary advisers - and nine months after commissioners rejected a similar initiative, albeit one that would have added airboats, by a different group in Fort McCoy.
County planners are encouraging the board to deny the permit, saying the project does not fit the property nor the area.
In their report, planning staffers note the land contains about 36 acres of wetlands spread across the property.
The site's floodplain and wetlands form a "hydrological connection" to the Ocklawaha River, the closest point of which is about 1.7 miles from the property. An accidental fuel or chemical spill could infect the river or the springs, the staff argues.
Further, the planners wrote, the tract sits within the Silver Springs Primary Zone, and county land-use regulations generally forbid vehicle "repair" operations within the zone, while also discouraging the disturbance of such sites in order to maintain their benefit for stormwater-management purposes.
Meanwhile, the nearest clusters of homes range from 1 1/2 miles to almost three miles away.
On the other hand, the county Zoning Commission has approved the project.
Jimmy Gooding, an Ocala lawyer who represents Marion Acres, described this project as "substantially different" from the Fort McCoy proposal commissioners turned down with a 3-2 vote last September.
For one thing, Marion Acres has banned airboats from its site, Gooding said.
But there are other benefits, Gooding added.
C.R. 315 offers better access to the site than did the narrow roads around the Fort McCoy venture, and his client is willing to make improvements to ease the traffic flow around the facility, he said.
The racetrack would spur some new economic activity around the Silver Springs area because mud-bogging draws a regional, family-oriented crowd, according to Gooding.
And despite the county staff's concerns, the landowner is helping the environment by providing an outlet and improving the site, Gooding maintained.
"This is a use that is extremely popular," he said. "A lot of people are trespassing on private lands or being public lands in places where they may or may belong," he said.
"Many public lands are no longer being permitted to be used, and it's better to have this activity on private land than tearing up public lands."
Gooding also pointed out that Marion Acres is already working with state water managers to clean up an unauthorized mud-bogging site leftover from years ago, and is marking off areas of wetlands that will be preserved.
The state, he added, will likely require the landowner to expand the inventory of wetlands before proceeding.
In addition, Marion Acres has proposed conditions of its own.
Among others, those include planting a landscape buffer that in one portion will feature three rows of pine trees no farther than 10 feet apart; operating only Fridays through Sundays and on legal holidays, with operating hours starting at sunrise and ending in the evening or at 5 p.m. on Sundays not followed by a holiday; all lighting shall be at least 75 feet into the property and will point inward; and all vehicles participating in the mud bogging, other than those hauled on trailers, will be washed before exiting the property.
But Rock Saunders, a resident of the nearby Silver Meadows subdivision, said he and other homeowners there object for several reasons.
They worry about the environmental risk to the river, the racket from souped-up trucks and off-road vehicles and a further deflation of property values.
Saunders also expressed concern about the increased traffic and believes the proposed improvements for turn lanes will not make things safer of flow better - especially since, according to Saunders, who met with Gooding, Lonnie Bergeron and others involved in the project, the operators expect up to 6,000 visitors each weekend, and will permit alcohol on the site.
"To me it's a no-brainer," said Saunders, who thinks the commission should reject the permit request.
"We have a beautiful county here, and one of the things we've got going for us is our natural resources," he added, noting that the state and county have spent roughly $80 million in recent years in trying to protect Silver Springs.
That includes the $76 million purchase in July 2007 of the 4,455-acre site previously known as the Avatar property, and the roughly $4 million, ongoing project to reroute the so-called "Monster Pipe" that was dumping runoff from S.R. 40 into a creek that feeds the Silver River.
"We should be doing all we can (for conservation) because when our beaches are filled with oil, people are still going to want to come to Florida because of the beautiful sunshine and they're going to look to the interior - and not everyone wants to go to Disney World. Why would we compromise that?"
Ron Bergeron and his family are a prominent force in the South Florida business community.
Bergeron himself built a fortune as a developer, engineering consultant, road builder, limerock miner and as the owner of a company that provides emergency relief in natural disasters.
Yet he is also a commissioner on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a cattle rancher and one-time professional rodeo cowboy. He has also been chosen as a contractor, selected by the South Florida Water Management District, to help in the Everglades restoration project.
Bill Thompson can be reached at 867-4117.


New 19-acre stormwater treatment area will provide flooding relief for 2011 hurricane season in Port St. Lucie
TCPalm - by Laurie K. Blandford
June 14, 2010
PORT ST. LUCIE — Residents living near Howard Creek can expect some flooding relief in time for the 2011 hurricane season.
The South Florida Water Management District board approved an agreement with the city at the end of May to build a 19-acre stormwater treatment area in the eastern part of the city. The area is west of U.S. 1 between Port St. Lucie and Westmoreland boulevards and south of Walmart.
“It’s a stormwater treatment area that provides flood control and water quality treatment that benefits this area of the city,” said Jim Angstadt, a civil engineer with the city.
It is part of the city’s $36 million Eastern Watershed Improvement Project approved by the City Council after Tropical Storm Fay dumped 14 inches of rain in the city during a 48-hour period in August 2008.
The project is expected to improve water quality and provide flood protection in the 1,200-acre Howard Creek Drainage Basin that is to the east and west of U.S. 1.
The stormwater treatment area is expected to be ready by May of next year. It would use plants to naturally remove pollutants from water bound for the North Fork of the St. Lucie River.
“It provides a storage area to basically hold back water and to control water that comes down from the central part of the drainage basin,” Angstadt said.
The city would use more than $1 million in bond money to build the stormwater treatment area. Last year, the council approved an increase in city stormwater utility fees to help pay for the project.
The district plans to use $964,884 in state money through the St. Lucie River Issues Team, which represents federal, state and local governments, as well agricultural and environmental organizations.
The team’s goal is to pay for projects with immediate results toward improving water quality and ecosystem functions in the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon.
Angstadt said the city is finalizing the plans for the stormwater treatment area and will put the project out to bid for about 30 days. Construction should start in August or September and last between four and five months.
The work also is expected to include enlarging and cleaning the Howard Creek channel to line up with the stormwater treatment area.
As part of the project, the city has been clearing out decaying material and exotic plant growth from Howard Creek.
“The project is currently in the beginning stages,” he said. “It’s constantly changing.”


