111130-a Legal outlook dim in water dispute
LakeCityReporter.com - by GORDON JACKSON
November 30, 2011
County budgets $250,000 to start work group.
A legal challenge to overturn a permit allowing JEA to pump as much as 155 million gallons a day from the Floridan Aquifer may be more difficult than opponents originally believed.
Elected officials from Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties learned about the challenges to filing a lawsuit by Jacksonville lawyer Sidney Ansbacher at a meeting held at the Columbia County School Board Administrative Complex on Tuesday night.
“You have, quite frankly, some real problems,” Ansbacher told the audience of about 500 people. “The horse has left the barn for the JEA permit.”
Ansbacher told the audience that the time to challenge the permit would have been before it was granted. According to the permit, JEA isn’t required to provide data showing how water levels have been impacted in the region by the water draw down for 10 years.
And, even if a study shows water levels are continuing to drop, the affected counties will have to prove JEA is responsible, and not other municipalities, businesses and other water users.
Unfortunately, much of the data needed to challenge the permit doesn’t currently exist.
“You need to get a baseline,” Ansbacher said. “This isn’t about lawyers, it’s about hydrology.”
Gregg Jones, a consultant hired to explain the problems caused by drawing too much water from the aquifer, said it’s difficult to determine how bad the problem is and the contributing factors without accurate data.
One certainty, he said, is there’s not enough water for everyone. An estimated 900 million gallons a day is pumped from the aquifer in North Florida and South Georgia and the amount will increase in coming years. Lakes will continue to drain unless the trend is reversed, he said.
The main concern is the westward shift in the aquifer’s divide — the high point for water levels. The divide determines which way rainwater drains into the aquifer. This area may experience the same problems as in White Springs, which dried up more than three decades ago.
“Water [from the aquifer] that used to go toward the spring now goes to the northeast,” Jones said.
He also said the aquifer was already getting too much water pumped before the JEA permit was granted in May.
State Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City and State Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, announced plans to introduce companion legislation prohibiting water districts from granting permits that could adversely impact another water district.
Porter said the legislation will help clarify conflicting studies by different water districts. She said she wants decisions made on “good science.”
“We hope this will enable other districts to cooperate,” she said. “I think we have taken a really good step here.”
Dean suggested building reservoirs similar to those in the Tampa area to conserve water.
“You can’t always be drawing down; you have to put it back,” he said.
Dean said the intent isn’t to put JEA out of business, but to be fair to everyone affected by the permit.
“We need to take care of our people’s needs first,” Dean said. “Why can’t they draw water out of the St. Johns River?”
Dean’s suggestion was met with loud applause.
During a public comment period, people in the audience from as far as Chiefland, Perry and Keystone Heights expressed concern about the issue and offered to support the effort to battle the permit anyway they can.
Frank Host, of Keystone Heights, said the money isn’t available for JEA to desalinate water instead of pumping from the aquifer.
“The only source of water they have is the aquifer,” he said.
He suggested one way to alleviate some impacts is to require JEA to treat the 74 million gallons of water it dumps into the St. Johns River and pump it to lakes in the Keystone Heights area. The water will eventually percolate back into the aquifer, he said.
Another problem is the two water districts have studies that provide conflicting information, making it difficult to determine the impact of drawing water from the aquifer.
While the legal problem is nobody protested the permit issued to JEA, White Springs Mayor Helen Miller said city officials did attend the meeting and voiced their concerns.
“We do have grounds,” she said. “We have to figure out a way to quantify damages. They made tremendous arguments. They just didn’t listen to us.”
After the public comment period ended, elected officials from Suwannee and Hamilton counties expressed support for the creation of a work group comprised of representatives from the 14 counties in the Suwannee River Water Management District and anyone else from outside the area who wants to participate.
The final action taken was unanimous approval of a motion by the Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams to budget $250,000 to start a work group.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We must supply the data ourselves.”
Commissioner Rusty DePratter said he supports funding but emphasized other counties can only pay what they can afford.
“I don’t want to put pressure on anybody,” he said. “Other counties know their budgets.”
111130-b Okeechobee ranch owners help water quality and environment
WPTV Channel 5 News - by Liz Flynn
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. - Florida is looking to the state’s ranch owners to help improve water quality and the wetlands. Several ranch owners will be paid to store water on their land. State officials and residents are calling it a “win-win” situation.
"The birds like it out here already. I imagine they'll like it a little better," said Woody Larson.
Larson has owned Dixie Ranch for decades. He's part of Florida’s $600 million cattle industry.
"We've had the property 40 years and it's been ranch land all that time," he explained.
Now, Larson and seven other ranch owners will be paid $150 an acre annually to store water on their land north of Lake Okeechobee for the state. They signed an agreement with the state on Tuesday that’s designed to benefit them while saving the state money and helping the environment. The ten year deal will cost about $720 thousand a year, about half what the state might have to pay to buy the land outright.
"When you look at the benefit that we get by not having to pay for the property and keeping it in private ownership, it's a great cost savings for the district," said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa Meeker.
Larson will dedicate 800 acres to the project, which will still give him room to keep his cattle business and stay on the county tax rolls. Larson, like many ranch owners, has stored water for years. Under this new agreement, they'll store more.
"Instead of six inches now, it may be a couple of feet deep," he said. "We've been in a five year drought in South Florida so that's going to be good for the land."
Ultimately, it's good for the water and the environment. Less run-off means better water quality for Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and estuaries.
"Clearly, there’s a recognition that the Everglades is a fabulous ecological treasure,” explained Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “It is an important drinking water source for South Florida and it's also an important thing we need to preserve."
This is the first formal agreement the state has done; however, if it proves successful, they hope to add similar projects in other parts of the state.
111130-c Why We Need to Protect the Soul of South Florida
Huffpost Miami – by Frank Mazzotti, Professor, University of Florida
November 30, 2011
The Everglades are the economical and ecological soul of South Florida. Our lives, our health, well being and economic prosperity are all linked to restored and functioning Everglades's ecosystems. Everglades's ecosystems directly support fishery, recreational and tourism industries as well as supplying water and flood control for agriculture, businesses and residents. Healthy Everglades's ecosystems will make South Florida more resilient to adverse effects of sea level rise such as salt water intrusion into our drinking water aquifer. We cannot engineer a better solution, even if we could pay for it. Protect our environment and our economy, restore the Everglades. It simply makes good business sense to do so.
Both economics and ecology come from the Greek work "oikos" or house. Economics literally means the rules of the house and ecology the study of the house. In current use, economics deals with finances and business -- money, while ecology focuses on explaining why plants and animals live where they do -- nature. It has always seemed to me that there was a natural relationship between economics and ecology, yet the reality is that today they are usually set against each other. That is you can have economic prosperity, but only at the expense of a healthy environment -- the economics vs. ecology dichotomy.
This is not only a false dichotomy, but a potentially dangerous situation to have. Current events to weaken almost all of the environmental laws in the U.S. should sound a warning bell. Economic prosperity and sustainability will depend on a healthy environment, on clean air, clean water and biological diversity. The economy vs. environment dichotomy does come into play when few stand to make a lot of money at the expense of many by destroying a natural resource (water pollution and air pollution are examples). This is economic gain for a few vs. economic (and health) losses for many, all done at the expense of the environment.
The four most important pieces of environmental legislation in the United States, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act were not passed to stifle economic development, but were passed in recognition of the simple business principle that prevention is cheaper than the cure. A series of post World War II environmental crisis led to these laws all being passed in the early 1970s and all were signed by the same U.S. Republican President, Richard Nixon. (I bet you were surprised.) The principle is simple: it is cheaper to keep rivers from catching fire, than to fix them after they do, it costs less keep a source of drinking water from being polluted than it does to try and clean it up (if it is even possible) after it has become contaminated. It costs less to properly dispose of wastes than spraying them on roads to control dust (remember Times Beach, Mo.?).
Although many of us don't realize it, those of us that live in South Florida live this lesson every day. Because we did not prevent the ecological destruction of Everglades's ecosystems we now have to cure or restore them. The combined cost of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the settlement of water quality lawsuits, and land acquisition is now in excess of $20 billion. And while prevention surely would have been cheaper than restoration, not restoring the Everglades and preventing further ecological loss will be a bigger economic mistake.
111129-a New legislation caucus devoted to Everglades restoration formed
WPTV - Channel 5 News
November 29, 2011
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. - Land owners will get the chance to see the Everglades from a new vantage point and learn about efforts in water and land preservation as they view the Dixie Ranch by swamp buggie Tuesday.
