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The Fanjuls: Koch brothers of South Florida ?
American Independent - by Kyle Daly
March 31, 2011
Following revelations of their involvement in the war on public unions in Wisconsin, the once-anonymous Koch Industries executive vice president David and his brother Charles have in short time become boogeymen of the left, the liberal answer to the center of so many conservative conspiracies, George Soros (something David groused about in a recent, fawning Weekly Standard profile).
Meanwhile, other billionaires and multi-millionaires who have used their wealth to fund a similar agenda have managed to slip under the radar. Among them are the Fanjul family, Florida sugar magnates who also happen to be friends and neighbors of David and Julia Koch.
Like the Kochs, Alfonso “Alfy” and José “Pepe” Fanjul are two of four brothers who inherited a massive conglomerate from their father, in their case, Cuban sugar kingpin Alfonso Fanjul, Sr., who fled Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power. Unlike the Kochs, Alfy and Pepe are by all accounts still on good terms with their brothers, Alexander and Andrés, though Alfy and Pepe are higher profile and are the top executives at Flo-Sun, Inc., the family sugar empire.
Flo-Sun owns resorts in the Dominican Republic but gets most of its revenue through its American Sugar Refining division. ASR owns the C&H, Florida Crystals and Redpath Sugar brands, but its largest and best-known subsidiary is Domino Foods, Inc., producer of Domino Sugar. All told, Flo-Sun is estimated to pull in about $2.5 billion annually.
The Fanjuls, however, are not necessarily the easy targets that the Kochs are; to begin with, Alfy is a devoted Democrat. In the run-up to the 2010 election, he gave $37,230 to nine Democratic candidates for U.S. Congress. The biggest recipients of his largess were Kendrick Meek, who lost in his Senate bid to Marco Rubio despite former President Bill Clinton’s vigorous campaigning, and Ted Deutch, the Broward County representative (and, given their Palm Beach headquarters, the Fanjuls’ own congressman) who overwhelmingly defeated Republican Ed Lynch in a special election in April of last year.
Though despite Deutch’s party affiliation, based on his policies and his voting record in the Florida Senate prior to becoming a U.S. representative, the Associated Industries of Florida gave Deutch an 80 percent “business friendly” rating, the third highest of any Florida Democrat analyzed, and the highest of any Democrat now serving on the national stage. His general voting record in U.S. office, however, has been overwhelmingly along party lines.
Pepe Fanjul, meanwhile, gave $40,100 to nine Republican candidates prior to the 2010 election. He gave the most to U.S. Rep. David Rivera, he of numerous ethics troubles. Should Rivera remain in office, he has pledged (PDF) to oppose any legislation relating to climate change that would create any amount of government spending. The pledge he signed was originated by Americans for Prosperity, a limited government organization funded by the Koch brothers. The second largest recipient of Pepe Fanjul’s campaign contributions was freshman U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, whose dedication to loosening environmental regulations on corporations like Flo-Sun has previously been reported by The American Independent.
Of course, for mega-corporations like the Fanjuls’, just giving to favored candidates may not represent the best Washington investment for their money. Lobbying is where the Fanjuls put major cash. Flo-Sun spent $695,000 (PDFs: Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4) in 2010 alone lobbying the House, Senate and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on industrial waste regulations, food safety rules relating to sugar and elements of the Clean Water Act that affect the Florida Everglades.
Neither the Fanjuls nor their lobbying firms are required to disclose exactly what’s discussed in lobbyist meetings or which politicians have agreed to meet with them — though it would certainly strain belief to suggest that they’re spending upwards of a million dollars a year to argue in favor of deeper government regulation. Since 2005, Flo-Sun has spent $3.65 million lobbying the federal government.


Contractors, advocates: Everglades restoration means private sector jobs
Florida Independent - by Travis Pillow
March 30, 2011
On Tuesday the Everglades Foundation and contractors involved in restoration efforts called on the Florida legislature to maintain funding for the programs, saying cuts would cost private sector jobs.
Funding for the efforts peaked at $200 million under Jeb Bush, and under Gov. Rick Scott’s budget plan could fall to $17 million from the current $50 million, a loss that could be amplified by additional cuts at water management districts.
David Stites of Taylor Engineering in Jacksonville said Everglades restoration efforts have helped stem the flow of losses as business from state and local governments dried up due to plummeting property values, and that the proposed budget reductions are already leading to cutbacks.
They sent letters to Scott, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. A sample is below:
Dear Senator Haridopolos:
Please support continued state funding of Everglades restoration. Not only do these projects protect a source of drinking water for one in three Floridians, improve our water quality and restore one of Florida’s most precious ecosystems — they also create quality private-sector jobs in the state of Florida. Throughout Florida, there are private-sector employees planning, designing and building the individual projects that restore the Everglades. The efforts of these hard-working men and women will help secure Florida’s supply of water and help rebuild our economy.
We write to you as a group of businesses working on the restoration of the Everglades. Continued state funding of Everglades restoration will help ensure that the federal government stands by its commitment to fund these important projects and will allow construction to move forward. The Everglades stand at a crossroads. With large land acquisition projects completed, Florida is poised to reap the benefits from the construction of key restoration projects — projects that we proudly help design and build.
Funding for Everglades restoration has been reduced from a one-time level of $200 million and has already been subject to disproportionate budget reductions over the last few years. Cuts to funding could mean a loss of jobs.
This legislative session, please continue to stand by Florida’s commitment to the Everglades. Know that continued funding for these projects is invested in private businesses, like ours, that will help make the goals of this great effort a reality.
Wendy Cyriacks, President, Cyriacks Environmental Consulting Services, Inc.
3001 SW 15th Street, Suite B, Deerfield Beach, Fl 33442
Terry Flanagan, Vice President, HNTB Corporation
7077 Bonneval Road, Suite 600, Liberty Center, Jacksonville, FL32216
Terrence Hull, President, Taylor Engineering
10151 Deerwood Park Blvd, Suite 300, Jacksonville, Fl 32256
David Lickliter, Sr. Project Manager, UESI/Underwater Engineering Services, Inc.
3306 Enterprise Road, Fort Pierce, FL34982
Gene Eichelberger, Project Manager, Palm Beach Grading
1250 Gateway Road, Lake Park, FL33403
David Quinn, Co-owner, Quinn Contracting, Inc.
24590 Highway 370, West Falkner, Mississippi38629
Juan Vazquez, Vice President, R J Behar & Company, Inc.
6861 SW 196th Avenue, Suite 302, Pembroke Pines, FL33332
Katherine Garces Worth, President, Worth Contracting, Inc.
2112 Ternigan Road, Jacksonville, FL32207
George Powell, Vice President, Wright Construction Group
5811 Youngquist Road, Fort Myers, FL33912
Mary Goldsmith, Business Development Manager, PBS&J
7406 Fullerton St. Suite 350, Jacksonville, FL32256
cc: Florida Senate & House of Representatives


House committee approves deep budget cuts
Herald Times - by Steve Bousquet
March 30, 2011
A key House committee approved a $66.5 billion budget that included deep cuts across the board in education, health care and other services.
TALLAHASSEE -- The size and scope of Florida’s $3.8 billion budget shortfall came into sharper focus Wednesday as a key House committee approved a $66.5 billion budget with deep cuts in education, health care and other services.
Few programs and services were spared, from student financial aid to state parks to foster children to public broadcasting. The weather reinforced the dreary message as heavy rain pelted the Capitol for much of the day.
The budget cuts are due to a lengthy recession that has left Florida tax collections flat as its Medicaid rolls swell to nearly 3 million. The Republican Legislature won’t raise taxes or fees, making cuts the only option. The biggest losers: State workers, who will see their salaries cut to beef up their retirement plans. The proposed budget also cuts 5,300 jobs, thousands of which are filled by state workers.
“There are no winners in our budget,” said Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater. “But I’m not interested in passing on any new taxes to anyone.”
The House Appropriations Committee passed the budget along with a 15-8 vote, GOP members voting yes and Democrats voting no. Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, had an excused absence and didn’t vote.
“Faced with the economy we’re in, there was absolutely no other choice,” said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who crafted the House education budget.
The House’s 7 percent cut in public school spending will mean $463 less per pupil next year, the lowest level of K-12 spending since 2005. The House also cuts Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals and nursing homes by 7 percent.
College and university tuition would rise by 5 percent and Bright Futures scholarships would be cut by 15 percent.
The most hotly debated part of the House budget is a plan to save money by turning state prison and probation operations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties over to private companies by 2012. Private companies would have to run programs for at least 7 percent less.
“When you have less money, you can’t continue to do business as usual,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who oversees prison spending.
Democrats said privatizing prisons and probation would cost some state correctional officers their jobs and that it was dangerous to rely on a for-profit company to supervise people on probation.
“I’m very concerned that public safety could be jeopardized,” said Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, who voted against the privatization plan along with the seven other Democrats on the 24-member panel.
State attorneys and public defenders would be required to absorb 5 percent cuts, the equivalent of 370 full-time jobs. The House also wants to redistribute money to three judicial circuits, largely at the expense of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
House leaders say outmoded funding formulas fail to adequately take into account population growth in the court systems in greater Orlando, Ocala and Naples.
The House budget also eliminates the state Office of Drug Control and provides no money for beach restoration or the Florida Forever land-acquisition program. Funding for Everglades restoration would be reduced from $50 million to $26 million.
Neither the House nor the Senate budgets leave much room for tax-and-fee cuts — a subtle rebuke of Gov. Rick Scott, who wanted $2.4 billion in revenue reductions, including a significant property-tax cut. Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Wednesday that the Senate could still come up with some tax cuts, but they won’t be large.
Like the House, the Senate deeply cuts spending as well. The Senate trims health care spending by a greater amount, but spends more on schools. The two chambers’ budget plans sharply differ, but must be reconciled by the end of session May 6. Unlike the House, the Senate seeks to take over operations of expressway authorities in Tampa Bay, the Orlando area and the Panhandle. Also, the Senate pulls state water management districts into its budget. The two proposals helps make the bottom-line Senate budget $69.8 billion — $3.2 billion bigger than the House plan. The Senate cuts slightly fewer salaried positions, about 5,000.
One big difference: The House raids single-purpose trust fund accounts by $704 million, including $300 million from the category used for building and repairing roads and bridges. Bob Burleson of the Florida Transportation Builders Association said the “sweep” would threaten 25,000 jobs and up to $1 billion in construction work.
Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, voiced concern at a $78 million cut in student financial aid in the House budget, a 15 percent decline from current spending.
“It’s getting costlier to go to college and that’s a fact,” Brogan said. “The kind of support students need needs to be increasing, not decreasing.”
The Senate Budget Committee will take up its $69.8 billion budget today, setting up floor votes in both chambers to be followed by extensive budget negotiations in the second half of the nine-week session.


Margate supports reservoir research amid new water restrictions
Sun Sentinel – by Stephen Feller
March 30, 2011
Since October, the portion of the state that lies south of Orlando received less than half the rainfall it normally would, according to the agency charged with monitoring it. This has led to new water restrictions being quickly put into place in recent weeks.
New limits on water use went into effect last weekend as the South Florida Water Management District seeks to combat the driest dry season in the area in 80 years.
The restrictions include two-day-a-week limits on residential lawn watering, a 15 percent reduction in water usage by nurseries and agricultural facilities, and a 15 percent reduction in golf course irrigation, in addition to various other governmental usage changes.
According to Gabe Margasak, a spokesperson for the SFWMD, the current dry season has brought in rain levels nearly seven inches less than what is expected from October to February each year, and the least since records began to be kept in 1932.
The new restrictions are considered critical to the region right now, but they will be re-evaluated continuously as the dry season continues, SFWMD Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle said in a press release.
Though the population in the 16-county district has increased during the past decade by about 200,000 people, Margasak said more people demanding water is not the major source of blame for the drought.
"There are certainly more straws in the cup," Margasak said. "[But the cause] is that it's incredibly dry. And the forecasts for no appreciable rain are expected to continue."
The city of Margate already has taken efforts to help ease water use in their cities, with Margate in the early stages of planning a water-reclamation system for the city, and Coconut Creek is encouraging further efforts to help in the future.
The Coconut Creek City Commission last week passed a resolution to continue its support into a new water reservoir off Southern Boulevard in northern Palm Beach County.
The reservoir has, with other water reuse and conservation methods, the potential to meet water needs in the region for the next 50 years of expected population growth, according to Dean Powell, deputy director of intergovernmental programs and head of the water supply planning group for the SFWMD.
The reservoir would be created by retrofitting an old rock mine for water storage and could be used to supply water throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties, and possibly a good portion of Miami-Dade County.
The exact cost has not yet been determined, Powell said, but that it likely would reach into the hundreds of billions (???-eH-ed.). However, the benefits would outweigh the initial cost because of what it would do to help Everglades restoration and protect the Lake Worth lagoon, in addition to helping with water supply needs, he added.
"What most people are promoting now is that we continue to pursue the feasibility study," Powell said. "We still have some work to do before we say, 'Hey, let's do it,' but the early results are pretty promising."


Marshall Foundation moving office to Lake Worth from West Palm Beach
Palm Beach Post
March 30, 2011
LAKE WORTH - — The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, the nonprofit group that promotes Everglades restoration, environmental education and tree planting, is moving its headquarters from West Palm Beach to Lake Worth.
The foundation, which has a full-time staff of three and hosts summer interns and volunteers, will move Friday from its cramped offices on South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach to a former doctor's office at 1028 N. Federal Highway in Lake Worth.
The new foundation office is on Federal Highway just north of 10th Avenue North, Executive Director Josette Kaufman said.


Refuge area Wildlife Refuge area studied.
(Mouseover or Click to enlarge)

The Best/Worst Time for a Florida Refuge
Daily Yonder – by Andrew Moore, Philadelphia, PA
March 30, 2011
Creating a wildlife preserve in the Everglades has been an ongoing effort. Fish and wildlife managers say the recession makes now an ideal time to get it accomplished.
Multiple efforts have been advanced in recent years to create and expand an Everglades wildlife refuge, an ambitious and costly goal in such financially uncertain times.
The recession hit Florida harder than most other states. Despite the economic climate, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed creating an Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Central Florida.  And although Florida Governor Rick Scott has indicated that now is not the time to spend tax dollars on conservation projects, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says this is actually an ideal moment to achieve such goals.
With private land deals slowed by the recession, the federal wildlife agency proposes to “capitalize on the real estate economy to protect biologically important lands.”  Wildlife officials realize that if the economy turns around, and now-idling developments are financed, that window of opportunity could close.
Charlie Pelizza, Refuge Manager at Pelican Bay in Florida, says, “There are at least sixty Developments of Regional Impact—residential developments primarily—that are in the [Everglades] landscape that are either in initial stages, or have already been approved.  When the economy improves, those could proceed.”
Pelizza says that if those development projects do proceed, the Service would lose the ability to restore water quality for wildlife and for Floridians.  In addition, existing wildlife corridors would be further fragmented, limiting the range and viability of Florida’s most endangered species.
Pelizza also cites nascent alternative energy projects — for biofuels, wind, and solar power — that would likely move ahead when the economy improves, significantly altering the landscape.
The area now under study for the Everglades refuge consists of four counties -- Polk, Osceola, Highlands, Okeechobee -- totaling 1.78 million acres. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hoping to identify 150,000 acres for the refuge and conservation area—100,000 acres to be acquired through conservation easements, and 50,000 acres through direct purchase.
The most recent Everglades restoration project in South Florida was forced to be scaled back from an earlier, more ambitious plan.  In 2008, Governor Charlie Crist proposed purchasing 187,00 acres from the U.S. Sugar Corporation. The South Florida Water Management District agreed to buy this land for $1.3 billion.
But citing the economic downturn, the state was forced to reduce the project dramatically, twice.  The final sale of 26,791 acres, for $197.3 million closed in October of last year.        
This land was sought primarily to improve the water quality in South Florida ecosystems by taking a chunk of the Everglades out of heavy agricultural production. The current proposal for a refuge cites similar goals for improving water quality, but rather than restoring an ecosystem, the Service seeks only to preserve existing habitats that are increasingly rare but currently in healthy ecological condition.
Florida’s current governor, Rick Scott, spoke out against the U.S. Sugar-Everglades deal during his campaign for office, in August of 2010. 
As governor Scott has designated no funds for the state’s conservation land acquisition program, Florida Forever, in his recommendation for the 2011-2012 budget. Scott did, however, recommend $17 million for lower Everglades restoration projects. He has told reporters that his current priority is creating jobs.
Earlier this month, state legislators introduced a bill to allow the development of golf courses on wildlife habitat in state parks. One park named specifically was Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Palm Beach County, a federally designated Wild and Scenic River.
Although the bill has since been withdrawn, it indicates the current legislature’s willingness to sacrifice wildlife habitat for projected economic benefits. The bill grew out of talks between Hall of Fame golfer Jack Nicklaus and Governor Scott, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service sees the current economic situation very differently. Because Florida land prices have fallen from the highs of the land speculation and development boom, the Service sees this as an opportune time to purchase lands at more affordable rates. The Service argues that conditions are actually ripe for funding conservation projects.
According to Pelican Bay’s refuge manager Pelizza, royalties collected from offshore oil drilling could provide funding for the proposed Everglades project. A second major source of potential funding comes from the Federal Duck Stamp, required of waterfowl hunters.  The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, signed into law in 1934, generates revenue for wetlands acquisition for what is now the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The creation of this refuge is being sought, first of all, in order to conserve habitat for 88 threatened and endangered species, including Florida panthers, Florida black bears and Everglades snail kites.  Many endangered species are declining due to continual habitat destruction; the Service is taking into consideration global climate change and rising sea levels as future causes of habitat loss.
But another goal is to protect the water supply for millions of people, including residents of the heavily populated urban areas of South Florida. The study area includes the headwaters of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, which is the main source of water for the majority of South Floridians.
In addition, according to the Service, the proposal supports the America’s Great Outdoors program, a national priority of the Secretary of the Interior, “by conserving a rural ranching and agricultural community, as well as the rural character of Central Florida.” This would be accomplished by creating conservation easements on privately held lands, allowing ranchers to continue raising cattle.
The rules of conservation easements vary from state to state, and from project to project, but in most cases the private landowner sells development rights to a public entity--in this case the USFWS--but remains sole owner of the property.  A rancher, for example, can continue cattle-grazing operations, but no new developments can occur on the landscape.
Landowners are paid for these development rights at rates determined through property value appraisals. The Wildlife Service would make an offer to willing sellers based on current market values. A landowner would still be able to sell his or her land in the future, but the development rights would remain with the Service.
The family-owned Adams Ranch has partnered with research and wildlife management for decades on their ranch in Osceola County and in St. Lucie County, where the family business is headquartered.     
This past November, Adams Ranch entered into a 40-acre easement at their Osceola ranch, adjacent to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. The easement area is a native prairie that the ranch is not permitted to disturb either by turning it into improved pasture or by constructing roads.  The ranch is also required to manage the property properly, which includes prescribed burning. Mike Adams, president of Adams Ranch, says his cattle are still free to graze in the area.
But because the current refuge proposal would include a much larger area, Adams says, his company would need to make sure those future easements aren’t as restrictive before making any further agreement.
“We work in a dynamic world now, on a world basis,” Adams says.  “What you do today you may not be doing ten years from now.”
The Osceola ranch contains a mix of dense hammocks, cypress domes, palmetto prairie, and open prairie.  In addition to cattle, the ranch is home to bald eagles, gopher tortoises, wild turkey, killdeer, and the migrating purple martin, among other species. Adams Ranch shares a property line with Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, a 62,000-acre preserve of dry prairie.  This proximity makes the ranch a highly prized zone for expanding existing wildlife corridors.
Pelizza says that ranching lands are more favorable than heavy agriculture, such as citrus groves.
“Especially when we’re talking about the ranching community, their needs are similar to ours, and very compatible,” Pelizza says.  “Our mission is to provide habitat for wildlife -- the ranching community are also interested in providing these opportunities for future generations as well.”
Adams admits that at the height of the real estate and land speculation boom, his ranch received a few offers that were close to the right price.  But he asked the interested developer to stop offering, because the ranch was not for sale.
“A lot of the people in the cattle business really enjoy what they do,” Adams says.  “It’s not so much for a return on their investment,” Adams says; it’s a way of life, and quality of life, that the ranchers like himself care about most. “Florida without wildlife would be kind of a sad place,” he says.
Adams’s son, Zachary, lives near the Osceola ranch.  In total, four full-time cowboys work at the ranch.
 “I know we’ve had a good balance of wildlife and productive agriculture operation,” Adams says.  “We feel it could be very much sustainable into the future, but you need the ability to do different things.”


Everglades contractors push Scott for more cash
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy
March 29, 2011
South Florida contractors were among those appealing Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott’s job-creation push, urging him to seek more funding for Everglades restoration for economic, as well as environmental, purposes.
In his budget proposal, Scott has recommended cutting state restoration money from $50 million to $17 million. He also has called for 25 percent property tax cuts from the state’s water management districts, which environmentalists say also could reduce dollars for Everglades work.
House and Senate budgets advancing also tighten-up environmental spending, as lawmakers look to close a spending gap nearing $3.8 billion.
“Continued state funding of Everglades restoration will help ensure that the federal government stands by its commitment to fund these important projects and will allow construction to move forward,” the ten contractors wrote Scott. “The Everglades stand at a crossroads.”
Contractors included engineers, environmental consultants, and road graders from South Florida to Jacksonville and Mississippi.


New Florida water rule myth: Obama did it
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
March 29, 2011
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Stuart, have unveiled a new argument in their quest to fight the EPA’s decision to create new water quality standards for Florida: The Obama Administration did it. In doing so, they overlook the fact that the mandate to implement the rules was decided on by the George W. Bush Administration.
In an op-ed published this morning at, Rooney and Rubio defend their stance that the EPA’s numeric nutrient standards will result in high costs and job losses, and that they are the result of regulatory efforts by the Obama Administration:
Shortly after President Barack Obama took office, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drafted a new mandate to regulate numeric nutrients in Florida’s rivers, lakes and streams. These standards would impact Florida and no other state, setting higher standards for runoff water than we have for drinking water.
This newspaper describes the new regulations as “science-based,” but considering that they were announced by President Obama’s administration just days after he took office, it’s hard to see how much scientific research could realistically have been completed.
The decision to create the nutrient criteria occurred on Jan. 14, 2009 and was actually one of the EPA’s “last acts under the Bush administration” (.pdf). “This determination triggered a mandatory duty for EPA to promulgate such standards,” according to the Bureau of National Affairs.
EPA representatives have stated again and again that the criteria are, indeed, based on sound science.
“EPA scientists consulted with scientific experts in Florida and calculated the standards based on a review of over 13,000 water samples that the State collected from over 2,200 sites statewide,” EPA Public Affairs Specialist Davina Marraccini said in a recent interview with The Florida Independent. “Underlying data and methodology supporting the rule were independently peer reviewed.
The EPA also solicited extensive feedback during public comment periods, and ultimately incorporated changes into the final rule.
Rooney and Rubio further argue that the criteria would be too costly for a state suffering the effects of the great recession: “According to one estimate, water bills in Florida would double, and compliance would cost our state $2 billion per year.”
Indeed, some estimates do estimate a hike in water bills and costs in the billions — those written by affected industries such as agriculture and industry, which would likely bear the majority of the economic burden for cleaning up their effluent. In fact, an examination of internal Florida Department of Environmental Protection emails last November revealed that insiders question the legitimacy of those cost estimates.
One prominent special interest coming out hard against the criteria? Koch Industries. In addition to owning Koch Fertilizer (one of 68 companies to urge the federal government to repeal the criteria), Koch Industries owns paper giant Georgia-Pacific, which currently pumps its effluent directly into Palatka’s Rice Creek. Should the criteria go into effect, Koch and Georgia-Pacific would be legally responsible for cleaning up their waste in an effort to fully meet the nutrient standards.
The No. 1 recipient of Koch funds in the 2010 Senate election cycle ?  Marco Rubio.


Who are the biggest polluters in South Florida ?
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler and Dana Williams
March 29, 2011
EPA data let you find local sources of toxic emissions.
Air pollution from power plants, factories and sugar mills plunged in South Florida over the past few years as manufacturing plants shut down, consumer demand fell and companies took steps to cut emissions of harmful chemicals.
Industrial discharges of benzene, styrene, hydrochloric acid and other pollutants fell 60 percent in Broward County and 74 percent in Palm Beach County in 2009 from 2006, according to an analysis by the Sun Sentinel of four years of reports by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Sun Sentinel has prepared a database,, that allows you to find out who the major polluters are in your city and see whether pollution levels in your community are rising or falling. South Florida is not a center of heavy industry, but it generates a significant amount of air pollution from sugar production, power plants and scores of small manufacturers.
The polluter information, drawn from the EPA's annual Toxic Release Inventory, is not a complete list. It includes emissions only from local sources — air pollution crosses political boundaries, as shown by the news Monday of the detection of low-levels of radiation in Florida believed to be from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The list excludes emissions that fall below certain thresholds. It focuses on industrial polluters, ignoring sources such as airplanes, cruise ships and cars, the biggest source of air pollution in South Florida. But environmentalists say the EPA's release of pollution data from across the country allows you to at least see whether pollution is increasing or decreasing and who is responsible for it.
"Letting people know what's going into their air and water is a good thing," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch. "What we've seen is that with EPA publishing the discharges, it puts some subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on them to reduce their pollution."
In Broward County, emissions dropped over the past few years as several plants closed and the Florida Power & Light Co. reduced operations at its Port Everglades plant, which dates to 1960.
Sun Graphic Inc. of Pompano Beach, the second-ranked polluter in Broward County in 2006, with 150,900 pounds of emissions of toluene, a chemical that can harm the nervous system, was sold that year and closed. Jupiter Marine International, a boat manufacturer that ranked sixth in 2006, emitting 20,100 pounds of styrene, a suspected carcinogen, moved its factory from Fort Lauderdale to the Gulf coast. American Whirlpool Products of Hollywood, the ninth-ranked polluter in 2006, with 10,884 pounds of styrene emissions, was acquired by a Nashville company that transferred its operations to Tennessee.
The top-ranked polluter in Broward County remains the oil-fired FPL plant constructed at Port Everglades in the early 1960s. The plant showed a 25 percent drop in emissions from 2006 to 2009, from 192,791 pounds of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, vanadium and lead to 144,281 pounds.
Swapping power from cleaner, more efficient energy-generating plants elsewhere in the state for the electricity that had been produced at the Broward plant contributed to the decrease, said FPL spokesman Greg Brostowicz. Among these are three new solar plants in Brevard, DeSoto and Martin counties, as well as cleaner-burning natural gas plants in Martin, Manatee and western Palm Beach County.
The sluggish economy also contributed to cleaner air, as falling consumer demand led companies to cut production of manufactured goods. Manufacturers also switched to less toxic materials.
Dusky Marine, a Dania Beach builder of custom sport fishing boats that ranked fourth for pollution emissions in 2006, showed a sizable drop in styrene emissions from 30,300 pounds in 2006 to 6,140 in 2009. Mike Brown, vice president of the company, attributed the change to two factors: a slump in sales because of the recession and the use of low-styrene materials that lower the fees the company needs to pay to the EPA.
"Sales are down," he said. "But we have the best possible resins and the best possible gel coats, with the lowest styrene levels. I don't want to pay anyone anything I don't have to, especially to the EPA."
Palm Beach County's largest polluter in 2006 was the U.S. Sugar Bryant Mill, just east of Lake Okeechobee, which has emitted thick clouds of white smoke since the Kennedy administration. In 2006 the plant's stacks discharged naphthalene, benzene and other chemicals, largely waste from the burning of cane stems and other woody residue for fuel. The plant closed in 2007 as the company consolidated processing operations at a newer, cleaner facility in Hendry County.
The sugar industry remains a significant polluter. The burning of cane fields emitted 95,157 pounds of carbon monoxide and 14,097 pounds of volatile organic compounds in 2009. A processing plant operated by the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative in 2009 released 227,309 pounds of methanol, which contributes to the formation of smog.
The twin stacks that tower over the Riviera Beach waterfront had been the third-ranked source of air pollution in Palm Beach County, emitting in 2006 about 76,017 pounds of hydrochloric acid, lead and sulfuric acid. But FPL closed the plant temporarily in 2008 to tear out the old oil-fired system and install a cleaner system that uses natural gas. The change, which takes effect when the plant reopens in 2014, will cut pollution by more than 90 percent and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary global warming gas, by about half, said Brostowicz.
FPL's West County Energy Center, a controversial project that drew sharp opposition from environmentalists, in 2009 released 45,209 pounds of ammonia, a chemical that forms fine particles that can lodge in the lungs. The ammonia is used to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, compounds that form smog, according to FPL. This was its first year of operation.
The decline in South Florida pollution discharges reflects a national trend, driven largely by economic decline, tighter regulations and improved emissions controls.
Like many environmental programs, the Toxic Release Inventory system was created in response to a catastrophe. In 1984 the Union Carbide Corp. pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, accidentally released clouds of toxic gases that killed thousands.
"The question was raised about what we know about industrial facilities," said Mark Stephan, associate professor of political science at Washington State University Vancouver, who has written a forthcoming book on the EPA's toxic disclosure system. "There was a push to do some sort of inventory. The underlying idea was that people have a right to know about the chemicals in their communities."
A lot of the data that you have a right to know may be confusing to the average person who may be unable to assess the risks of the chemicals discharged into the environment. But Stephan said the value isn't so much the ability to see what's near your house, although obviously if massive discharges are taking place, that's probably good to know. What the data can do is show trends over time, whether pollution discharges are rising or falling in a particular area. And he said it can focus companies' attention on their own emissions, giving companies an incentive to cut emissions to avoid appearing on top-polluter lists.
"Probably the most effect it's had is pushing the companies to start measuring things they hadn't been measuring," he said. "It's clearly had some successes in inspiring and motivating companies to reduce their emissions."