Oil spill spreads in La.'s big, rich Barataria Bay
The Associated Press
Washington Post - by CAIN BURDEAU and BRIAN SKOLOFF
June 14, 2010
BARATARIA BAY, La. -- The sand dunes and islands of Barataria Bay, a huge expanse of water and marsh on Louisiana's coast, have become the latest casualty of the environmental disaster spewing from BP's offshore well. And fishermen are bitter.
Oil-caked birds, stranded sea turtles, globs of gooey brown crude on beaches, coated crabs and mats of tar have been found throughout the inlets and mangroves that dot the bay. The oil has coated the water with a rainbow sheen and is threatening the complex web of wetlands, marshes and bayous that make up this ecological and historic treasure.
Everything from crabbing to bait fishing is shutting down, and the anger on the bayou is palpable.
"It's scary, you know, man," marine mechanic Jimmy Howard said from his hurricane-battered fishing shack, a cigar stub stuffed in his mouth. "I see them doing what they can, you know. All the boats going out, all the boom. I'm hoping they can contain it."
Barataria teems with wildlife, including alligators, bullfrogs, bald eagles and migratory birds from the Caribbean and South America. There are even Louisiana black bears in the upper basin's hardwood forests.
Before the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, oyster and shrimp boats plowed through these productive bays as fishermen snapped up speckled trout and redfish within minutes of casting their lines.
Now it resembles an environmental war zone. Many of the bay's nesting islands for birds are girded by oil containment boom, and crews in white disposable protective suits change out coils of absorbents to soak up the sticky mess.
"The whole place is full of oil," said fishing guide Dave Marino. "This is some of the best fishing in the whole region, and the oil's coming in just wave after wave. It's hard to stomach, it really is."
At the entrance to Barataria, dredges and bulldozers are building sand berms on barrier islands to intercept the advancing oil. National Guard helicopters drop sandbags into breaches smashed through the islands by hurricanes, and local officials are moving in barges to use as makeshift barriers.
Shrimp boats have been enlisted in the skimming effort - the Coast Guard says about 2,450 barrels of oily water have been picked up. But it's bittersweet work for the shrimpers, whose fishing grounds have been shut down.
"We got little otter families that swim in and out, we got 'coons - all that good stuff, man," Howard said. "It's good for the kids out here. Keeps them off the streets. They swim, work on the boats, fish."
Barataria has played a vital role in Louisiana history. It is where the pirate and Battle of New Orleans hero Jean Lafitte established his colony of Baratarians. The estuary was also the setting for "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin. Like other wealthy 19th-century New Orleanians, Chopin spent summers on Grand Isle, to the bay's south, and made the evocative island a focus of her work.
Barataria was a wild place back then. It was covered in virgin cypress trees, some believed to be thousands of years old. Throughout the marsh and forests, shrimp-processing towns and American-Indian settlements hummed with activity in the bay, which is at the heart of a 1.5 million-acre delta basin formed 3,000 years ago.
But heavy erosion has been pushing the bay closer to the brink of collapse in recent years.
Since the damming of Bayou Lafourche in 1904 cut off a supply of fresh water and nutrients, Barataria has declined rapidly. About 500 square miles of marsh, mangrove, mudflats, sand ridges and cypress forest have been lost to the encroaching salt water of the Gulf. It's a familiar story in coastal Louisiana, where 2,000 square miles of wetlands have been lost since the 1930s.
Scientists fear the oil may overwhelm Barataria's remaining defenses, already stressed by erosion.
"There is no good estuary to spill oil in, but this estuary is particularly fragile," said Mark Schexnayder, marine biologist with the Louisiana Sea Grant program, an affiliate of Louisiana State University.
C.C. Lockwood, a wildlife photographer whose iconic images of the vanishing coast are a coffee-table feature, has been out in the slick capturing its impact
"It looks to me like the roots (of marsh plants) are pretty much smothered and they will die at the edges," Lockwood said. "I saw what I counted to be about 1,000 dead hermit crabs. I saw blue crabs with faces covered in oil."
Scientists generally agree it will be years before the effect of the oil settling into the food chain will be known, but not all see an apocalyptic outcome.
"The idea that all oil coming into contact with a mangrove or wetlands is lethal and will kill it is not true," said Roy "Robin" Lewis III, a Florida-based ecologist who's studied oil spills in mangroves for 40 years. "I would not say that you are looking at a doomsday situation."
Still, death is taking place - most of it invisible to the eye.
"Once the mousse, the floating oil gets in there and oils the seagrass there are many different types of organisms that live in the sediment," said Richard Pierce, director of the Center for Ecotoxicology at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. "Essentially they will die and that can last for years."
Local leaders say the environmental damage could have been prevented if decisive action had been taken as soon as the well blew out. Within a week of the rig explosion, parish officials wanted to block the passes, but those plans were stymied by government hesitation and concerns by ecologists.
The oil finally breached into the bay around May 20, a month after the explosion.
Now, the oil is inside - in the marshes and wetlands - and people are angry.
"I'm pissed - and you can print that," said Donna Hollis, 39, hanging out in a tank-top and with a cigarette at Jimmy Howard's camp in Wilkinson Canal.
She echoed Jefferson Parish council chairman John Young: "This is a battle. Oil's our enemy right now. This is going to destroy the livelihoods of these people in south Louisiana."


Weatherbird II research cruise returns from the Gulf with good news
June 14, 2010
St. Petersburg, Florida - A dozen students return to St. Petersburg from a three-night research cruise on the Weatherbird II. They visited the waters off Key West and the Dry Tortugas, and about 150 miles west of Fort Myers. 
What they find is picture perfect.
"A hundred and fifty miles, saw beautiful pristine water. Saw no oil, nothing. It was nice," says marine scientist Stephen Wood from the Florida Institute of Oceanography. Woods says while this is what they were hoping to find, they were expecting to find oil.
Gallery: Pictures from the Weatherbird II expedition (photos courtesy Stephen Wood, Sarah Collins and Sarah Jones)
The crew from the Florida Institute of Oceanography consists of engineering and science majors. "It was nice to have the hands-on experience," says Sarah Collins, 20, meteorology major.
They test student-made experimental instruments and take water samples 300 hundred feet deep, and no signs of oil for now. 
So what's the likelihood of the oil reaching Florida's Keys?
"It's a matter of when. There's so much oil out there, it's a matter of when," says Wood.
Wood estimates the oil is at the earliest, a month away from the Key West area. He hopes the devastation is isolated to the northern Gulf coast.
"There's already total devastation. Better it stays up north, not spread down to Florida's coast, especially to the Keys and Everglades. It's so important for the fish habitats all your larval generations all come from the Everglades," says Wood.
Short of stopping the oil leak, Wood says the hurricane season could help, but also cause more damage. "If we're lucky, a tropical storm will come in and stir it up, dissipate it. That's if we're lucky. If we're unlucky, a hurricane comes washes it all ashore."
Students say the research cruise has made them more committed to their careers.
Joshua Huckstep, 21, is studying to be an ocean engineer. He says, "If I can play a part in helping design safer and better oil rigs, that's what I want to do."
The students will take the data collected and hope to publish their findings. They have no plans of going back out this summer. The students say they will keep watching and waiting and hoping the oil stays away from Florida's coastline.


Tight pollution limits proposed for canals
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler
June 13, 2010
EPA plans strict limits on lakes, streams and rivers throughout Florida
Okeechobee and heads east through the houses and strip malls of Parkland, Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach. Empty plastic bottles, candy wrappers and other trash litter the banks. An occasional wading bird pokes for food in the black water.
The canal is among hundreds of streams, canals, lakes and rivers that face tough and controversial new pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The rules are intended primarily to keep algae from choking the springs, lakes and rivers of North and Central Florida, but the EPA has included all the state's waterways, with special criteria for South Florida's canals.
Environmental groups, who sued to force EPA to impose the limits, say the restrictions are necessary to protect water bodies from fertilizer and other pollutants washing off lawns, farms and industrial operations.
Dozens of powerful opponents have lined up against the proposal, with paper, citrus and power companies expressing concern about costs. The Florida Department of Agriculture estimates it would cost more than $1 billion a year to implement.
Kenneth Todd, Palm Beach County's water resource manager, said in a letter to the EPA that the standards are so unnecessarily stringent that water from county treatment plants, which easily meets safe drinking water standards, would exceed the limits.
And throughout South Florida, water treatment authorities say homeowners could see big increases in bills to meet standards for which the canals were never designed.
"Regional canals are not natural systems and were primarily intended for flood-control purposes," wrote Albert Perez, Hollywood's utilities director, in a letter to the EPA. "These constructed waterways are being held to a proposed standard that is more reflective of a natural environment."
Begun in 1881, when the Philadelphia industrialist Hamilton Disston bought 4 million acres of swamp that he hoped to develop, the South Florida canal system expanded over the next 80 years to dry out about half the Everglades for human use.
Today these steep-banked waterways flow through farms and cities, carrying away fertilizers, pesticides and everything else that washes into them. They are notorious dumping grounds for trash, unwanted cars and, occasionally, unwanted bodies.


Water Use During Freezes Discussed
June 13, 2010
Swiftmud wants farmers to use alternatives to aquifer pumping.
TAMPA | The next time eastern Hillsborough County is hit with a severe freeze, farmers will be urged to limit the water they pump out of the aquifer.
It's part of a new plan to reduce groundwater usage and the risk of sinkholes.
But while a proposed pumping cap could leave new farmers with no choice but to cut back, officials say the plan's success will largely depend on existing farmers cooperating with alternative crop-protecting methods.
A record-breaking 11 nights of freezing temperatures in January created concerns about water pumping after 140 sinkholes opened up and 750 wells were sapped dry in the Dover and Plant City areas, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Farmers pumped a billion gallons each day to cover their crops with a protective layer of ice.
In the last of four meetings with industry experts last week, Swiftmud reviewed a plan that aims to reduce groundwater usage in those agricultural areas by 10 percent in five years and 20 percent in 10 years.
Existing farmers can keep pumping the amounts their permits allow, but executive director David Moore said Swiftmud will now strongly encourage crop-protection alternatives, most notably tailwater recovery ponds on farmers' properties that collect irrigation runoff.
Some local farmers already use the ponds, for which Swiftmud reimburses about half of the costs. Moore said he plans to ask Swiftmud's governing board to increase that amount to 75 percent.
Whether more farmers will get on board is unclear.
"We do understand that everybody contributes to this, but it just seems like all the burden's being put on us. Not just the berry industry, but agriculture as a whole," said strawberry grower Carl Grooms of Fancy Farms in Plant City.
If all of the stored pond water is gone after one night of freezing, farmers will be back to pulling water from the ground, Grooms said.
Plus, the ponds would take up acreage that could be used for crops.
Moore said the ponds clearly won't be able to provide all of a farmer's water during a freeze, but they would help.
Grooms thinks Swiftmud may be overreacting. In his nearly 40 years as a farmer, he's never seen a freeze as brutal as January's.