The Everglades are the source of water to millions of people, and the preservation of the area has received heightened interest. Monday, a bi-partisan caucus was formed to push for the restoration of the area despite budget cuts. The lawmakers, consisting of two Republicans and three Democrats, say they will push other lawmakers to get involved.
While on board swamp buggies, local residents will be able to view the Everglades and learn more from the Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, Water Management and Agricultural & Consumer services.
The program at Dixie Ranch is supposed to preserve land and water resources at a lower cost than traditional land acquisition programs.
111129-b Perman to head Everglades panel
TCPalm.com - by Jonathan Mattise
November 29, 2011
Rep. Steve Perman, D-Boca Raton, will spearhead a new legislative panel dedicated to keeping restoration money flowing into the Everglades.
Perman, along with Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, spoke in western Boynton Beach on Monday about starting up the Everglades Legislative Caucus.
According to Sun-Sentinel reports, the bipartisan group wants to return to the $300 million a year allocation that Everglades restoration once received, despite recent tight budget years.
It also will focus on trying to buy up sugar cane land south of Lake Okeechobee to collect and treat water, which will be used to replenish the Everglades.
The caucus also calls on Congress to share the load better in funding restoration. In 2000, the federal government and the state agreed to share costs of more than 60 Everglades-related projects, including an Indian River Lagoon portion that involves the C-44 canal. None of those initiatives have been completed yet.
The Everglades has experienced water quality issues from agricultural runoff, and has lost water after communities have drained for new developments or for farm land.
111129-c State officials tout deals to store and cleanse acres of water by flooding ranchland
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
November 29, 2011
Florida's top environmental officials signed contracts with eight ranchers on Tuesday to store water on vast swaths of soggy pastures, as part of a simple project that officials said would require no costly land purchases, construction or complex engineering.
"What a win-win for the state of Florida," said Herschel Vinyard, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Vinyard, who attended the ceremonial signing in a cow pasture north of Lake Okeechobee, praised the project as a common-sense approach to water storage. "We hope to bring this kind of innovation around the state."
For decades, water storage projects throughout lands that were once part of the Everglades have focused on building reservoirs and other structures to control the flow of water. The South Florida Water Management District has a particularly challenged record, having spent $300 million on a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that was later abandoned, and $250 million on a reservoir in western Palm Beach County with water so salty and polluted that it cannot be used.
Under the new contracts, the district will pay ranchers as much as $150 per acre-foot of water they store on their land over the next 10 years. An acre-foot is the amount of water 1 foot deep that would cover an acre of land.
The contracts total $7 million and the district hopes to spend another $46 million over the next five years to expand the program, said Melissa Meeker, the executive director of the water district.
The contracts increase storage on 9,500 acres north of Lake Okeechobee. The ultimate goal is to provide 450,000 acre-feet of storage throughout the Northern Everglades -- about as much as one foot of water covering Lake Okeechobee, Meeker said.
While the water storage project unveiled on Tuesday is on a much smaller scale than a reservoir and will not provide drinking water, it is cheap, immediate and will provide widespread environmental relief, Meeker said. Storing water on the ranchlands will reduce the amount of polluted water flowing into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season, she added.
The additional storage will also reduce the amount of tainted farm water released into coastal estuaries and will recharge shallow groundwater water supplies, she said. Natural wetlands will benefit from a consistent water supply and nutrients will be slowly filtered from the water, she added.
Rather than rely on costly engineering and modelling, the program relies upon the ranchers' knowledge of their own land. Instead of massive structures, gates and pumps the ranchers will build their own ditches and canals to move water to lowlands on their land. Simple culverts, some just a few feet in diameter, fitted with panels of wood, will control the flow of water.
Rancher Jim Alderman said his family's ranch will use two culverts to retain water at higher levels in 322 acres in two natural wetlands. "People who live on the land know where the water collects and how it runs," he said.
111129-d Water districts chastised for not protecting groundwater
Gainesville.com - by Christopher Curry, Staff writer
November 29, 2011
LAKE CITY — Frustration and anger flowed Tuesday night as a crowd of some 200 packed a meeting in Lake City to air concerns over the impact that groundwater pumping in the Jacksonville metropolitan area has had on rural North Florida counties.
Columbia County officials and audience members lambasted the St. Johns River Water Management District board for its May approval of a consumptive use permit for Jacksonville's utility. They criticized Suwannee River Water Management District officials for not doing more at that time to oppose the permit issued to the Jacksonville Electric Authority.
There was skepticism toward the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for not doing more to protect water resources. And there was criticism aimed at both water management districts and the DEP for not finalizing until after the Jacksonville permit's approval the agreement that requires one water management district to take into account the impact on the flow of water bodies and groundwater levels in the other district when considering a consumptive use permit.
In the end, with six months having passed since the permit's approval, it was too late to mount an administrative appeal or a legal challenge, said an environmental attorney that Columbia County hired to review the matter.
"The horse has left the barn in terms of the JEA permit," said Sidney Ansbacher, with the firm Gray Robinson.
Despite that opinion, Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams said, "I'm ready for a fight."
To that end, Columbia County commissioners unanimously voted to put $250,000 toward scientific studies intended to show whether groundwater pumping in the Jacksonville area is adversely affecting water bodies in their county. The counties decided to establish a working group to look at regional water concerns. Gregg Jones, a contracted Suwannee district consultant and the former director of water supply for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, said a scientific basis for any potential challenge could come after minimum flows and levels were established for rivers and springs in the Suwanee district — a process now ongoing. Then it would have to be shown that groundwater pumping in Jacksonville was pushing those water bodies below those adopted levels — which mark the point from which further reductions would cause ecological harm.
"That would be the smoking gun, in my mind," Jones said.
The meeting was scheduled as a joint meeting of the commissioners of rural Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties. Officials from several other governments in the region, including Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, and members of environmental groups were also present.
State Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, and state Sen Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, discussed proposed legislation they have sponsored that would require a water management district to consider the impact on minimum flows and levels in another district when considering an application for a consumptive use permit.
The 20-year JEA permit was actually a consolidation of 27 separate permits. It has requirements for increased use of reclaimed water in irrigation and allows for pumping of 155 million gallons per day in 2031.
On Tuesday, several angry speakers said the utility should pump the St. Johns River or put a desalinization plant on the Atlantic Ocean instead of pumping groundwater.
In an interview earlier Tuesday, Athena Mann, the JEA vice president for environmental services, said the permit requires the utility to spend millions of dollars on environmental and groundwater monitoring and that the consolidated permit did not allow for an increase in pumping above the combined amount approved in the 27 separate permits.
"We feel very comfortable with the permit that we got," she said.
St. Johns Water Management District executive director Hans G. Tanzler also submitted a letter to Hamilton, Columbia and Suwannee officials expressing "interest in having you be part of the cooperative path forward."
A presentation Tuesday reviewed how White Sulphur Springs has run dry, how the flow in Ichetucknee Springs and the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers is down significantly and how the groundwater area feeding the Suwannee district had shrank significantly.
Jones said the problem goes back well before the approval of the JEA permit, despite the fact that was the issue that sparked the meeting.
"Prior to the JEA permit, prior to 2010, too much groundwater pumping had already been permitted … the damage threshold had already been passed prior to the issuance of the JEA permit. That was just damage on top of it," Jones said.
Ansbacher also said that more data needs to be collected on the sources contributing to the drawdown in groundwater levels and surface bodies.
As for the timing of the meeting, Columbia County Chairman Jody Dupree said he was not aware of the JEA permit until six weeks ago
111128-a Everglades Caucus proposed to push restoration in Florida Legislature
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
6:35 p.m. EST, November 28, 2011
The long-suffering Everglades may get a louder voice in the Florida Legislature thanks to a new coalition of lawmakers launched Monday from South Florida.
State Rep. Steve Perman, D-Boca Raton, started the new Everglades Legislative Caucus, which pledges to push for more money for Everglades restoration during a time of deep state spending cuts.
The bipartisan group contends that investing in protecting what remains of the Florida’s famed River of Grass is more than an environmental cause; it’s also about protecting South Florida drinking water supply and a tourism industry tied to the water.
"The Everglades is a rare, natural jewel," Perman said Monday from a farmers market beside the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge – the northern reaches of the Everglades in Palm Beach County. "No one is happy at the pace at which the Everglades is being restored."
Returning to the $300 million a year the state once set aside for land buying aimed at Everglades efforts is a priority for the new group, said state Sen. Thad Altman R-Viera, who is co-chairman of the new Everglades Caucus.
Acquiring up more land among the vast swaths of sugar cane and other farmland south of Lake Okeechobee is needed to build water storage and treatment areas that hold onto and clean up stormwater that can replenish the Everglades, according to Altman.