How Stuff Works: How invasive species work
The Sacramento Bee - by MARSHALL BRAIN
Mar. 28, 2011
If you were to go back and look at the United States 1,000 years ago, the number and types of animal and plant species you would find would be quite different than they are today. The change started with the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent. Some of the species they brought with themselves initially included farm animals like horses, chickens, cattle, pigs and even honey bees. None of these animals existed in North American prior to the arrival of Europeans.
And none of these species would be considered to be particularly invasive either. That's because none of these species spreads with any special rapidity. And none of them, with the possible exception of feral pigs in places like Texas, is particularly hard to control. In fact, cows and chickens have some trouble surviving without human help.
One of the first invasive species that the Europeans brought with them are brown rats, which arrived in the United States sometime in the middle of the 1700s. And rats fit the definition as an invasive species. Rats are a non-native species that spreads rapidly, cause a great deal of damage and are extremely hard to control. There could be as many as 100 million brown rats living in New York City alone. There really isn't a way to do a definitive census, so no one knows for sure.
Amazingly, there are invasive species infesting the United States today that are even more troublesome than brown rats. Let's look at three of the most interesting to get a sense of how invasive a species can be.
One of the most surprising is the Asian Carp. You may have never heard of this one if you don't live along certain rivers in the Midwest, but if you do, the spread of the Asian Carp is spectacular. There are millions of them, and they have a propensity toward leaping out of the water as boats go by in numbers that boggle the mind. You can find videos of Asian Carp on YouTube that show stunning numbers of fish.
The problem is that the fish are big (20 pounds or more is common), they eat a lot and they reproduce rapidly, so they kill off all native fish. One possibility is to harvest them for food, but people in the United States do not tend to associate any kind of carp with fine dining.
Another invasive species is the quagga mussel --- a small freshwater shell fish about the size of a quarter. To get an idea of the problem quagga mussels create, take a look at the size of Lake Michigan on a map of the United States.
Compare Lake Michigan's size to the size of a state like of Massachusetts or Connecticut. Now imagine the floor of Lake Michigan --- the whole thing --- covered in a dense layer of quagga mussels. The mussels filter all of the beneficial food algae out of the water, excrete it as feces and in doing so promote the growth of other forms of algae that can create a stinking mess on shore. At the same time, with the beneficial algae gone, the number of fish in the lake has plummeted. Mussels like the quagga have a tendency to clog pipes for things like municipal water systems as well.
It is also possible for an invasive species to be a plant, and kudzu is a great example. If you live in the southeastern United States, you cannot miss kudzu because it is a vine that is very hard to stop. In the summer, kudzu vines grow as much as a foot per day. You can almost see Kudzu growing if you sit and watch it. Because it grows so fast and has very dense foliage, Kudzu can grow right over trees and smother them. Kudzu will also grow over things like houses, power lines, etc. and cause a great deal of damage. It has very deep, bulbous roots that make kudzu very difficult to eliminate from a piece of land.
There are many other invasive species in the United States including things like starlings, fire ants and even pythons that are proliferating in the Everglades.
Efforts to control them have so far proven to be fairly futile. In each case we hope that science can figure out some way to control their spread, or that the market place to create some kind of widespread demand for them so they come under predatory pressure from humans.


Jacksonville Waterways Commission on nutrient criteria cost estimates: ‘Probably higher than reality’
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
March 28, 2011
The St. Johns Riverkeeper’s Neil Armingeon reached out to the Jacksonville Waterways Commission more than five months ago, expressing concerns with inflated cost estimates associated with the implementation of a set of numeric nutrient criteria. The Waterways Commission, which is tasked with “formulating an overall plan for dealing with any problems that exist concerning the St. Johns River and all tidal waters in Duval County,” never commented on Armingeon’s letter.
Now, chairman John Crescimbeni tells The Florida Independent that the Waterways Commission won’t take a stance concerning the criteria, but even that neutrality doesn’t stop him from saying that industry estimates are “probably higher than reality.”
The EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria aim to more strictly govern Florida waterways — so often inundated with algal blooms and fish kills, both symptoms of excessive nutrients. The criteria would likely affect big businesses that pump waste directly into state waterways, and would require many to revamp the way they do business.
But how much would they really cost? The EPA has stated in the past that reasonable estimates could cost “at least a billion dollars over time,” but  that nutrient criteria “would not cost tens of billions of dollars as some have estimated.” #
The Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, an association of more than 60 Sunshine State wastewater utilities, has touted cost estimates of more $50 billion, and has alleged that the criteria would lead to a hefty hike in the average Floridian’s water bill, which could cost Florida residents between $500 and $900 more per year.
A November 2010 Florida Independent examination of internal emails within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, however, revealed that the state agency, which publicly touted the higher cost estimates, disputed the Water Environment Association’s numbers behind closed doors. >
A new cache of Department of Environmental Protection emails obtained by the Independent last week shows that shortly after our original piece ran, the St. Johns Riverkeeper’s Armingeon penned a letter to the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, imploring its members to take a closer look at the cost estimates.
“What I … find troubling is the fact that even after DEP staff determined the analysis of the costs as full of inaccuracies, including incorrect math, some DEP staff members continued to spread falsehoods about the potential costs,” wrote Armingeon in his 2010 letter, citing the Independent. “We believe that industry groups and special interests have used inflated cost estimates and hysterical rhetoric to mislead the public and elected officials as to the need and costs of these proposed  standards – case in point – the DEP email.”
Armingeon says that he never received a reply to his letter, and continues to be disappointed in the use of faulty cost estimates. “The Carollo report, which was funded by the polluters, has been discredited numerous times,” he writes via email. “The $50 billion cost is a total fabrication. Yet, the polluters continue to cite it, believing if you tell a lie enough times it becomes a fact.”
“The Waterways Commission has not stated its position with regard to the nutrient criteria,” says Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni, chair of the commission.”We do host periodic presentations with representatives of both [Jacksonville Electric Authority, aka JEA] and the Riverkeeper, because we like to stay in the loop. But we have no stance on the issue. We won’t say that one or the other side is right or wrong.” #
And though Crescimbeni says it wouldn’t be appropriate for the commission to take a stance on the nutrient criteria, he doesn’t argue with the fact that cost estimates are likely inflated.
“JEA’s estimates are probably higher than reality, because they are trying to spin this in a way that doesn’t cost additional money for them,” says Crescimbeni.


Mosaic Faces Off With Environmental Groups Over Florida Mine, Dow Jones Newswires - by Ian Berry
March 28, 2011
Mosaic Corp. (MOS) is facing off with environmental groups in Florida so it can maintain output of a key fertilizer component.
The fertilizer maker has secured water permits necessary to expand its mining operations in central Florida. Yet Mosaic, the world's largest producer of phosphates, is fighting an injunction issued by a federal judge last summer after the Sierra Club and local environmental groups accused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the issuer of the permits, of violating clean-water requirements.
At stake when the two sides return to court next month is about a third of Mosaic's phosphate production. The Plymouth, Minn. company is experiencing growing demand for fertilizer made from the raw material as farmers try to keep pace with booming global food needs. Phosphate along with nitrogen and potassium, or potash, have drawn increased attention from governments and investors illustrated last year by a $38.6 billion bid by BHP Billiton (BHP) for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (POT), a rival of Mosaic.
Mosaic plans to expand its mine in South Fort Meade, Fla. by 11,000 acres as production from the existing acreage dwindles. Investors expect the mine to keep operating, with earnings projections by stock analysts not factoring in the costs of production losses, said Horst Hueniken, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus in Toronto.
"The collective wisdom of investors is this place is not shutting down," he said.
Hueniken estimated the mine's closure could add up to $690 million in annual costs for Mosaic based on current market prices for phosphate, which the company likely would have to buy to replace the lost capacity. Phosphate currently sells for about $150 a ton.
In a recent interview, Mosaic Chief Executive Jim Prokopanko expressed confidence the company would prevail, saying the injunction has a "slim to nil" chance of being upheld on appeal. The company expects to prevail on the overall lawsuit as well.
At issue in the case is whether the Army Corps issued a permit for the mine expansion too hastily and violated the Clean Water Act. The Sierra Club and local environmental groups sued to stop the expansion, saying it could contaminate drinking-water supplies and fisheries in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which is connected to the site through a network of swamps and streams.
The Mosaic mine is about 80 miles southwest of Orlando nearly smack in the center of the state. Phosphate deposits have long been mined in Florida, and the state accounts for about 25% of world production.
Sierra Club attorney Eric Huber dismissed Prokopanko's confidence on the appeal as "puffery." On average, only 10% of trial-judge rulings are overturned in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where Mosaic's appeal is being heard, the Sierra Club said.
"What happens in this particular case may determine how much, and in what way, they continue to mine this entire area," Huber said.
Prokopanko said the Army Corps spent three years examining the company's permit request, and that work shouldn't be stopped by a single judge who looked at the case for a couple of days.
"This country would come to a screeching, roaring halt" if such decisions were allowed to stand, he said.
The federal appeals court will hear Mosaic's appeal of the injunction April 4. A ruling isn't expected for at least a month and could take four to six months.
For now, Mosaic can continue a 200-acre expansion of the mine, which will be depleted in May. After that, Prokopanko said the company could mine a 1,000-acre area for about 18 months while the case is heard, if need be. Mining the area will come at a higher costs, but will avoid wetlands on which the court case focuses.
CF Industries Holdings Inc. (CF) also mines phosphate in Florida. Chief Executive Stephen Wilson in July said the case was "a troublesome situation," but noted CF has fully permitted mines that will last through the next decade.


Trouble at SFWMD: Appoint Those Five Board Members Now
Sunshine News - by Nancy Smith
March 28, 2011
And remember, governor, good businessmen return phone calls.
If ever there was a time and a place for a housecleaning, the time is now and the place is the South Florida Water Management District.
SFWMD, the state's second largest property owner, is a sprawling bureaucracy with a fancy building, a fleet of aircraft employees sarcastically refer to as "the South Florida Air Force," and dazzling power over Floridians' pocketbooks, natural resources, water supply and the quality of life for future generations.
True, an entity like that would be an awesome responsibility for any board of governors.
But the SFWMD board has grown insular. It has fallen asleep at the switch. It operates a district with a $1.1 billion budget and more than 1,930 employees, and it does so largely in the dark and maybe even in violation of the public trust.
That was never more obvious than it was in Palm Beach Post reporter Joel Engelhardt's unraveling of one of SFWMD's more unsavory little secrets ("South Florida water district chief's boyfriend hired for 6-figure job") as presented in the newspaper's Sunday edition.
The story says that neither SFWMD Executive Director Carol Wehle nor her boyfriend Bob Howard disclosed that the district -- through its inspector general -- hired Howard last June to serve as one of Wehle & Co.'s watchdogs.
An engineer with no auditing experience, Howard was chosen over four other applicants to the position of engineering auditor.
Again -- to put it more simply this time -- he was hired to keep tabs on his girlfriend, to make sure she wasn't guilty of any wrongdoing on the job.
Howard drew a $120,000-a-year paycheck, he and Wehle kept it quiet, and even after board chairman Eric Buermann found out about the hiring and failure to disclose, he kept it under wraps. Why? Because, Buermann said, it was "a fait accompli" -- a done deal.
It wasn't a fait accompli at all. Dates on records seldom lie.
Howard was set to begin work on June 21. But before Howard's start date, Buermann received an anonymous letter tipping him off about the Wehle-Howard "close personal relationship." According to Engelhardt, that's when Buermann said, “I can’t tell you that I was happy about it, but again, I learned very late in the game after it was a fait accompli.”
He could have reversed the hire, or tried to. He did not.
Buermann, whose term has already expired but stays on because the governor hasn't named his replacement, said he was told Howard would never be in West Palm Beach auditing and dealing with executive management. Hence, no conflict.
In fact, Inspector General John Williams, Howard's boss, told the Post Howard would be working in Jacksonville "75 percent of the time."
He wasn't.
"District records ... show that Howard spent just nine nights in Jacksonville in December, January and February, 14 percent of his time," the Post story said.
Engelhardt got it all. He established the relationship between Wehle and Howard and explained the conflict of interest in considerable detail. He quoted the lame responses of board members. He delivered a feel for the mountain of problems at this forbidding bureaucracy -- without ever having to say what they are.
After I read the story, I phoned three district employees I knew. "Have you known about Wehle and Howard for a long time?" I asked. They laughed. All three were convinced Howard's hiring was a gift to Wehle for services rendered delivering the $197 million U.S. Sugar Corp. land deal. Wehle, by the way, makes $202,000 a year plus the state's most generous employee benefits package.
I asked each employee, "Didn't you want to be a whistleblower?"
They did not. Two of them said they knew Buermann had been told and chose to do nothing. Bad sign, they said. All three admitted they feared losing their job had they reported it to Howard's boss, Inspector General Williams, because Williams had been among the three who hired Howard.
Hopefully, somebody on Rick Scott's staff will make him aware of Engelhardt's story, and soon.
The governor has a golden opportunity right now to change the culture of good-ol'-boy-and-girlisms and the drop in morale they have created at the Water Management District. Five of the district's nine governing board seats have come vacant.
He can find board members who not only want to cut the district's property tax collections by 25 percent, as he has asked, but who are sharp stewards of the state's water priorities and fiscal conservatives who won't buy what they can't afford to maintain in a dismal economy.
Current board members now are questioning what to do with Howard and Wehle, keep them or replace them -- or keep one and replace the other. Scott can make that decision all by himself -- he can make all kinds of personnel decisions by deciding quickly who he next will seat on the Water Management District board.
Spring cleaning time down South, governor.
Postscript for Gov. Scott
I'll be brief, governor. I just want to pretend for a moment that you're actually listening.
Remember how you said, let me know if I ever break a campaign promise ?
OK, I'm letting you know.
How about when you promised to run the state like a business ?
Because, when we voted for you, we were pretty sure you meant a good business. You promised to run the state like a good business, right, Gov. Scott ?
That causes me to ask why you didn’t return my phone calls last week. I logged in quite a few. The importance of returning phone calls is right there in the first chapter of any Business 101 text: "Returning phone calls returns dividends, wins friends and it's good business."
The other day when I called my doctor before the office opened, I got a call-back. I called a jeweler when he was out to lunch -- he called me back. Pretty good businessmen, I'd say.
Maybe you can’t get to me personally. But you have a staff. Would it have killed one of your press people to pick up the phone and return my call ?  They could answer my question, or say the governor hasn't decided, or say they have to meet with the governor, or, for all I care, tell me to go jump off a cliff.
In the end, Gov. Scott, I'm pretty much like my friend's dog Chester. You can do anything to Chester but ignore him.
Don't ignore me. It gives me the impression you're a really bad businessman.


Who goes: Director or boyfriend ?
The Palm Beach Post – Opinion Zone blog
March 29, 2011
To the average taxpayer, it makes no sense that the man hired to check on how the South Florida Water Management District spends taxpayer money happens to have a “close personal relationship” with the director of the South Florida Water Management District.
At the district, though, it makes perfect sense to most people. As Joel Engelhardt of The Post reported Sunday, Carol Wehle – she’s the director – said of Bob Howard – he’s the boyfriend – that he doesn’t report to her, so there’s no problem. Well, yes, Mr. Howard technically does report to the district’s inspector general. But his job is to monitor how Ms. Wehle is doing her job. Who’s going to rat out Ms. Wehle to her significant other?
Astonishingly, some district board members – who weren’t old about the relationship when Mr. Howard was hired last June – defend the move because, supposedly, Mr. Howard is a good guy. Two of Ms. Wehle’s top assistants helped get Mr. Howard the job, and they think it’s swell. As if they were going to tell Ms. Wehle that it wasn’t?
And there’s the problem. Any audit Mr. Howard does will have no credibility. Also, the scheming and the failure to disclose are in insult to taxpayers in the 16 counties that make up the district. We believe that Ms. Wehle or Mr. Howard must resign. What do you think ?


Florida resurrection, Beacon Journal – by Kathy Antoniotti
March 27,2011
More than 50 projects aim to revitalize the Everglades.
Movement under way to restore 'River of Grass' after a century of ecological damage.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas, champion of the Everglades and founder of Florida's environmental movement, coined the term ''River of Grass'' to describe the unique ecosystem of south Florida.
In 1947, Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass at a time when people saw the glades as little more than a swamp in need of draining. She warned that the Everglades was dying.
Today, it's on life support. But more than 50 projects are under way to restore reservoirs, treat marshes, remove man-made barriers that block water flow, reduce underground seepage through porous limestone, and more.
Last fall, the Everglades Foundation invited several journalists from across the country to view restoration projects firsthand. The effects will reach far beyond Florida, thanks to its multibillion-dollar tourist industry. But reversing more than a century of damage will take time and work.
In the late 1800s, efforts began to drain water that naturally flowed from the Kissimmee River Basin south of Orlando into southern Florida, to prevent flooding and make room for agricultural and residential areas.
The Everglades is dominated by saw-grass marshes with freshwater sloughs and saltwater estuaries. It spans 60 miles east to west and stretches 100 miles south from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay.
It is home to a vast array of plants and animals, including some, such as the Florida panther, wood stork and West Indian manatee, that have become the hallmarks of a struggling ecosystem. Its marshes, hardwood hammocks and stands of mangrove islands are recognizable symbols of the region.
''It's not if we can save it,'' said Stephen Davis, a wetlands ecologist for the Everglades Foundation. ''It's whether we want to.''
Today, 82 percent of Floridians support restoring the Everglades to its natural freshwater flow, according to a 2009 study authorized by the Everglades Foundation.
The foundation, formed in 1993, is the only nonprofit organization dedicated solely to protecting and restoring the Ever
glades. It maintains a professional staff of scientists, researchers, policy analysts and communication specialists to help Floridians and the rest of the country understand the need for restoration of the Everglades.
In 2000, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the largest environmental restoration effort in history in 16 counties of south Florida. After it is completed, CERP will capture and store much of the 1.7 billion gallons of freshwater that now drain into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, revitalizing south Florida's natural environment.
Restoring dam
In a February tour, visiting journalists took a boat trip with foundation scientists and experts to see two of the projects under way in the southern portions of the national park: dam restoration at pristine Cape Sable to prevent saltwater intrusion into inland marshes, and restoration of saw-grass beds in the shallow waters of Florida Bay.
Cape Sable, just west of the Flamingo Visitor Center, is a 10-mile stretch of white, shell-laden sandy beaches. It is an untouched wilderness but for a few visitors who get there by boat.
The remote area remains isolated only by a twist of fate.
''If [Henry] Flagler had decided to run his railroad east to west rather than north to south, Cape Sable would be Miami,'' said Davis, as he spoke of the grandeur of the Cape Sable shoreline, home to thousands of species of animals and birds.
The $7 million Cape Sable project, funded with economic stimulus dollars, will plug two canals that were dredged in the early 1900s for agriculture and cattle grazing.
Intrusion of saltwater has compromised the coastal habitats important to crocodiles, fish and other plants and animals that depend on the area for survival.
Since the 1950s, the National Park Service has tried various dam projects to keep the bay at bay. Eventually, vandalism and the ensuing erosion widened the canals more than 10 times their original width.
Replacing earthen, then thick steel dams with more substantial structures will help promote aquatic plants that provide shelter and food for many species, including manatees, wading birds and many varieties of juvenile fish.
The design for the structures under construction consists of two steel, sheet-pile walls, driven into the natural marl ridge about 100 feet apart. The walls will be filled with sand and rock and planted with native vegetation to reduce the potential for erosion.
Angled wing walls are being installed at both ends to deflect water flow away from the dams. Riprap, made from a variety of rock types, would be placed along the wing walls and exposed canal banks to prevent erosion.
Sea-grass beds
In another project, sea-grass restoration attempts in Florida Bay are employing a much simpler solution to a decades-old problem.
Scars created by boat propellers, estimated to be about 325 miles long, are destroying the sea grass, habitat and source of food for sea turtles, parrotfish, sea urchins, and other types of fish. Sea-grass beds are being re-established with the help of Mother Nature and the birds that live near the coastal waters of Florida Bay.
To repair the beds, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) perches are being installed in the most visibly scarred areas, inviting birds to rest and do what comes naturally. The guano they produce is an organic fertilizer that feeds the sea grass and encourages new growth.
There are many ongoing sea-grass restoration projects funded by various entities, including the South Florida National Parks Trust, NOAA, Florida Keys Environmental Restoration Fund and Everglades National Park.
In addition, a state program uses fines collected for environmental damage to cover restoration costs.
Why Ohioans care
But why would Northeastern Ohioans be concerned with returning south Florida to its former, natural glory?
Ohioans share the same concerns regarding pollution of the Great Lakes. In March 2010, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich from Ohio and Carl Levin of Michigan introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, calling for the cleanup of Lake Erie to protect the state's $1.1 billion tourism industry and the ''source of water for countless households.'' The state is competing with the Everglades for the same pot of shrinking federal dollars.
Ohioans are also consistent visitors to the Sunshine State. More than 4 percent of the estimated 84 million annual visitors who vacation in Florida each year are Ohioans in search of a warm respite.
And that doesn't even begin to count Ohio's snowbirds, part-time residents who fly south each fall to avoid Midwest winters.
Many Ohioans have come to love the Everglades and Florida Bay, and flock there each year to watch dolphins swim past dozens of little 1950s-era ''mom and pop'' motels and exclusive resorts that dot U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West.
Visitors quickly form an attachment to the gentle giant manatees that venture close to docks in search of freshwater. Vacationers can turn species-spotting into an all-day activity while sunning on the shore of Florida Bay.
The keys refer to themselves as the Fishing and Dive Capital of the world, catering to tourists in souvenir shops and ''k-easy'' restaurants that will prepare your personal ''catch of the day'' in mouth-watering ways you could never imagine.
Anglers, professional as well as casual, have already seen the depletion of snook, red snapper, Florida lobsters and other fish in the combination of fresh and saltwaters of the bay, an 800-mile body of water that constitutes one-third of Everglades National Park.
Visit Florida, the official tourism marketing corporation for the state, estimates that for every 85 visitors, one job is created. It also estimates that visitors spend more than $60 billion annually, generating 22 percent of the state's sales tax revenue and employing nearly 1 million Floridians.
The Everglades Foundation is using the fiscal impact figures to encourage state and federal legislators to continue to fund reclamation projects.
A study conducted by Mather Economics and released in October indicates the restoration will produce an increase in economic benefits worth $46.5 billion to $123.9 billion, based on an investment of $11.5 billion over the next 50 years.
''For every dollar spent on Everglades restoration, we are getting four dollars back in the form of higher home values, increased tourism and stronger fishing, boating and tourism industries,'' said Kirk Fordham, chief executive of the foundation.


WEHLE, Carol Ann

South Florida water district chief's boyfriend hired for 6-figure job
Palm Beach Post - by Joel Engelhardt, Staff Writer
March 27, 2011
Carol Wehle didn’t disclose the relationship. Now, he'is in a position to scrutinize her work.
The South Florida Water Management District has hired its executive director’s boyfriend for a $120,000-a-year job with her administration’s watchdog.
Executive Director Carol Wehle told The Palm Beach Post she did not publicly disclose the relationship because she had no role in last June’s hiring of Bob Howard, whose job falls under the agency’s inspector general, a watchdog who reports to the governing board.
But initially, one of Wehle’s top deputies suggested to the Army Corps of Engineers that it — not the inspector general — hire Howard. The deputy, Ken Ammon, suggested three candidates, including Howard, to act as a liaison between the district and its federal partner in the billion-dollar business of building and managing South Florida’s water system.
After the corps refused, the district’s inspector general established the position of engineering auditor and hired Howard from a pool of five.
While interviewing for the job, Howard, an engineer with no auditing experience, did not disclose his personal relationship with Wehle, Inspector General John Williams said. But before Howard began work on June 21, word of the relationship leaked. An anonymous letter tipped off then-district board Chairman Eric Buermann. “I can’t tell you that I was happy about it,” Buermann said, “but again, I learned very late in the game after it was a fait accompli.”
Williams, who said he still doesn’t know the exact nature of the relationship, told board members that Howard and Wehle had a relationship and assured them that Howard would not be involved in district operations.
 “He was eminently qualified,” Miami-area board member Sandy Batchelor said. “He had been vetted. And was a friend of Carol’s. Why should I have a problem with that ?  What potential conflict could there be ?”
Buermann, whose term expired this month and who remains on the board until Gov. Rick Scott names his replacement, said he was told that Howard “was never going to be in West Palm Beach auditing and dealing with executive management.” Inspector General Williams told The Post that Howard would spend at least 75 percent of his time in Jacksonville.
District records, however, show that Howard spent just nine nights in Jacksonville in December, January and February, 14 percent of his time. A district spokesman explained that the corps has offices in West Palm Beach and Clewiston, as well as Jacksonville, and “the need for travel will vary according to the project.”
‘A glaring conflict’
Buermann said Howard’s time in West Palm Beach poses a problem. “I don’t need to explain it,” he said. “It’s obvious to anyone off the street. He’s either posted in Jacksonville, as was represented to me, or, if he’s not, that’s a glaring conflict of interest.”
Howard’s hiring came as Wehle built a lakefront home with a construction value of $528,000 in the Central Florida resort town of Lake Placid. When Wehle bought the vacant land in 2009 for $250,000, she listed Howard’s Lake Clarke Shores home as her official address on the deed.
She began construction of the five-bedroom, six-bath home in March 2010, still using Howard’s address on the Notice of Commencement document. One month later, the district posted the job opening.
Wehle, Howard and their families are weekend fixtures at the home, a neighbor told The Post. The home recently has been listed for sale at $1.2 million.
Wehle said that she and Howard do not live together. She said she used his address “for a few months when Mr. Howard was living in LaBelle,” his hometown. Public records, however, reveal that she listed his address on several documents between July 2009 and June 2010.
In a written response, Howard said that he and Wehle “are mature adults who have a close, personal friendship.” He said they always have maintained separate residences.
Howard, 57, an engineer since 1976, worked for the district from 2000 to 2006, leaving as operations director. He went to a Naples engineering firm but left that job two years later, he said, after the firm closed its Bonita Springs office. He landed the district job seven months later.
Wehle, 56, came to the district in 2001 under her predecessor, Henry Dean, after eight years at the St. Johns River Water Management District and four years as a Brevard County commissioner. She became executive director in 2005.
Her ability to remain in the $202,000-a-year job depends on a new governing board to be appointed by Scott, who wants the district to cut its property tax collections by 25 percent. Scott has five openings to fill on the nine-member board.
Responding to questions in writing, Wehle said she has no oversight role over the agency’s inspector general. The inspector general’s office, however, is charged with identifying waste, fraud and abuse in Wehle’s administration.
Not in chain of command
“Since the position of engineering auditor was not in my chain of command,” she wrote in an e-mail, “whether the individual hired was my friend, sister or husband was of no consequence in the hiring process.”
It’s a stance similar to the one Wehle took in 2007, when The Post reported that she and her husband, John Wehle, shared a home with a 74-year-old district consultant, Jack Maloy. After the publicity, Maloy, a former district executive director, resigned from his $66,000-a-year job. John Wehle died in 2008.
While Wehle had no formal role in Howard’s hiring, it’s difficult to remove the executive director entirely from any hire. Two administrators who had ties to Howard and who work under Wehle served on the three-member panel that selected Howard.
Panelist Tommy Strowd, deputy executive director for operations and maintenance, had known Howard since they worked together in 1981 at an engineering firm. Panelist Larry Carter, an assistant deputy executive director, supervised Howard when Howard worked for the district in 2006. They helped with the selection, the inspector general said, because the job involved engineering, an area in which the inspector general lacked expertise.
The third panel member, the inspector general, Williams, came to the agency two years after Wehle and from the same agency, St. Johns River Water Management District.
Among those Howard beat out for the job was Joe Schweigart, an engineer with 38 years with the district overseeing major departments and working closely with the corps.
In the highly technical world of corps-district relations, with the restoration of the Everglades and drinking water for South Florida hanging in the balance, the idea of a district liaison embedded with the corps in Jacksonville so thrilled the corps commander, Col. Al Pantano, that he promised to give the liaison an office next to his own, said Ammon, the district deputy director.
Wehle denied that the liaison position morphed into an auditing role. The corps refuses to answer questions about Howard’s assignment. Howard, however, is not seated near the colonel.
Relations between the district and the corps, strained by the demands posed by recent rulings in two federal lawsuits, remain troubled, with the district threatening to sue over one disagreement and the corps embarking on a redesign of the $1 billion Lake Okeechobee dike after a dispute about the district’s role.
As an example of “progress in relations,” the district offered a recent e-mail from Pantano thanking the district for an aerial tour for three corps employees. “I certainly believe that this experience was very helpful in enhancing the relationships between our respective key leaders as well as improving our understanding of the system and challenges we face,” Pantano wrote, closing with “HOOAH!” and a typographical smiley face.
On the district website, Williams urges employees to report suspicious activities and wrongdoing, with assurances of confidentiality under the state whistle-blower act. Hiring the executive director’s boyfriend would not, he insisted, have a chilling effect on potential whistle-blowers.
However, appearances make a difference, said longtime Miami-Dade County Inspector General Christopher Mazzella. “The perception of utter and total independence from the entity you’re inspecting is essential,” he said.
Clearly, the situation creates a perception problem, Palm Beach County Inspector General Sheryl Steckler said. “If the inspector general claims he did not know, it’s not a questionable hire, but now that you know, what do you do about it? It’s not an easy answer.”
Williams said he initiated the position to fill a need in his seven-person office. “The purpose of the position is to provide highly advanced engineering expertise and knowledge,” he said. That means spending time working with district employees in West Palm Beach, Williams said.
Calling Howard a “great fit for the job,” board member Joe Collins, who was elected chairman in March, described the role as being more than an auditor but also someone who would help the district and the corps “get on the same page.”
“I’m going to say acting as a liaison,” said Collins, an executive with grower Lykes Bros. “That may not be exactly the right word. He would express the district’s position on some of these things.”
Howard ‘most qualified’
Added board member Kevin Powers of Martin County: “Bob Howard is one of the most qualified people in the state, if not the country, to serve that function.”
Buermann remains uneasy.
“It’s not that Bob is not a fine fellow,” Buermann said. “Auditors have to be independent from management. That’s why the inspector general reports to the governing board. To have somebody like Bob Howard there who is romantically involved with the executive director, even if things are fine, to the public the perception is not there.”
Staff researchers Niels Heimeriks and Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.
The timeline
May 26, 2005 :
Carol Wehle becomes executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
Sept. 25, 2006 :
Bob Howard resigns as the district’s operations director and takes job with Naples-based Agnoli, Barber & Brundage engineering firm.
Nov. 4, 2008 :
Wehle’s husband, engineer John Wehle, dies.
July 7, 2009 :
Wehle pays $250,000 for a vacant home site on Lake June in Lake Placid. She lists her address as 8153 A Chelsea Court, a Lake Clarke Shores home belonging to Bob Howard. She said she used his home for several months, while he was living in LaBelle, because she did not want to be in her West Palm Beach home after her husband’s death.
Aug. 28, 2009 :
Wehle sells a home in Placida, on Florida’s gulf coast near Port Charlotte, for $645,000, again listing Howard’s Lake Clarke Shores address.
Dec. 1, 2009 :
Bob Howard leaves Agnoli and starts his own engineering firm, WR Howard Jr. PE.
March 2, 2010 :
Wehle begins construction on her home in Lake Placid, which is northwest of Lake Okeechobee in Highlands County.
April 20, 2010 :
District advertises to hire engineering auditor.
June 2, 2010 :
After interviews with five finalists, inspector general offers Howard job of engineering auditor at $120,016 per year.
June 21, 2010 :
Howard starts work at the district, listing the Lake Clarke Shores home as his address. Board Chairman Eric Buermann receives an anonymous tip that Howard and Wehle have a personal relationship. Inspector General John Williams persuades Buermann and the rest of the board that no conflict exists.
June 23, 2010 :
Wehle lists the Lake Clarke Shores home as her address on a financial disclosure form.
July 29, 2010 :
Construction completed on Lake Placid home. Home is now listed for sale at $1.2 million.