With oilspill, the resilience of Mississippi's Gulf is put to the test
McClatchy – Biloxi Sun Herald - by Geoff Pender
Read more:
BILOXI, MS — The worst natural disaster in U.S. history. The worst economic recession in generations. Now, the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history.
The people of South Mississippi have often been called "resilient" - a reputation hard-earned after Hurricane Camille in 1969, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and repeated often in national media reports. That resilience is being put to the test..
"I had a bank examiner in here the other day, and he asked that same question, 'How are things going?'" longtime Coast banker Chevis Swetman said. "I told him, 'Well, you know, we had Hurricane Katrina in '05. In December '07 the national economic meltdown started, then about 50 days ago, this oil spill started.' I said, 'You know, I'm just looking for the plague of locusts to show up next week.' He said, 'You people are pretty resilient.' I said, 'We are pretty resilient, but the question is, how much more can we take?' I know we'll weather this. But heck, at some point it starts to seem like piling on in a football game."
Casino executive Keith Crosby calls it "another sucker punch." But, he notes, "We're getting used to them, and we're getting pretty good at playing over our head."
Hurricane Katrina showed South Mississippi communities, churches, volunteer agencies, local governments, business leaders, state leaders and congressional leaders have an uncanny ability to work together when push comes to shove. But then, we know hurricanes _ how to prepare, how to dig out and, as Gov. Haley Barbour put it many times in his Yazoo drawl, how to “hitch up our britches and get to work” on recovery.
With massive oil leaks — not so much.
“Nobody really knows who’s in charge,” Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant said. “I guess ultimately it’s BP. We’re told to send things up the chain of command — I say chain of command but it’s really more just a progression — and BP is supposed to tell us yay or nay. That all works fine, except we don’t get a yay or nay from BP ... It’s unlike anything I have ever been involved in.”
Mississippi got its first warning that oil could hit its shores “in five to seven days” on April 22.
That didn’t happen. Government projections on when and where oil might land appear to be about as effective as BP’s efforts to stop its wellhead from gushing. After at least a half-dozen other projections that oil could land on Mississippi shores within days, Mississippi has had to deal only with “tar balls” and a couple of breakaway patches of oil _ thanks to luck, geography, winds and tides.
Could that luck hold out, with millions of gallons of oil — nobody, apparently, knows how much — floating around in the Gulf? Nobody knows. Barbour has said state leaders are “praying for the best, but preparing for the worst.”
But those preparations have been circumspect.
Miles of boom has been put out across the Gulf. As one BP official said at a recent meeting in Mississippi, “more boom than has ever been deployed in the history of the world.”
Yet all the while most everyone in the know has admitted static boom won’t keep oil out. In the South Louisiana marshland that has been fouled by oil from the disaster, it didn’t appear to even slow it. BP’s initial plan, it appeared, was to let the oil wash ashore, then clean it up. Company officials said as much to South Mississippi government leaders in one of their first confabs, more than a month ago.
The state’s plan, which appears to have totally gelled only in the past couple of weeks, is to patrol for oil miles out from the barrier islands, and try to “skim, scoop, boom and burn” it before it gets close. Or, more accurately, have BP and the Coast Guard do the above-mentioned work.
But on June 1, a 2-mile swath of oil avoided detection and landed on Petit Bois Island in Mississippi. Only two boats, Barbour discovered, were on oil patrol at the time. He demanded more, and reported last week there are now 442 boats working Mississippi waters. Barbour called this “a wake-up call” and a “blessing” that a large amount of oil didn’t foul the shore.
If the battle offshore doesn’t keep the oil off the islands and mainland, the plan is to use boom to steer it away from the most environmentally sensitive areas and let it land on the sand beach, where it can more easily be cleaned.
Many local government leaders haven’t been satisfied with what they’ve heard, plan-wise — from BP, the federal government or state government. And, they have complained, they haven’t been allowed much input into plans.
“Nobody knows the beaches better than we do, and we all have our plans and would like to see them incorporated,” Hancock County Emergency Manager Brian Adam testified at a state Senate hearing on the oil disaster.
Savant said companies have been hawking various oil cleaning and prevention products to local government leaders. Some, he said, appear to show promise, but local leaders have trouble getting anyone in charge to evaluate the products or approve the purchase of materials. He said county government doesn’t want to risk spending large amounts of tax dollars only to find out BP wouldn’t reimburse the expenditures.
Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran a few weeks ago got fed up with this process, and, as she has been known to do, raised a little hell till she got results. She wanted to try a “fabric fencing” type of material designed to absorb oil rather than just boom it off. After much wrangling, BP, state and federal leaders in the oil-disaster joint command approved using the material in Ocean Springs as a test. If testing shows it works, it might be used in other locations.
“We don’t want to wring our hands and stammer around and say ‘Oh, woe is me, who’s in charge?’” Moran said. “If we find something we think will work, we’re just going to do it, and not wait for permission or any knight in shining armor.”
And if BP balks at paying, or Ocean Springs’ economy is substantially hurt by the oil disaster, Moran said, “then we will file a claim.”
The Deepwater Horizon oil leak has at times been a disaster in need of some leadership.
Government officials, from Washington on down, say cleanup and all its costs and financial damages to people and industry are BP’s responsibility.
In natural disasters there is a clear, government-controlled chain of command and a voluminous body of federal and state laws delineating responsibilities, reimbursement to local governments and aid to displaced or out-of-work citizens. With the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP has in some ways taken on the role FEMA would have after a hurricane — the final word on what can be done or purchased by local and state governments. BP officials across the Gulf, and on the Coast, are set up in the same offices as the government responders.
Part of this is because U.S. governments have never dealt with an oil crisis quite like this, and obviously lack expertise and technology to do so. But some congressional leaders and environmentalists have suggested federal and state leaders should have stepped in more, taken charge and provided more oversight of BP’s handling of the disaster.
In Mississippi there has been some debate and criticism over Barbour’s leadership. He has often downplayed the disaster, saying the media is over hyping it and hurting Coast tourism needlessly by “making it sound like the entire Gulf Coast is ankle-deep in oil.” This appeared to be his main message at a time when local government leaders said they badly needed guidance and planning from state government.
Barbour skipped the two meetings in Louisiana, Mr. President, which you held with governors of the other three affected states — most recently earlier this month when Barbour instead went to New York to attend the annual Mississippi Picnic and meet with bond-rating agencies.
Barbour drew national accolades for his leadership after Katrina. He helped not just Mississippi, but Louisiana, secure unprecedented amounts of federal aid from Congress with relatively little red tape attached to it. The Republican Barbour led or helped in recovery planning on every level, listened intently to the needs of Coast governments and communities and drew praise even from some of his harshest critics in Mississippi government.
Democratic state House Speaker Billy McCoy, Barbour’s main political foe in the Legislature, once conceded, “Haley’s a good man to have in a storm.”
But both Barbour and you, Mr. President, have caught some flak for not taking stronger roles in riding herd over BP.
“It appears to me that the state decided at some point it wanted to be in charge of this,” Savant said. “And that’s fine. But let’s do something. My fear is the state wants to be in charge until such time as oil hits our beaches, then they’ll say, OK, Harrison County, that beach is yours to deal with according to a judge’s ruling …. “I have a lot of confidence in Haley Barbour. He proved he can do an excellent job after a disaster with Katrina. But I would like to see the people most affected — Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties — have a little more say. Because in the end, people will be looking at us, their local elected officials, if something goes wrong. If we have to face the heat, let us drive the train. These coastal counties are probably more prepared and experienced in dealing with disasters coming from the water than anybody in Jackson or Washington.”
The extent of the ecological damage the Deepwater Horizon disaster will cause in Mississippi and the Gulf at large is unclear, a source of debate among scientists, environmentalists and politicians. Some experts say fisheries and marine life will be devastated and take years to recover. Others say the warm Gulf waters teeming with microorganisms will deal with even large amounts of light-sweet Louisiana crude rather quickly.
Barbour and the leaders of his two environmental agencies take the latter view. They have said by the time any substantial amounts of oil reach Mississippi waters and shores it will be “weathered, emulsified” and “nontoxic.” Barbour has referred to tar balls on the beach as a minor nuisance that can be found on Gulf beaches even without oil spills, from natural seepage of oil.
But marine life — turtles, birds, fish — is already beginning to wash up dead in fairly large numbers from Louisiana to Florida. Other experts warn the disaster is already killing vast spawning grounds for Gulf seafood and killing gamefish fry in sargassum — floating grass beds that serve as their nesting grounds.
Pass Christian has the second-largest oyster reef in the nation. The Pascagoula River is the last undammed natural waterway in the nation. Mississippi’s bays, inlets and bayous are spawning grounds for numerous species.
As Mississippi’s shrimp season opened this month, large areas of federal, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama waters were closed.
The Gollott family of Biloxi has been catching and processing seafood for generations.
State Sen. Tommy Gollott said his main concern is for the Back Bay of Biloxi and other Coast bays, areas he says must be protected from oil.
“You can go down to the Bay by Oak Street right now and take a scoop net and scoop up small, juvenile shrimp,” Gollott said. “That’s where they are right now.”
Gollott’s cousin, Richard Gollott, runs Golden Gulf Coast Packing Co. and represents the commercial seafood industry on the Commission on Marine Resources. He said the oil in Louisiana waters, even if Mississippi were to be spared serious fouling, will have some impact on Mississippi’s seafood industry and fisheries.
“We are very much in bed with Louisiana on seafood,” Gollott said, “and actually all four states are very tied together on this.” He said, “We are supposed to have a bumper crop of shrimp this year. We get one about every 10 years, and this is supposed to be it.”
On opening day last week, Richard Gollott noted sadly, only 10 to 12 shrimp boats left the docks to fish that morning, compared with the usual 25 to 30.
But he said he’s optimistic the Gulf fisheries will survive and recover.
“A fisherman has to be an optimist at heart,” he said, “or he wouldn’t go fishing.”
Ecological damage may take a while to suss, but economic damage to the tourism and seafood-driven Coast has already begun. The question is, how severe or long-lasting will it be? And will BP pay for everything, make everyone “whole”?
Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and others say there is some fear BP might file bankruptcy at some point before it pays all cleanup costs and reparations. Holloway said he would like for state or federal leaders to make BP put money into an account or give it to government agencies earmarked for Mississippi.
“BP, so far as I can see, is doing what it said it would do,” Holloway said. “But how long their staying power is, with all the claims and lawsuits being filed, I don’t know.”
The Mississippi Coast through late 2007-early 2008 had been making remarkable strides in its Katrina recovery. This was aided largely by billions of federal Katrina-recovery dollars. But the casino industry, which was up and running after the storm with remarkable speed, also helped carry the area.
Shrimping and oystering, nearly shut down through 2006, had also come back. Oystermen for 2008 landed $7 million worth of the shellfish, nearly equal to the industry’s peak in 2003.
Hotels were making a comeback, reaching 12,000 rooms rebuilt or repaired, compared with 17,000 before Katrina.
Then the full force of the national recession hit, and recovery slowed. Many business leaders were expecting 2010 to be the “breakout” year for the Coast’s economy, especially tourism.
“Prior to the oil spill, we had four weeks in a row of sellout weekends,” said Bob Bennett, owner of Edgewater Inn and president of the state hotel association. “Here comes the oil spill, and then Memorial Day weekend, which should have been a blowout where I sell out for three days, we only sold out one day, and had to discount rates to do that.
“Forty percent of my (small, non-casino hotel) competitors disappeared after Katrina,” Bennett said. “My hotel should be full every night. Last night I had 26 of 65 rooms occupied.”
Hotel and casino-hotel leaders are reporting May, and it appears June, will be at least OK months, but inquiries and bookings are down and they expect to be hurt in July. In a report last week to the Gulf Coast Business Council (GCBC) from tourism-sector leaders, non-casino hotels say inquiries are down 50 percent since the leak started, and average room rates are having to be dropped. The local hotel association projects if oil does come ashore in Mississippi, bookings would drop 50 percent.
The GCBC report concluded: The impact so far has been limited to seafood and deep-water fishing. However, all sectors have felt a drop in interest: fewer inquiries, lower bookings. June may still be a good month, but beginning in July business may fall off. As there is no oil on our shores yet, the biggest problem is the perception that we are soaking in oil and there are health hazards.
Barbour and some Coast business leaders have blamed a drop-off in tourist interest on media coverage of the oil disaster. They say media reports showing the already-devastating oil fouling of marshes in Louisiana make it sound as if the beaches in all four states are covered in oil.
But despite oil and rumors of oil, Bennett said, “We’re gonna make it. This is not the kind of disaster you can’t overcome. All it takes is money. I think the key is going to be advertising. As long as BP doesn’t run out of money, there are ways to ameliorate this situation.”
Palace Casino’s Crosby said, much like after Katrina, “this (casino) industry can pull us through,” and all is not gloom and doom for Coast tourism, even if oil does wash ashore.
Crosby said he doesn’t want to downplay the environmental disaster, but, he noted, the Mississippi Coast is not a heavy beach-and-water tourism area. The mainland shore’s oft-brownish water often has to be explained to tourists _ it’s a sound; the barrier islands block the blue surf from coming in. He said studies have shown 78 percent of visitors are here for casino gambling and golf.
“There’s no oil in the casino,” Crosby said. “There’s no oil in their hotel rooms and it’s not on the golf course …. The people who would be affected by this are 3 out of 10, who would be down here to sit on the beach. When you look at it that way, it’s not all gloom and doom. As opposed to Destin, which relies 100 percent on its relationship with the white beaches and blue-green water. We can’t compete on that level. That’s why we added casino gaming here in the first place.
“We’re just going to have to develop a long-term strategy to deal with this, and get to work on it — as our governor would say, hitch up our britches and go to work. We’ve done it before. We have the capacity to work on things like this.
“We’re getting good at it.”
Read more:


Bridge over Tamiami Trail shows Obama's commitment to Everglades
Palm Beach Post - Letters To The Editor For Saturday
June 11, 2010
As many of us nervously watch the flow of oil that could reach Florida's shores and cause serious harm to our nation's Everglades, it was heartening to hear the Obama administration's recent recommendation to bridge an additional 5.5 miles of Tamiami Trail.
The importance of this decision cannot be overstated. The health of the Everglades depends on the unimpeded flow of water. The trail creates an asphalt dam that does incalculable harm to the River of Grass. Now, after many years of struggle, the Obama administration has taken the lead in restoring the health of the Everglades. By proposing to add 5.5 miles to the $81 million, one-mile project already under way, the administration is making it clear that the Everglades is a vital natural resource for Florida and the nation.
The 5.5-mile plan calls for four bridges ranging from one-third of a mile to 2.6 miles. The cost for the 5.5 miles is $324 million. It is all part of an overall effort by President Obama to infuse $600 million into the ambitious $12 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Everglades National Park has a welcome friend in the White House.
The Everglades is more than a unique ecosystem. It is also South Florida's water-supply reservoir. This cleanup matters as much to suburbanites as to wood storks and alligators. Our ability to protect, sustain and enhance the Everglades gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that we are capable of undoing man-made mistakes and able to recapture a resource that is vital to all of us.
KIRK FORDHAM, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, Palmetto Bay.


Ban on new water permits for berry farmers considered
The Tampa Tribune - by NEIL JOHNSON |
June 10, 2010
TAMPA - A ban on new water permits for berry farmers to protect crops during a freeze is one step under consideration to prevent a repeat of January's sinkholes and dry residential wellsThe possible ban on new permits in the Dover and Plant City area would not affect strawberry farmers with current permits from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, agency spokeswoman Robyn Felix said.
It also would not apply to new permits for residential wells.
The water management district issues permits for farmers to pump water to protect their berry crops in addition to what they are allowed to pump for irrigation.
If approved, the ban would not apply to new irrigation permits, only permits for freeze protection, Felix said.
The district also would ask farmers with existing permits to voluntarily reduce pumping during a freeze by 20 percent, she said.
In early January, berry farmers around Dover and Plant City pumped nearly 1 billion gallons a day when temperatures dropped below 34 degrees 11 straight days in early January.
By comparison, public utilities in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough use about 250 million gallons a day.
Farmers start spraying water on crops to prevent the berries and plants from freezing when the temperature hits 34 degrees. In records going back 79 years, the most consecutive days when temperatures fell below 34 degrees was six.
The pumping caused groundwater levels to plummet farther than ever measured in the area – 60 feet in some places.
About 750 residential wells in the Dover and Plant City area went dry, and 140 sinkholes formed during and after the record freeze.
The ban on new freeze protection permits would not prevent problems during a freeze but will keep the situation from growing worse, Felix said.
Preventing another massive outbreak of sinkholes and dry private wells would take a 20 percent reduction in the amount of water berry farmers are allowed to pump during a freeze.
The cut would be in two phases with a 10 percent reduction in five years and 20 percent in 10 years.
"We'll see if we can get it voluntarily. It may have to be mandatory," Felix said.
Farmers could reduce the pumping by finding alternatives to spraying water to protect plants such as foams, covers and digging ponds in the fields that trap water running off that can be used again.
As an incentive, the district board will consider paying farmers 75 percent of the cost for alternatives to using water for freeze protection.
If the district governing board decides to impose the ban on new permits for freeze protection, the rule could be in place before the winter.
Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at (813) 259-7731.