The group also plans to call on Congress to start picking up more of the tab for Everglades restoration.
"We have a long way to go," Altman said. "We need to find longer term funding sources."
The Everglades Caucus offers a new forum to push for restoration issues that affect everything from water supply to tourism, said Dawn Shirreffs, Everglades Coalition co-chair.
"Florida has a compelling reason to do Everglades restoration," Shirreffs said. "The ecosystem has continued to decline in the face of delay."
The Everglades suffers from decades of draining land to make room for agriculture and sprawling South Florida communities. Also, stormwater loaded with phosphorus that washes off of agricultural land pollutes the Everglades.
The state of Florida and the federal government in 2000 announced a long-term plan to share the costs of Everglades restoration, but none of the more than 60 projects to store, clean and redirect stormwater have been completed.
Gov. Rick Scott in October unveiled a new Everglades plan that calls for cutting restoration costs by avoiding buying more land to build reservoirs and treatment areas needed to clean stormwater that flows to the Everglades.
Lawmakers who joined Altman and Perman Monday in announcing the new Everglades Caucus included Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach; Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart; and Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. They said their numbers would be growing during the Legislative session that begins in January.
Caucus members Monday praised Gov. Rick Scott’s new Everglades restoration proposal and said more leadership from the governor’s office will be needed to jump start restoration.
During recent budget cutting amid the struggling economy, the needs of Everglades restoration too often faded into the background, according to the caucus.
Florida needs to "get back in the business of restoration," Altman said, "get back on track."
111128-b Legislators to announce Everglades caucus
The Associated Press, Miami Herald
November 28, 2011
BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. -- A bipartisan group of legislators is scheduled to announce plans for a new caucus aimed at preserving the Everglades.
The legislators are scheduled to announce their plans Monday afternoon in Boynton Beach.
Democratic state Rep. Steve Perman of Boca Raton and Republican state Sen. Thad Altman of Viera are organizing the group.
Several conservation groups are expected to attend, including the Everglades Coalition and the Everglades Foundation.
The Everglades have long been plagued by pollution, encroaching suburban growth and invasive species.
The state and federal government have been entrenched in a decades-long effort to clean the pollutants and restore some natural water movement. The Everglades used to flow in a shallow sheet from the Kissimmee River basin near Orlando down through Everglades National Park and into Florida Bay.
111128-c Scott defends environmental stance in new op-ed
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
November 28, 2011
In a new op-ed, Gov. Rick Scott touts his support for environmental safeguards, but argues against “one-size-fits-all solutions” to protect the state’s natural resources. The op-ed makes subtle references to a federally mandated set of water pollution standards that some argue been weakened due to criticism from state officials and the lobbying efforts of industries (like utilities and agriculture) that would be negatively affected by stricter standards.
“A stable regulatory environment does not mean lower environmental standards,” writes Scott in his Tampa Tribune op-ed. “It means that environmental policy will be governed by sound science, not politics or one-size-fits-all solutions.”
The “one-size-fits-all” line is the same one (.pdf) used by lobbyists at Associated Industries of Florida, a group that represents some of Florida agriculture’s heaviest hitters.
Associated Industries leaders have long been critical of the EPA’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” water pollution standards that many (including Scott) say came about entirely as a result of “costly litigation.” That claim is partly true — a host of Florida enviro groups, represented by environmental law firm Earthjustice, did successfully sue over the state’s failure to meet provisions of the Clean Water Act. But the lawsuit only came about after the state failed to produce its own standards by a 2004 deadline. Now that the state is federally mandated to implement the standards, it has drafted its own set of rules as a way around an arguably tougher set of standards drawn up by the EPA.
But water quality doesn’t just rely on the nutrient criteria. Other pieces of legislation could also affect Florida waterways — many of which have been inundated with algal blooms and fish kills, both side effects of nutrient overload brought on by home fertilizer use and industry effluent.
In an article published last week in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander, Jim Beever, of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said that voters concerned with state water quality should take a closer look at any forthcoming bills which could exempt some industries from meeting certain environmental requirements.
Beaver argues that bills like House Bill 421 and its Senate companion bill, which passed during the last legislative session, only help industries skirt water pollution standards. H.B. 421 revised the exemptions to water management requirement, providing the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the exclusive authority to determine “whether certain activities qualify for agricultural-related exemption under specified conditions.”
“I can’t understand any state that doesn’t want clean water,” Beever said to the Islander. “But, that seems to be the policy of our governor and the agencies under his direction.”
Not so, argues Scott, writing that he intends to move forward “on important restoration projects like improving water quality in the Everglades.”
“The state and federal governments have invested significant resources, yet we both recognize there is more work to do,” writes Scott
111128-d Water op-eds: Daniels, Scott, and Graham (and Orwell)
Watery Foundation - by Tom
November 28, 2011
Yesterday, three newspapers published water management op-eds by Lad Daniels (chair of the St. Johns River Water Management District), Rick Scott (current Governor), and Bob Graham (former Governor, state Senator and United States Senator). What are we to make of these statements, taking into account George Orwell’s insights in his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language”?
The op-ed by Mr. Daniels is the thinnest. It has the highest fraction of what Orwell called “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” Words like lake, estuary, groundwater, aquifer, estuary, and ocean are not used. Neither are drought, minimum flows, climate change, water conservation, water efficiency, agriculture, city, or public water supply. There is no mention of any water feature in the district or any specific water issue. Rick Scott’s op-ed comes out firmly for both a “healthy economy” and a “healthy environment.” Scott is against “government bureaucracy, excessive salaries and benefits, and costly litigation” while favoring “customer service, timely permit decisions and compliance by sound rule development.” He strongly favors Everglades restoration but counsels also that “we should look to public-private partnerships to help meet our water quantity and quality goals, while keeping land on the tax rolls and agriculture in business.”
Reading this op-ed, you would not have a clue that Scott led a successful effort to dramatically reduce spending on water management in Florida. (Orwell might cite this as an example of using language for “concealing or preventing thought.”) I am sure that Scott means it when he says that “I understand a healthy economy is dependent upon a healthy environment.” My concern, however, is that if environmental protection impairs the economy in any way, environmental protection instantly will be shoved overboard. That is the historic pattern of economic development in Florida. Bob Graham’s op-ed is the most direct and fact-filled of the three. It is the only one with any numbers:
Everglades restoration will “result in $46.5 billion in gains to Florida’s economy and create in excess of 440,000 jobs in the next 50 years” and “Almost 600 men and women who had served the SFWMD in its Everglades and other water management functions critical to the southern region of Florida were summarily fired.”
Water management funding “was cut almost 39.6 percent or over $700 million.”
“Within less than three years, the $400 million fund established primarily +to finance the state’s share of Everglades land acquisition and restoration will be exhausted, with no prospects for replenishment.”
Orwell warned that political language can be used to give an “appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Graham avoids that by being specific and quantitative. He commends Rick Scott for recent statements on the Everglades. I hope that Graham’s wish for continued action in this direction turns out to be fulfilled.
Very interestingly, Graham adds a concern that state leaders may move in 2012 to privatize the state’s water resources. There could lead to immense profits for some businesses. However, privatization would not ultimately advance either the state’s economy, its water supplies, or its unique natural systems.
former Florida governor
and US Senator.
111127-a Everglades restoration: Can this marriage be saved ?
Miami Herald – by Bob Graham
November 27, 2011
The Everglades is in danger again. This time it is not from a drought, hurricane or other act of nature. It is not from some imminent encroaching development.
It is from the 2011 Florida Legislature and its cascade of damaging legislation which threatens to bring the three-decade-long effort to save the Everglades to a halt.
Everglades restoration is not just a matter of saving one of the Earth’s most important and unique environments and protecting the fresh water supply for a third of Florida’s residents. Everglades restoration is our state’s largest job and economic development program. A 2011 report by Mather Economics to the Everglades Foundation estimated that investing $11.5 billion in Everglades restoration (equally divided between the federal government and the state of Florida) will result in $46.5 billion in gains to Florida’s economy and create in excess of 440,000 jobs in the next 50 years.
Among the most important chapters in the salvation of the Everglades occurred in 2000 when the people of America and Florida were betrothed in an engagement to collaborate on the multi-year, multibillion dollar Everglades restoration program.
While progress toward the goal has been delayed due to funding shortfalls — to date primarily by the federal partner, and occasional vacillations in the specific steps necessary to accomplish the objective — many positive things have happened. Highly visible is the commencement of restoration of natural water flow into Everglades National Park through the now underway replacement of a portion of the Tamiami Trail earthen dike with six and a half miles of bridges. More fundamentally, the 2000 America-Florida engagement is the only initiative which has a chance of rescuing this world treasure from destruction before it is too late.