Brush fire risk soars in bone-dry South Florida
Palm Beach Post
March 26, 2011
As if stricter watering rules, higher water utility bills and a seasonally low Lake Okeechobee weren't enough pain brought on by the region's crippling drought, officials are waving yet another red flag: more brush fires.
Palm Beach County has had seven times as many brush fires since December as it did during the same period a year earlier.
And while the county hasn't seen the 100-acre brush fires sparked in Miami-Dade and Martin counties, forestry and fire-rescue officials warn that it is just one cigarette flick away from disaster.
"It's getting worse every day," said Scott Peterich, Florida Division of Forestry wildfire mitigation specialist.
The South Florida Water Management District said this week that the area is in the midst of its driest dry season in about 80 years. That has resulted in 29 brush fires since December in Palm Beach County, mostly in The Acreage and Loxahatchee, compared with four during the same period a year ago.
In the forestry division's Everglades District, encompassing Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the number has more than doubled during that period.
Focus isn't on lightning
Officials are concerned that lightning, the usual suspect, is not to blame for the increase. They're focusing their prevention efforts on human carelessness and asking that residents pay attention to warnings from the National Weather Service that conditions are ripe for wildfires.
It's not that we've changed our activities since last season, officials say. The dry weather makes it easier for brush fires to start and spread, often threatening homes. The "underbrush" built up from things such as pine needles, melaleuca trees and palmetto plants is considered fuel for brush fires.
Underbrush also keeps the fires burning, as with the brush fire that was still smoldering Friday near Fort Pierce. The fire started north of Midway Road late Thursday morning and spread toward Indian River Drive, covering about 50 acres. Winds up to 25 mph made it even more difficult to contain.
St. Lucie County firefighters fought to contain the blaze Thursday night as it threatened homes. The firefighters were back out Friday morning, mopping up hot spots and smoldering vegetation. The cause was still unknown as of late Friday .
Water shortage hurts
With measuring tools such as the Fire Danger Index, local and state officials can prepare for the day ahead and get an idea how quickly a fire can spread. But even with the preparation, containing a fire is difficult because of a lack of water, said Capt. Don DeLucia of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
To battle a blaze during this drought, DeLucia said, fire-rescue workers often have to shuttle thousands of gallons of water, dumping it into a swimming-pool-like tank.
"As the water table drops, it's harder to find sources of water," he said.
For seven hours Monday, local firefighters fought a brush fire near Loxahatchee that spread to 50 acres in about an hour. Even after containing the blaze Monday night, firefighters had to return Tuesday morning to deal with "smoldering clouds" and "flare-ups," DeLucia said.
A burning ember or even a spark from a truck can cause a brush fire to spread. Fire-rescue officials have doubled the number of units they send to a blaze, and forestry officials sometimes bring in tractors and helicopters to aid the suppression effort.
"It is to the point now a fire could really do some damage to other people's property," Peterich said. "It's a serious thing."
Any person found responsible for starting a wildfire will be arrested, Peterich said. The person will be expected to pay for both the damage caused and the resources expended in responding to the call.
David Toohey, a Palm Beach County Fire Rescue arson investigator, said 17 people were arrested for involvement in brush fires from October to February.
In January, two boys, ages 12 and 13, were seen running from the site of a 1-acre brush fire in Jupiter's Abacoa development. The boys were charged with intentional burning of lands. Investigators said the fire started from lighting cigarettes.
"Even if you're having fun in the woods riding a four-wheeler," Peterich warned, "man, just be careful."


Our state, our water, our right – by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland)
March 26, 2011
Our livelihood in Florida is dependent on water. We know every creek, every shore break and every lake. Most important of all, we know how to manage our waters without passing a massive water tax on to our citizens. The federal government should leave Florida's waters to Floridians and stop trying to impose mandates and regulations from Washington, D.C.

But in November the Environmental Protection Agency finalized federal numeric nutrient criteria for Florida's flowing waters and lakes. This criterion, the result of a lawsuit by the radical environmentalist group Earthjustice, is based on junk science that has even been criticized by the EPA's own Science Advisory Board. Most outrageously, it only applies to Florida and will cost our state billions to simply implement its first phase.
From farmer to consumer, this attack on Floridians will dramatically increase the cost of doing business and drive some employers from the state. Even the EPA admits this attack on our state will cost jobs. Gwen Keyes Fleming, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 has said, "The EPA estimates the cost to address additional waters listed as impaired will be $135 to $206 million a year — just 11 cents to 20 cents a day per household."
As if that was not bad enough, based on the number of occupied residences in Florida, even this cost estimate is way off. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the number of occupied residences in Florida at more than 7 million in 2009. At 11 to 20 cents a day, the cost to Floridians will be $281 million to $511 million — double the cost estimate of the EPA.
It is possible to be pro-business, pro-agriculture and pro-environment at the same time. However, environmental policy should not be written as an impulsive reaction to socially popular topics of the day; rather, it should be factually based and — more important — scientifically sound.
Not only is the EPA attempting to override Florida's own regulations and Department of Environmental Protection, but even requests from our congressional delegation have gone unheard.
A bipartisan coalition of Florida's congressional delegations has urged the EPA numerous times to complete an independent economic analysis of this rule, but time and again it has refused.
It is shocking that an unelected regulatory agency can have such a dramatic effect on our citizens. Floridians deserve a voice in rulemaking that will cost jobs and increase fees.
According to a study by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida's agriculture industry alone could potentially lose more than 14,000 jobs and lose $1.148 billion dollars annually. In addition, compliance costs to wastewater treatment facilities can be passed on to consumers. Some statistics have projected up to a $700-a-year increase in utility bills per household.
It is unfair for the EPA to impose such an economic burden on our state, businesses and taxpayers. Even President Obama has stated that agencies should "tailor its regulations to impose the least burden on society and to take into account the costs of cumulative regulations." I cannot think of a more fitting case for the president's statement.
In an economy like this, we should encourage job growth, not stifle it with special interest-derived overregulation for the sake of political appeasement.
Nobody is arguing in favor of dirty water. But leave Florida's water management to Floridians. We have successful state programs based on data conducted by those who know our one-of-a-kind environment best. Whether agricultural or recreational, we take our water seriously and have measures to ensure our safety.
As a member of Congress, it is my duty to ensure that our state's rights are protected against intrusive federal overreach and arbitrary bureaucratic mandates. It is time for Washington to get out of the way and allow those who drink, use and swim in these waters to determine its quality standard.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents the 12th Congressional District, which includes most of Polk County and parts of Hillsborough and Osceola


Prehistoric trash piles helped build Everglade habitat
March 26, 2011
Human ecosystem disturbance not always negative, researchers say.
Garbage mounds left by prehistoric humans might have driven the formation of many of the Florida Everglades‘ tree islands, distinctive havens of exceptional ecological richness in the sprawling marsh that are today threatened by human development.
Tree islands are patches of relatively high and dry ground that dot the marshes of the Everglades. Typically about three feet high, many of them are elevated enough to allow trees to grow. They provide nesting sites for alligators and a refuge for birds, panthers, and other wildlife.
Scientists have thought for many years that the so-called fixed tree islands (a larger type of tree island frequently found in the Everglades’ main channel, Shark River Slough) developed on protrusions from the rocky layer of a mineral called carbonate that sits beneath the marsh.
Now, new research indicates that the real trigger for island development might have been middens, or trash piles left behind from human settlements that date to about 5,000 years ago.
These middens, a mixture of bones, food discards, charcoal, and human artifacts (such as clay pots and shell tools), would have provided an elevated area, drier than the surrounding marsh, allowing trees and other vegetation to grow. Bones also leaked phosphorus, a nutrient for plants that is otherwise scarce in the Everglades.
“This goes to show that human disturbance in the environment doesn’t always have a negative consequence,” says Gail Chmura, a paleoecologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and one of the authors of the study.
Chmura presented her research last week at the American Geophysical Union‘s Chapman Conference on Climates, Past Landscapes, and Civilizations. About 95 scientists converged on Santa Fe to discuss the latest research findings from archeology, paleoclimatology, paleoecology, and other fields that reveal how changes in regional and global climate have impacted the development and fates of societies.
In a previous scientific investigation of tree islands, Margo Schwadron, an archeologist with the National Park Service, cut through the elevated bedrock at the base of two islands and discovered that it was actually a so-called “perched carbonate layer,” because there was more soil and a midden below. Later, a team including Chmura’s graduate student Maria-Theresia Graf performed additional excavations in South Florida and found more of the perched carbonate layers.
Chemical analysis of samples of these curious perched layers revealed that they are made up partially of carbonates that had dissolved from the bedrock below, Chmura says. The layer also contains phosphorus from dissolved bones, she adds. Her team concluded that trees are key to the formation of this layer: During South Florida’s dry season, their roots draw in large quantities of ground water but allow the phosphates and carbonates dissolved in it to seep out and coalesce into the stone-like layer.
The perched carbonate plays a key role in letting tree islands rebound after fires: because it does not burn, it protects the underlying soil, and it maintains the islands’ elevation, allowing vegetation to regrow after the fire. Humans are now threatening the existence of tree islands, by cutting down trees (whose roots keep the perched layer in place) and artificially maintaining high water levels year-round in some water control systems, which could cause the layer to dissolve.
Chmura’s team now wants to explore exactly when trees started growing on the tree islands.


A walk in the park – by LES WINKELER
March 25, 2011
EVERGLADES CITY, Fla. - Everglades National Park has no Old Faithful spouting every hour.
The park has no bubbling smudge pots spewing sulphurous odors into the air. There are no Alpine vistas or 300-foot sequoias.
Yet, this wide-ranging park that makes up the southern tip of Florida draws about a million visitors a year.
"It's probably the wildlife, the water, the weather," said Linda Friar, a public affairs officer with the National Park Service. "We don't do surveys for why people come here, but generally with a million visitors a year, people are hiking, biking, kayaking and taking boat tours."
At first glance, Everglades National Park is a 2,400-square mile expanse of flat, monotonous, empty grasslands. It is flat, elevation changes little throughout the park, but it is hardly monotonous or empty.
"There are seven distinct habitats," Friar said. "It was the first national park set aside for its biodiversity. It has the largest mangrove forest in North America, right next to a coastal marsh.
"It's a real diversity of habitat, which brings a real diversity of species."
The Everglades may lack the huge mammal species of other national parks. There are no grizzly bear, no moose or elk. However, there is the Florida panther, black bears and deer.
The real wildlife stars of the Everglades are the birds and the alligators.
"Bird watching is a popular activity," Friar said. "We have over 300 different bird species come through the park at different times of the year because it is on the migratory path to the Caribbean."
The birds are some of the largest, most spectacular species found in the continental United States - great blue herons, great egrets, wood storks, ibis, roseate spoonbills and osprey, just to name a few.
Then, or course, are the omnipresent alligators.
"People love to see the alligators, but some are fearful," she said.
There are several common misconceptions about the Everglades. For instance, much of the park's 2,400 square miles dry up in the late spring and early summer.
"Actually, in Florida, we say there are two seasons, wet and dry," Friar said. "The wet season coincides with hurricane season. The wet season is June to November.
"People come in the dry season for wildlife, the most comfortable weather and the least amount of insect pests. There are a lot of people come during the wet season as well. When you're out on the bay, the bugs aren't too bad and the fishing is great. It's a prime fishing location."
Much of the fishing is in brackish or salt water.
Wildlife viewing is frequently better during the dry season because animals tend to congregate around water holes.
"The Anhinga Trail is always a great place to go out and see wildlife," Friar said. "I enjoy Shark Valley, the tower at dusk. If you go on the tower when the sun is starting to go down, the wildlife is phenomenal."
Another misconception about the Everglades is that it is a smelly place filled with stagnant water.
"I think northerners would think the swamp would smell," Friar said. "It doesn't have dirty water. It is probably the cleanest water you'll see.
"I think people are concerned about large animals. In national parks, most of the large animals will move away from any kind of noise. It's not the Grand Canyon, it's just different. It has its own special kind of beauty."


Judge halts Everglades reservoir project
March 24, 2011
MIAMI, March 24 (UPI) -- A Florida judge has halted the construction of a reservoir intended to keep pollution from the Everglades, saying "better viable alternatives" will be explored.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno said "almost every expert" agreed there were better alternatives to the partially built $800 million reservoir project for removing damaging phosphorus flowing into the Everglades from sugar farms, cattle ranches and suburbs, The Miami Herald reported Thursday.
Moreno said the South Florida Water Management District's shrinking budget, the state's purchase of 26,000 acres of sugar fields and another judge's order to expand other cleanup efforts had combined to change the strategy for reducing the flow of pollution into the Everglades.
"It seems that given these changed circumstances, now is the time to move forward with exploring better viable alternatives rather than cling to what was promised in the past," Moreno wrote.
Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer for the Everglades Foundation, said money already spent on the reservoir wouldn't be wasted because it could be easily converted into a shallow storm water treatment area to help meet tough water quality standards for the Everglades.


Judge: Water district can focus on Everglades land buy; needn't stick to prior reservoir plan
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
March 23, 2011
In a landmark ruling issued Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno reversed his prior decision to force the South Florida Water Management District to build a $700 million, city-size reservoir and instead encouraged water managers to pursue other, "viable alternatives" to clean the Everglades.
The order is a blow to a 22-year-old lawsuit by the Miccosukee Tribe, which contended that the reservoir was the most realistic route to cleansing the Everglades of pollution.
It now allows the South Florida Water Management District to shift hundreds of millions of dollars toward construction projects stalled by the lawsuit -- including those slated for a massive tract of U.S. Sugar land purchased by the district.
The 12-page ruling pleased both water managers and environmentalists -- who also had reversed their positions as the reservoir debate evolved.
"This is yet another win in a series of favorable judicial rulings that benefit the Everglades and the people's water supply," said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. Fordham attributed the wobbly alliance between state and federal agencies, water managers and environmentalists to "widespread consensus within the scientific community" about methods to clean water headed to the Everglades.
The Miccosukee Tribe did not return a phone call or email for comment.
A district spokesperson said water managers were "pleased," but declined to answer additional questions. David Guest, attorney for Earth Justice, which represents environmental groups, also liked the ruling but for different reasons.
"Our view was that the reservoir was a water supply reservoir for agriculture," Guest said. "It was not going to be operated to aid the Everglades in any way. It was going to alleviate flooding but it was not going to improve pollution."
In May 2008, two years and $272 million into the reservoir project, the district halted construction amid negotiations with U.S. Sugar Corp. to purchase over 187,000 acres of land for an alternative cleanup project. As the economy tanked, that deal dwindled, to 26,800 acres, but water managers said that tract and options for future purchases still would allow them to make inroads into Everglades contamination.
The water managers said, though, that they did not have enough money to both build water treatment areas on the new land and resume construction of the reservoir, called the EAA A-1 Reservoir.
The Miccosukee Tribe challenged the district's decision to stop building the reservoir, arguing that the district did not have an alternative plan to clean the Everglades and had only halted construction to pursue the land deal with U.S. Sugar.
The district argued that technology had improved since 2006, when construction began on the reservoir, and that purchasing the U.S. Sugar land and building stormwater treatment areas on that land would be "the best water quality bang for the buck," as the district's attorney told the judge during a hearing in October 2010.
A special master appointed by the judge concluded that the models used by the district to originally push for construction of the reservoir were "inaccurate" and "contained a large number of assumptions that were not necessarily reliable," Moreno wrote in his order Tuesday.
"It seems that given these changed circumstances, now is the time to move forward with exploring better viable alternatives rather than cling to what was promised in the past," Moreno wrote.
The nearly $280 million spent on the massive abandoned reservoir project will not be wasted, the Everglades Foundation's Fordham said. "It can easily be converted to a filtration marsh," he said. "Now it's a question of where does the state find the money."


No rain in forecast, as South Florida dries out
Sun Sentinel - by: Ken Kaye
March 23rd, 2011
On the surface, it looks like a great forecast: Warm, sunny days straight through early next week.
The problem is we need rain in South Florida — bad.
The South Florida Water Management District on Tuesday declared the region is under a water shortage, the result of so little rainfall in the past five months, or since the start of the dry season.
As of Saturday, the district is restricting lawn watering to twice a week for all of its 7.7 million residents.
It also is imposing a number of other conservation measures, including a 15-percent cutback in golf course irrigation in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and a number of other counties.
All of this comes on the heels of the driest October-to-February period in 80 years and a dry season rain deficit of 7.72 inches as of Tuesday.
Lake Okeechobee, the region’s backup water supply, has fallen to 11.76 feet, or a couple feet below normal.
“This is a time for cooperation and shared adversity,” Carol Ann Wehle, the district’s Executive Director, said in a statement.
“The District will continue monitoring water levels to determine if additional actions are needed in the coming weeks for resource protection during the remainder of the dry season,” she added.
One of the primary reasons for the parched conditions: A moderate strength La Nina, which has acted to block rain systems from reaching this far south.


Ruling gets state off hook for Glades reservoir
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
March 23, 2011
In a ruling praised by environmentalists but opposed by the Miccosukee Tribe, a federal judge decides that forcing the water district to build an $800 million reservoir is no longer in the best interests of the Everglades.
A Miami federal judge has removed an $800 million gorilla from the back of state water managers — a massive reservoir that loomed as a major legal and financial hurdle to plans to clean up Everglades pollution,
In a ruling that reversed his own order last year, U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno decided the Everglades and taxpayers would pay the price if he forced the South Florida Water Management District to restart construction of the partially-built project.
Moreno, in accepting the recommendation of his court-appointed advisor, found the water district’s shrinking budget, the state’s purchase of 26,000 acres of sugar fields and another judge’s order to expand cleanup efforts had combined to change the old blueprint for reducing the flow of pollution into the Everglades.
“Almost every expert’’ now agrees that a project once touted as a key to Everglades restoration was better suited for a shallow reservoir or artificial marsh designed to scrub damaging nutrient phosphorus from storm water that flows from sugar farms, cattle ranches and suburbs, Moreno wrote in an order issued Tuesday.
“It seems that given these changed circumstances, now is the time to move forward with exploring better viable alternatives rather than cling to what was promised in the past,’’ Moreno wrote.
Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer for the Everglades Foundation, praised the ruling, saying money already spent on the construction wouldn’t be wasted because the reservoir could be easily converted into a storm water treatment area critical to meeting tough water quality standards for the Everglades.
“Judge Moreno listened to the scientists who overwhelmingly agree that this land is ideally situated to cleanse polluted water,’’ he said in a statement.
Moreno’s order disappointed the Miccosukee Tribe, which had urged the judge to compel construction of the reservoir and associated canal projects expected to cost up to $815 million. The project in Western Palm Beach County — at 16,700 acres, roughly the size of the city of Boca Raton — was halted in 2008 after a lawsuit by environmentalists and left in limbo while the district pursued then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp.
Last April, Moreno — who is overseeing a 22-year-old federal settlement that forced the state to dramatically reduce pollution destroying the native landscape — sided with Miccosukee arguments that district’s decision exposed tribal lands to worsening pollution that the then-uncertain and shrinking sugar deal might not alleviate for a decade or more.
A statement issued by Sonia Escobio O’Donnell, a Miami attorney representing the tribe, argued that the water managers, after spending $197 million on a downsized 26,000-acre sugar deal, had not yet presented a firm plan for the land.
“The Tribe welcomes alternative remedies that would help ensure that all discharges into the Everglades, its tribal homeland, achieve water quality standards,’’ the statement said. “However, the state has made no commitment to construct a shallow reservoir to date and has made unwise land purchases in the name of restoration.’’
Randy Smith, a spokesman for the district, said that water managers were pleased with the ruling.
The district, which oversees Everglades restoration for the state, faces major money issues from declining tax revenues and a push by Gov. Rick Scott to cut water district budgets statewide by 25 percent. In appealing to Moreno for relief, the district acknowledged it couldn’t afford both the reservoir and sugar land touted as critical to pollution treatment.
Moreno reversed his order based on an August report from John Barkett, a special master he appointed to analyze the complex Everglades litigation. Barkett’s 80-page report shared Moreno’s frustration with the slow pace, changing plans and endless litigation surrounding the cleanup but also argued that reviving an old project won’t solve more pressing pollution demands from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a second federal judge in Miami, Alan Gold.
Gold, in a separate ruling, has demanded federal environmental regulators enforce tougher phosphorous pollution standards in the Glades. Barkett found that the reservoir, which was primarily intended to store water under an older cleanup plan he said was based on "incomplete" and "inaccurate" assumptions, wouldn’t meet Gold’s higher cleanup bar.
In October, the district told Gold it also couldn’t afford an EPA plan calling for a 42,000-acre, $1.5 billion expansion of the state’s existing network of reservoirs and pollution treatment marshes.
Moreno, in his order, cited the “unwavering and emphatic’’ recommendation from Barkett that the reservoir is “no longer in the best interests of the Everglades.’’


Florida Everglades built on ancient trash heap
Toronto Sun, QMI Agency
March 22, 2011
The Everglades -- the picturesque, sensitive and environmentally diverse wetlands in Florida -- may have been built on the trash heaps of ancient humans.
The Everglades feature tree islands spattered throughout the swampland. The tree islands provide habitat for birds, alligators, big cats and aquatic life.
But new research suggests ancient humans may have inadvertently created the ecological wonder by using it as a dumping ground.
"This goes to show that human disturbance in the environment doesn't always have a negative consequence," says Gail Chmura, a paleoecologist at McGill University and one of the authors of the study.
Chmura believes early humans may have used the area to dump bones, food scraps, broken pottery and other artifacts and these are the foundations of the tree islands now found throughout the Everglades, which became swamps because of rising sea water about 4,000 years ago.
"It is likely that early human occupation on the landscape was responsible for development of the Everglade large tree islands as well as island stability and productivity," she wrote in her study.
"Ironically, it is human disturbance that now threatens these valuable ecosystems. Urban development has displaced much of the Everglades and water control systems threaten the remainder."
The research was presented Tuesday at the American Geophysical Association in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


South Florida faces tougher watering restrictions
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
March 22, 2011
Drought concerns move all of South Florida to twice-a-week watering.
Drought conditions Tuesday triggered emergency watering restrictions for all of South Florida, requiring more cutbacks for many residents already under year-round landscape watering limits.
All of South Florida now must limit landscape watering to twice a week, according to the South Florida Water Management District. Golf courses and agriculture also face new irrigation restrictions.
That means changes for Palm Beach County and the city of Fort Lauderdale, where landscape irrigation three times per week had been allowed.
Miami-Dade County and Broward County already require the tougher, twice-a-week watering limits year round. Fort Lauderdale had been allowing residents to water three times per week.
The new rules take effect Saturday, limiting landscape watering to twice a week from Orlando to the Keys.
With Broward and Palm Beach counties already designated areas of "extreme drought," tougher watering restrictions are intended to help lessen the strain on the water supply.
If conditions worsen in the months to come, South Florida can expect even stricter restrictions, district officials said.
"The groundwater levels are declining," said Pete Kwiatkowski, district water-shortage incident commander. "What we are trying to do is extend the water supplies that we do have."
Under the new rules, homes and businesses with addresses ending in odd numbers will be allowed to water on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Addresses ending in even numbers will be allowed to water on Thursdays and Sundays.
Watering will be allowed on permitted days before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Landscape irrigation uses about half of South Florida's public water supply, according to the district.
To try to boost conservation, the district last year switched to mandatory year-round landscape watering restrictions that in some areas allow watering as much as three-times per week. During droughts, the district still can impose tougher emergency irrigation restrictions.
Under the new rules, golf courses in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties must reduce irrigation 15 percent.
Agriculture and nurseries in Broward and Palm Beach counties are required to cut water use 15 percent. Those nurseries and growers, as well as those in southern Miami-Dade County, also face limited hours of irrigation.
Golf courses and other water users that use recycled or reclaimed wastewater for irrigation are exempt from the watering restrictions. Water users with cisterns or low-volume irrigation systems — such as drip, bubble or micro-jet — are exempt from the restrictions, but the district has called for voluntary cutbacks.
Representatives of agriculture and landscape businesses say tougher watering restrictions will hurt, after already enduring a series of cold snaps and the lingering effects of a struggling economy.
Corn, vegetables and citrus need steady irrigation this time of year, said Charles Shinn, who monitors water issues for the Florida Farm Bureau. Growers can handle a 15 percent irrigation cutback, but the concern is the expectation for worsening conditions and heightened restrictions, Shinn said.
"More is to come," Shinn said.
Tougher watering restrictions make people less likely to invest in new landscaping, despite allowances for more watering for new plantings, said Bob Sanford, who operates a Broward County-based sprinkler company that handles irrigation systems from Palm Beach County to the Keys.
More watering restrictions during droughts are hard to reconcile after state and federal officials at other times of the year drain away water from Lake Okeechobee and other back-up water supplies, citing flood control concerns, according to Sanford.
"They are the ones who create the situation we are in now by releasing the water," Sanford said. "It affects us because people don't want to plant the plants [and] we need work."
Audubon of Florida on Tuesday called the watering restrictions a "good first step," but the environmental group contends that cutbacks need to go to a 45 percent reduction to protect strained water supplies.
Declining Lake Okeechobee water levels threaten the habitat for the endangered Everglades Snail Kite, said Jane Graham of Audubon.
"All signs say that this is going to be a nasty drought year so there should be a proactive attempt to save as much water as possible," Graham said.
La Nina atmospheric conditions are getting the blame for South Florida's dryer-than-normal winter and spring — the typical dry season break from steady summertime rains and tropical storms that can stretch into the fall.
South Florida endured its driest October-to-February in more than 80 years and rainfall in March was just 45 percent of normal by Tuesday. That leaves South Florida with an almost 8-inch dry-season rainfall deficit, which forecasters expect to grow before the rainy season kicks in by June.
Lake Okeechobee, South Florida's primary backup water supply, dropped to 11.64 feet above sea level Tuesday, more than two feet below average.
The lake provides irrigation for the hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland to the south and can be used to supplement South Florida community water supplies.
Safety concerns about the earthen dike that protects lakeside communities from flooding prompts the Army Corps of Engineers to drain hundreds of billions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water out to sea.
During 2010, the corps drained more than 400 billion gallons out of the lake for flood control and water supply needs. More than 300 billion gallons of that water gets drained out to sea due to flood control concerns.
In addition, the extensive system of drainage canals operated by the South Florida Water Management District dumps about 1.7 billion gallons of stormwater a day out to sea after a typical rainy day to avoid flooding the towns and farms spread across land that was once part of the Everglades or other wetlands.
"They open the gates and empty the lake for fear of a hurricane. It's just absurd," said Bob Glynn, owner of Delray Garden Center. "Business is hard enough in a recession. … It's really hard for anyone to survive and now they're putting water restrictions on us. It's like a double whammy."
Tim Fife, a part-time employee at Sherwood Park Golf Course in Delray Beach, said golf courses can afford to cut back on watering fairways, but not the greens.
"Right now it's not a big issue," Fife said about the new watering restrictions for golf courses. "But, you go another month and it's going to be a huge issue."
While the district calls for tougher watering restrictions, actually enforcing those rules has been a low priority for counties and cities struggling with budget cutbacks.
A Sun Sentinel sampling of enforcement totals in Broward and Palm Beach counties found that few citations had been issued for violations of year-round watering rules imposed during 2010.
After almost one year under the district's year-round rules, neither Broward County code enforcement nor city of Fort Lauderdale code enforcement officers had issued a citation for violating watering restrictions, as of the first week of February.
During the same time period, Palm Beach County issued just three notices of violations. Neither Delray Beach nor Boca Raton issued a watering violation.
Also, after imposing year-round watering restrictions in 2010, the South Florida Water Management District stopped keeping track of the enforcement totals from cities and counties.
The district expects local enforcement efforts to increase under the worsening drought conditions, Kwiatkowski said. That should start with warnings, particularly in areas where residents will be switching from three-days- to two-days-a-week watering maximums, Kwiatkowski said.
"We rely on local governments," Kwiatkowski said. "We are calling on them to help us."