Tea party activists to fight summer fertilizer ban
Tampa Tribune – by Mike Salinero
June 10, 2010
Related Links
County considers ban
City says it would back ban
Environmentalists support ban
Experts explain issue
Environmentalists will face off against the fertilizer industry and tea party activists this morning when the Hillsborough County commission considers a summertime ban on nitrogen-based lawn fertilizers.
Commissioners, sitting as the Environmental Protection Commission, will meet at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the Frederick B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. They will consider a recommendation by EPC staff scientists to ban the sale and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers between June 1 and Sept. 30, a period when daily afternoon showers carry nitrogen to lakes, rivers and bays via storm sewers.
The rule change would also make it illegal to sweep or blow grass and landscape clippings into roads and storm-water drains.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients lower dissolved oxygen in surface waters, killing fish and triggering algae blooms. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has labeled hundreds of state waters as "impaired" because of nutrient pollution, including much of Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers.
Groups supporting the ban include the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Sierra Club. The estuary program recently released a year-long study that indicated lawn fertilizers are an increasingly significant source of an oxygen-deficient layer of muck near Safety Harbor.
The research, conducted by professor Ernst Peebles of the University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences, compared core samples of the muck taken in the 1940s with samples taken over the past year.
In the 1940s, most of the nitrogen could be linked to livestock waste and human sewage. Now, the nitrogen is consistent with that found in lawn fertilizers.
Traditional opponents of the fertilizer bans, including the fertilizer industry and some of the larger lawn-care companies, have been joined recently by Tampa Tea Party members. An e-mail sent last week by Sharon Calvert, an organizer of the local tea party, invited members to show up and oppose "the takeover of our county commission by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups."
Calvert said in a phone interview Wednesday that the tea party opposes the fertilizer ban because it is an assault on personal liberties with little proven positive impact on polluted waters. She quoted environmental groups who say a ban would only reduce nitrogen in waterways by 8 percent.
"I believe there are some questions about what they are saying is caused from fertilizer," Calvert said. "There are also some questions that if you don't fertilize would you have more runoff. That is a negative."
Calvert also noted that the proposed environmental rule exempts golf courses and farms.
Nanette O'Hara, spokeswoman for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, acknowledged that a ban, with moderate compliance by both homeowners and lawn-care companies, would reduce nitrogen in surface waters by a "fraction." But O'Hara said there are no easy ways to reduce other sources of nitrogen, such as atmospheric deposition from vehicle exhausts and power plant emissions.
What's more, O'Hara said, state and local governments are under pressure from the federal government to dramatically reduce nutrient pollution.
"What local governments are being faced with are increased regulations that are going to ratchet down the amount of nitrogen allowed in surface waters," O'Hara said. "So every place we can reduce nitrogen, we need to do it."
County commission offices have been getting dozens of calls against the ordinance. Aides for commissioners say some of the opposition appeared to have been prompted by robo-calls. Phil Compton, organizer for the Sierra Club, also alleged opponents of the ordinance had initiated a phone campaign against the ordinance.
O'Hara said commissioners are being heavily lobbied by both sides on the issue. She said she will make the case to commissioners today that counties across the Tampa Bay area need to have consistent rules on fertilizer application. Pinellas County recently passed a ban.
Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (813) 259-8303.


South Florida water managers try to hold tax rate steady, salvage land deal
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
June 09, 2010
A worsening budget crunch and pressure from federal judges to speed up Everglades restoration so far haven't soured South Florida water managers on a half-billion dollar land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
The South Florida Water Management District on Wednesday started wading through its more than $1 billion budget plan, discussing ways to cut expenses while continuing to guard against flooding, protect water supplies and lead Everglades restoration.
The district now faces "difficult and sobering" budget decisions, said Executive Director Carol Wehle.
"Our tax base is dropping dramatically," Wehle said. "We have cut into the bone this year."
District staffers said Wednesday that they are not recommending the board consider raising property tax rates to deal with the budget woes.
The current plan calls for sticking with the tax rate of about 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable value for most of its 16-county region.
For a $230,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption, district taxes would cost residents in Broward and Palm Beach counties about $112 a year.
The district also proposes setting aside as much as $321 million that could be used to salvage the land deal with U.S. Sugar or address the judges' concerns.
Declining tax revenue amid the struggling economy have jeopardized the pending deal to pay U.S. Sugar $536 million for 73,000 acres that would be used to restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
In addition to a drop in tax revenue, two federal judges this spring issued blistering critiques of Florida's efforts to fulfill Everglades restoration and water quality requirements.
The district was ordered to resume construction on a costly reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County. The agency contends the reservoir doesn't fit in with restoration plans being reshaped by the U.S. Sugar deal.
The district still hopes to dodge the expense of finishing the reservoir, which already cost taxpayers almost $280 million. The agency instead wants to use that land west of U.S. 27 for water treatment in conjunction with construction envisioned for the U.S. Sugar land.
The district also is awaiting a Florida Supreme Court ruling on whether there is a valid public purpose to borrow money for the U.S. Sugar deal.
Opponents, led by rival sugar grower Florida Crystals, contend the U.S. Sugar deal would cost taxpayers too much and would take money away from other Everglades efforts.
Setting aside the $321 million reserve for potential land costs and capital projects helps the district preserve its options until officials have to make spending decisions in time for a July budget deadline.
The contract with U.S. Sugar expires in September.
"There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty," said board member Shannon Estenoz. "I think we've got to set this money aside now."
The district is expecting $63 million less in property tax revenue for next year. Funding has dropped by almost $300 million in the past two years.
"Things have changed. We are in very challenging times financially," said district board member Charles Dauray, who called for "fiscal prudence."
Andy Reid can be reached at or 561-228-5504.


States’ rights:  La wants drilling, but Fla doesn’t. Who wins ?
AJC - by Cynthia Tucker
June 9, 2010
In a matter of just a few months, Floridians have turned against off-shore drilling. According to a new Quinnipiac poll, residents of that state now oppose drilling 51-42 percent, a 48-point swing from the 66-27 percent support for drilling in April. That’s what happens when tar balls begin to wash up on your previously pristine, sugar-white beaches.
Florida takes pride in its beautiful beaches — the Florida Panhandle is breathtaking — but there is more than pride at stake:
This unfortunate disaster could wind up costing Florida $10.9 billion, with 195,000 jobs being axed in the travel and tourism industry. The nonstop media coverage of bad news about the Gulf Coast has made many travelers planning to visit Florida rethink their plans.
Florida officials have stated that their beaches are fine right now and there is no reason visitors should cancel their vacations just yet. According to an interview conducted by Business Week with Chris Thompson, head of the state’s tourism office in Tallahassee, “Florida draws about 80 million visitors a year, bringing in $60 billion and making tourism the state’s No. 1 industry.” To put it into perspective, roughly 1 million of Florida’s 19 million residents work in tourism
Meanwhile, while much of the nation looks on aghast as Louisiana shrimpers face bankruptcy and brown pelicans face a hydrocarbon holocaust, the state of Louisiana wants President Obama to lift the moratorium on deepsea drilling. Louisiana has been dependent on the oil industry since the ’60s and, unlike Texas, has done little to diversify its economy. Gov. Bobby Jindal has asked the president to hurry up with the investigation into the cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, and so has the state’s leading newspaper, the Times-Picayune:
It has been seven weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, setting in motion the worst oil spill in U.S. history. South Louisianians are simultaneously grieving the loss of lives and livelihoods. Oil is invading our fisheries and coating marshes and seabirds. Thousands of fishers are out of work and now thousands more oil service jobs are threatened.
We need to see the commission get on with its work.
McClatchy interviewed residents who — never mind the unfolding disaster — wants the drilling restarted right now:
Even with a gusher of raw crude from a busted rig in the Gulf of Mexico marring Louisiana’s coastline, killing marine life and idling fishermen, there remains unrelenting support for the region’s oil industry — and sharp opposition to President Barack Obama’s decision to halt deepwater drilling for six months while a presidential commission investigates.
“Don’t pick on us. It’s not fair,” said Perry Clement, 52, a part-time shrimper, welder and electrician who lost his job installing artificial oyster reefs to the oil spill, but still supports drilling. “You can’t stop. That’s what we do here.”
The state’s Department of Economic Development estimates that suspending active drilling could result in the loss of 3,000 to 6,000 jobs in the next two to three weeks, and as many as 10,000 Louisiana jobs within six months.
Here’s the problem: There is no way to limit the consequences of the drilling to Louisiana’s coast. Already, the mess has infected the coast lines of four states and may well be headed around the Keys and up to Georgia’s Atlanta Coast beaches. That’s why Ga. Republican Congressman Jack Kingston, who represents Georgia’s coast, supports the moratorium on deep-sea drilling.
So who gets to decide? Among some on the right, there is a lot of enthusiasm for a narrow reading of the 10th Amendment which would severely limit the powers of the federal government. So how would the Tenthers settle this dispute between Louisiana and Florida?