Precisely what did the legislature do last spring?
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is the agency charged with representing the state’s interest in Everglades restoration. It has demonstrated the technical and managerial competence to fulfill its part of the marriage. The SFWMD and its predecessor agency have had strong public and bipartisan political support since their creation in 1948.
In sixty days the last legislature virtually emasculated the sixty-year-old water district.
Funding was cut almost 39.6 percent or over $700 million. Within less than three years, the $400 million fund established primarily +to finance the state’s share of Everglades land acquisition and restoration will be exhausted, with no prospects for replenishment.
The professional staff necessary to maintain the confidence of our federal spouse was eviscerated. Almost 600 men and women who had served the SFWMD in its Everglades and other water management functions critical to the southern region of Florida were summarily fired.
For nearly 40 years the state has annually augmented funding of the SFWMD — such as the state’s share of the critical northwest corner of the Everglades, the Big Cypress Preserve. Since 2000 state funds were provided through a land acquisition bonding program, Florida Forever. Forever ended this spring. In 2011 Florida Forever funds were totally eliminated.
Since its establishment, the SFWMD and its four sister agencies throughout the state have been managed by citizen boards appointed by the governor. This citizen-led, water basin and science centric system was dramatically altered last spring. For the first time the legislature granted itself the power to micro-manage the budgets of the districts. This injection of partisan politics into water management decision-making will be especially disruptive because Everglades restoration has and will require multi-year plans, funding and commitment. Annual legislative approval will make those impossible. Will this not look to the federal government as a trial separation pending final divorce?
Proposals for the future are more ominous. Ten years ago there was an initiative by an affiliate of the disgraced Enron Corporation to abandon Florida’s tradition of recognizing water as a crucial public resource to be managed for all the people of Florida and instead treat it as a commodity owned by private interests. The then leaders of the state were wise and rejected this swindle; however, it is now re-surfacing. Some are suggesting the purpose of the alterations made by the 2011 legislature was to set the table for privatization of Florida’s water. You can imagine how well the water-dependent natural system of the Everglades would fare if it had to bid for privately owned water in competition with commercial users.
Into this gloomy picture there has now come a ray of light. Gov. Rick Scott, speaking on Nov. 16 to the Everglades Foundation, said, “My administration is absolutely focused on making sure the right thing happens with the Everglades.”
To realize this commitment, the governor must erect an iron curtain of opposition to privatization and any other future degradation in the state’s ability to continue the marriage with Washington for Everglades restoration. Beyond that, in the election year of 2012 the legislature should respond to the desire of the great majority of Floridians, who support Everglades restoration, and begin rolling back the mistakes of 2011.
Talking the talk is ingratiating; walking the walk can save the marriage and the Everglades. Bob Graham served as Florida’s governor and U.S. senator
111127-b Natural resources are Sunshine State's economic engine
TBO.com - by Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida
November 27, 2011
As governor, I understand a healthy economy is dependent upon a healthy environment. Florida's residents and businesses rely on clean water, clean air and open spaces for tourism, commerce, agriculture and recreation. That's why protecting our natural resources through a stable regulatory environment is key to ensuring businesses are successful and future generations will be able to enjoy all that our state has to offer.
A stable regulatory environment does not mean lower environmental standards. It means that environmental policy will be governed by sound science, not politics or one-size-fits-all solutions. It means that our permit processes will be the same for Tampa residents and businesses as they are for those in Pensacola, Jacksonville or Key West, but also take into account our state's regional differences.
It also means that more of our dollars will be directed toward projects that actually benefit the environment instead of government bureaucracy, excessive salaries and benefits, and costly litigation.
Government regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection, are working hard to focus on customer service, timely permit decisions and compliance by sound rule development, writing clear and enforceable permits and by providing technical assistance and public education.
At the same time, willful violations of our environmental standards will not be tolerated. We will be just as vigilant about prosecuting bad actors as we are about helping businesses comply with the law.
The state of Florida should maintain its rights to protect our environment, and it should be done at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. We are a national leader in addressing pollution in our state's water bodies and have the most extensive monitoring and assessment program in the country. We know more about our water bodies than any federal agency or other state and are in a unique position to craft a solution that recognizes and respects the needs of our diverse landscape. We will continue to work cooperatively with our federal partners as we develop a state-led effort to restore and protect our rivers, lakes and streams.
Florida is committed to moving forward on important restoration projects like improving water quality in the Everglades. The state and federal governments have invested significant resources, yet we both recognize there is more work to do. We cannot continue to let costly, ongoing lawsuits derail our progress, which is why recently I put forward a strategy that puts the Everglades first. We can all agree that the Everglades ecosystem is the crown jewel of Florida, and it deserves our best efforts to resolve differences and deliver results.
Government should be held accountable at all times, and especially during economic downturns we should make sure we're spending taxpayer money wisely. Over the last five decades the state has acquired more than 4.2 million acres, including some of Florida's most critical conservation properties. However, now is the time to evaluate our inventory and ask ourselves if we have the right land in the right places.
Future land purchases should ensure clean water for future generations and protect our state's economic engines, such as military bases, estuaries and tourism destinations.
As we do with other state agencies, we will expect accountability budgeting from our water management districts, which means justifying every dollar we spend and bringing spending in line with revenues. Resources will be directed to ensuring the protection of Florida's water quality, water supply, flood control and natural systems.
The state's water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection continue to employ some of the best environmental professionals in the country, and we will look to them to help identify creative, cost-saving solutions that do not impact the districts' core missions. In addition, we should look to public-private partnerships to help meet our water quantity and quality goals, while keeping land on the tax rolls and agriculture in business.
Our state's natural resources are unparalleled. It's why people choose to live here, vacation here and bring their businesses here. In Florida, we don't have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. The two are inextricably linked, and as governor, I am working to ensure our resources are dedicated to the improvement of both.
111127-c Utilities, water districts join to map Florida water's future
Orlando Sentinel - by Kevin Spear
November 27, 2011
The state's most-powerful water bureaucrats and the Orlando area's biggest water utilities have met several times this year, in near-secrecy, in an attempt to dole out the last drops of cheap, clean and highly coveted water from the giant Floridan Aquifer.
Some of those attending the meetings questioned whether they were breaking open-meeting laws by not also inviting business representatives, farmers, environmentalists and the ordinary people who pay monthly water bills.
Others said the discreet nature of the gatherings was necessary if the water-management agencies and the water-pumping utilities were to overcome their historic distrust of each other as they took on an intricate and daunting task.
Experts fear the Floridan Aquifer is being pumped so aggressively that springs, wetlands and lakes are drying up.
The ongoing talks are an effort to develop an orderly move toward new and more-costly sources of water, such as the St. Johns River and even the Atlantic Ocean, while avoiding every-utility-for-itself competition, said Brian Wheeler, executive director of Toho Water Authority, the largest utility in Osceola County and the host of the meetings.
"We've got one shot to get it right," Wheeler said. "If this fails, it will be a long time before we get everybody back to the table. We have the potential to create a lot of legal fights."
new Chairman of the
St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board.
A former Jacksonville
city councilman, he
recently retired as
executive director and president of the First Coast Manufacturers Association
111127-d Water management district plans for future of water supply
Daytona Beach News Journal - by Lad Daniels, Community Voices
November 27, 2011
As the incoming chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District's Governing Board, I am inspired by all of the opportunities ahead to ensure the quality and quantity of the water supply for nearly 5 million residents in more than 12,000 square miles in 18 counties in northeast and central Florida.
It is a pivotal time of change and evolution for all five of Florida's water management districts. The St. Johns district is emerging this fall as a stronger and more focused agency, with a clear path forward. During the past six months, considerable time and energy have gone into right-sizing the agency to ensure that our budget, staff and priorities are appropriate given our economic climate and the needs of our environment.
Because of the changing economic conditions, we reduced our property tax revenue by more than 25 percent. We did this in the same way that your families and businesses do. We focused on eliminating unnecessary expenditures and identified ways to work more efficiently. We reduced our staff to 591 highly qualified scientists, engineers and other professionals. Even with these reductions, the productivity of our work force has improved. We have not compromised our core missions.
A thorough analysis of those core missions and our highest priorities is allowing us to focus the $85 million a year we receive in property taxes on: implementing a regional water supply strategy to provide sufficient quantities of water for users and the environment; protecting water quality and natural systems; and preventing increases in flooding by operating and maintaining the district's regional flood control projects.
We are focused on working more efficiently and leveraging more partnership opportunities with our extremely diverse constituency.