$340 million water project in Martin County has environmentalists, contractors champing at bit
March 21, 2011
STUART — Environmentalists and the construction industry, strange bedfellows indeed, are all anxiously awaiting a May 26 announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps is expected to name the winner of a contract to start work on a reservoir and stormwater treatment area along the C-44 Canal, also known as the St. Lucie Canal.
For folks in the construction industry, the project is millions of dollars worth of work in an extended sluggish economy. For environmentalists, it's the long-promised start of the Indian River Lagoon component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The total cost of the three-phase project has been estimated at $340 million. President Obama's budget for the 2011-2012 budget year includes $21 million to pay for the first phase of the project, with work expected to begin in July.
About 200 contractors and subcontractors jammed the Wolf High Technology Center at Indian River State College's Chastain Campus in Stuart on Thursday for the Corps' "pre-proposal meeting" on the project. Among them was George "Chappy" Young, president of Palm City-based GCY surveyor and Mappers Inc.
"Surveying work, like construction work in general, in South Florida is sparse," Young said. "This project is huge. It will support a lot of contractors and subcontractors, everyone down to office supply businesses."
At a South Florida Water Management District board meeting March 10 in Fort Pierce, Martin County Commission Chairman Ed Ciampi said the project "will result in 7,250 direct, indirect and induced jobs that our area desperately needs."
Young said his firm did surveying for the design and preparation work being done at the site, "and we're hoping to parlay that into getting to be a subcontractor on the project."
Local environmentalists also have been "surveying" the C-44 project for a while, too.
"This project started back in 2000, right after the authorization of (the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan)," said Mark Perry, director of the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society. "Back in November 2005, officials said it was ready to go. Construction would start in 2007 and be done in 2009."
Perry said Martin County residents "have certainly done their part to get this project under way," raising $28 million for land acquisition through a 3-year, 1-cent sales tax approved by voters.
The rest of the $168 million to buy the needed 12,000 acres came from the water district, which also paid about $5 million to clear and prepare the site.
"We're very excited about this development," Paul Millar, Martin County water resource manager, said of the upcoming contract award. "We've been pushing for this project a long, long time. ... Once it starts, I'm confident the federal money will keep coming so that it won't shut down."
C-44 for yourself
A look at the water quality project about to get under way in western Martin County.
What it will do:
Clean water from the 116,000-acre watershed north and south of the C-44 Canal between Port Mayaca and the St. Lucie Locks.
How it will work:
Water will be moved out of the canal into a 3,400-acre reservoir and then sent slowly through a 5,300-acre stormwater treatment area — a shallow, grass-filled marsh that will clean the water before it flows back into the canal and eventually into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.
What it won’t do:
Eliminate periodic discharges of nutrient-rich fresh water from Lake Okeechobee that damage the ecosystem of the St. Lucie Estuary; although Paul Millar, Martin County water resources manager, said the reservoir and stormwater treatment area “should be able to take low-level discharges when there’s not a lot of basin runoff.”
When it will be built:
With a contractor to be named May 26, work on the project is expected to begin in July and take about seven years divided into three phases: 2.5 years to build the intake canal, access roads, a bridge across the canal for Citrus Boulevard and a staging area; two years to build the reservoir and 2.5 years to build the stormwater treatment area.
What it will cost:
Total cost estimate is $340 million, which includes $168 million in state and local money already spent on land acquisition


Court upholds exclusion of critical habitat due to conflict with everglades restoration plan
March 21 2011
The United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude an area from the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Florida.Center For Biological Diversity v. Salazar (D.D.C. Mar. 16, 2011) (PDF). While conceding that the excluded area was “essential” to the sparrow’s conservation, the Service decided not to designate the area as critical habitat, in part, because of the conflict between critical habitat and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project.    
The court concluded that the “balance between designating a crucial swath of critical habitat for the Sparrow, a single species, and greater flexibility for restoration of the Everglades to benefit the entire ecosystem and its many inhabiting species, is left to the Secretary’s discretion.” Slip Op. at 32. The decision is important because it affirms the Service’s broad discretion under the ESA to weigh and balance economic and environmental costs and benefits in the designation of critical habitat. The Service’s decision here to balance the protection of individual species with a broader ecosystem plan stands in sharp contrast to other recent decisions by the Service to designate critical habitat in areas with approved habitat conservation plans. These other recent critical habitat decisions create a disincentive for landowners to participate in habitat conservation plans.


Spring springs…sort of…
March 21, 2011
Astronomical spring arrived this Sunday evening, March 20, at 7:21 pm EDT.   This event coincided with the positioning alignment between the Earth and the Sun in which the Earth’s poles point neither toward nor away form the Sun.  It can also be viewed as the date on which the Sun’s highest position is directly overhead at the Equator at solar noon.  On the first day of Northern Hemisphere Summer or Autumn, the sun is overhead at solar noon at 23.5 degrees North and South latitude, respectively.  Thus, on these two dates, day and night are approximately equal in length (hence term Equinox or “equal nights”).  Meteorological spring began on March 1.
It would be nice if the weather pattern fully recognized this astronomical control, but weather often does its own thing, especially across a nation as big as the U.S. and especially at this transitional time of year (Fig. 1).
In Florida, conditions currently are about what would be expected at this time of year – dry and warm.  In fact, Fort Myers has reported nearly average temperatures for the first twenty days of March, while Naples is running about a degree and a half above average.  Rainfall, however, is anything but average, especially when considering longer-term rainfall total.  Ongoing long-term rainfall shortfalls here have led to increasing drought levels and high fire dangers.
In fact, drought conditions which did not exist in Florida a year ago, now cover almost all of Florida, with extreme drought affecting some 56 percent of the state’s areas.
Water wells in south Florida are at very low levels and the South Florida Water Management District has issued drought advisories and required cutbacks on water usage for commercial and residential usage. 
The wildland fire danger is soaring with almost all counties in south Florida reporting Keetch Byram Drought Index (KBDI) values above 550 on a scale of 800 (Fig. 2).  This index is a measure of the dryness of fire fuels.  Several counties (including Hendry, St. Lucie and Okeechobee) have issued fire burn bans.  As noted by Examiner writer Renee Wilson last week, it’s not too soon to start taking preparations to reduce one’s risk to wildfires.
According to the Drought Information Center, drought conditions are spreading to the north and west and now cover a large part of the southeast U.S. (Fig. 3).
Meanwhile, places across the northern tier and out west are overly wet.  The most recent storm affecting central and southern California has brought widespread heavy rain and snow and high winds (50 miles per hour and above).  Felled trees and power lines have caused some power outages; heavy rain has led to localized flash flooding (including washing some cars away in Los Angeles County); and heavy snow has caused significant road closures in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The latter is not surprising given that some mountain locales reported almost three feet of snow in two days, while Lake Almanor in Placer County logged 64 inches!
There is a bright side to this excessive precipitation, however.  California, a normally dry state, needs a significant winter snowpack in order to carry it through the summer dry season.  The California Department of Water Resources now estimates that snowpack is running at least 20 percent above seasonal averages across the state.
The first in a series of low-pressure systems to be ejected from the west coast storm system moved across the central U.S. over the weekend.  It brought some hail from the Southern Plains northeastward to northern Illinois.  Today, the system is expected to bring thunderstorms and possible severe weather eastward to parts of the Mid-Atlantic.
As the west coast storm system makes its way eastward today, it will start to bring wild weather to the central U.S.  To the south of the developing storm system, severe weather is possible.  To the north, across parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota, a growing risk of wintry weather and/or heavy rainfall, along with strong winds is going to be the rule.  This precipitation will only add to the growing flood risk across the region.  Already some rivers in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska are either approaching or area already in flood (Fig. 4).
As the week unfolds, this storm system will bring heavy precipitation to the northeast and mid-Atlantic.  This will add to the flooding risk in those places.
In fact, it’s possible to draw a line, almost east-west across the U.S. that separates drought from flood (Fig. 5)!
Some, while spring springs, some parts of the U.S. are experiencing drought, while others are in flood.  Some places are a bit to warm, while others are cold and getting colder.
Actually, these extremes are “normal” or average at this time of year. 


Study: Trash built Everglades islands
March. 21, 2011
SANTA FE, N.M., March 21 (UPI) -- Scientists say the Florida Everglades' tree islands, sites of biological richness in the vast marsh, may owe their existence to ancient human garbage.
Trash mounds left behind from human settlements that date to about 5,000 years ago could have triggered the development of the islands, elevated above the Everglades enough for trees to grow and provide nesting sites for alligators and a refuge for birds, panthers, and other wildlife, a release by the American Geophysical Union said Monday.
Dotting the marshes of the Everglades, tree islands are typically 3 to 4 feet high.
Ancient trash piles, a mixture of bones, food discards, charcoal, and human artifacts such as clay pots and shell tools, would have provided an elevated area, drier than the surrounding marsh, allowing trees and other vegetation to grow.
Bones would have provided phosphorus, a nutrient for plants that is otherwise scarce in the Everglades, researchers say.
"This goes to show that human disturbance in the environment doesn't always have a negative consequence," said Gail Chmura, a paleoecologist at McGill University in Montreal, and one of the authors of a study being presented at an AGU conference in Santa Fe, N.M., on Tuesday.
The researchers warn that humans are now threatening many tree islands by cutting down trees whose roots keep the islands bound together and by artificially maintaining high water levels year-round in some water control systems.


Officials: South Fla. water table rose after quake
Associated Press
March 21, 2011
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The devastating earthquake that shook Japan caused a temporary jolt in groundwater levels throughout much of Florida, officials said.
The South Florida Water Management District reports that a network of groundwater gauges registered a jump of up to three inches in the water table from Orlando to the Florida Keys about 34 minutes after the quake struck on March 11.
The oscillations were observed for about two hours and then stabilized.
"We were not expecting to see any indication of the geological events in Japan given the island's great distance from Florida," Susan Sylvester, the water district's director of operations control and hydro data management department, said on Saturday.
Shimon Wdowinski, an earthquake researcher with the University of Miami, said the water table likely rose because of Florida's porous limestone, which allows water to easily flow beneath the earth's surface and respond to changes in pressure caused by a wave.
He said the flow of Florida's aquifer is quite fast.
"It's good because we can filter a lot of water through there," Wdowinski said. "But it's bad because in the case of pollution, it can travel very quickly."
Changes in groundwater levels were also seen in South Florida after the Haiti and Chile earthquakes. Wdowinski said a 20-foot rise was seen after a 9.2 earthquake in Alaska in 1964.
"I wouldn't say it's normal, but it's not unusual," Wdowinski said of the variations.
The water district says the data was collected from a series of wells with recording devices. Randy Smith, a spokesman for the water district, said the reverberations were observed hundreds of feet below the surface. He and others expressed surprise at the events, given the distance from Japan.
"This was over 7,000 miles," he said. "I think that proves how strong the earthquake was."


Federal budget crunch delays 'Glades plan - by KEVIN WADLOW
March 19, 2011
The federal budget crunch will add at least a few more months to the eight-year process to create a new management plan for Everglades National Park.
Everglades managers planned to release the preferred alternative for the plan -- expected to propose new protections for Florida Bay -- this month.
The release of the draft plan now has been delayed for an indefinite period, park Superintendent Dan Kimball said in a statement newly posted on the park Web site.
"We have decided to re-evaluate certain elements of the plan, given the need to reduce federal spending during this challenging economic climate," Kimball said.
Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said Friday there is no estimate on when the draft plan will be released. An "educated guess would be months," she said.
In the Florida Keys, the issue that attracted the most attention at 2009 workshops was the possibility that Florida Bay could see new restrictions on motorboat operations to protect areas of shallow bay bottom. Most of Florida Bay lies within Everglades National Park.
Keys boaters and fishing guides generally supported measures to protect Florida Bay but worried about possible closures of prime fishing grounds or navigational routes.
In response, the park instituted a prototype "pole or troll" zone in Snake Bight, a mainland bay east of the Flamingo visitor center in the park.
The general management plan is intended to guide park operations for the next 20 years. Managers said the existing plan has become outdated due to population growth and environmental changes.
When the process to rewrite the management plan was launched in January 2003, a timeline called for the plan to be implemented by 2007.


Florida water worries clash with cost concerns
Orlando Sentinel - by Kevin Spear
March 19, 2011
As Central Florida's economy sizzled during the housing frenzy of the mid-2000s, the unquenchable thirst it generated filled with worry those responsible for the region's water supply.
Amid growing fears of shortages, previously selfish cities and counties began working together to plan billion-dollar water-treatment plants. Water-saving measures such as low-flow toilets and lawn-sprinkling bans became the norm. Water police took to midnight patrols in some suburbs.
Then the recession hit, and by the end of the decade, parts of the region were suddenly using as little water as they had in the late 1990s, despite having far bigger populations. Utility officials credited the reduction in thirst — down as much as 20 percent from the height of the building boom — mainly to hard-won gains in conservation practices. They expected it to calm those old worries and defuse legal fights over water for many years to come.
Instead, Central Florida finds itself again in murky and contentious waters. Earlier this month, government regulators roiled the region's utilities by warning that, despite the declines in water consumption, the continued pumping of hundreds of millions of gallons a day from the underground Floridan Aquifer is damaging the environment by draining or drying out interconnected lakes and springs.
So the water shortages that were looming five and six years ago, when utilities were flush with cash and on the verge of spending it, are now here and need solutions, at a time when money everywhere is tight.
The St. Johns River Water Management District, which regulates water use throughout much of the region, wants to fix the problem by revamping a long-standing, potentially powerful but often ignored regulation known as Minimum Flow and Level, or MFL. It spells out how much water a lake, river or spring needs to remain healthy.
The district intends to impose the tougher and more precise MFL requirements within a few years, so that cities, counties and their utilities can prevent or undo as soon as possible the damage to lakes, rivers and springs caused by pumping water too aggressively from the underlying aquifer.
"The current trend is clearly unsustainable," water-district board member Richard Hamann, a water-law professor at the University of Florida, told a crowded workshop with utility representatives March 7 in Palatka. "My thinking is we need to move as quickly as possible."


13 arrested in massive public corruption case
Palm Beach Post - by Pat Beall and Cynthia Roldan, Staff Writers
March 18, 2011
No gift was too extravagant.
Caribbean cruises, NASCAR races, Disney vacations, expensive jewelry: all were lavished on public officials by a Wellington equipment company determined to secure city and county business at all costs, Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe charged Friday.
The real price may be decades behind bars. Chaz Equipment Co. President Gary Czajkowski is facing up to 360 years in prison for his alleged role in a six-year-long scheme that generated 77 criminal charges against 13 individuals. Seven current and former city and county officials were netted in the sweep, which alleges everything from racketeering to money laundering to unlawful compensation.
"This is the type of corruption that we call 'Corruption Tango,' " McAuliffe said at a morning news conference with Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Boynton Beach Police Chief Matt Immler and Palm Beach Police Chief Kirk Blouin. "It takes multiple players in a dance for their own benefit both in the public sector and the private sector."
Unlike previous indictments of public officials, this flurry of charges doesn't involve elected officials. Instead, mid-level bureaucrats were targeted. "In some ways this is more insidious in that you have people who ... have the levers and control of money," McAuliffe said.
In all, "Operation Dirty Water" tracked roughly $90,000 in such things as vacations, cash cards and gifts delivered to former or current employees of Palm Beach County, West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Wellington, Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District, Port St. Lucie and Sarasota County.
Chaz's Czajkowski was arrested in April of last year as part of a five-month joint investigation by the town of Palm Beach police and the State Attorney's Office. They accused the town's public works construction manager, Steven M. White, of awarding emergency construction contracts in exchange for cash. Then, Czajkowski faced a single count of unlawful compensation and up to 15 years in prison. Two months later, other municipalities came under scrutiny as a result of further digging.
"This is a spinoff case," said McAuliffe of Friday's charges. "It's the most recent installment of what happened in Palm Beach."
Named are James Hartman, who works for Palm Beach County's water system; Sean Woods, an employee of Port St. Lucie; Daniel Derringer, a former utilities superintendent with West Palm Beach; Anthony Lombardi, a 17-year employee of Boynton Beach, who prepares certain bids and monitors vendors; Clifford Danvers Beatty, deputy director of the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District; Jason Faranda, a former employee of Wellington, who oversaw water distribution; David Cates, a former consultant with West Palm Beach; and Rodney Jones, a Sarasota County employee.
Also charged were Chaz employees Robert Wight, Bradley Miller, Kevin Trost and Shawn Petty.
In at least two cities, there were warning signs something was amiss. Wellington hired an investigator to look into claims by employees that Faranda had gone on a Texas hunting trip paid for by Chaz. Faranda reportedly admitted to the trip.
In West Palm Beach, both Cates, whose roughly $60-an-hour contract with the city involved consulting on the waterfront overhaul, and Derringer had been the target of an internal city inquiry, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the investigation. Cates' contract was terminated in June 2010. West Palm was in frequent contact with law enforcement investigators, McAuliffe said.
Rehabilitation work on manholes was singled out in the charging documents. Chaz had a manhole contract with Delray Beach. Other cities could use that same contract's pricing for their own manhole work, a practice known as piggybacking, without putting the contract out to bid. In part to keep the piggyback contracts coming, according to the charges, Chaz showered officials with a steady stream of gifts and entertainment.
But that was "only one" of the issues, McAuliffe said. For instance, Beatty, deputy director of the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District, was moonlighting with Chaz. In addition to the moonlighting, there were deer hunting and parasailing trips, as well as two trips to NASCAR events. Pressed by investigators on whether paid vacations presented a conflict of interest, Beatty said that he "thought nothing" of the NASCAR trips, according to court documents.


Army Corps is right on Caloosahatchee, water district is wrong – by Rae Ann Wessel
March 18, 2011
The water supply for the health of the Caloosahatchee estuary is under attack.
For the past six weeks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been providing needed freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee to maintain the health of the upper estuary.
Without freshwater inflow during the dry season, high salinities extend all the way up river to the W.P. Franklin Lock structure, eliminating all the low-salinity, freshwater habitat in the estuary. This low-salinity zone in the Caloosahatchee is critical habitat for the reproduction and survival of economically important fishery species including bay anchovy, drum, silver perch, redfish, snook, crabs, shrimp and tapegrass.
While the Corps has been providing freshwater to support critical habitat in the Caloosahatchee, the state water agency, the South Florida Water Management District, has repeatedly recommended cutting off all flow to the Caloosahatchee due to low water conditions in Lake Okeechobee.
According to the SFWMD, October-March has been the driest in 80 years and water demands are high now at the peak of the dry season. But the minimal base flows the Corps has been providing to the Caloosahatchee require less than one inch of water per month off the lake — an amount District staff characterized as insignificant — while permitted users such as municipal water suppliers and agriculture use several inches of water off the lake each month. Permitted water users pay nothing for the water, but their supply is protected and assured, unlike the natural system.
In the drought years of 2007-09, lack of flow caused a quantifiable loss of habitat for commercially important food and recreational species and placed endangered species at risk. In contrast, during those drought years while the Caloosahatchee was suffering loss of habitat, record agricultural harvests were recorded.
While the District professes to be concerned about water shortages, they have instituted NO conservation or water restrictions on major water users. They recommend only cutting off water to the Caloosahatchee. If water shortage fears are the reason for cutting off the minimal flows to our estuary and water shortage is expected and forecast, why have mandatory water restrictions not been implemented districtwide ?
Part of the problem is that 20-year consumptive use water permits have been issued by the SFWMD to private enterprises without first setting aside an allocation of water for natural systems. This has led to an over allocation of the water available in the Lake Okeechobee/Caloosahatchee basins, and a continuing shortfall of water supply for the estuary.
The showdown came at a recent SFWMD Governing Board meeting. Chairman-elect Joe Collins berated the Corps of Engineers for providing minimal base flows to the Caloosahatchee against the District's recommendation of no flow, in spite of the objections of our representative, Vice Chair-elect Charles Dauray. For now the lake level remains in the zone where the Corps controls releases and they have committed to continuing flows for the benefit of the Caloosahatchee estuary. Unfortunately, receding lake levels will soon drop the lake below the water shortage line, at which point decisions on where, when and how much water is distributed will revert to the SFWMD.
Florida water law states public water should be managed to support public resources first, not last. We encourage letters to the Corps and SFWMD regarding how water is managed and decisions are made.
Thank the Corps for providing water to the Caloosahatchee and Charles Dauray for his support. Demand that the SFWMD put public resources first and apply conservation measures equally across all users.
Rae Ann Wessel is Natural Resource Policy Director for the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.


Everglades Plan Advances Despite Threat to Sparrow - by PURNA NEMANI
March 18, 2011
(CN) - Though efforts to restore the Everglades could destroy the habitat of an endangered sparrow species, the Department of the Interior has the discretion to make the decision, a Washington, D.C., federal judge ruled, noting that the plan is unlikely to cause the bird's extinction.
     The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting since 2000 to revise the critical habitat of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar excluded two critical areas from the final designation as the nonprofit was on cusp of achieving its goal.
     Designated as a federally protected species in 1967, the sparrow has six subpopulations along the southern tip of the Florida Everglades. Each flock rarely moves from its chosen region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said that subpopulation A, or Sub A, is one of the species' two core populations.
     While the five other subpopulations lie east of the Shark River Slough - a free-flowing channel of water that serves as the southern Everglades' primary drainage point into the Florida Bay - Sub A is secluded to the other side of the river. This separation and location, stretching through the Everglades National Park and touching the Big Cypress National Preserve, make Sub A "critically important to the species as a whole," the court found.
     Sub A had been one of the largest flocks in 1992, but its numbers dwindled from 2,608 to just 16 in 2004. In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the cumulative sparrow population at 3,088 - only 112 of which belonged to Sub A.
     But the sparrow's plight is set against the backdrop of an even bigger problem in the Everglades, Salazar argued. In 2007, when presented with Fish and Wildlife's publication of the revised designation for the sparrow's critical habitat, he excluded the two units proposed to support Sub A.
     In addition to the need to correct water levels throughout the Everglades, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida argues that sparrow conservation efforts have caused flooding to culturally significant sites.
     After the Center for Biological Diversity sued Salazar to designate a protected area for Sub A, the Miccosukee intervened on the government's behalf.
     As long as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and other flood-control measures allow permanent water cover in the Everglades, the opportunity for the bird's dry-season, low-level nesting will be severely compromised and inevitably result in the sparrow's extinction, according to the nonprofit.
     U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Wednesday that Salazar is in a difficult position but has broad discretion in his choice because he presented sufficient evidence that the sparrow is threatened, but no longer endangered.
     At this juncture, given the "unrelenting encroachment" by man that the Everglades has sustained in the last century, Collyer agreed that it may be wise for the government to focus on return natural water flows to the Everglades,
     Destroying the natural balance in the Everglades has affected the sparrows, by making their habitat alternatively too wet or too dry for reproduction, but the restoration plan aims to "provide a substantial benefit to the entire Everglades ecosystem, including the sparrow and other endangered species," according to the ruling.
     Collyer ruled that the project can move forward with the allowance that the parties meet yearly to review sparrow management issues.


Free Market Florida aims at EPA water standards
The American Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
March 18, 2011
Free Market Florida, the group that has sprung up from the ashes of the political committee that ran last year’s successful “No on 4″ campaign, has set its eyes on a new target — the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a video unveiled Wednesday, the group’s executive director, Ryan Houck, urges viewers to oppose the EPA’s proposed numeric nutrient criteria, a set of standards that limit the amount of waste allowed to be dumped in Florida waterways.
According to a press release, the video is the first part of a series the group is calling “Flashpoints” and is accompanied by a call to action, which asks supporters to email the EPA this week.
In the video, Houck claims the federal government is “singling out” Florida to be the recipient of “debilitating, costly and unscientific” criteria, all because of a lawsuit brought on by “so-called environmental groups.”
The environmental groups who brought the suit were initially represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice. According to Houck, Earthjustice “wants to stop economic development at any cost” and relies on a cyclical business model, in which the group sues and later receives a reimbursement of its legal fees from the federal government, all to “generate new funding for their next anti-free market project.”
“[Free Market Florida] is living in a fact-free environment at this point,” says Joan Mulhern, legislative council for Earthjustice, “but this level of misinformation is simply stunning to us.”
Mulhern says that while there are provisions in federal law that allow for the reimbursement of a portion of legal fees should a nonprofit win a suit against the federal government, the reimbursements aren’t keeping Earthjustice afloat.
“First of all, the law that allows for that was put in place by Ronald Reagan in the ’80s,” she says. “Yes, we recovered a portion of the fees from the federal government, but compared to the total hours spent on the case … it’s minimum wage. It’s less than 10 percent of our budget.”
Free Market Florida also alleges that the criteria were “written by lawyers,” a statement EPA Public Affairs Specialist Davina Marraccini says is completely false:
EPA scientists consulted with scientific experts in Florida and calculated the standards based on a review of over 13,000 water samples that the State collected from over 2,200 sites statewide. Consistent with standard EPA practice, the underlying data and methodology supporting the rule were independently peer reviewed. EPA also solicited extensive public feedback during the public comment periods following the proposed rule (January 2010) and the supplemental notice of data availability (August 2010). EPA scientists and other technical and policy staff carefully evaluated the public feedback and incorporated changes into the final rule that reflected the best available science.
Many believe the economic benefits of implementing the EPA criteria far outweigh the economic burden. “Florida relies as heavily on clean water for its economy, if not more so, than any other state,” says Mulhern. “If tourists begin associating the state with public health threats and water pollution, there will be a dramatic decrease in tourism.”
The 2010 gulf oil spill proved just how big an impact an environmental disaster could have on Florida’s tourism industry. And the failure to govern the amount of nutrients in state waterways inevitably leads to an increase in toxic algal blooms, which have proven in the past to be detrimental, not only to aquatic life, but to human health.
“There is a cost to implement the standards,” says Mulhern. “But compared to the benefits reaped by the tourism industry and homeowners living along canals glowing bright-green from algae … economically, clean water always wins.”


Bob Graham warns against Scott’s cutbacks
Sun Sentinel – by William Gibson
March 17, 2011
Bob Graham, a former Florida senator and governor, thinks the severe budget cuts proposed by current Governor Rick Scott may jeopardize the state’s economic future.
Graham, a Democrat from Miami Lakes, became one of Florida’s most powerful and popular politicians while arguing that investments in education and environmental preservation would stoke the economy in the long run. Now he sees that legacy unraveling.
“I am concerned that we are making short-term decisions which are going to be paid for in the future,” said Graham during a break in his testimony before a Senate committee. He outlined a two-step formula for economic growth.
“First: protecting the environment. That’s the fundamental magnet that has brought people to Florida,” he said. “And second: investing in education. World-class institutions can support world-class economic development.
“Both of those are under assault. On the environmental side, the Florida Forever program is being zeroed out. Even funding for the Everglades is at $17 million, when it had been in the $200-million range.”
Florida Forever is a state program to buy land to preserve as parks or wildlife refuges. Well before Scott took office, the program lost much of its funding source because of depleted tax revenue from real-estate transactions. Scott proposed zero funding for the program.
Scott also has proposed $17 million for Everglades restoration next fiscal year, a sharp decline from $50 million this year and much more in past years.
Graham said Scott’s proposed cuts in education spending “could have a very serious adverse effect on what’s happening in the classroom.”
Scott and many fellow Republicans say the state simply cannot afford the same level of spending. He has called for a more businesslike path to economic growth, stressing tax cuts and reduced government spending.


Saving FL Panthers Could Get a Big Boost – by Glen Gardner
March 17, 2011
NAPLES, Fla. - A proposal to create a new national wildlife refuge north of Lake Okeechobee could give a big boost to efforts to save the Florida panther.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to designate the 150,000-acre Everglades Headwaters refuge as part of a greater effort to connect to the panther refuge in the south. So far, four public meetings have been held and public comment is being accepted until March 31.
Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative of Defenders of Wildlife, says this proposal is different in that it features a public-private partnership.
"One-third of it would be acquired as public lands and a full two-thirds of it would remain in private ownership."
Much of that land would remain under the control of the area ranchers. Fleming says her group is working on a way to compensate ranchers for any losses caused by panthers. Although numbers have been increasing, the latest estimates say there are still only 100 to 160 adult panthers in Florida.
A "Save the Panther Day" open house is planned from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge near Naples. Sandy Mickey, park ranger at the Florida Panther and Ten Thousand Islands national wildlife refuges, says these areas are instrumental in helping increase panther numbers.
"It certainly has rebounded and that's thanks in part to habitat protection in south Florida, including the refuge which was established in 1989."
As the panther population grows, Mickey says, people should never feed wildlife, watch out for wildlife while driving, secure pet food and garbage, and protect pets and livestock in enclosed structures - especially at night.


Paul Souza
Wildlife: Trouble for the endangered species program ?
March 17, 2011
Watchdog group claims Obama administration accommodates development at the expense of wildlife protection
SUMMIT COUNTY — A watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. charges that the Obama administration is putting development ahead of environmental protection by promoting a Florida-based regulator to a high-level position in the endangered species program.
The charges came in a press release from Public Employees or Environmental Responsibility, backed up by a series of documents and reports on Endangered Species Act implementation in Florida.
The group says that Paul Souza, currently the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field supervisor for south Florida has approved numerous development projects in habitat for the vanishing Florida panther without ever once issuing a single “jeopardy” opinion, indicating harmful impact on wildlife covered by the Endangered Species Act.
“This guy never met a development project he did not like. He has been a litigation magnet in that the only way to get the Endangered Species Act enforced in South Florida is to sue,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. Souza’s recent approval of off-road vehicle trails through 40,000 acres of panther country in roadless Big Cypress National Preserve will spawn yet another lawsuit, Ruch said.
In his new position, Souza will help set national Endangered Species Act policy, a troubling sign for wildlife advocates already concerned with the slow pace of endangered species protection under the Obama regime.

PEER also made the serious allegation that Souza may have skewed monitoring practices to obscure the true state of the panther population.
Documents obtained by the Florida-based Council of Civic Associations indicate that, under Souza, the Fish and Wildlife Service is creating a cap-and-trade plan for development, issuing panther mitigation credits which could be “banked” from already protected areas while allowing development in areas that the panthers desperately need for protection.
This plan is supported by developers and threatens to encourage additional sprawl spreading across the Western Everglades.