U.S. Sugar land buy costly, not needed for Everglades restoration – special by George H. Wedgworth
June 8, 2010
Commissioner Ray Judah’s guest opinion entitled “U.S. Sugar acquisition only option for our estuary and the Everglades,” May 25, begs for an honest response.
U.S. Sugar understands the problems in the system and what the solutions are, but gave up working collaboratively with all parties in exchange for a big payday.
Before U.S. Sugar Corp. struck a taxpayer-funded deal with Gov. Charlie Crist to buy them out, they were on record time and time again supporting vital Everglades restoration projects, including the state’s Acceler8 effort, focusing on cleaning polluted water north of Lake Okeechobee and building storage reservoirs to benefit the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries (specifically the C-43 and C-44 reservoir projects).
Now, U.S. Sugar and critics of agriculture have changed their tune and have abandoned the science behind Everglades restoration in favor of a massive tax-funded sale and leaseback deal that will only mean millions to U.S. Sugar’s bottom line.
U.S. Sugar Senior Vice President and former SFWMD Governing Board member Bubba Wade wrote a March 26, 2006, guest column in the Fort Pierce Tribune stating, “I can assure you that storing water in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) will not solve the problems with Lake Okeechobee or prevent massive discharges to the estuaries during wet years. Technical data from the SFWMD indicates that 97 percent of the water flow comes from the northern half of the Lake Okeechobee watershed...
The Lake and estuary problems are not caused south of the Lake and cannot be fixed by merely relocating polluted Lake Okeechobee water there... Gov. Jeb Bush committed the state to begin building more than $1 billion worth of projects, igniting the state’s half of the state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
The SFWMD has already broken ground on many of these Acceler8 projects which place additional storage north, south, east and west. In addition, the Lake Okeechobee Estuary Recovery Plan will focus on storing and cleaning water north of the lake. Together these initiatives will continue to improve the system from top to bottom.”
We fully support completing the construction on the three storage reservoirs where the SFWMD already owns the land, construction and pilot projects are under way and conditional federal authorization has already been obtained. Why trade projects that were under way for an opportunity to acquire land encumbered with long term leases, “maxing out the SFWMD’s credit card” with no way of funding the construction of features thus assuring that no real relief for the Everglades or estuaries is in sight for a decade or more?
All stakeholders should embrace science-driven restoration using the assets that the SFWMD already owns and completing projects that will provide meaningful results for the Everglades and estuaries.
Pitting stakeholders against each other isn’t productive in protecting the south Florida ecosystem.
Let’s stop the rhetoric and get back to producing results.
— George H. Wedgworth is president and CEO of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.


EPA Begins Review of Science for Florida’s Coastal Water Quality Standards:
Action reiterates agency's commitment to sound science and transparency
US-EPA Press Release
June 7, 2010
Contact Information: Enesta Jones,, 202-564-7873, 202-564-4355
WASHINGTON – In an effort to ensure the use of the best available science and robust public participation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced plans to send its underlying data and methodologies to support development of coastal water quality standards, also known as nutrients criteria, to the Science Advisory Board (SAB) for peer review. The process will also allow the public to comment on the science. By extending the deadline to allow for public and scientific review, EPA is reaffirming a longstanding commitment to sound science and transparency in developing standards to protect and restore waters that are a critical part of Florida's history, culture and economic prosperity. Nutrient pollution can damage drinking water sources and exposure to nutrient pollution can cause rashes, dizziness, nausea and possibly even damage the central nervous system. These proposed water standards aim to protect people’s health, aquatic life and the long-term recreational uses of Florida’s waters.
 “By using the best science, we can set standards that protect people’s health and preserve waterbodies used for drinking, swimming, fishing and tourism,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “The challenge today is in finding a way to move beyond Florida’s slow, contentious and costly case-by-case approach to developing pollution standards. An independent scientific peer review by the SAB will ensure that the best available science is our guide in developing clean water standards for Florida’s coast."
The agency will send to the SAB the data and methods to be used to develop water quality standards, also known as numeric nutrient criteria, for coastal and estuarine systems. With the agreement of the litigants, the agency is extending the timetable by 10 months to propose nutrient criteria for coastal and estuarine waters, downstream protection values, and flowing waters in the south Florida region (including canals). In August 2009, EPA entered into a consent decree with Florida Wildlife Federation, committing to propose numeric nutrient criteria for lakes and flowing waters in Florida by January 2010. The underlying data and methodology supporting the rule proposed in January for lakes and flowing waters has undergone independent peer review and is on schedule to be finalized in October 2010. The decree required EPA to propose numeric criteria for Florida estuarine and coastal waters in January 2011 and to finalize those criteria by October 2011. The extension of the deadline for coastal waters proposal allows EPA to hold an SAB review in October 2010 of the data and methods that will be used in developing criteria for estuarine and coastal waters, downstream protection values, and criteria for inland waters in the south Florida region (including canals). EPA will incorporate comments and revise the proposal to reflect scientific input from the SAB, and finalize the criteria by August 2012.
As outlined above, today’s announcement only impacts criteria related to coastal waters, downstream protection values to protect those waters and criteria for south Florida flowing waters. In October 2010, the agency will finalize proposed standards for lakes, streams and springs, which have already undergone peer review.
More on the proposed rule:
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New oil plume evidence uncovered
CNN – by John Couwels
June 7, 2010
St. Petersburg, Florida (CNN) -- As if the pictures of birds, fish and animals killed by floating oil in the Gulf of Mexico are not disturbing enough, scientists now say they have found evidence of another danger lurking underwater.
The University of South Florida recently discovered a second oil plume in the northeastern Gulf. The first plume was found by Mississippi universities in early May.
USF has concluded microscopic oil droplets are forming deep water oil plumes. After a weeklong analysis of water samples, USF scientists found more oil in deeper water.
"These hydrocarbons are from depth and not associated with sinking degraded oil but associated with the source of the Deep Horizon well head," said USF Chemical Oceanographer David Hollander.
Through isotopic or microscopic fingerprinting, Hollander and his USF crew were able to show the oil in the plume came from BP's blown-out oil well. The surface oil's so-called fingerprint matched the tiny underwater droplet's fingerprint.
"We've taken molecular isotopic approaches which is like a fingerprint on a smoking gun," Hollander said.
Full coverage of oil spill
BP has not commented on the latest development but in the past denied underwater oil plumes exist.
"The oil is on the surface," said BP's Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward. "There aren't any plumes."
Yet BP's Managing Director Bob Dudley said recently, "We're all absolutely taking these ideas seriously and looking at them."
Scientists on board the university's research vessel Weatherbird II were not able to find the dissolved hydrocarbon or oil by sight. Instead the crew received sensor signatures from the equipment deployed into the water since the plumes appear to be clear.
USF is unsure on the exact size of the plumes.
"There are indications this is fairly wide spread," said the USF oceanographer. "There is probably more than one leg of this plume."
Scientist are concerned what effect the oil, not to mention the dissolvents used to break up the oil, will have on marine life.
Laboratory tests show bacteria have begun eating some elements of the dissolved hydrocarbons. But the effect on fish "is what needs to be understood," said Hollander. "We are in uncharted territory."
Water samples collected by USF were sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration labs. NOAA has yet to comment on their conclusions.
NOAA and USF will hold a joint press conference Tuesday morning at the university's St. Petersburg campus to release their final findings.