As a permitting agency, we are tasked with upholding the laws of Florida that relate to our region's water resources. We will keep water resource protections solidly in place. And we will continually search for ways to improve these protections. We will assist permitees to identify ways to achieve their goals without compromising our standards.
As a water resource agency, we have the experience and expertise to complete the numerous regional restoration projects already in progress. And we are well equipped to undertake new projects that will permanently enhance our quality of life.
As we begin 2012, the district's board, the new executive director and our team are dedicated to ensuring that we adhere to our core missions. We will continually seek ways to achieve our goals in the most efficient and fiscally conservative way possible. It is critical that we, as your water management district, ensure that we are thoughtful and deliberative in our decision-making. We will base our decisions on sound science. We will ensure that protections for our water resources remain in place. We will work collaboratively with our constituency for the betterment of our environment.
We welcome your participation and input as we seek to protect our region's unique water resources. We are continually searching for ways to keep you informed. I encourage you to visit our website and to connect with us through the various social media platforms at floridaswater.com/socialmedia. Lad Daniels, of Jacksonville, was appointed to the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board in April and elected as the board's chairman earlier this month. A former Jacksonville city councilman, he recently retired as executive director and president of the First Coast Manufacturers Association.
111126-a Environmental programs fall victim to budget cuts
November 26, 2011
(AP) BOISE, Idaho — When lightning ignited a wildfire near Idaho's Sun Valley in 2007, environmental regulators used monitoring gear to gauge the health effects for those breathing in the Sawtooth Mountains' smoky, mile-high air.
That equipment sits idle today after the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality was hit by $4 million in spending cuts, a quarter of its budget, since the recession began. Water testing on selenium-laced streams in Idaho's phosphate mining country also has been cut back, as have mercury monitoring and hazardous waste inspections.
The cuts to environmental programs in Idaho provide a snapshot of a national trend. Conservation programs and environmental regulations have been pared back significantly in many states that have grappled with budget deficits in recent years.
Because environmental programs are just a sliver of most state budgets, the cuts often go without much public notice. More attention is focused on larger reductions in Medicaid, public education or prisons.
A 24-state survey by the Environmental Council of States, the national association of state environmental agency leaders, showed agency budgets decreasing by an average of $12 million in 2011. The Washington, D.C.-based group also says federal grants to help states administer new federal Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding air and water quality also have waned, falling by 5.1 percent since 2004.
Regulators in many states say they are trying to maintain fundamental environmental protections required by the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other federal laws.
"Hopefully, even with all the cuts in place, we're still doing a good job of protecting that," said Martin Bauer, Idaho's air quality administrator.
Yet environmentalists and some state regulators are concerned that the budget cuts imperil programs designed to safeguard public health and safety.
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, signed a budget that cut funding for the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality more than 30 percent, from $833 million to $565 million. That included reducing air quality inspections and assessments.
Colin Meehan, of the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, worries that Texas will struggle to meet Clean Air Act obligations.
"We see this as not just a problem from a regulatory standpoint," he said. "It's a public health issue."
While the Texas agency reduced state incentive programs to cut pollutants, those were not required by federal law, agency spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said. The reductions "are only one part of the state's overall approach" to paring emissions, she said.
In some states where conservatives control the Legislature and the governor's office, environmentalists have been critical of deep cutbacks to the programs they had fought to implement. Some suggest the severity of the cuts is due as much to a political agenda to reduce government regulations as it is to cope with state budget deficits. Florida Gov. Rick Scott's first budget included his veto of a $500,000 water quality study on Lake Okeechobee and some $20 million in cuts to Everglades' restoration. Scott, a Republican, said the steps were necessary to balance a state budget hard hit by home foreclosures and real estate losses.
But the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature also cut $210 million from property tax revenue intended for local water-management districts that protect Florida's swamplands. Environmentalists blasted those cuts, complaining they were meant to help Scott fulfill pledge to cut taxes.
"It would have been appropriate for there to have been some level of budget reductions," Audubon of Florida advocacy director Charles Lee said. "But it's clear what happened in Tallahassee in 2011 was targeted, ideologically driven, and I would add, mean-spirited."
Scott insists his administration uncovered overly generous pension payments and questionable purchases by the local water districts. He said water resources deserve protecting, but the agencies that oversee them also must be fiscally responsible.
Budget cuts have affected high-profile programs in several other states, as well.
In South Carolina, they mean health officials will not perform a statewide study of how mercury-tainted fish affect those who eat them. Contaminated fish have been found in some 1,700 miles of the state's rivers. That state's Department of Natural Resources' budget was cut more than 50 percent, dropping to $14 million from $32 million.
The state Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania has seen general fund support slip from $217 million in 2009 to $140 million, levels last seen in 1994.
"This is a silent train wreck that's happening," said David Hess, the former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "What these cuts do is cut the capacity and the ability of environmental agencies to do their jobs."
At best, states will know less about how their air and water quality are faring. At worst, they could become dirtier and more dangerous places to live, Hess said.
Oregon, for example, reduced air pollution monitoring, as the Department of Environmental Quality faces budget cuts through 2013. In North Carolina, lawmakers eliminated a $480,000 mapping program created after a landslide killed five people in 2004, jettisoning the jobs of six geologists who said more maps were needed to help protect Appalachian mountain residents by helping them decide where it is safe to build.
"It's very shortsighted," said DJ Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Ashville, N.C. "We've had 48 landslide deaths since 1916. What's changed is the appetite for building in these areas where risks are most abundant."
In some cases, it's difficult to know what effect the spending cuts will have over the long term because environmental problems often evolve over time.
When Washington's Legislature trimmed $30 million, or 27 percent, from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's budget, three employees who had been diving in the Puget Sound to hunt down invasive sea squirts lost their jobs.
The gelatinous invaders, known as tunicates, form a goopy mat on the sea floor, raising fears that they will hurt the shellfish industry, as they have in eastern Canada.
"We are basically addressing tunicates on an emergency basis only," said Allen Pleus, Washington state's aquatic invasive species coordinator.
While the state's oyster growers will not rule out the potential for future problems caused by the sea squirts, they say they do not see an immediate threat to their livelihoods.
"There isn't any place I'm aware of that the tunicates are causing harm on the shellfish farms," said Bill Dewey, of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash.
Elsewhere, budget cuts to invasive species programs have caused more alarm.
The Hawaii Invasive Species Council, a main player in that state's fight against non-native plants and animals, saw its budget cut by more than half to $1.8 million.
Fearing "a collapse of our inspection capacity," spokeswoman Deborah Ward said her agency redirected 40 percent of its remaining money to preserve inspections that help keep invasive pests such as brown tree snakes from hitchhiking their way into the islands from Guam. Hawaii has no native snakes, so experts fears their arrival could decimate native bird species.
As the money was shifted, however, the state cut back on field crews who targeted invasive species already on the islands. Those include pigs, wild goats and sheep that can decimate an ecosystem full of plants that evolved without natural protections, like thorns.
"They're like bonbons for pigs," Christy Martin, a spokeswoman for the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species in Honolulu, said of the state's native plants. "If there's nobody out there actually doing the work, you get astronomical reproduction. We have a year-round breeding season here, so everything goes crazy, and you lose ground."
111126-b Precious Water, Part 1: How to get more water from aquifer ? Drill deeper
Orlando Sentinel - by Kevin Spear
November 26, 2011,
Finding water underground in Central Florida doesn't require a divining rod or a lot of fancy equipment.
That's because drilling into the ground literally anywhere — whether on the 50-yard line of the University of Central Florida's football stadium or atop Lake County's 312-foot-high Sugarloaf Mountain — would pierce the Floridan Aquifer, a prolific and celebrated source of water.
So why is Seminole County drilling an exploratory well three times as deep as a typical public water well ? The county's utility department wants to find some of the last available water that can be pumped from the Floridan Aquifer without harming the springs, rivers, wetlands and lakes that lie above it on the surface.
Seminole hopes to bypass liquefied sand, impenetrable rock, upwelling salt solutions and noxious sulfur compounds on its way to a depth of 1,500 feet — all to tap the bottom of the aquifer barrel, so to speak.
"I love this business," said Gary Eichler, a 37-year aquifer consultant overseeing Seminole's drilling. "You never know what you are going to encounter."
It's uncharted territory for the county. The subterranean journey, which will cost nearly $450,000, is one that some other utilities have shied away from, or have started and then abandoned as a costly, dead-end expedition.
But it matters as the region's governments and utilities divvy up what remains of the region's cheap, underground water supply.
Understanding the aquifer
Seminole's deep-well attempt contains many unknowns, but the Floridan Aquifer's basics are well understood.