“Fish & Wildlife Service biologists who try to implement the Endangered Species Act have their careers derailed while this guy is rewarded,” Ruch said. “We are concerned that this promotion sends the signal that accommodation matters far more for advancement in federal service than integrity.”
Read the announcement of Souza promotion
Look at Souza track record on endangered Florida panther
View e-mails detailing breakdown of ESA implementation in South Florida
See Souza recent sign-off on ORVs through Big Cypress

Group projects growth visions for Northeast Florida - by Kevin Turner
March 14, 2011
Regional exercise is growth model for plan to reduce urban sprawl and move jobs closer to home.
As Florida Gov. Rick Scott wields a budgetary ax over state growth management, the president of the area's regional planning organization says he's glad to have a Northeast Florida regional visioning exercise that began with Legos and bits of yarn and ended with a map for growth in the next half-century.
Reality Check First Coast began nearly two years ago when about 300 people placed the toy building blocks on maps of the state's Northeast section, which now has 1.3 million residents. The purpose was to show where they thought the estimated 1.6 million additional people projected to live here by 2060 should live and work. That yielded four plans and six principles for growth in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties after the Lego exercises and public comment sessions were done in each.
The growth models moved jobs closer to homes and reduced sprawl. The principles touted open spaces, mixed use development, better mobility, economic competitiveness, development in leapfrogged areas and capitalizing on community identity.
Now, as regional planning specialists codify
Northeast Florida's plan for the next 50 years, its importance may become even greater - or, possibly, it could become virtually meaningless.
Scott's proposed budget effectively guts the state's authority to enforce its 1980s-era growth management laws. If passed as proposed, the section of the Department of Community Affairs that approves or rejects changes to municipal and county comprehensive plans - often submitted to accommodate a development - would be moved to a water quality division of the Department of Environmental Protection, its staff and budget cut by more than 80 percent.
Northeast Florida Regional Council President Brian Teeple, who also served as Reality Check co-chairman, said that would make Reality Check an even worthier effort.
"Nobody made us do Reality Check or a vision," he said. "If growth management at the state level is dismantled, communities will still need to do growth management. I look at it, to a degree, as an opportunity."
The visioning exercise took more public input in Jacksonville on Monday and presented future growth choices -the "corridor" pattern, the "multiple growth centers" pattern, the "dispersed" pattern and the "urban compact" pattern. Attendees were asked to vote for one.
Participant Ervin Hobdy, 29, of Jacksonville, said he chose "multiple growth center."
"I think it shares the economic development and doesn't exclude areas or any parts of town," he said.
According to the Reality Check final report, the 500 government officials, businesspeople and others who participated said they want jobs closer to homes, roadways that will alleviate traffic jams and commute times, mixed-use developments, more development in urban areas, and more preservation of open spaces and the environment.
The regional council is going to make presentations to the seven county governments and 27 municipal governments in Northeast Florida to sell that vision as a standard that has regional consensus, Teeple said.
"But no one will make them do it," he said. "This is the persuasive power of a good idea."
But however persuasive the visioning plan may be, it's a recommendation to those governments. The council has no enforcement teeth.
Under the state's 1985 Growth Management Act, counties and towns prepare long-term comprehensive plans for land use, housing, transportation, infrastructure, conservation and recreation. When a developer's request is approved by local governments but requires a change to the plan, the DCA Community Planning division reviews them before approving them, denying them or requesting changes.
Scott's proposed budget strips Community Planning from 61 employees to 10 and slashes its funding from $7.7 million to an estimated $1.3 million. Unless the law the agency enforces is changed, that would result in changes to local comprehensive plans being greatly delayed or given shoddy reviews, said Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, a nonprofit organization that champions growth management.
"It's either going to take longer, or you won't get the reviews," he said. "They'll just overlook roads, schools, something that will affect drinking water - who knows?"
Pattison said the 1985 growth management law was enacted because growth management, which was being handled by local governments, was failing to prevent developments from harming the quality of life of their neighbors.
"Some say 'growth management hurts job growth; get rid of it.' But there are a lot of examples of what happens when you don't plan your future. To a degree, both sides are right," Pattison said.
The role of regional councils in approving comprehensive plan changes is only advisory. But Scott's proposed budget cuts the councils, too. In slashing funding for Community Planning, he's also recommending cutting $2.5 million for the state's 11 regional councils. Teeple said that's 10 percent of the Northeast Florida Regional Council's $2.2 million operating budget. The other 90 percent comes from dues paid by 27 member municipalities and seven counties, federal and state grants, and from government or private contracts, Teeple said.
"I probably would have to shrink my staff by three people, at least," he said. That would cut his staff of growth planners by about half, potentially affecting the council's ability to serve.
How will First Coast grow?
The 2009 Reality Check First Coast exercise produced four scenarios that participants said would be better for Northeast Florida than following current patterns of growth [pictured at right] that have produced long commutes and other phenomena familiar here. All four suggested First Coast Vision planning models spread out population and jobs more evenly, and for the most part, outlying counties enjoy a greater share in the spoils of future development.
Multiple growth center
The centers cluster growth in well-defined core areas. Because of higher density, the pattern preserves green space for recreation but may impact the character of rural areas. New growth is mostly mixed-use and provides a variety of housing and job opportunities. It also provides for urban re-development and revitalization of urban areas.
Expands outward in all directions and has a strong impact on rural areas. It features low density with smaller areas of medium and high density outside existing urban areas. Jobs are dispersed throughout the region.
Concentrates populations in well-defined areas along major transportation routes, extending out from previously developed areas. New growth is mostly mixed-used, providing a variety of housing and job opportunities. Because efficient rapid transit relies on relatively few, well-traveled routes, the compact corridor pattern supports the development of rapid transit.
Urban compact
Characterized by urban redevelopment and in-fill development. This model concentrates development around a core city. Fewer new areas would be developed. The plan maximizes existing infrastructure and provides for the greatest increase in transit.
Source: RealityCheckFirstCoast


Is The Florida Panther Up Next For Extinction ?
Nat.Parks Traveler - by Kurt Repanshek
March 14, 2011
Word earlier this month that the eastern cougar has been declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaves just one native panther species alive in the East -- the Florida panther that resides in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.
A question that arises in the wake of that announcement is whether the Florida panther, too, will fade into memory, or if additional landscapes can be found for the big cat to expand its currently tenuous population.
For the eastern cougar, development apparently overran the cat. And that apparently occurred a long, long time ago, as well. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists say there really haven't been documented sightings of the cats also known as Catamounts, Pumas, and Painters, as well as panthers, mountain lions, and cougars, in the wild since the 1930s.
“We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar,” Martin Miller, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species, said in making the official extinction announcement. “However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.”
There is, however, another big cat that very definitely is roaming at least a portion of the East.
“We do have what everybody agrees is still a population of breeding pumas in the East, which is the Florida panther," points out Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been striving to see that the Florida panther does not follow the eastern cougar into extinction.
There are an estimated 100-120 Florida panthers alive in the wild, living in Everglades and Big Cypress and surrounding lands in south Florida. Under the Fish and Wildlife Service's Florida Panther Recovery Plan, according to Mr. Robinson, three distinct populations of at least 240 individuals must be documented before the panther can lose its "endangered" tag.
There are, however, impediments to that goal, he noted last week during a phone conversation from his New Mexico office.
One is that the Fish and Wildlife Service has not designated critical habitat for the Florida panther. Such a designation might have blocked the National Park Service from threading the Addition lands tract of Big Cypress, an area known to be panther habitat, with a network of off-road vehicle routes possibly stretching for 130 miles. For if critical habitat for the panthers' survival had been designated, and had it included that area of Big Cypress, the Park Service would have had to prove that the ORV routes would not adversely impact the cats, said Mr. Robinson.
“We certainly think the ORV network they’re approving will imperil the panther even more," he added.
Other conservation groups share those concerns, and last week some filed a Notice of Intent to sue the Park Service over the Addition lands ORV plan if it's not altered.
The other major impediment to the survival of the Florida panther is that so far there's only that one population of panthers -- in southern Florida -- and it is being squeezed by development: panthers are being run over on highways and dying in territorial battles, which biologists refer to as "intraspecific aggression." According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, at least three panthers were killed in territorial battles in Big Cypress last year, one of which occurred in the Addition lands section. (In the "good news" category, at least four kittens have been born in Big Cypress so far this year.)
While loss of habitat is behind some of the territorial battles at Big Cypress, Superintendent Pedro Ramos believes the 720,000-acre preserve simply has all the panthers it can reasonably handle given the preserve's management mandate, which is more "multi-use" than national parks.
"... every room is taken here at Big Cypress when it comes to panthers. We have a significant amount of panthers living at Big Cypress," he told the Traveler in January. "They have been living here despite the fact that there is hunting and there is ORV use and there is oil and gas activities taken place," he said.
In that same interview the superintendent pointed to the need to find habitat beyond the preserve and establish corridors that panthers can use to reach it.
To that point, the Center for Biological Diversity (along with the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, the One More Generation organization, and The Florida Panther Society, Inc.) in February petitioned (see attachment) Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to establish a second population of Florida panthers at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding lands in south Georgia and north Florida.
Now, exactly where Interior biologists would get the necessary recruits for such a population wasn't suggested by the Center in its petition, but the answer seems quite obvious to Mr. Robinson.
“They would have to come -- because it is a unique population in south Florida, it is the most closely related to the panthers that were several hundred miles to the north -- they would come from that population," he said Monday, though he wouldn't narrow it down to the Big Cypress panther population. "And increasingly that population is becoming hemmed in by growth and development.”
Working to establish an Okefenokee-based population could help offset genetic problems that have in the past plagued the southern Florida panthers, he noted in the petition to Secretary Salazar.
The sole extant breeding population of the Florida panther subsists on less than five percent of its original range, with just 100 to 120 animals surviving in South Florida – as a result of historic persecution coupled with loss of most of its habitat. Despite increasing numbers of Florida panthers in recent decades, that population is not yet viable and is increasingly limited by its own density within a shrinking island of habitat. As described in our petition submitted on September 17, 2009, designation of critical habitat is an urgent imperative. The population is also imperiled by loss of genetic diversity which can only be slowed through rapid growth in the number of surviving panthers – requiring in addition to habitat protection, the translocation of female panthers to areas of currently unoccupied habitat in south-central Florida.
According to the groups' petition, part of the 2008 Florida Panther Recovery Plan assessed where, habitat-wise, it might be best to locate two other populations. Topping the list of potential sites, the petition noted, is the Greater Okefenokee Ecosystem in southern Georgia and northern Florida. Furthering that recommendation was "an experimental 1993 release of 19 western mountain lions to this ecosystem, where they were monitored until recaptured in 1995 ... and documented that 15 of the animals established home ranges. This study found that panther reintroduction to the region is biologically feasible and suggested measures to increase the likelihood of success."
While Interior Department officials have not yet responded to the petition, Mr. Robinson believes moving to create a second population of Florida panthers is the obvious next step to take in working to ensure the cats don't simply fade away as did their eastern cougar relatives.
“By beginning a reintroduction program, some of those animals that otherwise would be lost (in territorial fights and from being run over) could perpetuate a new population or be the nucleus for a new population and perpetuate a new legacy,” he said.


The cost of doing nothing: How nutrient pollution harms small businesses
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
March 14, 2011
During the summer of 2005, Ben Williams, owner of Fishermen’s Dock Seafood in Jacksonville, was grappling with an unusual problem: Though Northeast Florida is home to thousands of species of fish and is well known for its booming shrimp industry, his customers weren’t interested.
“People were coming into my shop, specifically asking for anything not from the area, especially the St. Johns River,” Williams says. The reason? According to Williams, customers were scared by a large-scale toxic algal bloom that had overtaken more than 100 miles of the St. Johns. The bloom, dubbed “the green monster,” wasn’t pretty. Nor did it smell good. And consumers were wary.
Algal blooms are standard for warm climates, especially during summer months. But blooms that stretch for 100 miles? Those are more likely the result of excessive phosphorus and nitrogen, nutrients that feed algae and cut off oxygen to other forms of marine life — leading to fish kills, bird deaths and even human respiratory ailments.
The EPA has estimated that nearly 2,000 miles of the state’s waterways are affected by an excess of nutrients, which is unsurprising considering the lack of standards governing nutrient pollution. Current regulations are based on a “narrative” standard, which simply states that “in no case shall nutrient concentrations of body of water be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of flora or fauna.”
Now, a new proposed set of standards to limit the waste entering Florida waterways — dubbed numeric nutrient criteria — have become the source for one of Florida’s fiercest political battles.
Nearly every major political figure and industry group in the state has publicly criticized them. Most of the criteria’s detractors argue that they would be too costly for a state still struggling with the effects of recession.
But what is the cost of not implementing them ?
The refrain from the opposition seems to be that strict regulations will inevitably lead to a negative economic impact. But a recent White House report found that the amount of money spent by businesses in an effort to comply with federal regulatory policies — especially environmental ones — is overshadowed by the economic benefits resulting from those expenditures.
EPA Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming has been quoted saying that anti-pollution measures would likely preserve home property values. In a state hit hard by the mortgage crisis (Florida’s foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation), property value is an enormous piece of the economic puzzle.
Tourism makes up another major chunk of Florida’s economy, and has a $57 billion impact on Florida’s economy. If the Gulf oil spill was any indication, harshly impaired waters means fewer tourists, and less money funneled into the state’s economy.
Seafood is another big business in Florida, and has been affected by environmental pollution in the past.
When it comes to potentially tainted fish, customers don’t want to risk it. “In the seafood industry, anytime you convince the public that something isn’t safe to eat, they may not even ask to be sure,” says Williams, of Fishermen’s Dock.
Williams testified at the EPA’s hearings on its proposed numeric nutrient criteria, giving a three-minute statement on how integral the seafood industry is to the state of Florida.
“Essentially, I said that, when other industries don’t step up to the plate on water quality, it costs us,” he says. “The fact that utilities and agricultural industries will spend a few more dollars shouldn’t be an impetus to disallowing the criteria altogether. I don’t buy the outrageous figures. We’re talking about protecting state dollars and in some cases, enhancing those dollars.”
Brooks Busey, owner of Sadler Point Marina in Jacksonville, says that his business has also been harshly affected by a lack of nutrient standards in the state.
“I wear two hats — that of a business owner and that of a citizen,” he says. “I think there ought to be standards, but I also want a happy medium. Obviously, high cost projections are a concern, but I want the river to be healthy. I have something to protect, too, but most of these industrial groups have lobbyists. They can afford to have people work for them. I can’t do that.”
As a fellow small business owner, Williams agrees. He says that recreational and seafood industries can’t suffer for the sake of utilities and agriculture companies that are dissatisfied with the EPA standards: “Protecting water quality so the seafood industry can flourish while other industries continue to stay afloat… the two things aren’t incompatible.”
“When the river smells bad, and the news says to be careful how much time you spend in it, that has an inevitable affect on my business,” Busey says. “People don’t buy boats and they don’t go out on their boats. There is a clear corellation between how pleasant the river is, and how much time people want to spend on it.”
Sarah Bucci, of Environment Florida, says that the new House of Representatives-approved funding bill wages “the biggest assault on Florida’s clean waters in the history of the state.”
Calling political attempts to destroy funding for the EPA “attacks” on the nutrient standards, Bucci says that recent riders aiming to bar the EPA from enforcing the standards only “add more manure to the pile.”
Those efforts have only intensified in recent weeks.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., penned a letter imploring the Senate to include one such rider, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, on a forthcoming budget resolution. On March 7, a group of Florida’s most powerful industry names, including U.S. Sugar, the Fertilizer Institute and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter (.pdf) to Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asking them to “introduce and support an amendment in the Senate … that would defund the EPA NNC final rule.”
Environmentalists remain committed to the standards they say could save Florida waterways. “Numeric standards are what we need,” says Jimmy Orth of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, an organization that has seen firsthand the effects of nutrient pollution on the river. “It’s unfortunate that politicians and industry reps are acting like we were blindsided by this. The political grandstanding is frustrating.”
Orth and the Riverkeeper have long been supportive of the nutrient criteria. In fact, the Riverkeeper was one of several groups to file suit against the EPA in the first place, calling for a stricter set of rules to govern Florida waterways.
Many of the Riverkeeper’s detractors have argued that measuring nutrients in loads (TMDLs) is preferable to concentrations (the preferred method of the EPA’s nutrient criteria), but area environmentalists have long argued that loads are simply not effective enough.
“A lot of folks are avoiding the facts. Misinformation is disseminated to the public that the criteria are ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious.’” says Orth. “This whole thing goes back to 1998, and is just a matter of the state not following through with keeping pollution in check. The TMDL-measurement was the result of citizens filing suit, much like the nutrient criteria. It’s ironic, too, because a lot of these industries touting the TMDL as a better option were fighting against them originally.”
According to Orth, the cost of doing away with the criteria needs to be further explored.
“There is a cost to all of us,” he says. “A cost to human health, a cost to Florida’s economy. You can’t sell a million-dollar home on the river if the river smells.”


Celebrating Florida's last frontier
St. Petersburg Times- Special by Carlton Ward Jr.,
March 13, 2011
After a century of development that often treated Florida as a swamp to be drained and subdivided into ever smaller pieces, it's amazing that we still have the opportunity to protect and showcase a relatively unbroken corridor of natural lands and waters from the outskirts of Orlando to Lake Okeechobee — the Everglades Headwaters. This may be our last chance. • I've spent much of the past six years traversing this part of our state, a place where cowboys ride and cattle graze, where bears roam and panthers prowl, where cranes glide and eagles soar. As a photographer, I set out to celebrate the people, places and wildlife — the living heritage of what I often call "Florida's last frontier." • And as an eighth-generation Floridian who comes from a long line of cattle ranchers, I believe in preserving this original Florida for the future. • That's what the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area could do. It proposes to protect 150,000 acres of ranchlands between the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and Lake Okeechobee.
The ambitious plan, drawn up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would buy development rights — conservation easements — from private ranches for 100,000 of those acres. It would leave the land in their hands to own and keep ranching but never develop. Up to 50,000 additional acres would be purchased outright.
While conservation easements are common in Florida, this is the first time that federal FWS would use them here. The agency is seeking public comments now through March 31.
If the project succeeds, it will make major strides toward restoring the Everglades and connecting green space, which is important for species to have room to thrive. One of my favorite aspects of this proposal is its heavy use of conservation easements. When done voluntarily with a willing landowner, they efficiently and effectively safeguard agricultural and environmental interests at the same time. They already protect hundreds of thousands of acres of natural lands.
"This initiative is aimed at preserving a rural working ranch landscape to protect and restore one of the great grassland and savanna landscapes of eastern North America," says U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "The partnerships being formed would protect and improve water quality north of Lake Okeechobee, restore wetlands, and connect existing conservation lands and important wildlife corridors to support the Everglades restoration effort."
I've made several trips to the Everglades Headwaters in the past month, twice with Elam Stoltzfus, who is making a documentary, Kissimmee Basin: Northern Everglades, that will air on PBS later this year. And I've seen firsthand how we have the chance to take action to protect these threatened landscapes.
The purpose of my most recent book, Florida Cowboys: Keepers of the Last Frontier, was to raise awareness of Florida ranches and their role in conservation. Many of my cousins are still full-time cowboys, and we want our heritage to continue.
It was rewarding for me to see Salazar so prominently extol the "rural working ranch landscape" and its importance for the health of the Everglades. In fact, some suggest that FWS should protect the full 150,000 acres through easements, allowing all of the land to remain in private ownership and reducing the scope of public investment. But not all owners are interested or able to continue managing the land for the long term.
My optimism for the Everglades Headwaters proposal was confronted by a surprising level of skepticism when I attended recent public hearings in Kissimmee and Okeechobee. There was a general mistrust of the federal government and concern that outsiders were coming to take away land and restrict recreational activities such as air boating.
Considering that all new conservation lands would be acquired from private owners — not currently open to public use — there would be no loss in land available for recreation. On the contrary, land purchased by FWS would open new areas for public use.
It's a complex debate, but the conservation plan is not about limiting recreation. It's a long-term effort to protect the most valuable natural lands and waters from development. Which neighbor is a greater threat to wild game populations and the ability to run an airboat day and night — a wildlife refuge or a new city?
On the other hand, some critics wonder if the government should be spending money, particularly in tough budget times, to buy development rights for land that might never be developed anyway. They should remember that much of Orlando was ranchland within the lifetime of most living Floridians and that much of the land surrounding the new community of the Villages was agricultural within the lifetime of current high school seniors. Destiny, Harmony and Farmton are all new cities being planned or built on agricultural land in our state today.
Much more rural land will likely be developed in the near future to accommodate the doubling of Florida's population that is projected by 2060. By paying for development rights now, we can enable landowners to protect natural lands and waters where they are of most benefit to us all. If we wait until development is more imminent, it could be too late. Inflated prices would make conservation nearly impossible and the ability to connect large landscapes could be lost.
Landscape-scale conservation efforts are typically controversial, and those responsible must be mindful of how they present their plans to the public. People who spoke in opposition at Okeechobee and Kissimmee saw a document showing the 1.7 million-acre study area as an outline on a map that encompassed the entire Northern Everglades watershed, including the town of Okeechobee and all the hunting camps near Lake Kissimmee. It's easy to understand how such a wide study area could make residents nervous.
The document did not communicate clearly enough that the proposed conservation plan would affect less than 10 percent of the study area — and that the actual new refuge would encompass less than 3 percent of the area on the map. Though the specific tracts aren't yet identified, there is no doubt that sustaining agriculture and green space in highest-priority areas of Everglades Headwaters still leaves the vast majority of private land open for economic growth.
Government-led conservation plans have not always been easy on local residents. Genuine frustration with past national park, national forest and water management district actions may make it harder for people to see that the current proposal is new and different. FWS is using conservation easements for the first time in Florida, and participation is voluntary.
There is also skepticism about the federal government entering territory traditionally managed by state agencies. But through the Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative, FWS is really just helping state agencies achieve long-standing conservation plans they lack the funding to accomplish alone.
Take Florida Forever. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has previously identified 250,000 acres of high-priority conservation lands within the Everglades Headwaters study area. These are lands that have already been listed and ranked through a comprehensive public process with willing landowners. But Florida Forever has little money and cannot move forward without help.
The Everglades Headwaters project could invest as much as $700 million in federal funds in Florida over the next several years. This may seem like a lot to spend during a recession, but within the context of an already budgeted $12 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, it's a small price to protect the essential headwaters. As a rough estimate, the price paid for development rights for lands of high environmental value is often budgeted somewhere around half of the retail value of the land, though this could vary significantly based on assessed value, landscape context, conservation priority, zoning classification and zoning density.
I'd much rather see Everglades restoration accomplished by protecting ranchlands in the watershed than by spending even more money to blast storage basins in the aquifer and build high-intensity filtration systems that might not even work. Better to let nature perform as designed than impose highly engineered solutions that our grandchildren may have to pay the price for, as we are doing with the canals and levies our grandparents built.
Today, 7 million people live within the Everglades watershed. That number has doubled since 1970 and is projected to double again by 2060. As such, the most important reason to protect the Everglades Headwaters is water for people. Protecting the water supply will also help restore the Greater Everglades ecosystem, save the Florida panther and ensure a future for Florida agriculture.
There may never be a better time to help positively shape Florida's future. Thanks to years of hard work of landowners and conservationists, building protection for the Everglades Headwaters does not start from scratch. Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve, Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, Avon Park Air Force Range, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Catfish Creek State Park, the Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve — these are some of the cornerstones that the new National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Areas can tie together into a foundation strong enough to support the Everglades and the growing population of South Florida.
Today, more landowners than ever are willing to engage in conservation easements, providing opportunity to protect the most important lands and waters, and ensuring our ability to continue producing food. Agriculture is Florida's second-largest economic sector, creating a $100 billion annual impact while feeding our population and the world.
My concerns about the proposed refuge are these: As the program develops, it must continue to make protecting property rights and values the top priority. Voluntary participation largely ensures this, but if a ranch becomes part of the conservation area, what influence is there on the value of neighboring lands?
I also think FWS should consider working even more closely with the U.S. and Florida Departments of Agriculture and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as the Nature Conservancy and other private land trusts active in Florida. While FWS has experience with conservation easements in other states, these partners are experts in conservation easements in Florida and have long legacies of trusted work with local landowners.
What I like most about the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is this: It is completely voluntary, only purchasing or paying for conservation easements from willing landowners while helping sustain the five-century-old tradition of Florida cattle ranching. Maintaining a viable cattle ranch is very difficult, even in the best economic times.
Rising productions costs, stricter regulations and high estate taxes all create pressure to intensify land use or sell for development. Paying landowners for their development rights is the best way I know to satisfy their financial needs while protecting water and wildlife for the benefit of all Floridians.
Carlton Ward Jr. is an eighth-generation Floridian who focuses on native lands, waters and cultures. His photographs are available through his website and select galleries. Ward founded the Legacy Institute for Nature & Culture (LINC) to promote conservation by connecting Floridians to our natural heritage through the arts and is a leader of the Florida Wildlife Corridor project, working to connect lands and waters from the Everglades to Okefenokee (Georgia). Ward will also be featured in Kissimmee Basin: Northern Everglades, a film by Elam Stoltzfus to be released on PBS later this year. Read more at these websites:;; and


Clean Water Network

Rooney's just not right
The Gainesville Sun– by Linda Young
March 12, 2011
Several weeks ago, Congressman Rooney introduced a rider to the appropriation bill, which would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing new nutrient pollution water quality standards in Florida. I am writing to clearly state that I am not endorsing such activities, as has been perceived by him and some others on Capitol Hill.
The point I made is that the rule needs to be substantially strengthened to provide the benefit that is needed. Rooney’s rider however, has nothing to do with strengthening water quality protection. It employs a tactic that never leads to good public policy, taking a back-door approach to undermining the implementation of federal laws. At the behest of industrial and other big Florida polluters, it would defund EPA’s ability to implement new nutrient water quality standards. In an interesting twist however, by doing so, it would also defund EPA’s approval or disapproval of the loopholes and weaker aspects of the rule.
While we want the loopholes closed, the proper way to resolve policy differences is not to attach riders to major legislation. Rooney’s rider is legislative interference aimed towards thwarting EPA’s efforts to enact the Clean Water Act and that’s just not right.
EPA oversight and intervention is needed now more than ever in Florida, with our legislature and state agency openly defying the Clean Water Act. Floridians have no viable way to challenge our state’s actions. Nutrient pollution is not just an environmental hazard triggering massive fish kills and killing our coastal tourism-based economy with slimy green water, but spurs harmful algal blooms which produce toxins, causing serious human health and safety risks.
With polluters at the helm in our state and influencing legislators in Washington to do their bidding, the only hope we have is citizens banding together to hold politicians like Rooney accountable for giving lip service to clean water while doing the bidding of big polluters.
Linda Young is the director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, which has 300 organizations and several thousand individuals in its membership. These citizens of Florida work together to protect Florida’s springs, lakes, streams, estuaries and coastal waters.



col. Kinard

Army Corps Of Engineers Lowers Lake Okeechobee’s Water Level
March 11, 2011
South Florida Water Management District Accuses Army Corps Of Overstepping Their Authority
LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. -- South Florida is under extremely dry conditions and on the cusp of a serious drought. Yet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from Lake Okeechobee, South Florida's backup water supply.
Officials at the South Florida Water Management District and local legislators are accusing the corps of overstepping their authority.
Images of a parched Okeechobee lake bed four years ago prompted the South Florida Water Management District to rewrite the rules on when it's OK to release water from the lake.
In 2007, just before the dry season, the Army Corps of Engineers released several feet of water from the lake to protect its levee. That left South Florida's backup water supply dangerously low during one of the worst droughts on records.
So, why would the corps make the same mistake again?
"It's not like we're draining the lake," said Lt. Col. Mike Kinard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Kinard said the move is aimed at feeding the oxygen-starved tape grass and spawning fish in the Caloosahatchee River on the Lake Okeechobee's western edge.
"What we're trying to do is just extend that fresh water about two weeks," Kinard said.
He said the two planned water releases will only drop the lake level about a third of an inch, but according to the South Florida Water Management District, every drop counts.
The current level is 11.92 feet - more than 2 feet below the historical average for this time of year,. According to the SFWMD website, the lake is declining at an accelerated rate.
The concern about the lake's levels prompted a letter from the chair of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, to the head of the Army Corps in Florida. In it, Lopez-Cantera accuses the corps of ignoring the rules that were written after the 2007 drought, which prohibits state water managers from releasing water ahead of the dry season.
Kinard, however, said the corps has a federal override.
"What that provides is that we can go outside the normal parameters for a specific purpose," he said.
Kinard said it's safe to release water from the lake because we're within 80 days of the start of the rainy season. He said the benefit of flushing the Caloosahatchee River with fresh, oxygen-rich water outweighs the slight risk that it won't be there if South Florida needs it later.
"If we get to that point, it's because the drought conditions have lasted much longer, and be much harder than anyone is predicting," he said.


Crocodiles Enlisted For Everglades Preservation
March 11, 2011
Crocodiles and alligators in the Florida Everglades now have a new job: helping US scientists in their fight to preserve the fragile wetlands.
Researchers are implanting the reptiles with satellite chips in a science first that will allow scientists to follow the animals’ movements through different parts of the immense national park. The chips will bounce back information on changes in the ecosystem and its impact on the size and movement patterns of the crocs and gators.
“They are giving us important data... They are working for us,” said Frank Mazzotti, an ecologist and expert in the large reptiles at the University of Florida, as quoted by the AFP news agency.
The data is transmitted by satellite to a computer application using Google maps to track the movements of the reptiles.
“Scientists use different parameters to track responses of alligators and crocodiles to changes in the ecosystem, including their number, their weight, their size and their places of habitat,” Mazzotti told AFP's Juan Castro Olivera.
“All this information provides important data that is instrumental in analyzing the health of the Everglades’ ecosystem” and in seeing whether past conservation efforts have succeeded, he noted. As water levels drop, it results in fewer plants that are needed for shelter and nesting. That also means fewer fish to feed on, which is a mainstay for the larger animals of the Everglades.
Jerry Lorenz, of the conservation group Audubon of Florida, estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 birds nest in the Everglades every year, a significant reduction from the 1940s, when as many as 500,000 lived there. “In more than half a century, it's been about a 90 percent decline on average,” he said.
Fires, floods, hurricanes and drought have produced a distinctive ecosystem in the Everglades with a wealth of rare plants and animals, including the crocodiles, manatees, flying squirrels and gray foxes that climb trees.
Conservationists are concerned that budget cuts might complicate efforts to protect the wetlands, with a million visitors every year attracted to the subtropical wilderness.
French clothing brand Lacoste, which funds a global program to protect crocodiles called “Saving Your Logo” after its own trademark, is contributing to the efforts to protect crocodiles and alligators in the Everglades.
The company, founded by French tennis champion Rene Lacoste, is donating $150,000 over three years to help save crocodiles around the globe.
“We are very pleased to participate in this new project that clearly emphasizes the importance and the key role of crocodiles and alligators in the ecosystem,” said Lacoste CEO Christophe Chenut.