Proposed amendment would cut funds in Gulf clean up
June 7, 2010
COLLIER COUNTY: An amendment to a bill making its way through Congress right now would actually cut funds to clean up the Gulf of Mexico.
But what's even more surprising is two Florida lawmakers actually proposed the amendment.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is bracing for more affected birds and sea life as oil makes its way to closer to the area.
"Now not only are our bays and estuaries threatened by pollution from BP, they're threatened by Congress not wanting us to go forward with cleanup," said Andrew McElwaine President of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
McElwaine says Florida Representatives Allen Boyd, a Democrat, and Ander Crenshaw, a Republican proposed an amendment to a bill that would prevent pollution standards from being put in place in the state.
"It restricts any use of federal funding for any water quality standards in Florida," said McElwaine.
He says the measure is almost guaranteed to pass because it is attached to an emergency funding bill for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is being done through a back door, back method as an amendment that has to pass, and should've last week," said McElwaine.
Those standards the amendment threatens were set in January well before the oil spill, and now McElwaine says eliminating them couldn't come at a worse time with wildlife threatened.
"Even before BP's disaster, our water was not meeting federal standards, so this would effectively cancel the judge's order," said McElwaine.
We contacted the offices of both Allen Boyd and Ander Crenshaw.
A representative for Boyd confirmed this is an issue he has been working on, but says he is not planning to add the language to the bill at this time.
We have not yet heard back from Crenshaw's office.


Oil, Water, Profit and Peril - by John Cranford, CQ Staff
It was Carl-Henric Svanberg, the board chairman of BP, of all people, to say what many others are thinking: that the devastating and still-unchecked Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be a world-unraveling event for the oil industry, just as a partial reactor meltdown 31 years ago in the middle of Pennsylvania upended the plans of American nuclear power producers.
“It will be, in many ways, a game-change in the way that Three Mile Island was,” Svanberg told an audience of European business executives May 19.
These were startling words coming from the man atop the British oil giant, which is both the biggest operator in the gulf and the company ultimately responsible for the worst environmental disaster to ever strike the United States.
The conclusion — and in some cases the wishful thinking — of environmental activists is that the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon well on April 20 may halt all offshore petroleum production, bring increased pressure on Congress to accelerate the move to alternative energy sources and reduce the nation’s dependence upon carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
At the very least, some argue, this catastrophe a mile below the surface of the gulf and 40 miles off the Louisiana coast may signal an end to drilling in dangerously deep waters, where robots must perform all tasks, and ordinary chemical and physical processes associated with oil exploration on land or in shallower undersea places do not always work.
As BP attempts to stanch the flow of as much as 1 million gallons of oil a day from the broken well, fears mount over the ultimate price of wrecked fisheries, destroyed wetlands, ruined beaches and wholesale environmental degradation. Cleanup costs and economic losses will be staggering — serious estimates already range up to $20 billion or even $30 billion, and those estimates presuppose that BP will succeed by August in its effort to seal off the spewing hole in the gulf floor. The costs will surely rise if two so-called relief wells also fail to plug the leak.
Regardless, experts caution that the game-changing nature of this event on energy policy is still likely to be more incremental, and less disruptive, than Three Mile Island. Public opinion, commercial losses and environmental damage will play a role. But the degree to which policy will be altered depends largely on the economics of oil. And there, the situation has no parallel.
To be sure, a complete shutdown of drilling in the gulf would change the equation. But almost no one expects that. The promise of profits makes drilling in deep water far too valuable for the industry to give up, despite the potential for a costly calamity. America’s dependence on oil is still so great that drilling in the gulf, and anywhere else oil can be found, is still worth it to companies willing to take the risk.
Take BP, for example. The company took in $239 billion in revenue during the recession year of 2009 and reported a $16.8 billion profit from continuing operations, an amount worth more than $10 billion in dividends paid to its shareholders. Even in the worst case, in which the cleanup costs and economic losses reach $100 billion, that’s roughly equivalent to BP’s profits for the past five years. And if the company were to go bankrupt, another would find the lure of oil profits great enough to take its place.
The potential for $100 billion in losses would add only pennies to the price of a gallon of gasoline, according to Trevor Houser, an energy and climate expert with the Rhodium Group, a New York economic consulting firm. That $100 billion cost would stand against the $600 billion that the United States spends every year on oil, said Houser, who is also a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “If we have a spill like this every decade, that’s a $10 billion-a-year premium. It doesn’t fundamentally change the cost of oil.”
That, of course, is a different question from the more immediate deliberations Democrats are pursuing over the causes, responsibilities and punishments for this catastrophe.


McCollum pledges water study commission
Orlando Sentinel - by David Damon
June 04, 2010
Attorney General Bill McCollum pledged Friday to set up a "water strategy and action commission" and make Florida a leader in finding alternative sources of water if he is elected governor.
At the same time, the Republican candidate also promised to fend off federal efforts to curb water body pollutants and make water permits easier to get so as not to "strangle growth."
McCollum unveiled his water policies in what his campaign called "a major policy announcement" during a water forum in Orlando sponsored by Associated Industries of Florida.
McCollum said the commission would quickly inventory Florida's water resources and "tell the public what is best for us to do" to ensure adequate supplies. The state Department of Environmental Protection estimates Florida will need an additional 2 billion gallons a day by 2025, he noted. In Central Florida, the St. Johns Water Management District has said the Floridan aquifer won't be able to sustain additional withdrawals after 2013.
"We will solve Florida's water issues, because we have to," McCollum said.
His plan, "Water 2020: Real Solutions for Sustaining Florida's Economy," is short on specifics but lays out broad goals such as tamping down regional water fights, continuing Everglades restoration efforts, promoting conservation through economic incentives and pushing alternative technology like desalination.
But McCollum also said he plans to "cut red tape" at the water management agencies where developers and farmers go for water resources. Both groups are deeply dependent on the availability of water to feed crops and build new rooftops.
McCollum vowed to "maintain Florida's high water standards while taking a lead" in opposing nutrient standards being pushed by federal regulators.
Environmentalists sued to enforce the Clean Water Act, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency came up with new standards for measuring levels of pollution such as sewage and fertilizer in Florida waterways. Business groups and many local governments have balked at the rules over fears of high compliance costs, and McCollum agrees.
McCollum faces an increasingly competitive Aug. 24 GOP primary against former Columbia/HCA hospital CEO Rick Scott. The winner likely faces Democrat and state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, and independent candidate Lawton Chiles III, on Nov. 2.
David Damon can be reached at or 407-420-5311.


Oil would kill mangroves, corals
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler and Andy Reid
June 03, 2010
If spill comes to South Florida, some coastal ecosystems would suffer more than others
Red mangroves on the coast of Everglades National Park stand on stilt-like roots engineered to withstand the year-round assault of salt water.
But these sturdy trees, noisy with the squawks of anhingas, roseate spoonbills and other wading birds, are among the most vulnerable habitats in the world to oil, ranking second only to Arctic and Antarctic tundra.
No one knows whether South Florida will see only a few tar balls, or large quantities of oil, or no effects at all from BP's catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The company attempted to saw through the broken pipe Wednesday, hoping to cap it and reduce the amount of oil spewing into the ocean.
In the Florida Panhandle, where the white beaches have so far remained unblemished, Gov. Charlie Crist said an oil sheen and tar balls could arrive as early as Thursday.
South Florida is preparing for the possible arrival of oil via an ocean current that travels from the central Gulf around to the state's southeast coast. The region is in no imminent danger and beaches remain open for business, as Broward County officials stressed Wednesday in a meeting in Plantation with U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Florida.
But scientists and environmental officials are preparing for the worst, and it is possible to say which of the region's major habitats would be most vulnerable.
Mangroves, both in the Everglades and urban areas such as Hollywood's West Lake Park, would be virtually impossible to clean out and would die in large numbers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ranks mangroves second of 28 shoreline ecosystems in vulnerability to oil, taking into account the threat to plants and animals, difficulty of cleanup and likelihood of exposure to a nearby slick.
"These areas are remote," said David Hallac, chief biologist at Everglades National Park. "The sediment is often muddy, and it's a difficult place to get into. It can be almost impossible to walk into a mangrove area because it's so dense."
Sea grass beds, vital food for manatees and nurseries for juvenile fish, likely would survive, although much of the abundant wildlife within them would not. Coral reefs could be killed by oil in liquid form, but may escape much damage if the oil floats above them as tar balls. Beaches would be relatively easy to clean up, although this may not bring much comfort to owners of hotels and restaurants that could lose weeks of business