Some tens of millions of years ago, a piece of the planet that was previously part of Africa but would become the Florida peninsula was at the bottom of an ocean. The bones of prehistoric leviathans and the shells of microscopic plankton piled layer upon layer until they were thousands of feet thick. The mass became limestone.
"If you ever take a chunk of Florida limestone and really scrutinize it, it actually consists of fossils," said Harley Means, assistant state geologist of the Florida Geological Survey. "Snail shells and clam shells, sand dollars, crabs and anything you can think of that lives or used to live in the marine environment."
After Florida rose from the ocean, rain made slightly acidic by decaying plants trickled underground, dissolving the limestone and excavating tiny pores, interconnected holes, extensive faults and crevices to eventually produce the rocky sponge that stores much of Florida's cleanest freshwater.
Some limestone is less porous than concrete; a square foot of it holds just a few drops of water. But some sections of the aquifer are huge caves, where a square foot contains 7.5 gallons of water.
A typical square foot of aquifer limestone stores a few gallons.
Unlike the surface of the moon or the bottoms of oceans, the irregular, three-dimensional plumbing of the Floridan Aquifer is largely invisible to geologists; they must infer — using computer models somewhat like those that generate weather forecasts — how our drinking water is behaving hundreds or thousands of feet underground.
"The models are far from perfect, but the thinking is they are the best tool available to make an educated approximation of how the aquifer system works," said Andrew O'Reilly, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Orlando. "Otherwise, you really are just guessing."
US senator (D-FL)
111126-c Sen. Nelson's effort to ban interstate python trade concerns wildlife officials
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton
November 26, 2011
The good intentions of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to help control the invasion of Burmese pythons in the Everglades have Florida wildlife officials cringing.
Nelson recently sent a letter to President Obama urging him to speed up the process for including the Burmese python and five other pythons roaming around South Florida on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's list of injurious species. That would trigger a ban on the import and interstate trade of the giant constrictors.
"These dangerous snakes have killed people, including an innocent child, devoured endangered species and most recently, a Burmese python consumed a 76-pound adult deer," Nelson wrote in the letter.
While wildlife officials are all for eradicating the wild snakes, they say the unintended consequences of banning the import and interstate trade could lead to even more of the snakes being dumped in the wild by shady dealers stuck with an inventory of worthless snakes.
"We certainly have a concern, in the event they are put on the injurious list, of what would happen to the inventory of the commercial guys," said Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We have seen cases when animals go on the injurious list and then all of a sudden you find them in the wrong place."
Last year Florida dealers and breeders lost much of their in-state business when it became illegal to acquire the six species of pythons as pets after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listed them as a conditional species.
Floridians who already owned pet pythons could keep them, but only reptile dealers, researchers and public exhibitors could apply for a permit to import or possess new pythons.
If pythons are further regulated and placed on the federal injurious species list, commercial dealers and breeders will not be able to sell and ship their snakes to buyers in other states, leaving them to figure out how to dispose of their pythons.
While most dealers are "trying to do the right thing," and would not release their snakes in the wild, "it certainly could happen with some of the marginal dealers," Hardin said.
The FWC has no plans for getting rid of the dealers' unwanted snakes. The fate of the pythons "wouldn't be within our purview necessarily," Hardin said.
However, the commission does host nonnative pet amnesty days, which allow pet owners to surrender their non-native amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, invertebrates and reptiles at specific locations throughout the state at no charge and with no penalties.
Since the first pythons were spotted in the wild in Florida in the 1980s, captures, hunting and escapes have grabbed headlines around the world. Although the exact number of pythons in the wild is not known, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated there are between 5,000 and 100,000 in the Everglades.
The South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to include the Burmese python as an injurious wildlife species in June 2006. As the district waited for approval, the number of pythons captured rose dramatically, from 170 in 2006 to 367 in 2009.
111123-a Everglades to get its own Capitol caucus
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy
November 23, 2011
The state Capitol has its Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus and even Tea Party Caucus, with likeminded legislators forming loose-knit groups to promote their cause.
Beginning next week, a Florida Everglades Caucus will dawn — launched Monday at an event scheduled in Boynton Beach.
Rep. Steve Perman, a Boca Raton Democrat, and Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, are the founding members of the caucus. They’ll be joined by the Everglades Foundation, Everglades Coalition, and other environmental activists at Monday’s 1 p.m., kick-off event, planned for Bedner’s Farm, west of Boynton on U.S. 441.
Goals of the caucus aren’t immediately known. But Gov. Rick Scott is likely to be seeking state cash and legislative backing for his plan announced last month for Everglades restoration.
After demands from federal officials for more action from the state, Scott unveiled a proposal that calls for building reservoirs, expanding wetlands and removing dams and other obstacles to freshwater flow in the Everglades region.
The Republican governor also is looking to extend the latest federal deadline for restoration to 2022 — another two years. For those with long memories, the initial plan for completing Everglades restoration was 2006, under a federal court settlement reached in 1992
111123-b Florida Forever looking at St. Joe land
The Walton Sun – by Felicia Kitzmiller
November 23, 2011
Panel will consider adding 4,550 acres to acquisition list.
WEST BAY — A large piece of St. Joe property in West Bay passed the first hurdle toward conservation this summer, but the next step in its long battle is scheduled for Dec. 8.
In August, Florida Forever’s Acquisition and Restoration Council voted 8-1 to fully evaluate 4,519 acres of St. Joe property in West Bay for potential acquisition. Florida Forever is the country’s largest land acquisition and preservation organization in the country and has purchased 2.5 million acres of land across the state in the interest of preservation and public access.
On Dec. 8, the council will reconvene in Tallahassee to review the full report and decide whether to add the property to Florida Forever’s acquisition list, and if so what to rank the property.
St. Joe agreed to make the land available for conservation as part of a stipulated settlement agreement resolving challenges to the West Bay Sector Plan. The request for acquisition has been supported by the Bay County Board of County Commissioners, Gulf Coast State College, Northwest Florida Water Management District, Naval Support Activity Panama City and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The St. Andrew Bay ecosystem is one of the most diverse estuarine ecosystems in North America, reportedly supporting more than 3,600 species, according to a study conducted by Keppner Biological Service and Kimley-Horn & Associates, Biological Research Associates. The project area includes several distinct habitats and supports three imperiled species of plants along with the imperiled dragonfly, gopher tortoise and black bear.
“The greatest value of this is the contribution it could make to the water quality in West Bay and the entire St. Andrew water system,” said Jim Muller of Muller & Associates, a consulting firm hired by St. Joe to promote the sale of the property for conservation.
The West Bay area has been designated a crucial waterway by the Northwest Florida Water Management District, which has enrolled the watershed in the Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan. Purchase of this land for conservation would add to a ring of ecological protection that almost entirely encircles the watershed at this point
111122-a Clean Water Act Pits State vs Feds
WUSF - by Carson Cooper To listen CLICK HERE
November 22, 2011
TAMPA (2011-11-22) -
The state was sued three years ago by environmental groups, who say too many nutrients are flowing into rivers and lakes, creating green outbreaks in what used to be clear waters. That lawsuit resulted in the EPA determining the state violated the Clean Water Act. But some business and agriculture groups have balked, saying it would cost them millions.
WUSF's Carson Cooper speaks with Cris Costello of the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Rich Budell, director of the Water Policy Office with the Florida Department of Agriculture.
111122-b Invasive plants endanger fragile ecosystem
WZVN-ABC, ch.7 - by Joe Roetz, NBC2 Reporter
November 22, 2011
COLLIER COUNTY -
One of Florida's most dangerous predators doesn't have teeth, claws or the ability to attack people. At the same time, it's strangling native plants and driving away native animals. Michael Knight and Jonathan Nash are scientists from the Audubon Society who spend their days in the Everglades hunting invasive, non-native plants.
It's easy to get lost – and hard to find what you're looking for. They wade through waist high water and six miles of thick brush – looking.
Their goal is to use a simple weed killer on the invaders, which threaten the natural habitat of endangered species.
"These patches here are fairly close to one of our wood stork nesting areas," said Knight.If left alone, one invasive species, the old world climbing fern, would attach itself to whatever it could, and would climb its way up, then blanket everything. It would keep sunlight out and smother everything underneath.
Knight hopes their adventure into the Everglades will keep Florida's natural habitat looking more natural.
111122- Palm Beach County proposes fertilizer rules aimed at reducing water pollution
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
November 22, 2011
Sierra Club says county should opt for even tougher fertilizer cutbacks. Palm Beach County's lush green lawns can come with damaging environmental costs.