EPA’s Numeric Nutrient Plan Draws Florida into Congressional Focus - by Gary
March 11, 2011
Rooney Thanks EPA Administrator for Commitment to Work with Florida on Numeric Nutrient Compromise, Requests Information on Third-Party Review, Economic Analysis
Following is the text of a news release just in from Florida Congressman Tom Rooney. We’re posting immediately since this is a topic of most timely and critical interest.
In a letter today, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (FL-16) thanked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson for her commitment during yesterday’s House Agriculture Committee hearing to work with Florida toward an agreement on numeric nutrient levels that would be acceptable to all parties. Congressman Steve Southerland (FL-2) joined Rooney in signing the letter.
“We are very grateful to you for committing during yesterday’s hearing to work with DEP toward a solution that can be agreed to by all parties,” the Congressmen wrote. “We also appreciate your indication that you will be willing to allow a third-party review of the science and to complete an economic analysis of EPA’s proposed regulation.
“Florida’s statewide unemployment remains near 12 percent, and our businesses and families struggling to stay afloat during difficult economic times. As Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) noted in his letter to you yesterday requesting a delay in the implementation of this regulation, the EPA should not spend money enforcing the rule until we have more precise estimates of the cost of compliance.”
Complete text of the letter:
Dear Administrator Jackson,
During yesterday’s House Agriculture Committee Hearing to review the impact of EPA regulation on agriculture, we discussed the recently finalized EPA mandate regulating numeric nutrient levels in Florida’s rivers, lakes and streams.
Like you, we want clean water for Florida. We appreciate your stated willingness to work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to consider alternatives to the EPA mandate, which will go into effect in March 2012, in order to achieve the goal of cleaner water.
Over the last year, we have worked with a bipartisan coalition from Florida’s Congressional delegation on this matter. We have repeatedly requested that EPA allow a thorough, third-party review of the science used in the final EPA mandate. We have also repeatedly asked for a complete economic analysis to determine the cost the new regulation would impose on our state. By some accounts, the mandate would impose approximately $1 billion in direct economic costs, and approximately $2 billion in indirect costs, on Florida each year.
Florida’s statewide unemployment remains near 12 percent, and our businesses and families struggling to stay afloat during difficult economic times. As Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) noted in his letter to you yesterday requesting a delay in the implementation of this regulation, the EPA should not spend money enforcing the rule until we have more precise estimates of the cost of compliance. We echo his request “to suspend application and enforcement of the rule, while providing for an independent analysis of the cost of compliance and continuing to help cities and counties prepare . . .”
We are very grateful to you for committing during yesterday’s hearing to work with DEP toward a solution that can be agreed to by all parties. We also appreciate your indication that you will be willing to allow a third-party review of the science and to complete an economic analysis of EPA’s proposed regulation. Thank you very much for meeting these reasonable requests.
As your agency begins this process, will you please provide us with the following information:
1. When will EPA begin to produce a complete economic analysis of the impact of the proposed regulation, and when does EPA expect that analysis to be complete?
2. What methodology will EPA use in its economic analysis?
3. Which third-party organization will EPA task with conducting a thorough review of the proposed rule?
4. When will that third-party review commence, and when does EPA expect it to conclude?
5. How will EPA adjust the proposed regulation to accommodate the findings of the third-party review and economic analysis?
We look forward to working with your agency; Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam; DEP; other concerned state and federal agencies; as well as interested environmental, agriculture and business groups to develop an agreeable compromise.
Thank you for your appearance before the House Agriculture Committee yesterday and for your stated commitment to work with the state of Florida and our Congressional delegation on this important issue. We appreciate your prompt consideration of these questions. If you have any questions, please contact Congressman Rooney’s office at (202) 225-5792


Florida’s Marco Rubio is Senate’s largest recipient of Koch money
The American Independent - by Kyle Daly
March 11, 2011
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has made no secret of his pro-business agenda since taking office in January. It may come as little surprise, then, that his campaign was backed largely by the industries he now supports. Data obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics from the Federal Elections Commission shows that Rubio was the largest recipient of Koch Industries campaign money for U.S. Senate races. He also received more money than anyone running for national office outside of Kansas, where Koch Industries is headquartered. Rubio’s state of Florida is home to a major Georgia-Pacific paper mill (Georgia-Pacific is a subsidiary of Koch Industries) that has been at the center of a major battle between Koch industries and environmental regulators.
Many of Rubio’s other campaign donors have connections to the Koch brothers. Some are more closely affiliated with the Kochs than others, but all those with ties are plugged in to the national network of business leaders and anti-tax and anti-regulation advocates that Charles and David Koch have endeavored to build through conferences and think tanks.
The largest single contributor to Rubio’s campaign by far was the economic libertarian organization Club for Growth, whose members gave $346,450. Club for Growth has had ties to the Kochs since its founding in 1999, the closest of which being that one of its directors, Howard Rich, is also a director of the Cato Institute, a think tank that Charles Koch provided the initial funding for and on whose board of directors David Koch now sits.
Elliott Management, the Senate Conservatives Fund and Flo-Sun, Inc. round out the list of the top five contributors to Rubio’s campaign (Club for Growth’s number one, Koch Industries is number five). Elliott Management is a hedge fund management company run by Paul Singer, an investment banker who chairs the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank underwritten in part by the Koch Family Foundation and its affiliates. Singer has helped emcee controversial Manhattan Institute events that Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia have attended in recent years.
The Senate Conservatives Fund is a campaign fund started by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has attended Koch-sponsored events and was given the Washington Award by David Koch in 2009 for “defending the American dream.” Koch Industries is one of the top contributors to the Senate Conservatives Fund PAC.
Flo-Sun is a sugar and real estate conglomerate owned by the Fanjul family of southern Florida. Flo-Sun, which owns Domino Sugar, has been active in fighting the EPA over water pollution regulations in the Everglades. The Fanjuls are family friends of the Kochs; David Koch and his wife Julia traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2009 for the wedding of family scion Christina Fanjul.

Rubio’s connections with the vast Koch Industries web of course did not end with his election. The senator’s chief of staff, Cesar Conda, was once an aide to Dick Cheney and is said to be one of the architects of the Bush tax cuts. He is the former executive director of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a libertarian think tank funded in part by Koch-run groups such as the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation

Rising CO2 is causing plants to release less water to the atmosphere, researchers say
March 11, 2011
As carbon dioxide levels have risen during the last 150 years, the density of pores that allow plants to breathe has dwindled by 34%, restricting the amount of water vapor the plants release to the atmosphere, report scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and Utrecht University in the Netherlands in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (now online).
In a separate paper, also to be published by PNAS, many of the same scientists describe a model they devised that predicts doubling today's carbon dioxide levels will dramatically reduce the amount of water released by plants.
The scientists gathered their data from a diversity of plant species in Florida, including living individuals as well as samples extracted from herbarium collections and peat formations 100 to 150 years old.
"The increase in carbon dioxide by about 100 parts per million has had a profound effect on the number of stomata and, to a lesser extent, the size of the stomata," said Research Scientist in Biology and Professor Emeritus in Geology David Dilcher, the two papers' sole American coauthor. "Our analysis of that structural change shows there's been a huge reduction in the release of water to the atmosphere."
Most plants use a pore-like structure called stomata (singular: stoma) on the undersides of leaves to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The carbon dioxide is used to build sugars, which can be used by the plant as energy or for incorporation into the plants' fibrous cell walls. Stomata also allow plants to "transpire" water, or release water to the atmosphere. Transpiration helps drive the absorption of water at the roots, and also cools the plants in the same way sweating cools mammals.
If there are fewer stomata, or the stomata are closed more of the day, gas exchange will be limited – transpiration included.
"The carbon cycle is important, but so is the water cycle," Dilcher said. "If transpiration decreases, there may be more moisture in the ground at first, but if there's less rainfall that may mean there's less moisture in ground eventually. This is part of the hyrdrogeologic cycle. Land plants are a crucially important part of it."
Dilcher also said less transpiration may mean the shade of an old oak tree may not be as cool of a respite as it used to be.
"When plants transpire they cool," he said. "So the air around the plants that are transpirating less could be a bit warmer than they have been. But the hydrogeologic cycle is complex. It's hard to predict how changing one thing will affect other aspects. We would have to see how these things play out."
While it is well known that long-lived plants can adjust their number of stomata each season depending on growing conditions, little is known about the long-term structural changes in stomata number or size over periods of decades or centuries.
"Our first paper shows connection between temperature, transpiration, and stomata density," Dilcher said. "The second paper really is about applying what we know to the future."
That model suggests that a doubling of today's carbon dioxide levels – from 390 parts per million to 800 ppm – will halve the amount of water lost to the air, concluding in the second paper that "plant adaptation to rising CO2 is currently altering the hydrological cycle and climate and will continue to do so throughout this century."
Dilcher and his Dutch colleagues say that a drier atmosphere could mean less rainfall and therefore less movement of water through Florida's watersheds.
The Florida Everglades depend heavily on the slow, steady flow of groundwater from upstate. The siphoning of that water to development has raised questions about the future of the Everglades as a national resource.
Dilcher's Dutch coauthors for the two papers were Emmy Lammertsma, Hugo de Boer, Stefan Dekker, Andre Lotter, Friederike Wagner-Cremer, and Martin Wassen, all of Utrecht University in Utrecht, Netherlands. The project received support from Utrecht University's High Potential research program.
Source: Indiana University


Water pollution standards still contentious - by Bart Jansen
March 11. 2011
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is imposing costly water pollution regulations on Florida without enough scientific justification, Rep. Steve Southerland complained at a House hearing Thursday.
"There is great concern," said Southerland, R-Panama City.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged disagreements about how much the regulations will cost to implement. But she said she delayed implementing them for 15 months in order to work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"I do not want the people of Florida — ratepayers, agriculture, anyone in Florida — to consider this onerous to the degree that it would harm the economy," Jackson said.
The hearing was the latest salvo over contentious, Florida-specific regulations that the EPA developed to settle a 2008 lawsuit filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The regulations aim to reduce algae blooms in waterways, the result of phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from farms and wastewater runoff from urban areas. Specific limits on pollution flowing into lakes and rivers vary among five state watersheds.
Jackson finalized the regulations in November, but set March 2012 as the effective date. The delay was designed to give local governments, farmers and other stakeholders time to meet the requirements "while Florida continues to recover from the current economic crisis," the agency announced.
Meeting the regulations could cost Florida farms $1 billion per year and could cost the state more than 14,000 jobs, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Florida estimated in an April 2010 report.
For example, the EPA's new phosphorus standard of 69 parts per billion for treated wastewater in the Panhandle is 14 times more stringent than the previous standard, according to Associated Industries of Florida, a business advocacy group. It said Panhandle utilities estimate it would cost $4-$8 per gallon more to treat water under the tougher standard.
Southerland said Okaloosa County officials told him they recently completed $17 million in improvements to a wastewater treatment plant that would become obsolete under the new standards and would require millions more to update.
"It's an attempt to make the water almost Garden of Eden-like, and the costs that that is going to impose on municipalities is incredible," Southerland said in an interview before the hearing.
EPA held 13 hearings and gathered 22,000 comments as it developed the regulations. Jackson stressed that the agency develops its regulations based on the best science as part of a process that everyone can watch.
But Southerland demanded more studies on the economic harm threatened by the regulations and the scientific justification for them.
"It's like ready, shoot, aim," he said. "That's irresponsible at a time when the economy is under such pressure right now. Let's pause. Let's give careful thought and find out if there's a justifiable need to do what they're proposing."


District urges water-use cutbacks
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
March 10, 2011
Despite a day of strong storms, water managers warn that there is not enough to go around for man and nature
Water managers called for voluntary water-use cutbacks Thursday, warning that a day of storms drenching South Florida wasn’t enough to offset the driest dry season in 80 years.
A drought lowering ground water levels a couple of inches a week has already produced wide impacts.
The Everglades bordering Miami-Dade and Broward counties has dried down too far and fast, leaving marsh vulnerable to muck fires. On the Southwest coast, salt concentrations have crept to unhealthy levels in the rich estuary of the Caloosahatchee River. Even the state’s billion-dollar investment in cleaning up the Everglades could be at risk if pollution-absorbing plants in vast artificial marshes don’t get more water.
“Right now, there is not a resource or ecosystem … that isn’t starved for water,’’ said Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, at a board meeting in Fort Pierce.
The worsening outlook reignited a long-running state-federal rift over how to manage the fast-falling water levels in Lake Okeechobee, the heart of South Florida’s water supply system.
Several district board members, backed by farmers who use the lake for irrigation, ripped the U.S. Corps of Engineers for agreeing to “pulse” releases of fresh lake water intended to protect the sensitive, too-salty Caloosahatchee.
Keith Wedgeworth, a sugarcane grower in Western Palm Beach County who attended the meeting in Fort Pierce, warned that tapping the lake for environmental purposes could cost the farming industry big.
“Conserving water in the lake is like having money in the bank,’’ Wedgeworth said. “Please don’t waste our precious resource.’’
Michael Kinard, a deputy district commander for the Corps, defended the decision to send lake water west, saying the federal agency was trying to balance the needs of inter-connected ecosystems. The big lake stood at 11.92 feet above sea level — two feet below its historic average. But under a controversial plan the Corps adopted in 2007, that’s still above a “water shortage’’ zone that triggers the Corps to seek district approval for any water releases from the lake, he said.
The releases amounted to only about a third of an inch off the lake and possibly could be put off if Thursday’s storms provided the same benefit, he said.
“I would remind everyone that it is raining right now,’’ Kinard said.
But board member Joe Collins, a vice president for the agricultural giant Lykes Bros, argued that agreements hammered over the last two years required the Corps to “defer’’ to the district on lake levels during water shortages.
The water shortage “warning” the district issued urges residents in 16 counties to limit lawn watering to twice weekly – something Miami-Dade and Broward made law after a severe drought several years ago. The district also ordered a 15 percent water-use cutback for some large users in Palm Beach County.
Cal Neidrauer, chief engineer for operations, warned that it will take a good rainy season to erase the deficit.
“We may not necessarily be out of the woods after the dry season ends,’’ he said.


dike damage

Lake Okeechobee dike in danger
Palm Beach Post
March 3, 2011
If a hurricane threatens the Lake Okeechobee area, experts say they can't guarantee the Herbert Hoover Dike will protect those living around the lake.
If a hurricane threatens the Lake Okeechobee area, experts say they can't guarantee the Herbert Hoover Dike will protect those living around it.
A report by a panel of engineering experts hired by the South Florida Water Management District said the dike has narrowly escaped failing and has been deteriorating. The report said there's a 1-in-6 chance the dike would collapse in a given year and a 50-50 chance of failing in the next few years.
A dike failure would result in billions of dollars in damage, could irreversibly damage the Everglades, would threaten to contaminate South Florida's water supply and "would submerge vast areas ... to the south and east," the report said.
To lessen the lake's pressure on the dike, the state called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep the lake's level low.
The report also prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to order plans for mass evacuations from the Glades before the next threatening hurricane.
The dike has served its original purpose: Preventing a repeat of the catastrophe of 1928, when a hurricane sloshed the lake over a 6-foot muck levee and killed more than 2,500 people. Although it has withstood subsequent hurricanes, it has repeatedly sprung large numbers of leaks.
The county's existing evacuation maps show floodwaters could reach Wellington's outskirts within days. But those maps could seriously understate the scope of the flooding, the state-hired experts said.
They noted a dike breach could spill more than 1.6 trillion gallons and take years to repair.
Leak-proofing the 143-mile dike , which nearly encircles the 730-square-mile lake, could take decades. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun working on a repair project to counteract the earthen dike's tendency to spring dozens of leaks during high water.
The dike has suffered for years from leaks caused by high water in the lake, but the issue gained new urgency following the catastrophic failure of New Orleans' levees after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Joe Collins

South Florida Water Management District Board gets new chairman, more vacancies
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
March 10, 2011
A South Florida agricultural company executive on Thursday was chosen to become chairman of the South Florida Water Management District’s shrinking governing board.
Joe Collins of Sebring is vice president for Lykes Brothers Inc., which has sugar, cattle and landscaping operations and is a large landowner around Lake Okeechobee.
The district’s nine-member board, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate, oversees an agency charged with protecting water supplies, guarding against flooding and leading Everglades restoration.
As chairman, Collins now plays a more prominent role in the water management decisions that often pit agriculture against coastal communities and environmental advocates.
Also, Collins becoming chairman is the latest change to a board dealing with lingering vacancies and facing a potential shakeup under a new governor.
Gov. Rick Scott has yet to fill the vacancies for the Broward County and Palm Beach County seats on the board.
Another vacancy emerged Thursday when Jerry Montgomery, who represents counties north of Lake Okeechobee, announced he was stepping down from the board. Montgomery’s term doesn’t expire until 2012, but he said he plans to relocate to Miami-Dade County for a new job.
In addition, the terms of out-going-chairman Eric Buermann and Charles Dauray expire this month. They can continue to serve until Scott names replacements.
“If we don’t get some new board members up here soon, there is going to be a real echo in the room,” said Collins, who was appointed to the board in 2009 to represent counties west and north of the lake. That seat in the past has been used to appoint agricultural representatives to the board.
Dauray, who represents southwest Florida on the board, hopes to get reappointed. His fellow board members on Thursday made him vice chairman.
“I am a lame duck,” Dauray said. “I’m feeling as if there is a guillotine up there.”
District board members are volunteers who serve staggered four-year terms.
All the current district board members were appointed by Scott’s predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist.
The change in chairman could be one of the first signs of other changes to come at the district.
The former chairman, Buermann, championed Crist’s two-year-push for the district to buy U.S. Sugar farmland for Everglades restoration. That resulted in a $197 million deal for 26,800 acres.
While Buermann was an advocate for the land deal, Collins abstained from the vote because Lykes Brothers had contracts with U.S. Sugar.
Scott opposed the land deal during the gubernatorial campaign. As governor, Scott has called for cutting the state’s five water management district budgets 25 percent to try to lower property taxes.
While Buermann led an agency pushing for a blockbuster land deal, Collins takes over facing a potential $100 million budget cut.


U.S. Sugar land bought for Everglades restoration could be leased to another grower
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
March 9, 2011
Land deal cost South Florida taxpayers $197 million.
Citrus growers, not the Everglades, may get some of the earliest benefits from farmland acquired in an environmental restoration deal that cost South Florida taxpayers $197 million.
The South Florida Water Management District in October bought 26,800 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. with plans to eventually put the mix of citrus and sugar cane land to use storing and cleaning stormwater that could help replenish the Everglades.
Now the district faces budget cutbacks that threaten to delay the agency's construction projects longer than expected.
On Wednesday, the district's board agreed to explore leasing out an almost 18,000-acre chunk of the land it bought to citrus growers or another agricultural operation.
The citrus land in Hendry County was supposed to be some of the first of the U.S. Sugar property that the district put to use for Everglades restoration. When the land deal was approved in October, early estimates projected that Everglades restoration work could start on some of the property within two to five years.


Changing Hydrological Cycle
The Daily Star
March 8, 2011
As carbon dioxide levels have risen during the last 150 years, the density of pores that allow plants to breathe has dwindled by 34 percent, restricting the amount of water vapour the plants release to the atmosphere, report scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and Utrecht University in the Netherlands in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In a separate paper, also to be published by PNAS, many of the same scientists describe a model they devised that predicts doubling today's carbon dioxide levels will dramatically reduce the amount of water released by plants.
The scientists gathered their data from a diversity of plant species in Florida, including living individuals as well as samples extracted from herbarium collections and peat formations 100 to 150 years old.
"The increase in carbon dioxide by about 100 parts per million has had a profound effect on the number of stomata and, to a lesser extent, the size of the stomata," said Research Scientist in Biology and Professor Emeritus in Geology David Dilcher, the two papers' sole American coauthor. "Our analysis of that structural change shows there's been a huge reduction in the release of water to the atmosphere."
Most plants use a pore-like structure called stomata (singular: stoma) on the undersides of leaves to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The carbon dioxide is used to build sugars, which can be used by the plant as energy or for incorporation into the plants' fibrous cell walls. Stomata also allow plants to "transpire" water, or release water to the atmosphere. Transpiration helps drive the absorption of water at the roots, and also cools the plants in the same way sweating cools mammals.
If there are fewer stomata, or the stomata are closed more of the day, gas exchange will be limited -- transpiration included.
"The carbon cycle is important, but so is the water cycle," Dilcher said. "If transpiration decreases, there may be more moisture in the ground at first, but if there's less rainfall that may mean there's less moisture in ground eventually. This is part of the hyrdrogeologic cycle. Land plants are a crucially important part of it."
Dilcher also said less transpiration may mean the shade of an old oak tree may not be as cool of a respite as it used to be.
"When plants transpire they cool," he said. "So the air around the plants that are transpirating less could be a bit warmer than they have been. But the hydrogeologic cycle is complex. It's hard to predict how changing one thing will affect other aspects. We would have to see how these things play out."
While it is well known that long-lived plants can adjust their number of stomata each season depending on growing conditions, little is known about the long-term structural changes in stomata number or size over periods of decades or centuries.
"Our first paper shows connection between temperature, transpiration, and stomata density," Dilcher said. "The second paper really is about applying what we know to the future."
That model suggests that a doubling of today's carbon dioxide levels -- from 390 parts per million to 800 ppm -- will halve the amount of water lost to the air, concluding in the second paper that "plant adaptation to rising CO2 is currently altering the hydrological cycle and climate and will continue to do so throughout this century."
Source: Science Daily


Corporate cash bolsters parties
Herald-Tribune - by Zac Anderson
March 8, 2011
Unusual surge after election as pro-business leaders are set to craft laws.
Heading into a legislative session shaping up as one of the most pro-business in years, lawmakers are riding an unprecedented wave of corporate and special-interest cash, with $8.8 million in donations to the state parties in the last two months of 2010.
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Chart: Fourth quarter political cash donations, by party | Graphics
Never has so much money flowed to the parties in the typically lean post-election period. The last time donations came close was in 2005, when fourth-quarter party contributions hit $6.7 million.
The amount of money changing hands is actually far greater. Besides donations to political parties, money is pouring into lawmakers' individual campaign accounts and political committees that can collect unlimited contributions.
Political observers say the prospect of legislation that favors business interests is driving the fundraising.
"We have an extremely pro-business governor, pro-business House speaker, pro-business Senate president, and I think the business community knows this is going to be a very good year and they want to have input," said state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.
Most of the contributions — $7.7 million — went to Republicans. With super majorities in both houses of the Legislature for the first time, and control of the governor's mansion, Republicans have a rare concentration of power and the nearly unchecked ability to pursue their agenda.
A review of nearly 2,300 fourth-quarter contributions to both parties shows that many industries are contributing enormous sums in the hopes of influencing policy decisions.
The list of top contributors is dominated by some of the state's largest corporations and industry groups, including health and property insurance, utilities, real estate and agriculture.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida gave the most last quarter — $530,000 to the Republicans and $300,000 to Democrats. The next-largest check came from Florida Power & Light affiliate Nextera Energy, which gave $250,000 to Republicans, according to the state elections office. Sugar interests gave $425,000.
Business leaders are admittedly looking forward to a legislative session that could produce benefits of historic proportions. The session starts today and is scheduled to end May 6.
"We're set up for the best that we've ever had," said Barney Bishop, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, one of the state's largest business groups.
Managed care health insurance companies — eager to shape legislation that could give them more access to 3.2 million Medicaid patients and an expected $21.6 billion budget — gave nearly $200,000 to the parties in the last quarter of 2010.
Political committees representing property insurers and individual companies gave the Republican Party nearly $60,000 as lawmakers prepared a proposal to loosen regulations that could allow rate increases and fewer requirements to cover sinkhole damage.
The sugar companies, Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar — which donated $250,000 and $175,000, respectively — have joined other agricultural interests in opposing a new federal clean water mandate affecting nutrient runoff. They have urged the governor to delay implementing the rules.
Private prison operator Geo Group chipped in $82,500. Private companies run seven of the state's 146 prison facilities under contracts worth $159 million and Scott proposes privatizing more to help reduce a $2.4 billion corrections budget.
In addition, fertilizer interests are supporting legislation to override city and county rules limiting fertilizer use during the rainy summer months when nutrient-laden stormwater runoff can lead to harmful algae blooms.
Fertilizer giant Mosaic gave the Republican Party $25,000 in the fourth quarter and Florid Phosphate CCE, a political committee, also gave $25,000. A group called Mayo Fertilizer Inc. added $5,000.
A loosening of gambling regulations will also be up for debate. The Las Vegas Sand Corp. has been pushing a "destination gambling" bill that would allow large casinos in a handful of areas around the state. The company gave $25,000 to the Republican Party.
"You want a seat at the table if your industries are being discussed," said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents the Geo Group.
Other companies may be less worried about gaining state business than losing what they have.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida manages one of the largest health insurance plans for state employees and collects more than $20 million annually in administration fees. Scott has talked about taking aggressive actions to save money in the state's health insurance programs.
Even business owners without a specific bill to tout have reason to donate. Scott has pledged to create 700,000 jobs in seven years, slash the corporate income tax rate and eliminate regulations he believes make it difficult to do business.
The governor has discussed easing regulations on developers, property insurers and other businesses. Top legislative leaders support such moves.
When Republican fundraisers solicited donations in the run-up to Scott's January inauguration gala — a $3 million affair that also was financed by contributions from large companies — there was no shortage of takers. The party collected 111 checks of $25,000 or more from some of the state's most powerful special interests.
The months of November and December are typically the slowest when it comes to contributions in state politics, according to 15 years of records on the state Division of Elections web site.
The heat of election season is over. In many cases, the candidates for the next round of political battles have not yet emerged.
But because of the powerful incentives for corporate donors this year, all told, the Republican Party nearly doubled its haul in the waning months of 2010 compared with any previous fourth-quarter period.
In contrast, one of the best times to raise cash is in January and February, leading up to the legislative session's start.
Lawmakers are banned from raising money after they convene on March 8, so the preceding weeks have been a smorgasbord of fundraisers and political checks.
Last week, groups including the state medical and Realtors associations hosted receptions for lawmakers. These events peaked on Monday, when Associated Industries held a lavish party sponsored by firms ranging from the Mosaic phosphate mining company to FPL and the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers.
The fundraiser had 60 large corporate sponsors.
The first quarter is also a prime time to raise party cash. If this year's first-quarter donations to the Republican Party mirror the fourth quarter last year in doubling the previous record, the party will pull in nearly $18 million, more than the entire 2007 haul.
Because of reporting deadlines, those contributions have not been disclosed yet.
No one tracks how money given directly to the political parties is spent. Campaign finance experts say that makes it easier for corporations to influence lawmakers without the reporting requirements that follow contributions to individual candidates. The money is often spent months later on third-party advertising spots, mailers and other campaign activities.
Consumer advocates warn that the session in Tallahassee this year will bring unprecedented windfalls for businesses.
The heat of election season is over. In many cases, the candidates for the next round of political battles have not yet emerged.
But because of the powerful incentives for corporate donors this year, all told, the Republican Party nearly doubled its haul in the waning months of 2010 compared with any previous fourth-quarter period.
In contrast, one of the best times to raise cash is in January and February, leading up to the legislative session's start.
Lawmakers are banned from raising money after they convene on March 8, so the preceding weeks have been a smorgasbord of fundraisers and political checks.
Last week, groups including the state medical and Realtors associations hosted receptions for lawmakers. These events peaked on Monday, when Associated Industries held a lavish party sponsored by firms ranging from the Mosaic phosphate mining company to FPL and the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers.
The fundraiser had 60 large corporate sponsors.
The first quarter is also a prime time to raise party cash. If this year's first-quarter donations to the Republican Party mirror the fourth quarter last year in doubling the previous record, the party will pull in nearly $18 million, more than the entire 2007 haul.
Because of reporting deadlines, those contributions have not been disclosed yet.
No one tracks how money given directly to the political parties is spent. Campaign finance experts say that makes it easier for corporations to influence lawmakers without the reporting requirements that follow contributions to individual candidates. The money is often spent months later on third-party advertising spots, mailers and other campaign activities.
Consumer advocates warn that the session in Tallahassee this year will bring unprecedented windfalls for businesses.


Farmers and friends fight the EPA over water rules
Orlando Sentinel - by Mark Matthews
March, 8 2011
WASHINGTON — An alliance of Florida farmers and business leaders is urging the state’s two senators to defund plans by the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new rules aimed at reducing pollution in the state’s waterways.
The rules, which target nutrient-rich runoff from from excess fertilizer, stormwater and wastewater, are designed to stop harmful algae blooms that feed on this pollution — although business leaders are worried that it will choke financial growth.
In a letter to Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, the group makes its case. See below:
“Dear Senators:
In November 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized numeric nutrient criteria (NNC) for Florida’s flowing waters and lakes.  As the Senators from Florida, you have the opportunity to protect Florida’s employers, families and economy from this costly, unprecedented NNC rule by supporting an amendment to H.R. 1 similar to the one sponsored by Representative Tom Rooney and passed by the United States House of Representatives.  We ask that you introduce and support an amendment in the Senate to the Continuing Resolution or a similar spending bill that would defund the EPA NNC final rule.
As representatives from agriculture, water utilities, the business community, local governments and labor, we are very concerned about the cost of this onerous regulation to all Floridians.  Studies produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and two independent studies produced by Cardno ENTRIX and Carollo Engineers all show the impact of the EPA’s mandates to Florida’s economy will be in the billions, including household water utility bill increases of approximately $700 per year. When realizing this projected cost, a recent Mason-Dixon poll shows 68 percent of Floridians oppose these mandates.  Floridians simply cannot afford this additional financial burden.  Additionally, the study produced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concludes that Florida’s agricultural community will lose 14,545 full-time and part-time jobs.
In addition to concerns about the heavy economic burden the EPA water mandates will place on Florida’s employers and working families, there are also significant questions regarding the scientific validity of the new mandates. Experts in Florida continue to question the scientific basis for these standards and whether they are even attainable with existing technologies. Florida’s existing nutrient water quality programs are more effective than the new EPA regulations, because the current policies are based on scientific evaluations of the state’s vast, varied and unique ecosystems.
In August 2010, a bipartisan coalition of the Florida Congressional Delegation asked the EPA to delay finalizing its nutrient rules until an independent review of the economic impacts and scientific underpinnings of the rule was performed. EPA declined this request.  Because the EPA refused the Delegation’s request, we respectfully ask that you support the state of Florida and sponsor an amendment to deny the EPA funding for implementation and enforcement of this ill-conceived, unprecedented federal rule.
Thank you for listening to our concerns.  We look forward to continuing our work with you to ensure these new standards will not place undue burdens on Florida’s employers, families and local governments.
American Council of Engineering Companies
Association of Florida Community Developers
Associated Industries of Florida
Bay County
CF Industries Holdings, Inc.
City of Panama City
Destin Water Users, Inc.
Emerald Coast Utilities Authority
Engenuity Group, Inc.
Farm Credit Bureau
Farm Credit of Central Florida
Farm Credit of Florida
Farm Credit of Northwest Florida
Florida Association of Counties
Florida Association of Special Districts
Florida Beverage Association
Florida Cattlemen’s Association
Florida Chamber of Commerce
Florida Citrus Mutual
Florida Crystals Corporation
Florida Electric Cooperatives Association
Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, Inc.
Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association
Florida Forestry Association
Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association
Florida Gulf Coast Building & Construction Trades Council
Florida Home Builders Association
Floridians for Industry, Jobs, & Growth
Florida Land Council
Florida League of Cities
Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association
Florida Pest Management Association
Florida Poultry Federation
Florida Pulp & Paper Association
Florida Rural Water Association
Florida Sod Growers Cooperative
Florida Stormwater Association
Florida Water Environment Association  Utility Council
Florida Water Quality Coalition, Inc.
Gulf Citrus Growers Association
Indian River Citrus League
International Union – UFCW Local 1625
Manufacturers Association of Florida
North Florida Growers Exchange
Okaloosa County Water & Sewer System
Palm Beach County Water Utilities
Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association
PCS Phosphate – White Springs
Santa Rosa County
South Walton Utility Company, Inc.
Southeast Milk Inc.
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of FL
The Fertilizer Institute
United Food & Commercial Workers
U.S. Sugar Corporation”


My Word: Protect our land, water resources
Orlando Sentinel - by Janet Bowman
March 08, 2011|
During the next 60 days, the Florida Legislature will make difficult budget decisions that affect not just the coming budget year, but also the quality of life that our children and grandchildren will enjoy for years to come.
Accordingly, while a budget hole necessitates reductions in spending, it is important that budget reductions not erase Florida's position as a leader in protecting its critical land and water resources. Florida's major resource protection tools are under threat.
First, Gov. Rick Scott is proposing to eliminate funding for the successful and popular Florida Forever program, which is responsible for protecting thousands of acres of recreation lands, springs, fragile coastline, working agricultural land, forest land and water resources. Their protection is important to providing water to Floridians.
In addition, the governor's budget would eliminate a number of trust funds that hold revenue dedicated to funding land management, invasive plant removal, alternative water-supply development and water-resource restoration projects.
Second, the funding of water-resource protection is threatened by the governor's proposal to roll back the millage levied by Florida's five water-management districts by 25 percent. This reduction would severely hamper the ability of the districts to protect our drinking-water supply and ensure Floridians have an adequate water supply in the future.
In addition, the water quality of Florida's springs, rivers, lakes and estuaries is threatened by proposed legislation that would eliminate a newly enacted septic-tank inspection program and prohibit local governments from regulating the use of fertilizer to prevent nutrient pollution in surrounding water bodies. Proposed legislation also would allow less oversight of wetland destruction.
Third, the governor and the Legislature are proposing a major reduction in state review of development proposals all but eliminating the Department of Community Affairs, limiting the ability of citizens to challenge comprehensive-plan amendments and restricting the scope of state review of local government comprehensive-plan amendments.
Taken together, these proposals, if enacted into law, would set the environmental policy of the state back by 30 years. However, our state leaders have the opportunity to do otherwise and recognize the importance of protecting the high quality of land and water resources in Florida.
These resources drive tourism, provide water for residents and businesses, and protect important conservation and agricultural lands from urban sprawl. Let's get to work ensuring a strong economy by protecting Florida's land and water resources and increasing government efficiency without sacrificing Floridians' special quality of life.
Janet Bowman is director of legislative policy and strategies for The Nature Conservancy in Florida.