Florida's Swiss Cheese-Like Surface Rising - by Larry O'Hanlon
Jun 1, 2010
As Florida's limestone dissolves away to make a Swiss cheese-like ground, the state is buoying higher on Earth's mantle, say geologists.
The faster caverns and sinkholes form, the faster Florida rises out of the sea.
A model tests the idea and finds that it all adds up.
The rate of uplift is still far to slow to offset sea level rise projected for this century.
Caverns and sinkholes could keep parts of Florida out of the water as sea levels rise -- at least in the very, very long term.
It turns out that as the limestone there dissolves away to make the Swiss cheese-like ground, underfoot, the earth there gets lighter and buoys higher on the Earth's mantle, say geologists.
It's a very slow-motion version of what's happening in Alaska, Tierra del Fuego and Greenland as glaciers melt and mountains rebound upwards, relieved of all that weight. This "isostatic rebound" idea also finally explains the longstanding mystery of how some Florida limestones -- filled with marine fossils -- managed to get so high above sea level.
In some places the geologically recent fossils are in ridges 250 feet above sea level. This would not be a big deal in a setting where crustal plates are smashing together and pushing rocks up. But that's exactly the opposite of Florida's geology, which is very sleepy and tectonically passive.
"Either sea level was that high or there is some kind of uplift," said geologist Peter Adams at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Adams is the lead author of a paper on the matter in the June issue of the journal Geology.
Since tectonic collision can't be called on to explain the matter, Adams decided to put the cavern-ridden rebound idea -- first proposed in 1984 by his co-author Neil Updyke -- to the test with a model.
The numerical model combined estimated sea level fluctuations over more than a million years, the length of time the land has been out of the water, rainfall, cave-formation rates and isostatic uplift to see if the idea has any legs.
"I'm just seeing if mechanically those ridges fit with the ages," said Adams.
The model suggests the ages of north Florida's Trail Ridge, Penholoway Terrace and Talbot terrace are 1.44 million, 408,000, and 120,000 years old respectively. That basically matches the fossil evidence in the rocks, Adams said.
"They did a good job with this," commented veteran Florida geologist Thomas Scott, formerly of the Florida Geological Survey and author of the book "Roadside Geology of Florida." The model is a good "proof of concept" study, he said.
With the heights and times worked out, it's a simple matter to calculate the uplift rate: 0.047 millimeters per year. While that might seem awfully slow, it's almost twice as fast as had been previously thought and implies that the rotting way of limestone is happening at a rate more than three times faster than expected.
Still, with sea level rise clocked at rates of more than 3 millimeters per year, it's only over the very long haul that uplift will help Florida.
"We're not going to be saved by this," said Adams. "We're still drowning."


Scientists warn of unseen deepwater oil disaster
Associated Press - by MATTHEW BROWN (AP)
May 31, 2010
NEW ORLEANS — Independent scientists and government officials say there's a disaster we can't see in the Gulf of Mexico's mysterious depths, the ruin of a world inhabited by enormous sperm whales and tiny, invisible plankton.
Researchers have said they have found at least two massive underwater plumes of what appears to be oil, each hundreds of feet deep and stretching for miles. Yet the chief executive of BP PLC — which has for weeks downplayed everything from the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf to the environmental impact — said there is "no evidence" that huge amounts of oil are suspended undersea.
BP CEO Tony Hayward said the oil naturally gravitates to the surface — and any oil below was just making its way up. However, researchers say the disaster in waters where light doesn't shine through could ripple across the food chain.
"Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that," said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.
On the surface, a 24-hour camera fixed on the spewing, blown-out well and the images of dead, oil-soaked birds have been evidence of the calamity. At least 20 million gallons of oil and possibly 43 million gallons have spilled since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in April.
That has far eclipsed the 11 millions gallons released during the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska's coast in 1989. But there is no camera to capture what happens in the rest of the vast Gulf, which sprawls across 600,000 square miles and reaches more than 14,000 feet at its deepest point.
Every night, the denizens of the deep make forays to shallower depths to eat — and be eaten by — other fish, according to marine scientists who describe it as the largest migration on earth.
In turn, several species closest to the surface — including red snapper, shrimp and menhaden — help drive the Gulf Coast fishing industry. Others such as marlin, cobia and yellowfin tuna sit atop the food chain and are chased by the Gulf's charter fishing fleet.
Many of those species are now in their annual spawning seasons. Eggs exposed to oil would quickly perish. Those that survived to hatch could starve if the plankton at the base of the food chain suffer. Larger fish are more resilient, but not immune to the toxic effects of oil.
The Gulf's largest spill was in 1979, when the Ixtoc I platform off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula blew up and released 140 million gallons of oil. But that was in relatively shallow waters — about 160 feet deep — and much of the oil stayed on the surface where it broke down and became less toxic by the time it reached the Texas coast.
But last week, a team from the University of South Florida reported a plume was headed toward the continental shelf off the Alabama coastline, waters thick with fish and other marine life.
The researchers said oil in the plumes had dissolved into the water, possibly a result of chemical dispersants used to break up the spill. That makes it more dangerous to fish larvae and creatures that are filter feeders.
Responding to Hayward's assertion, one researcher noted that scientists from several different universities have come to similar conclusions about the plumes after doing separate testing.
No major fish kills have been reported, but federal officials said the impacts could take years to unfold.
"This is just a giant experiment going on and we're trying to understand scientifically what this means," said Roger Helm, a senior official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 2009, LSU's Chakrabarty discovered two new species of bottom-dwelling pancake batfish about 30 miles off the Louisiana coastline — right in line with the pathway of the spill caused when the Deepwater Horizon burned and sank April 24.
By the time an article in the Journal of Fish Biology detailing the discovery appears in the August edition, Chakrabarty said, the two species — which pull themselves along the seafloor with feet-like fins — could be gone or in serious decline.
"There are species out there that haven't been described, and they're going to disappear," he said.
Recent discoveries of endangered sea turtles soaked in oil and 22 dolphins found dead in the spill zone only hint at the scope of a potential calamity that could last years and unravel the Gulf's food web.
Concerns about damage to the fishery already is turning away potential customers for charter boat captains such as Troy Wetzel of Venice. To get to waters unaffected by the spill, Wetzel said he would have to take his boat 100 miles or more into the Gulf — jacking up his fuel costs to where only the wealthiest clients could afford to go fishing.
Significant amounts of crude oil seep naturally from thousands of small rifts in the Gulf's floor — as much as two Exxon Valdez spills every year, according to a 2000 report from government and academic researchers. Microbes that live in the water break down the oil.
The number of microbes that grow in response to the more concentrated BP spill could tip that system out of balance, LSU oceanographer Mark Benfield said.
Too many microbes in the sea could suck oxygen from the water, creating an uninhabitable hypoxic area, or "dead zone."
Preliminary evidence of increased hypoxia in the Gulf was seen during an early May cruise aboard the R/V Pelican, carrying researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi.
An estimated 910,000 gallons of dispersants — enough to fill more than 100 tanker trucks — are contributing a new toxin to the mix. Containing petroleum distillates and propylene glycol, the dispersants' effects on marine life are still unknown.
What is known is that by breaking down oil into smaller droplets, dispersants reduce the oil's buoyancy, slowing or stalling the crude's rise to the surface and making it harder to track the spill.
Dispersing the oil lower into the water column protects beaches, but also keeps it in cooler waters where oil does not break down as fast. That could prolong the oil's potential to poison fish, said Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
"There's a school of thought that says we've made it worse because of the dispersants," he said.
Associated Press writer Jason Dearen contributed to this report from San Francisco.


Feds endorse freeing up Tamiami Trail water - by KEVIN WADLOW -
May 26, 2010
A draft federal plan for more bridges to replace earthen dams along the Tamiami Trail won applause from Florida Bay advocates this week.
The National Park Service's draft environmental impact statement for the Everglades, released May 19, recommends bridging more than five additional miles of U.S. 41, commonly known as the Tamiami Trail.
The first project to increase freshwater flow under the road, a one-mile bridge, broke ground in December for expected completion in 2013.


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