Fertilizer washing off lawns after rainstorms pollutes waterways, leading to water-quality problems, fish kills and damage to ocean reefs.
To improve water quality, the county proposes new rules targeting the companies homeowners hire to tend to the sod that blankets neighborhoods.
That could require new training for landscapers who also would face fines if they don't follow tougher environmental standards for applying fertilizer and caring for yards.
"It's a major education process to protect our water bodies, to protect Florida's fragile water systems," said Audrey Norman, director of the county Cooperative Extension Service.
The county's move follows a statewide requirement to have tougher fertilizer rules in place by 2014.
But the county and the state should go further to limit the damaging effects of fertilizer runoff, according to the Sierra Club
The environmental group proposes a ban on fertilizing during Florida's rainy season as well a limit on the types of fertilizer that can be sold to the public.
"When you apply fertilizer in the rainy season, it just runs right off," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. "If we lose our reefs, we are going to lose our nursery for our fish."
Fertilizer pollution dumps elevated levels of nutrients – primarily nitrogen and phosphorus – into canals, rivers, lakes and estuaries.
Those increased nutrient levels fuel algae blooms and other problems with water clarity and quality that can lead to massive fish kills and also kill off sea grasses and reefs that provide vital marine habitat. Palm Beach County proposes new restrictions on companies that apply fertilizer to lawns and other landscaping.
Those companies would have to be certified by the county in techniques for applying fertilizer and landscaping in ways that reduce the runoff of pollutants into local waters, and would be prohibited from blowing yard clippings into sewage drains, for example.
Violators could face maximum fines $1,000 fines per violation initially and up to $5,000 for repeat offenders.
These rules would apply to areas outside city limits, but cities also are required to approve fertilizer rules by 2014.
Landscape and nursery industry representatives contend it goes too far to impose bans on fertilizing during certain times of year or limits on the types of fertilizer that can be sold.
The focus should be on educating the public to fertilize in moderation and giving professional landscapers the flexibility to apply fertilizer as needed, said Jim Spratt of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.
"It's shortsighted to say, 'Thou shalt not supply any fertilizer for four months,' " Spratt said. "You can have healthy green lawns and healthy landscapes and still have good water quality."
Fertilizer runoff – whether from sugar cane farms or suburban lawns – plagues South Florida water bodies from the Everglades to the coast.
Reducing polluted runoff through Palm Beach County's proposed rule is much more effective than trying to clean up polluted water bodies, said Rob Robbins, new head of the county's Environmental Resources Management Department.
Coming to a cattle ranch
111122- Public Has Three More Days to Comment on Possible New Wildlife Refuge
BrowardPalmBeach.com - by Stefan Kamph
November 2,2 2011
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the public comment period for a proposal to turn 150,000 acres of savanna ranch land north of Lake Okeechobee into the "Headwaters of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge." The acquisition would cost $700 million, and around a third of the land would remain open to ranching.
The grassland around the Kissimmee River, which feeds into Lake Okeechobee and eventually the Everglades, has long been fertile ground for hunting and ranching, even after dredging projects in the '60s and '70s turned it into a straight, lifeless canal. In the early '90s, Congress approved a plan to fill in a large portion of the canal and bring the river back to its rambling roots.
Anyway, the grassland around the river is a topic of hot debate. Plans to create the wildlife refuge have drawn strong opposition from those calling it "another government land grab," according to the St. Pete Times, which counted 600 people at one hearing.
As the National Park Service mulls what to do with the Big Cypress Addition Lands closer to home, this project's approval would signal a shift in attitudes toward conservation (or at least planned management).
But Matt Schwartz of South Florida Wildlands Association, which filed a lawsuit this month against the Park Service for trying to allow off-road vehicles in the Addition Lands, says some of the money for the new acquisition could be better spent on other projects.
Like, for example, an effort to establish Florida panther refuges given the fact that Florida Power & Light is planning to build a large, fossil-fueled power plant smack in the middle of active panther territory.
People wishing to comment on the possible new Headwaters of the Everglades refuge, pro or con, can email EvergladesHeadwatersProposal@fws.gov, including their name and address. Comment closes this Friday, November 25
111122-e Tentative Deal With EPA on Water Standards Could Collapse Over Canal Exemptions
Bradenton Times - by Dennis Maley
November 22, 2011
BRADENTON – Though Florida's Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have tentatively agreed on pollution rules to protect Florida's waters, the whole deal could go up in smoke over the issue of canals and whether they will be protected from pollution.
Some of the state's most polluted waterways are canals and if the state exempts all of them from the pollution rules, a move being pushed by some of the state's most powerful industries, the deal would come off the table. If the state doesn't get the EPA's approval by March, the EPA would then impose its own rules, which would in all likelihood be much stricter than those in the tentative deal. The EPA could even take over permitting in Florida.
The pollution limits need to be set and approved to settle a 3-year-old lawsuit by environmental groups to limit nutrients from fertilizer, manure and runoff. The suit has already cost taxpayers $20 million, as the state faces another massive deficit, projected at $2 billion for 2012. The state failed to meet an October deadline imposed by a 2010 settlement agreement to set pollution limits. They have since submitted their plan, and while the EPA was satisfied with standards for lakes, rivers, estuaries, streams and springs, canals were an area of concern.
The state wants canals in south Florida to be exempt from the rules, because most are man-made and designed to move water or protect against flooding. The EPA is okay with this. Canals in the northern part of the state were not to be exempt, because most are not man-made and therefore have more important ecological impact as part of the natural ecosystem. But some northern counties, cities and water management districts are insisting on exemptions from the new rules as well. If they are able to convince lawmakers to give it to them, the tentative deal is off the table and the EPA will almost definitely reject the plan once submitted.
The Environmental Regulation Commission will vote on whether to approve the state's plan at a Dec. 8 meeting. If they do, it goes to the state legislature, which would then have until March to pass it and get it approved by the EPA, which in all likelihood, will come down to the wire considering the legislature also has redistricting to tackle when its session begins in January.
Col. M. Kinard,
Army Corps of
111121-a Balancing act on Lake Okeechobee as water managers try to protect South Florida from flooding
WPTZ Channel 5 News – by Michael Williams
November 21, 2011
Parts of dike on critical list of repair.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla - Plumbing jobs don't get any bigger than this one.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is shoring up the nearly 80-year-old Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, the nation's second largest freshwater lake. The old dam, which is made of muck and other natural materials, is on the country's critical repair list.
"We have got active points of failure. We actually have water flowing through moving material where it shouldn't be,” said Lt. Col. Michael Kinard, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Okeechobee is the Seminole Indian name for "big water." An extensive 2006 study called the aging dike that contains it "a grave and imminent danger.”
Kinard says the nightmare scenario is "a breach.” How catastrophic would depend on where it took place.
Nearly $400 million in federal money is being spent to try and ensure that a breach never happens.
One of the areas where repair work is taking place is the stretch of dike between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade. There a concrete wall two feet thick and up to 80 feet deep is being constructed.
The work here has been likened to putting a filling in your tooth, only in this case the drilling will be felt all the way from giant Lake Okeechobee to your water faucet.
"We keep the lake about a foot lower than it was in the past,” said Kinard. “That is a foot of water we don't have for water supply."
Strengthen the dike and the big lake, the liquid heart of South Florida, could safely hold more water in times of heavy rainfall. That would mean more lake water ready to resupply those canals crisscrossing South Florida through the canals that refill our precious groundwater in times of drought.
At the South Florida Water Management District, canal gates are opened and closed from a nerve center.
"All the water flow is monitored right here,” said Tommy Stroud, the director of operations, maintenance and construction for the district.
The C-51 canal outside his office is a reminder of the work at hand.
"We don't really have a shortage of rainfall but we have this balance. In order to prevent flooding we have to discharge water very quickly,” said Stroud. “If we could keep it in the system it would be a source of freshwater to use for drinking water or natural systems like irrigation and agriculture."
Everglades restoration is the ultimate, though often elusive goal. It’s an ongoing bid to undo man made plumbing and restore the natural flow of water down the river of grass.
"What we really want to do is go right down the center of Florida, through the historic Everglades river of grass and by doing that recharge aquifers, all the way down and bring more water to Everglades National Park,” said Kinard.
(mouse over to enlarge)
Green areas - already acquired public lands
which would surround this huge project.
Big Cypress National
Preserve to the south; Holeyland and
Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas and
Storm Water Treatment
Areas 3, 4, 5 and 6 to
the east; the Dinner
Area and the
Okaloacoochee State Forest to the north and
west. A plant of this
size would also
traffic and open up the
entire area to sprawl,
road building, and
111121-b Finding more room for Florida panthers
Summit Voice - by Bob Berwyn
November 21, 2011
New land deals in Southern Florida could benefit rare cats if they’re mapped carefully
SUMMIT COUNTY — Florida panthers could get a bit more room to roam in the southern part of the state with a proposed expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the region — but conservation groups says federal land managers are missing a key part of the conservation puzzle.