South Florida soon could face tougher watering rules
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
March 8, 2011
Proposed voluntary watering cutbacks could lead to tougher emergency irrigation restrictions.
Worsening drought conditions have South Florida water managers calling for voluntary landscape watering cutbacks, which could be followed by tougher, mandatory emergency restrictions.
The South Florida Water Management District board on Thursday will be asked to approve a "water shortage warning" for its 16-county region, stretching from Orlando to the Keys.
That warning would call for voluntary landscape watering cutbacks and include a provision to switch to mandatory emergency irrigation restrictions if conditions worsen during the next few weeks.
The proposed voluntary cutbacks are aimed at getting all of South Florida to cut down to twice-a-week landscape watering at most.
The district board on Thursday also could decide to go beyond just a warning and impose emergency irrigation cutbacks on farms, homes and businesses throughout South Florida
The push for more conservation comes as Lake Okeechobee — South Florida's primary backup water supply — dipped below 12 feet above sea level for the first time this year.
"We are certainly seeing … that things are drying out. Water levels are dropping," said Pete Kwiatkowski, the district's water shortage team leader. The proposal going before district board Thursday is intended to "allow us to respond as quickly as possible."
Broward and Miami-Dade counties already have year-round, twice-a-week landscape watering limits, while Palm Beach County currently allows watering three times per week.
Fort Lauderdale has been allowing watering three-times-per week, despite conflicting with Broward County's more restrictive countywide rule.
The water management district in March started requiring year-round watering limits to try to boost conservation. The district can still require tougher emergency irrigation restrictions during droughts.
Lack of rainfall puts both Broward County and Palm Beach County in the "extreme drought" category, according to the National Weather Service in Miami.
From Oct. 31 to March 3, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reported just 6.42 inches of rain, which was 13.15 inches below normal. During the same period, Palm Beach County International Airport recorded 7.47 inches of rain, or 13.29 inches below normal.
South Florida each year typically gets enough rainfall to meet its water supply needs, but lack of storage space means much of that stormwater gets drained out to sea to guard against flooding the towns and agriculture that cover former wetlands.
While Lake Okeechobee is relied on to back up South Florida water supplies, the Army Corps of Engineers last year drained away more than 400 billion gallons of lake water. Most of that water, about 75 percent, was drained out to sea, primarily due to flood-control concerns.
Also, the corps has been keeping the lake about a foot lower than usual year-round while work continues on a decades-long project to strengthen the lake's 70-year-old dike.
On Tuesday, Lake Okeechobee measured 11.97 feet above sea level, more than 1 foot lower than this time last year and about 2.5 feet below average.
Even as water managers consider tougher watering restrictions for growers and residents, the Army Corps of Engineers this year has continued to drain Lake Okeechobee out to sea through the Caloosahatchee River.
Those low-level lake discharges to the Caloosahatchee are intended to provide an infusion of freshwater to the estuary during dry weather to protect sea grasses that serve as vital West Coast fishing grounds.
Environmental groups have supported the lake discharges to the Caloosahatchee River and called for more cutbacks on agricultural and residential irrigation. Landscape irrigation ends up using about half of South Florida's public water supply.
But growers that rely on Lake Okeechobee for irrigation contend that the corps released too much lake water during the summer rainy season and should stop ongoing lake discharges to the Caloosahatchee.
"It kind of feels like this is the same slug fest we have month in and month out," said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. "We have to be able to increase the storage capacity of Lake Okeechobee to get us out of this predicament."


Water worries
Florida Today – Our Views
March 7, 2011
ASR test wells way to prove if systems work locally.
Florida, and Brevard County with it, has a water problem.
Drinking water supplies are dwindling because of decades of rapid growth have tapped out the Floridan Aquifer that much of the state has relied on to meet its needs.
That’s forcing alternatives that include relying on more surface water from sources such as the St. Johns River and conservation measures like lawn-watering restrictions.
In another area, cities and counties are under state orders to reduce the treated wastewater dumped into the Indian River Lagoon and other state waterways.
It’s a complex subject that requires multiple solutions, and perhaps the most controversial are Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells, or ASR, where treated wastewater is pumped underground for storage and reused later for irrigation.
Proponents say the procedure is safe and meets a critical need — saving every possible gallon of precious water.
But opponents are fearful, raising concerns about the possible contamination of drinking water supplies and waterways such as the lagoon.
However, it’s important to remember the water would be treated to almost drinking water standards and would not be raw sewage.
We believe ASR has a role to play in solving the state’s water worries and the best way to determine whether it can safely work in Brevard is to proceed with test wells that are carefully monitored and the results made available for public review.
To that end, Cocoa Beach officials are currently taking the correct steps to sink a test well while their Rockledge counterparts are using proper caution in delaying the start of an approved well until new questions are answered.
Cocoa Beach is a case where the city has to stop disposing its treated wastewater in the lagoon. As a result, the city wants to build a test well to a depth of 1,200 to 1,500 feet and monitor the water to determine if it meets safety standards and whether it infiltrates the aquifer.
About 50 people came to a public hearing last week, and while some urged the city seek alternatives, they also heard an ASR expert say the wells are safely used elsewhere, including in Sarasota County, where 900 million gallons have been stored.


Monday chat: Everglades Foundation executive director optimistic about restoration funding
TCPalm - by Joe Crankshaw
March 6, 2011
After 17 years of working with members of congress in Washington, D.C., Rochester, N.Y., native, Kirk Fordham, 43, of Miami now works for the public as executive director of the Everglades Foundation. The University of Maryland graduate is married and with his wife, have adopted their first child, a boy.
Q. What is the goal of the Everglades Foundation?
A. We are a science-based organization with the primary mission being the protection of America's Everglades. We focus on that issue.
Q. How does the foundation go about accomplishing its mission?
A. We have four different areas. One is scientific consultation with the federal, state and local agencies engaged in Everglades restoration. The second is working with the media and opinion leaders around the state to impress on people the benefits of Everglades restoration on the ecological and economic side of our state. The third is advocacy, where we work in Tallahassee and Washington to influence public policy to protect our water supply and natural resources we depend on here in south Florida. The fourth is educating the next generations of leaders for the Everglades. We have about a dozen young people a year working in science, law and civic education to develop a corps of future leaders to save the Everglades.
Q. Over the years considerable money has been spent on this project, but now it sounds as if the budget is in trouble, correct?
A. Because of the state fiscal crisis, state funding had dropped from a high of $300 million under Gov. Jeb Bush to $50 million under Gov. Charlie Crist. Now, Gov. Rick Scott is calling for a 66 percent cut down to $16 million. Since the legislature appropriates the money, we are hopeful they will see the benefits of investing in the Everglades and water protection. On the federal side, we have seen a considerable increase in excess of $200 million in Everglades projects over the last two years. The state once led, but now the federal government has moved ahead.
Q. Are there legislators championing the cause of the Everglades?
A. There is strong bipartisan support for Everglades restoration in the legislature. Senate President Mike Haridopolos has spent quite a bit of time on the issue, making tours, visiting sites and met with foundation leaders. He has pledged his desire to see the funding level higher than the governor proposes.
Q. Are you optimistic that will happen?
A. I am always optimistic but I am also cognizant that this is a very tough economic environment we are working in. While I would like to see $200 million invested, I know it will be several years to get back to former levels.
Q. What are the possibility of a new preserve area north of Lake Okeechobee?
A. We are excited about a new wildlife refuge north of the lake because much of the pollution that has flowed into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River have come from agricultural and industrial operations in that area. This will preserve land for wildlife habitat and help ranchers keep their land in the traditional uses that are less harmful to the water quality.
Q. Is there a point where if we don't go forward, the whole area will go to wrack and ruin?
A. There are certain areas already where it is almost impossible to clean up, but we can save other areas.
Q. What happens if we don't do that?
A. The two coastal estuaries will continued to be hammered by discharge of polluted waters.
Q. What does it mean to our readers?
A. The entire economy of South Florida is tied to the fate of the Everglades. We are dependent on our natural resources for tourism, fishing, marine boating and agriculture. We need to protect those resources which are the backbone of our economy.
Q. What can our readers do to assist this project?
A. Reach out to their elected representatives and insist they fully fund Everglades Restoration and ask the polluters to pay a greater share of the cleanup. Right now the taxpayer pays for the cleanup, agriculture polluters pay a tiny share.


An environmental disaster
Orlando Sentinel
March 04, 2011
Only the electorate stands in the way of Tallahassee's agenda.
For Florida's politicians, this ought to be elementary: Protect the environment because the environment drives Florida's economy — and because good stewards of the economy win elections.
In fact, many state lawmakers are paying lip service to that notion, saying we need to safeguard what makes Florida unique because of our tourism and all the people who want to move here.
But get past the talk and here's what lawmakers actually are busy proposing: diluting the funding that water-management districts need to oversee projects, including Everglades restoration; weakening laws and departments that can check sprawl; laying the groundwork for selling environmentally sensitive lands; and halting land-preservation purchases.
Floridians also should grow older this year waiting for the state to administer recent federal water rules and to pass a law that addresses the state's aging septic tanks.
What's driving Florida's return to the environmental dark ages, the days before its growth laws of the 1980s, which began slowing developers' unbridled land grabs ?  Unfortunately, the errant belief among politicians — led by Florida's new governor — that the electorate's unlikely to embrace this simple fact:
Florida's environmental quality of life actually increases chances that companies and families would want to remain or relocate here.
Instead, those same politicians are using the continuing economic downturn to push an environmentally destructive agenda. It's an agenda that tosses aside the regulations that help make Florida a desirable place to live, all for the dubious promise of hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Here's what we fear their actions will spawn. A near halt to Everglades restoration, thanks to Gov. Rick Scott's call to slash mileage rates for water-management districts by 25 percent. All so he can honor a campaign pledge to rein in property taxes.
Mr. Scott's proposed budget only calls for $17 million for Everglades restoration, down from $200 million in past years. It's a joke, though no one who cares about the environment is laughing.
Mr. Scott's looking to remove the Division of State Lands, which oversees 11million acres, from the Department of Environmental Protection and … transfer it to the Department of Management Services. The DMS not only manages state office buildings; it sometimes sells off property it doesn't need. See where this could lead ?  Preserved land becomes land offered to the highest bidder.
The Department of Community Affairs, which has approved more than 2 billion square feet of commercial space that has yet to be built, but which Mr. Scott has called a "jobs killer," awaits a vivisection. Its budget stands to fall to $110 million from $779 million. And its land planners, who can keep a 100,000-home abomination like Destiny in Yeehaw Junction from being built, would drop to just 17 people from 60.
Not that they're likely to have much to do, since the Legislature, led by DCA opponents Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos, appears eager to help Mr. Scott rewrite Florida's growth laws, either weakening the state's review of changes to local growth plans or eliminating state oversight altogether.
Florida Forever, the state's premier land-preservation program, is being offered a goose egg by the Legislature. New federal rules requiring that Florida improve its stewardship of its water bodies are being assailed both in Congress and by Mr. Scott and Mr. Haridopolos, who suggests the state won't implement them. And two proposals to compel at least some owners of septic tanks to get them inspected are getting hammered.


Capital Comment: Everglades funding at risk in session
March 4, 2011
Along with schools, health care and criminal justice programs, environmental initiatives will be under financial pressure this spring as state lawmakers craft an austere spending plan that could include billions in budget cuts.
Releasing a poll last week, the Everglades Foundation, a nonprofit group that is promoting the restoration of the vast South Florida wetlands, tried to make the case that Floridians would not be pleased if lawmakers retreated on the long-term restoration project.
Some 55 percent of the voters would be opposed to "significant reductions" in funding for the Everglades restoration, with 40 percent agreeing, according to the foundation poll.
But the threat of a major cut remains real, as Gov. Rick Scott asked for only $17 million in his budget request for the coming year, compared with the $50 million currently being spent. State funding for the program has been diminishing after reaching a high of $200 million a year under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Kirk Fordham, head of the foundation, said Floridians support the Everglades project because they understand the vital role the wetlands serve, including supplying the drinking water one of every three state residents.
"Voters know that you cannot afford to shortchange Everglades restoration," Fordham said. "To do so jeopardizes the very water supply that supports their households."
The unwired governor
Citing "a tremendous increase in public records requests" that have "taken a great toll on existing information technology and other labor resources," Scott's office announced this week it would impose a series of fees for the records requests from reporters and the public. Fees are allowed under the state's public records law.
Under Scott's policy, the more elaborate and far-reaching the request, the more it is likely to cost the requestor.
But one thing reporters and others have already learned not to ask for is the governor's e-mail messages. Scott, who is trying to bring more 21st century efficiencies to state government, is personally using more archaic forms of communication — like phone calls in lieu of e-mail messages.
Why? It seems Scott, who is making the transition from the private sector to his first public office, values his privacy.
Here's how he explained it to a recent meeting in Naples sponsored by the Cato Institute, a nonprofit research group that promotes libertarian policies that Scott likes.
"I don't have e-mail because in Florida we have Sunshine laws and things could end up on the front page of the New York Times," Scott told the group.
But Scott urged the group to hold him accountable for his actions as governor. And if they had any concerns, "call me," Scott said.


Everglades cuts are coming but they can't be disproportionate
Sun Sentinel – Editorial
March 4, 2011
THE ISSUE: Everglades projects face funding cuts.
The country is in a dire financial situation, and it's clear that the pain should be spread far and wide. But if lawmakers act smartly, and judiciously, worthy programs like Everglades restoration efforts won't shoulder a wildly disproportionate share of budget-cutting.
Right now, the successful work that has brought the famed River of Grass back to health is facing funding cuts from seemingly all sides. At a time when the U.S. fiscal situation is perilously mortgaged, that's unavoidable.
There's no question about it, cuts are in order. The debate is about how deeply — and how disproportionately. Floridians must press their representatives in Congress for answers.
For starters, federal lawmakers mustn't plan to make ends meet simply by zeroing in exclusively at discretionary spending. That would be unwise, since doing so wouldn't fill the gaping budget deficit, while gutting key programs that meet vital community needs, like Everglades work.
South Florida's economy certainly would suffer from draconian cuts to Everglades work. Everglades restoration creates private-sector contract work, while providing quality-of-life improvements that help attract businesses to the region.
Those public works projects today are as much about the economy as they are about the environment.
A more productive way to put the country back on a path to near- and long-term fiscal health would be to reform federal entitlement spending and liabilities. The national debt and deficits commission debated a slew of ways to do so last year, but many of those worthy proposals remain on the sidelines.
Such a broader budget-cutting plan would address out-of-control spending while preserving programs that have merit.
Likewise, our elected leaders in Tallahassee need to be mindful of the benefits from Everglades improvements. The governor's budget calls for reducing spending on projects by $33 million to $17 million next year. That's down from about $200 million a few years ago.
As is the case in Congress, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature have virtually no choice but to cut spending in many areas, and Everglades efforts can't be spared. There's virtually no other feasible way to make up billions more in state revenue reductions.
But the proposed cut in Everglades projects is also magnified by steep reductions in a number of other environmental and water-quality programs that play into wetlands restoration. So again, the key question is how much will be eliminated — and whether the pain to those programs will be disproportionate to what's inflicted on others.
The advice for Tallahassee is the same for Washington — act with care because Everglades restoration is a good investment that will deliver a meaningful return.
BOTTOM LINE: Cuts unavoidable, but they must not be disproportionate.


State budget shortfalls may prompt legislators to make sweeping changes
TCPalm - by Jonathan Mattise
March 4, 2011
From kindergartners and their teachers, to nursing home patients and their caregivers, nearly all Treasure Coast residents could be affected by proposed sweeping changes in front of state lawmakers during the 2011 legislative session.
Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget sets the tone for top-to-bottom cuts in 2011, from scaling back public pensions and education, to privatizing correctional facilities and merging a number of state departments. The former HCA-hospital chain CEO also promised to position Florida as a top destination for businesses to sprout up, grow or relocate — all part of a seven-year plan to put 700,000 Floridians to work.
The Senate and House of Representatives will be hard-pressed not to slice into services that protect the Treasure Coast's natural resources, shape the minds of our students, care for the health of citizens or preserve last-resort resources for people most in need.
The state is facing a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall that legislators promise to trim without raising taxes during the 60-day session starting in March, when the two legislative arms will determine a budget.
"It is the most difficult year I think that we have faced in Florida in recent history," said Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie. "It will be very difficult to make the tough choices that have to be made. People are hurting, and I hear it day in and day out from constituents across the Treasure Coast."
These are five issues to keep an eye on at home as Tallahassee becomes center-stage for one of the toughest budget years on record.
Classroom cuts on the line
From per-student budgets to how teachers are paid and retire, proposed changes to education could hit kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers the hardest.
Under Scott's plans for education funding, Treasure Coast districts would receive 8 to 10 percent less money per-student, and schools statewide would see at least $3.3 billion less from the state than this year. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, however, said the cuts were drastic and should be lower in the Senate's budget. The cuts could mean teacher layoffs and less educational opportunities for local students.
This year could see teachers, among other public employees, take a pay cut that would go toward their pension plan, and new hires would move in phases into 401(k) plans. Scott proposed a 5 percent contribution, though a pension plan in the Senate suggests lower contributions.
Paying teachers based on student performance is back in discussion through Senate Bill 736, which, in part, judges teachers based on student standardized test scores. That bill might be tweaked, but it has a good chance of passing, said Michael Lannon, St. Lucie County School District superintendent.
"It may be stair-stepped over a few years, it may just be the beginning and it will get fine-tuned later," Lannon said. "But this Legislature will come forward with it. This governor says he will sign it."
The 700,000-job promise
Trying to bring jobs and businesses to Florida has been the governor's calling card so far, and efforts to limit regulations and lower corporate income taxes in his budget reflect those priorities.
Scott's budget would lower corporate income tax from 5 to 3.3 percent by January 2012, and the Department of Community Affairs, a growth-managing agency responsible for enforcing state regulations, would be absorbed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
"We had regulatory changes during the boom period when changes were intended to slow down growth," said Larry Pelton, president of the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County. "Now, we're past that. We have a dire situation, and need to figure out how to get back on the right path."
Scott's budget starts by deleting jobs, however, with 8,700 public sector positions potentially cut at a time when residents are struggling to find work.
More than 13 percent of Treasure Coast residents were unemployed in December, compared to the state's 12 percent rate.
The local wish list includes state assistance to bring in or grow companies in the information technology, life sciences and digital media fields, and funding to train potential local employees, said Michael Corbit, Florida Research Coast economic gardening project coordinator.
"We're starting to feel a positive uptick with small and medium-sized companies starting to hire," Corbit said. "But it's not perfect yet."
Changing face of health and Medicaid
State health agencies and Medicaid are both expected to get a facelift from this legislature, which would affect how local citizens most in need of care receive it.
Negron's Medicaid bill spells out a move to regionally selected, private managed care companies like HMOs, an initiative stemming from a five-county pilot program that has produced mixed results. In some cases, the program didn't show cost savings or better care, said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the health advocacy group Florida CHAIN.
County health departments might change shape in 2011 if plans go through to combine them with several other health offerings to form Public Health Services. The county departments would stand lose about $70 million in funding next year in Scott's budget.
Some mental health programs would also bear the brunt of cuts under Negron's Health and Human Services budget, and substance abuse programs would be drawn back significantly, Negron said.
"I'm not talking about a 5 or 10 percent, I'm talking about much more significant cuts in those areas. We have less money, so we have to spend less money," Negron said.
Cutting holes in the "safety net"
Organizations that provide local "safety net" services — basic needs programs for the poor, elderly, youth and other at-risk groups — are feeling pressures of potential cuts from the state.Negron, chair of the Senate's Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee, has called for $1.5 billion in cuts from his committee's budget. Though Negron hasn't released specific cuts, local nonprofits — some who receive more than half their funding from the state — are concerned cuts are going to hit their community hard.
"Because of limited funding, it might create waiting lists for services, particularly those that affect folks with disabilities, the elderly or special populations," said Jim Vojcsik, United Way of Martin County executive director.
Before Scott released his budget, Negron told a group of local nonprofit executives that cuts would at least be 6 to 8 percent. Cuts would come at a time when requests for help have skyrocketed.
United Way of Martin County, which helps fund some safety net services, had a 5 percent increase in donations last year. But increased demand topped those added dollars ten-fold.With a businessman like Scott at the helm, local environmental advocates are hoping economic expansion plans in the legislature don't come at the cost of our local waterways and environment.
Economy trumps environment?
With a businessman like Scott at the helm, local environmental advocates are hoping economic expansion plans in the legislature don’t come at the cost of our local waterways and environment.
Scott has proposed cutting $33 million in state dollars provided for Everglades restoration, a project that yielded $50 million in 2010, and includes measures to protect the St. Lucie River's waters. The state also might look to determine more specific required nutrient standards for Florida's waterways, which would help protect our waters from pollutants, said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society.
"We just want to make sure we don't say, just for the sake of jobs and economy, let's just forget the environment," Perry said. "Because the environment is your long-term security for jobs and the economy."
Releases from Lake Okeechobee and their polluting effect on the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon will continue to come up this session, Perry said. But proposed plans to buy out more U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee to restore the lake's natural flow south probably won't come to fruition this year, he said.


Cash-strapped Corps to seek cheaper Lake Okeechobee dike repair
Palm Beach Post - by Joel Engelhardt, Staff Writer
March 3, 2011
After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, engineers fearing a similar fate here declared the aging, leaking dike around Lake Okeechobee a "grave and imminent danger to the people and the environment of South Florida."
In a 2006 report that spurred a $1 billion repair job, they argued that the Herbert Hoover Dike "needs to be fixed now, and it needs to be fixed right." As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers embarked on the gold standard of dike repair to erect a 2-foot-thick, 70-foot-deep wall in the center of the 80-year-old earthen berm.
After committing $200 million to complete a 22-mile section, now half-finished, corps officials plan to announce next week that they're not going to continue the Cadillac plan after that section is done. Instead, they'll re-engineer, looking for less-costly alternatives that meet safety goals. The reason is the high cost of the wall construction - $10 million a mile - and competition for scarce federal money, spokeswoman Susan Jackson said.
A second factor, however, is the refusal last year by the South Florida Water Management District to pay for land needed to expand and strengthen the berm.
In 2006, the water district's "grave-and-imminent-danger" study said the levee has "a one in six chance of dike failure with each year that passes." The corps announced it would spare no expense to ensure the dike's safety. A corps study termed the levee a "unique structure," governed under stricter dam criteria because of the potential for "catastrophic life-safety, economic and environmental consequences should a breach occur."
It was a decision embraced by area congressmen, who were taken by surprise Wednesday by the corps' new approach.
"Our approach is that it's imperative that the corps find the most reliable option and utilize the best, safest, up-to-date technology," said a spokesman for Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.
Corps officials say they are doing that by testing four alternatives before the next stage of construction. Instead of a 70-foot-deep wall that goes beneath bedrock, the corps will experiment with 40- or 50-foot walls.
"If we can demonstrate a wall that doesn't have to go beyond rock layer and affect an overall solution, then we've saved a lot of money," project manager Tim Willadsen said. "That's what this is all about."
Engineer backs new plan
A 2000 plan, costing $300 million, called for shorter walls but was abandoned after it was sharply criticized in the "grave-and-imminent-danger" report.
However, the lead author of the 2006 report, Lakeland engineer Les Bromwell, has expressed support for the corps' new approach. "They may have sufficient information now to indicate there are areas that don't have to go as deep," he said. "As long as the repairs are reliable, they shouldn't spend more money than they need to."
While experimenting with different combinations of wall depths and land-side improvements, the corps will shift to replacing or eliminating 32 culverts around the 143-mile dike, Jackson said. The culverts, some dating to the 1930s, allow water to pass in or out of the lake and pose a high risk of leaking, she said.
The current plan calls for buying land up to 150 feet from the dike but the new approach will aim to remain within 20 feet. While the water management district agreed in 2007 to buy needed land, it told the corps in January 2010 that it would not pay anything above an already budgeted $5.6 million.
"Because of the very serious budgetary constraints facing the state of Florida and the district, the district cannot afford to take on this expanded land acquisition responsibility," district Executive Director Carol Wehle wrote in 2010.
The district backed its decision with an extensive legal opinion that argued the corps never entered into a contract to cement the district's role as the local sponsor responsible for buying land.
Without a local sponsor, the corps cannot receive congressional authorization to buy land, Jackson said. "If the results demonstrate a more economic solution with less impact to adjacent lands, then that's what we're going to put in place," Jackson said. "If it doesn't, then we need to talk some more."
The 150-foot expansion would have taken a large swath of downtown Pahokee and a stretch of U.S. 27 between South Bay and Clewiston. District board Chairman Eric Buermann said the district did not want to use its eminent domain powers to buy land from unwilling sellers.
Delays worry U.S. Sugar
A statement on Tuesday said: "The South Florida Water Management District is aware of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a new approach for the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation - but has not been briefed on the plan. We look forward to reviewing the plan with the Army Corps of Engineers."
The risk of failure rises dramatically with high water, the 2006 report said, forcing the corps to keep lake levels below 18 feet. Failure of the levee is almost certain if levels exceed 20 feet, the report said.
Keeping lake levels low, however, creates an annual guessing game to ensure that the lake contains enough water to feed South Florida's huge thirst, even during drought, but not too much water to be breached during hurricanes.
Water from Lake Okeechobee affects drinking water supplies from West Palm Beach to Key West, keeping well fields saturated and blocking saltwater intrusion. The lake also contributes to farming in the surrounding sugar cane fields, a billion-dollar industry.
Anything that would stall the dike repairs worries grower U.S. Sugar.
"While the economy forces tough decisions on government as well as private industry, you'd hope that dike safety would be a top priority for the corps," U.S. Sugar said in a statement, "particularly since their own data shows that the Herbert Hoover Dike is among the six 'most likely to fail' in the entire country."
The dike is being rebuilt to the higher design standards of a dam. Since construction began, however, competition for federal dam safety money has grown with no change in the amount available, Jackson said.
The 2006 report anticipated the cost argument as well. "The kind of comprehensive repairs needed for Herbert Hoover Dike could conceivably exceed the corps' entire annual budget for dam safety improvements nationwide, and other structures posing even greater safety risks are standing in line ahead of it," the report said. "With a predicted 50/50 chance of failing within the next four years, we are not optimistic that Herbert Hoover Dike can wait its turn to the front."
Meetings to discuss the changes, billed as an opportunity to "present and discuss an environmental assessment covering the removal or replacement of federal culverts as part of the Herbert Hoover Dike Major Rehabilitation Project," will be held at 7 p.m. next week at these locations:
Tuesday, March 8, Okeechobee County Health Department Auditorium, 1728 NW 9th Ave., Okeechobee.
Thursday, March 10, John Boy Auditorium, 1200 S. W.C. Owen Ave., Clewiston.


Sen. Rubio adds budget rider cutting EPA water regulations
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
March 3, 2011
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wants to fight water regulations that limit the amount of waste allowed to be dumped in Florida waters.
Rubio’s plan mirrors a similar measure by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, who inserted a rider into the House budget bill that would severely limit the EPA’s funding for water-quality criteria in Florida. Now Rubio is planning to insert a similar rider in the budget resolution in an effort to bar the EPA from implementing those rules.
Rubio defended his decision in a statement made to the St. Petersburg Times: “At a time when our state is facing double-digit unemployment and our families are struggling with the effects of a prolonged recession, the last thing we need is another Washington mandate that will cost billions, destroy jobs and increase daily costs.”
According to Julie Hauserman of environmental law firm Earthjustice, Rubio’s budget rider will stop the EPA from enforcing new limits on sewage, fertilizer and manure waste, all of which “spark toxic algae outbreaks all over Florida, closing beaches, wrecking fishing, and causing serious health problems for people and animals.”
In an email sent Wednesday, Hauserman says Earthjustice has heard from over 100 organizations who have gone on the record in support of the pollution limits, and that the EPA received 22,000 comments regarding the rules, 20,000 of which were in support.


AIF pushes back, slowly, on Glades study
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy
March 2, 2011
One of Florida’s biggest business lobbies fired back Wednesday at the Everglades Foundation — disputing a four-month-old report by the environmental group which touted the economic benefits of restoring its namesake, fabled swamp.
“This report is nothing more than wishful thinking with no credible basis for the claims made by the foundation,” said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of AIF. “It is impossible to support the foundation’s assertion that the state will see $4 for every $1 invested in Everglades restoration. Further, it is impossible to even prove the economic benefits will ever cover the costs of the federal Everglades Restoration Plan.”
The foundation in October released a report by Mather Economics which said construction, hydrology and other environmental work tied to the Everglades project was creating jobs and would continue to add value to the South Florida region for years to come.
The foundation aired a similar theme Monday when it released results of a statewide poll showing most Floridians want Everglades restoration to continue, despite Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation to reduce this year’s funding form $50 million to $17 million.
AIF was an early Scott supporter — splitting its Republican primary endorsement last summer between the Naples multimillionaire and then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, who was the favorite of most of the Florida Republican establishment, the state Chamber of Commerce, and other business groups.
Kirk Fordham, the foundation’s chief executive officer, said the organization stood by its environmental and economic claims.  Bobby McCormick, principal investigator for the foundation’s study, defended the work as based on sound science and economics, while also challenging AIF’s findings
“The same cannot be said for the authors of the AIF study whose economics backgrounds appear to be solely in exchange rates, international trade and economic theory, not environmental work,” McCormick said.


EPA plan to clean up polluted waters will have substantial benefits
March 2, 2011
For years, the people of Florida have watched as many waterways once used for fishing, swimming and other everyday activities developed a coating of green sludge.
The majority of Florida’s impaired waters are affected by nitrogen and phosphorous pollution carried by storm water runoff from urbanized areas, discharges from wastewater treatment plants and fertilizer runoff from farms.
What helps plants thrive on land causes harmful algae blooms when it reaches the water. These blooms have made residents sick, caused property values to plummet and turned tourists away from the state’s treasured waters. To ensure the future health of Florida’s residents and economy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is setting clear, measurable standards to reduce pollution in Florida’s treasured water bodies.
Just three months ago, we announced that we would take sensible steps to implement these standards and use a 15-month period before the standards take effect to sit down with state and local leaders and water utilities to make sure we are all prepared to achieve these objectives.
These standards are not without their opponents, including many who claim that improved clean water standards will be too expensive and harm Florida’s economy. In fact, the reverse is true. Less than 10 percent of Florida’s farmland would need to be treated and the technology needed is already available.
Expensive new technology is not required or necessary to keep our waters clean. But, if we fail to put the technology we have to use, the problem will only expand to more of Florida’s waters.  While EPA is doing its best to address confusion and misinformation, we are more focused on the cooperation needed to protect our waters.
We must find common ground because poor water quality directly impacts not only public health and the environment but also tourism and jobs. Florida’s tourism industry – the state’s number one industry – employs nearly one million Floridians and pumps billions into the state’s economy each year.
In an average year, tourists spend more than $60 billion in the state, generating thousands upon thousands of jobs, as well over $3 billion in taxes. Many of these tourists come to Florida to fish, boat and jet ski. But if pollution kills aquatic life and makes the waters unclean and unsafe, fewer tourists will come.  Floridians will not just lose one of their most precious natural resources but also the dollars and jobs generated by a cornerstone of the statewide economy.
On top of the importance of clean water to Florida’s jobs and economy, the state will also benefit as cleaner water reduces health threats to Florida families. The green sludge now polluting the waters where children play and families fish can cause rashes, dizziness, upset stomachs and possibly even damage the central nervous system. The numeric nutrient standards will also improve the quality of rivers, lakes, streams and springs that are used to supply drinking water.
These economic and health benefits far outweigh the costs associated with having clean water.
EPA estimates the cost to address additional waters listed as impaired will be $135 million to $206 million a year – just 11 to 20 cents a day per household for cleaner water.
That’s a small price to pay to improve health and protect the economy and it’s exactly what the people of Florida have been calling for. In developing these safeguards, EPA incorporated the input we received from 13 public hearings across the state and 22,000 public comments. We also ensured that the best available science was the foundation for these standards and that implementation would be flexible and cost-effective.
Science also tells us that these standards are the right move for Florida. EPA carefully analyzed all the available science, including extensive water quality data gathered by the state, which took into account Florida’s diverse water bodies. Contrary to public statements, EPA’s rules did undergo an independent science review.  Recognizing that this is not a one-size-fits-all challenge, we have provided flexibility in meeting the standards, allowing local areas to determine how they can best protect their own waters.
We are also offering guidance to help cities and towns tailor the standards according to their local needs and implement them effectively and efficiently.
Floridians have been working for years to make clean water a reality in the state. Florida’s communities depend on – and want – clean and safe water. Improved clean water standards will help prevent expensive cleanup costs, protect the health of Florida’s families and preserve the waters that support the state’s economy.
Gwen Keyes Fleming is Region 4 administrator of he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She may be contacted at 404-562-8357 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it.
For more information on the EPA Region 4, visit


Florida court nixes Lowe’s development near Everglades - by Bob Berwyn
March 2, 2011
Community and environmental groups prevail in their court challenge to a municipal development approval
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Silverthorne-area residents challenging the town’s approval of a Lowe’s development application aren’t alone in fighting against big-box developments.
In a case with some similarities to the Silverthorne lawsuit, an appeals court in Florida this week rejected Miami-Dade County’s attempt to expand its Urban Development Boundary to allow a Lowe’s Home Improvement store to be built on wetlands near Everglades National Park.
“Today is a decisive victory for Everglades restoration that will prevent loss of wetlands on the fringes of Everglades National Park,” said Kahlil Kettering, Biscayne restoration analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We are thrilled by the court’s decision to preserve our multi-billion dollar investment to restore America’s Everglades, and for reinforcing the importance of protecting Florida’s national treasures that support our local economy and communities.”
The Miami-Dade County Commission several years ago approved a comprehensive plan amendment that sought to allow development of the Lowe’s and a charter high school on 51-acres of wetlands near the national park.
Conservation groups joined together to fight the approval and prevailed this week, as the Florida First District Court of Appeals upheld an administrative judge’s decision that the amendment and subsequent development approval violated of the comprehensive plan, according to attorney Robert Hartsell, counsel for the Everglades Law Center.
“The comprehensive plan says the wetlands shall be avoided,” Hartsell said. Allowing the development would have made a mockery of the comprehensive plan, with its stated goals of preserving remaining wetlands and locating most new construction in existing urbanized areas.
The land-use amendment violated a number of county and state growth management policies according to Hartsell. “After three years of litigation, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and staff, Department of Community Affairs, an administrative law judge, the previous Florida Governor and Cabinet, and an appellate court have all concluded that that maintaining the Urban Development Boundary is an imperative,” he said.
In a press release, the community and conservation groups that battled the plan explained that preserving the growth boundary is important to efforts to restore the Everglades and rebuild the local economy. Each new development outside this area increases demands for drainage, water use, roads, and supporting development at taxpayer expense and eats away at the buffer between urbanization and the Everglades.
“This victory has statewide implications for not just Everglades protection, but the implementation of local plans consistent with adopted policies and smart growth principles,” said Charles Pattison, President of 1000 Friends of Florida.
Hartsell said the administrative law judge also found fault with an economic impact analysis done early in the planning process. The data in the study — paid for by Lowe’s — was OK, but the analysis was biased, Hartsell said.
For more information about NPCA, 1000 Friends of Florida, and the Everglades Law Center, please visit,, and


Florida Court Rules Against Plan That Would Have Placed Big Box Store Next to Everglades National Park
National Parks Traveler - by Kurt Repanshek
March 2, 2011
A Florida court has ruled against a plan that would have allowed a big-box home improvement store to be built on wetlands near Everglades National Park, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
At issue was whether Miami-Dade County could expand its Urban Development Boundary to make room for the Lowe's Home Improvement store.
“Today is a decisive victory for Everglades restoration that will prevent loss of wetlands on the fringes of Everglades National Park,” Kahlil Kettering, NPCA's Biscayne restoration program analyst, said Tuesday after the ruling was handed down from the Florida First District Court of Appeals. “We are thrilled by the court’s decision to preserve our multi-billion-dollar investment to restore America’s Everglades, and for reinforcing the importance of protecting Florida’s national treasures that support our local economy and communities.”
According to an NPCA release, Miami-Dade County also wanted to make room for a charter high school on 51 acres of wetlands. The park advocacy group and 1000 Friends of Florida retained the Everglades Law Center to stop the development.
At stake, the groups maintained, was not only infringement onto wetlands important to the park, but also the water supply for Miami-Dade residents, the regional economy, and the overall quality of life.
NPCA’s legal counsel, Robert Hartsell of the Everglades Law Center, said, “after three years of litigation, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and staff, Department of Community Affairs, an administrative law judge, the previous Florida Governor and Cabinet, and an appellate court have all concluded that that maintaining the Urban Development Boundary is an imperative.”
The Urban Development Boundary plays a role in restoring the Everglades by limiting development, according to the NPCA.
"Each new development outside this area increases demands for drainage, water use, roads, and supporting development, which is a heavy burden placed on taxpayers and reduces the existing buffer between urbanization and the Everglades," the group said in a release. "Some of the development also results in the filling of wetlands and loss of agricultural land adjacent to Everglades National Park, which are both a rapidly disappearing resource in the state of Florida. Thus, given the environmental and economic realities in Miami-Dade County, maintaining the UDB far outweighs any desire to develop outside of the line."
“This victory has statewide implications for not just Everglades protection, but the implementation of local plans consistent with adopted policies and smart growth principles,” said Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends of Florida.


Florida waters, from Everglades to St. Lucie River, jeopardized by policies of Scott, Rooney
TCPalm - by Maggy Hurchalla
March 2, 2011
Officials need to know just how important funding is to health of Everglades, South Florida economy
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, left, talks to reporters as Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., looks on during a news conference in Fort Lauderdale Jan. 7. Salazar unveiled a wildlife refuge and ranching conservation area would be carved out of 150,000 acres in the Everglades headwaters north of Lake Okeechobee. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
The start of Everglades restoration and relief for the St. Lucie River have been slow and painful.
A couple of years ago things started looking better.
The feds came up with money.
The Tamiami Trail bridging issues got resolved. Along with that, the U.S. Sugar buyout gave a way to allow water to flow south to the park instead of being dumped on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The housing bubble busted. Money got tight, but the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was still moving forward.
Now things look bleak.
Our congressman doesn't want clean water.
Our governor doesn't want to save the Everglades.
Our legislators don't want to meet Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan commitments.
Our elected state officials agree with our congressman that we can't afford clean water.
If that is Florida's official position for the next four years then Everglades Restoration won't happen and the St. Lucie River will die.
In the CERP report on the St. Lucie River the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that water management policies were destroying the St. Lucie Estuary and that if action were not taken soon, the destruction would be irrevocable. Without comprehensive Everglades restoration, the water management policies will stay the same.
Now we're told by politicians that we can't afford to do anything about it.
We can rant and rave at the Corps and South Florida Water Management District, but they can't do anything without funding from the politicians.
We can curse all politicians and go suck our thumbs or we can do something.
If ever there was a time to rise up in defense of our river, it's NOW.
Rick Scott promised that Everglades Restoration would continue.
Gov. Scott's budget calls for $17 million a year. Even after the economic bust, the Florida Legislature committed $50 million a year to Everglades restoration. Dropping that to $17 million is a "let it die" strategy.
Scott wants the water districts to cut their budgets by 25 percent. A bare bones district will be left with just enough money to supply Big Agriculture with water.
What's wrong with cutting government back to basics? Nothing, if you don't mind a dead Everglades, a dead St. Lucie River and a dead South Florida economy.
This is not the time to criticize the new governor. He's new. There is a lot he doesn't know about the Everglades and the St. Lucie River.
In one sense we are lucky. Politicians don't usually listen to their enemies. They are more likely to listen to the people who voted for them.
Martin County gave Scott a much bigger majority than he got statewide. He needs to know how much we care about our river.
Florida politicians are furious at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for proposing water quality standards for Florida rivers. Why couldn't Florida set standards? Because it cost money to clean up pollution and polluters don't want to pay.
Tom Rooney is our U.S. representative. We voted him in by a huge majority. He is trying to get legislation passed that will prevent the EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida. His allies talk about "flawed science" in the EPA regulations but the dominant argument is that industry and agriculture can't afford to clean up the runoff they dump in our rivers.
If we no one pays our river and our Everglades die.
Local legislators have been silent about the St. Lucie River and CERP. Martin County voted for all the incumbents by large majorities. We need to ask them to take a position. A veto-proof majority of Florida senators just let the governor know that they will override his attempt to kill high speed rail. We need to ask our legislators to mount a similar fight for our river.
Lastly, the Interior Dept has proposed a new National Wildlife Refuge for the Everglades headwaters above Lake Okeechobee. We need to let our elected representatives know that that they should support the new refuge as a major step in making Everglades restoration work. We need to let them know that anyone who plays political spoiler with the future of the St. Lucie River will hear from the voters.
A lot of people have fought long and hard for the St. Lucie for a whole lot of years.


Ominous clouds forming over Tallahassee - by RAY JUDAH, Lee County Commissioner
March 2, 2011
Ominous clouds are forming over Tallahassee as Governor Scott and the State Legislature prepare for the 2011 session.
Foregoing a momentous opportunity to make good on getting people back to work, Governor Scott recently rejected $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. This transportation project would have served as an important catalyst in the construction of critical infrastructure for the fourth most populous state in the country and 20th largest economy in the world.
The private sector businesses that would have built the project were willing to accept the risk of any cost overruns. Studies documenting ridership and operational costs were prematurely ignored. The opportunity to create thousands of jobs, link two of our most populated destination cities, enhance business growth and create a viable alternative to the congested I-4 corridor, was squandered due to lack of visionary leadership.
The governor has also taken a dim view of the importance of Everglades restoration. He opposed the South Florida Water Management District's efforts to acquire land for storage and treatment of polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee. His proposal to reduce the South Florida Water Management District's budget by 25 percent over the next two years will severely jeopardize protection and management of precious ground and surface water resources, undermine Everglades restoration efforts and allow for rapid degradation of the coastal rivers and estuaries. These waterways are the backbone of our multibillion-dollar tourism and real estate industries and provide 53,000 jobs in Lee County alone.
Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have opposed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to implement numeric nutrient standards to manage the unabated discharge of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen in our waterways. The State Legislature's abdication of its responsibility to protect our critical water resources has so greatly impaired more than half of Florida's rivers, springs and lakes that a federal court order was necessary to ensure state compliance of the Clean Water Act to restore and protect water for drinking, swimming and fishing.
The State Legislature's disregard for protecting our waterways from red tide and toxic algae blooms required local communities to adopt fertilizer ordinances to safeguard our environment. Tragically, the State Legislature, including Representative Trudi Williams, chair of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Committee, is following the lead of the fertilizer industry in proposing to preempt local fertilizer management rules to a single statewide model, severely limiting the effective management, application and dispersal of fertilizer.
The governor and Legislature are suggesting that regulations to protect our environment are too expensive and are doing everything in their power, with the help of special interests, to destroy our precious land and water resources. Talk is cheap; we either protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, or we perish.
While turning a blind eye to education, health care and the environment, the Legislature has thus far rejected the overwhelming need to reform the state's tax system. Over the years, the Legislature has granted more than 300 exemptions and exclusions to Florida's sales tax, in excess of $25 billion, and currently exempts more than collected.
Florida has no personal income tax, so the revenue workhorse is the sales tax. The Legislature could lower the current sales tax rate while simultaneously repealing the exemptions — excluding basics such as rent, groceries and health care — to generate greater revenue for infrastructure that is critical to economic growth and quality of life. The State Legislature also has refused to recognize the disparity and competition between non-Florida corporations that conduct business in our state without having to pay an Internet sales tax and Florida's brick and mortar businesses that have roots and are struggling to survive in an inequitable business environment.
Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature must demonstrate their resolve to provide a balance in being fiscally prudent with taxpayers' dollars and fulfilling their responsibility to meet the public health, safety and welfare needs of our state.


Conservationists hail Everglades court ruling
The Associated Press
March 1, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Conservationists are hailing a court ruling against the construction of a home improvement store on the edge of the Everglades in Miami-Dade County.
They said on Tuesday that the decision is not only a victory for Everglades restoration but will set a statewide precedent for compliance with local growth management plans.
The 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee on Monday rejected the county's appeal of a decision by then-Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet to deny a comprehensive planning amendment for the proposed Lowe's store.
The National Parks Conservation Association, 1000 Friends of Florida and Everglades Law Center intervened on the state's side.
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County considers stormwater utility fee -by SUZETTE PORTER
March 1, 2011
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County is looking for ways to fund its stormwater management program.
The cost of staying in compliance with state and federal water quality regulations is increasing. Less money is available in the budget due to reductions in ad valorem tax collections and Penny for Pinellas revenue.
The county needs money to pay for mandated studies, capital improvement projects, and day-to-day maintenance and improvements of existing facilities. Creation of a stormwater utility and fee assessments for residents and businesses in unincorporated areas would bring in needed revenue.
However, the commission is not yet united in its thinking on the subject.
County Commissioners approved, 4-3, a resolution Feb. 22 that would allow fees to be assessed and collected if later they decide a stormwater utility is needed. A final decision must be made by March to have money available for the next budget year. Public hearings must be scheduled by at least July.
Commissioners Neil Brickfield, Nancy Bostock and Norm Roche voted no. The others voted yes only to preserve the option - not to approve the stormwater utility.
While all agreed the county’s water quality is of utmost importance, especially in light of its dependence on tourism as its No. 1 industry, there was no consensus on the best course of action.
According to a consultant’s report, as much as $200 million could be needed to fund the stormwater program.
County Administrator Bob LaSala took some time to “set the parameters” of the discussion.
“The item that is before you is a placeholder and option that preserves the board’s right if it chooses in this year to set a stormwater utility fee,” he said.
The “ultimate decision” will be whether to “embark on a stormwater management program,” he said.
Speaking to comments made by some commissioners that there is no urgency to make a decision now, LaSala said he would be “remiss” to bring the commission a report that could show needed action and “no option to do anything about it.”
He said the Tuesday night meeting was an “intro” to future meetings to be scheduled over the next eight months.
Pete Yauch, director of transportation and public works, started the discussion with a primer on the hydrologic cycle. He defined stormwater as run off - rain that does not soak into the ground. Stormwater is a bigger problem in areas with many impervious surfaces, such as pavement and rooftops.
According to the report by Camp Dresser & McKee Inc., first hired to do stormwater governance report in 2007, impervious surfaces could determine the fees if the county creates a utility. The more impervious surfaces located on a property, the higher the fee.
Yauch said stormwater was a problem the county has been working on for many years. In the past, the goal had been to control flooding. He said that due to the many projects done over the years, flooding was much improved, as evidenced by lower insurance rates for residents.
But back then, when plans were made to manage the county’s stormwater, water quality wasn’t a consideration, he said.
Federal laws changed things in recent years, and the focus changed to water quality to comply with mandates. Most of Pinellas County’s watersheds do not meet standards. The majority are considered impaired. Millions of dollars have been spent trying to alleviate the situation.
Yauch said the most economical way to keep the waterways clean was to keep pollutants out of the stormwater. Simple things such as street sweeping and keeping creeks free of debris can make a difference, he said. However, due to budget cuts, the county funds only the minimum number of street cleanings each year. Other maintenance, such as cleaning the muck out of retention ponds and drainage ditches, also are done on a minimum basis.
The county also has problems with dredging of some canals located in areas that were orange groves in the past. Yauch said those operations must be considered hazardous waste projects due to the arsenic found in the bottom. Arsenic was used years ago as an insecticide in orange groves.
“Fifty years ago, we didn’t worry about water quality,” Yauch said.
Today, officials are aware of the many pollutants carried by stormwater. Streets and roadways are coated with vehicle fluids, such as oil, hydraulic fluid and antifreeze. When it rains, the roads are washed off and the contaminants mix with the water and flows to the lowest point, which in Pinellas is the Gulf of Mexico, Yauch said.
Yards are a second big source of contamination, which is why the county enacted a fertilizer ordinance in 2010 that bans the use of nitrogen and phosphorous during the summer months. Mulch and organic matter, such as grass clippings, contaminate stormwater, as does insecticides.
Animal wastes are a third area of concern. Litter also adds to the problem.
Yauch said addressing the points of contamination at its source was the best thing to do.
“It’s cheaper to keep it out than it is to clean it up,” he said.
Yauch said it was important to protect the county’s water quality rating, saying, “We don’t want to be known as an area with dirty beaches.”
He reminded commissioners of the bad press received during the red tide outbreak in 2005.
In recent times, the county has worked on its water quality. The $25 million Lake Seminole Alum project is one of the largest undertakings. Repairs to pipes and the county’s many small bridges are ongoing. Restoration projects, such as the ones on Mobley Creek and Alligator Lake, are in the works.
New water quality regulations are coming, Yauch said. More inspections will be required. A plan to implement projects and programs to reduce pollutants going into the local waterways is needed.
The county must do 52 studies to gain information required for planning purposes. The CIP budget includes enough money for two over the next 10 years.
“We must have a funding source,” Yauch said.
Funding for stormwater management currently comes from the capital improvement projects fund, the general fund, transportation trust fund and grants from various agencies.
Currently 10 cities charge their residents stormwater fees, ranging from a low of $162 to $1,180 in Clearwater.
Two residents spoke in support of having a dedicated funding source at the Feb. 22 public hearing. Doug Robison, a 34-year resident, said clean water was essential to the health, safety and welfare of the county.
“That should be commonsense to everyone in this room,” he said. “It’s a small price to pay to clean up the water.”
He said with less money coming federal and state sources, water quality had to funded by the locals.
However, the majority, including many from Palm Harbor, were against any new taxes.
Scott Fisher said Palm Harbor residents did not want their taxes raised and “were not getting their fair share” of the county’s services.
Commissioner Karen Seel had several suggestions of alternatives she said she would like to explore, including getting input from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. She also believes the problem must be solved countywide.
She used Curlew Creek as an example, saying the county spent money to clean up the water; however, the creek runs to Dunedin, which does not have the money to work on the problem.
“There should be countywide jurisdiction for drainage,” she said. “Water does not stop at the city limits.”
Roche said he was not convinced the fee was the right way to go. He questioned why all the county’s watersheds were still impaired if 10 cities charged fees to clean up the water. He said the matter should be voted on by the people. County Attorney Jim Bennett said a special election could be held if the commission so desired.
Roche said there was no need for a special election. He said the matter lacked historical perspective.
 “It’s not like this was just invented,” he said.
Commission Chair Susan Latvala said from her perspective it was all about preparing for the future.
Bostock said she was not comfortable with the idea of setting up a utility without more information.
“I can support having the conversation, but not the utility,” she said.
Brickfield also said he was “not sold on the idea,” and questioned the rush to get everything done to collect fees next year.
“I don’t see a rush today to get it done,” he said.
Commissioners John Morroni and Ken Welch also supported the resolution to keep the option open for future utility fees, but did not speak for or against the utility. Welch said it was important to keep all the options open for funding stormwater needs.
“It’s all about the water,” Morroni agreed.


Feed your lawn right with slow-release fertilizer
US State News
March 1, 2011
BROOKSVILLE, Fla., March 1 -- The Southwest Florida Water Management District issued the following news release:
Sometimes Florida yards need fertilizer to help keep them healthy, but applying the wrong kind can cause water pollution. You can use Florida-friendly fertilizing practices to help protect water quality while having a beautiful lawn.
Most home lawn fertilizers contain some slow-release nitrogen. It takes a little longer for your yard to benefit from slow-release nitrogen, but the effects will last longer. Many of these fertilizers provide fertilization for 60 days or longer, depending on environmental conditions. As a result, fewer nutrients may be wasted or lost as pollutants.
To find a slow-release fertilizer, look for these terms on the product or fertilizer tag for nitrogen:
* Timed-release, slow-release or controlled-release;
* Water insoluble nitrogen;
* Isobutylidene diurea (IBDU);
* Ureaform (UF);
* Nitroform; and
* Sulfur-, polymer-, plastic- or resin-coated urea.
Once you find a slow-release fertilizer, wait until the grass is actively growing before using it. Fertilizer applied when grass is not growing wastes your money and time, since it will not be beneficially used by the grass.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District has created a series of tools to help residents learn to use fertilizer appropriately. By visiting, residents can get step-by-step instructions on fertilizing appropriately as well as watch a series of corresponding how-to videos. Residents can also order the free 20-page, "Do-It-Yourself Guide to Florida-Friendly Fertilizing" for additional information.
Fertilizing appropriately is one of the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping, a set of guidelines developed by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to protect our natural resources while promoting beautiful landscapes.
For any query with respect to this article or any other content requirement, please contact Editor at


Fire risks rocket for dry South Florida
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
March 1, 2011
With little rain and lots of fuel in the Everglades and wild lands, smoky months could be ahead
So far, South Florida has been spared the raging wildfires that have swept across the rest of the state, including a massive blaze that closed a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in Brevard County early Tuesday.
Odds are the luck won’t last much longer.
An exceptionally arid February – not enough rain fell to fill a swimming pool for an ant – has sent fire risks across much of the region rocketing up. Weather forecasters and water managers see little on the radar to offer relief.
“Definitely, it could shape up to be a pretty bad fire season,’’ said Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.
A key index watched closely by the Florida Division of Forestry — soil moisture — has swung into the red danger zone across much of the landscape south of Lake Okeechobee, including the Everglades. A broader assessment that gauges humidity levels and fuel conditions ranked Broward County as the only county in the state at a “very high’’ risk for wildfire.
Fire season in Florida typically heats up in March and April, the last two months of the dry season. But an ongoing drought, which grew worse in February, has driven up the risk factors.
The National Weather Service recorded less than one-tenth of an inch of rain for the entire month in Miami-Dade and Broward. The South Florida Water Management District reported that average rainfall amounted to a third of an inch across a region stretching from south of Orlando to Key West.
Another factor heightens concerns. Freezes back in December killed or damaged cold-sensitive native plants that provide fire plenty of tinder, said Scott Peterich, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Everglades district of the forestry division.
“There are a lot of dead palm fronds out there to burn,’’ he said.
Statewide, the forestry division recorded just under 1,100 wildfires that consumed more than 22,200 acres between Jan. 1 and Sunday. A fast-spreading fire that broke out Monday in Volusia County and raced into Brevard scorched an estimated 10,000 acres on its own, forcing the closure of I-95 and an elementary school as well as voluntary evacuations. The Florida Highway Patrol reopened the road early Tuesday.
Despite the dangerous conditions in South Florida, Miami-Dade has seen only two minor wildfires and Broward none. Peterich credits campers and sports enthusiasts for heeding warnings and exercising precautions that prevent accidental blazes, the source of most wildfires.
But he also warned that conditions will likely worsen in coming months if the weather follows the common patterns of growing dryer and windier.
Molleda said a front rolling down the state could potentially bring some rain to pockets of South Florida but probably not much of it.
“It’s not going to be enough to put a serious dent in our conditions,’’ he said

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Florida crews trying to contain two major wildfires
CNN Wire Staff
March 1, 2011
Two major wildfires have burned more than 18,000 acres along Florida's eastern coast, state officials said Tuesday.
"At this time, we have been fortunate that the fires have not resulted in any human loss," said Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam. "All Floridians should use caution in and around these areas to safeguard themselves from smoke, ash and the flames themselves."
One fire, which began Monday in northern Brevard and southern Volusia counties, has destroyed a mobile home, several outbuildings and several camp structures, the Agriculture Department said in a news release. It had scorched more than 16,000 acres and was being driven by high winds.
The Florida Division of Forestry deployed 22 tractor plow units, two helicopters and two air tankers to help fight the fire, which was about 25% contained, the department said. More than 150 personnel are engaged in the effort to contain the fire, it said.
Cliff Frazier, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry, said crews will work throught the night and traffic on some roads may be affected.
Meanwhile, a second wildfire had burned close to 2,000 acres in St. Johns County, south of State Road 206 on Interstate 95, below St. Augustine, the department said. It also was about 20% contained.
That blaze crossed I-95 and U.S. 1, causing both roads to be closed at times because of smoke and poor visibility, the department said.
The Florida Division of Forestry has 15 tractor plows and three brush trucks with 20 county fire department engines, six county water tenders and three bulldozers assisting with the fire, the Agriculture Department said. More than 137 people are working on snuffing that fire. Its cause was unknown Tuesday afternoon.
As winds shift, the first fire could be blown to the south and into more heavily populated areas of Brevard County, said Fred Jodts, division chief for Brevard County Fire Rescue.
Light rain fell Tuesday morning, helping to slow the fire and provide firefighters more time to organize their response, but it didn't eliminate the danger, Jodts said.
"It gives us a break. It's not going to put the fire out," he said.
A voluntary evacuation in the city of Mims was lifted Tuesday evening and shelters were closed, according to the Brevard County Office of Emergency Management. The agency reported a Brevard firefighter suffered second-degree burns to the face.
The cause of the fire is unknown, Frazier said, but he added that the combination of severe freezes this winter that killed surface vegetation and low rain totals made conditions ripe for a fire.
Lee Francis got an upfront look at the fire when it came within a half-mile of the farm where she lives with her husband. They had gone to a police line to check on the situation when the fire jumped U.S. 1 and headed for their home, she said. They returned home to hose down the house, yard and vehicles amid the fire's orange glow.
"We could see flames and the smoke was very thick," she said. "We could see when the firefighters would get it beat back, the glow would subside, then it would flare up again."


Poll: People support Everglades restoration
The St. Augustine Record - by KATHLEEN HAUGHNEY
March 1, 2011
TALLAHASSEE -- A majority of Florida voters do not want to abandon Everglades restoration efforts and also aren't so keen on Gov. Rick Scott's plans to scale back state growth management efforts, according to a poll released Monday by an environmental group.
About 65 percent of people surveyed in the poll commissioned by the Everglades Foundation said "restoring the Everglades" was an extremely or very important issue to them personally.
Additionally, 55 percent said they were opposed to a budget cut from $50 million this year to $17 million, which is called for in Scott's budget proposal.
"We believe everybody needs to share the pain, but Everglades restoration has already taken a disproportionate hit," said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, a non-profit group founded in 1993 to support the environmental endeavor.
Funding for the massive environmental project reached a peak of $200 million under Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, but in tough economic times, the funding took a hit. Now, the program appears poised for further cuts as lawmakers carve out a budget for the 2012 fiscal year, starting already $3.6 billion in the hole.
Fordham and his group are trying to persuade the governor that conservation can be a job creator, which Scott has said is his top priority. Contractors, engineers and other scientists could be employed to work on conservation issues, he said.
"Our message to the governor is that he can partner with the conservation community to create jobs and protect our water supply at the same time," Fordham said.
The survey also asked whether voters agreed with a statement that said "We need the state to manage new development to avoid placing additional burdens on taxpayers for the costs of building new roads, schools and other infrastructure in undeveloped areas." Sixty-one percent of respondents said they agreed, with 34 percent disagreeing.
The poll runs counter to the governor's plan to basically dismantle the Department of Community Affairs, which Scott has said is largely an impediment to job creation.
The governor may shed more light on his plans next week in his State of the State address before the House and Senate.
The Everglades survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm whose clients include Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The firm surveyed 607 likely voters on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 with a margin of error of 4.1 percent.


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