The proposed Headwaters of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge would protect 150,000 acres of ranch lands north of Lake Okeechobee at a price tag of 700 million dollars. The patchwork quilt of properties created would include 50,000 acres purchased outright while a conservation easement would be placed on 100,000 additional acres to prevent development.
The plan is aimed at Everglades restoration, but wildlife advocates said that, if the project is planned right, it could be a huge benefit to on the country’s rarest animals.
“We believe there is a better and more strategic way to spend at least some of massive amounts of money the American people are being asked to invest,” said Matt Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association.
Schwartz said the Fish and Wildlife Service should be looking at preserving core panther habitat, including a parcel recently sold to a developer interested in building a convential power plant, euphemistically billed as a clean energy center.
Schwartz said the land is of the highest important for the critically endangered Florida panther and numerous other plant and animal species which share its habitat, including wood storks, crested caracara, black bears, wild turkey, eastern indigo snakes and fox squirrels.
Schwartz said his group is willing to fight the proposed power plant project, but suggested that the parcel be made part of the wildlife refuge expansion.
The marriage between state, federal, and private interests which would be accomplished by incorporating Panther Glades (including the newly acquired Florida Power and Light property) into the new Headwaters of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge could not be better, Schwartz explained via email.
Panther Glades has already been extensively studied for its wildlife and habitat importance. It is also a key part of the northern watershed of Big Cypress National Preserve which provides fresh, clean water to much of Everglades National Park and other public lands further south.
As of May of this year, Panther Glades was ranked highest in importance of all Florida Forever “Critical Natural Lands Projects” in south Florida. In the state’s current fiscal conditions, however, Florida Forever has received zero dollars in funding from the Florida legislature
111121-c Study: Reform of U.S. Sugar Policy Would Help Consumers, Jobs
November 21, 2011
November 21, 2011 A new study by researchers at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, shows that in the absence of current sugar policies, food industry jobs would increase as production and exports of sugar-containing products grow, and as imports of such products from other countries decline.
“This study clearly shows the impact of the high costs of the current sugar policy, but also tells us about the potential for consumers, small businesses and workers to benefit from a better policy,” says Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association, Washington, D.C., and chairman of the Coalition for Sugar Reform, Washington, D.C. “The report should caution Congress against any last-minute attempts to extend the current sugar program without the opportunity to debate changes.”
“Some sugar lobbyists would like to sneak an extension of the current anti-consumer, anti-business sugar policy into the un-amendable deficit-reduction bill that the Super Committee is working on,” continued Graham. “But this would be a huge boondoggle and a miscarriage of justice that would rob Congress of the chance to bring sugar policy into the 21st century.”
In addition, the U.S. sugar policy continues to have a significant impact on American consumers.
"Consumers are paying billions of dollars per year in higher prices as a result of our current sugar policies," says Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, Washington, D.C. "It is past time to reform this outmoded program."
Commissioned by the Sweetener Users Association, Washington, D.C., the study was conducted by John Beghin, professor of International Agricultural Economics, and Amani Elobeid, a senior analyst, both at at Iowa State University. It projected future prices, employment and other important variables if current sugar policies were abolished.
Although sugar reform could take many forms, a scenario with no programs is the best framework to illustrate the costs of current policy and the potential benefits if its costs were not imposed on society. “Looking at the complete elimination of the sugar program is the purest way to estimate the various effects and transfers on all agents,” the study says.
Highlights of the findings include:
• American consumers would gain up to $3.5 billion a year in savings on a wide variety of food products.
• The U.S. food industry would employ as many as 20,000 additional workers each year.
• The sugar-containing products sector—which is now a net importer—would become a net exporter, accounting for part of the employment gain and modestly reducing the U.S. trade deficit.
• Although profit margins in the sugar sector would decline from current inflated levels, they would actually remain near their historic range, the industry would continue to be profitable and production would stabilize near current levels.
• The 2008 Farm Bill inflated sugar crop returns by squeezing supplies and forcing higher prices: During 2009-11, returns per acre over variable costs for sugarbeets ($863 per acre) were more than double the returns for corn ($405) and nearly three times the return for soybeans ($324).
• Compared to 2006-07 and 2008-09, the past two years under the 2008 Farm Bill saw returns over variable costs increase by $342,000 for a 2,000-acre sugarcane farm and $142,500 for a 500-acre sugarbeet farm. (Total returns would have been far more—these numbers represent only the increase compared to the prior three years.)
• The Farm Bill also provided windfalls to sugar processing. For example, the average sugarbeet factory saw its gross margin increase by more than $75 million in the first years of the 2008 farm bill, compared to the prior period.
To view the full study, go to http://sugarreform.org/resources/economic-studies.
in Hollywood, FL
111119-a Climate change begins to affect South Florida
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler
November 19, 2011
The debate over global warming tends to focus on future perils — scary maps of flooded suburbs, the northward creep of tropical diseases, rich farmland turning into desert.
But some of the effects of global warming have already arrived in South Florida, as coastal cities flood more frequently and overheated corals turn white and die. The region's temperatures have not gone up, however, and many scientists say climate change has had little effect on hurricanes.
While most climate scientists agree the Earth has warmed over the past century, they say it's extremely difficult to assess the impact of slight temperature increases on complex natural systems.
"There is general consensus among scientists that climate change is occurring and that human activities are influencing that," said James W. Jones, director of the Florida Climate Institute at the University of Florida. "A lot of the controversy stems from the fact there's a lot of uncertainty about how much it's changing and how fast it's changing. … We need to go into the middle of this debate and not say nothing is going to happen and not say the sky is falling." Sea level rise
Storm sewers spew water into the street. Rowboats glide through residential neighborhoods. Water laps over thresholds.
The most immediate, easily measured and incontrovertible impact of global warming on South Florida is a rise in sea levels that has already generated flooding in coastal cities.
The tide station in Miami Beach has registered an increase of seven inches since 1935, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. An older station in Key West has measured an increase of eight inches since 1920.
Higher temperatures raise sea levels because water expands as it warms, although the melting of polar ice packs is expected to accelerate the increase. With sea levels higher, storm surges at high tide have pushed water through storm sewer systems into the streets of eastern Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and other coastal cities.
"Tides come up through the pipes and explode out of the grates," said Dr. John Golia, who lives in the Hendricks Isle section of Fort Lauderdale.
Although the conditions for increased flooding have existed for years, scientists say it's only in the past years that storms have arrived at the right tidal conditions to push water into neighborhoods.
(mouse over to enlarge)
Pollution in canals is
mainly of agricultural
111119-b EPA tells Florida: Enforce rules on fertilizer in canals
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
November 19, 2011
After years of legal ink-slinging, missed deadlines and countless hours of mind-numbing scientific testimony, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tentatively agreed this month on pollution rules to protect Florida's lakes, rivers, estuaries, streams and springs.
As for canals - some of the state's most polluted waterways - the deal is off if the state decides to exempt all canals in the state from the pollution rules, a move being pushed by some of the state's most powerful industries. If the state doesn't earn the EPA's approval by March, the EPA will impose its own rules - stricter than those the state now proposes - and could take over permitting altogether.
"There is a lot at stake here, and we need EPA to approve the rules," Drew Bartlett, the DEP's director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, said at the Nov. 3 meeting of the state's Environmental Regulation Commission. "It's the department's opinion that the state is best served by the department's rules, the department's permits and the department's managed actions."
The pollution limits need to be set in order to settle a 3-year-old lawsuit by environmental groups to limit nutrients from fertilizer, manure and urban runoff that cause algae blooms, kill wildlife, pollute the Everglades and fuel the growth of unwanted plants.
Although setting pollution limits for canals would seem to be a simple chore after dealing with the complex ecosystems of the state's larger water bodies, it has become a potential deal-breaker in a suit that has cost taxpayers $20 million.
Palm Beach County's water utility customers discovered the impact of the seemingly arcane rules when they opened their water bills in November 2010 to find a message from the utility saying that the EPA's pollution limits could raise their monthly water bills by $75.
Environmental groups countered by saying that amount was grossly exaggerated and amounted to scare tactics.
"No one knows Florida waters better than we do," DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard told the commission. "The future of Florida to maintain control of its waters depends on these rules."
The legal wrangling began in July 2008, when environmental groups sued the EPA, claiming that Florida had failed to set nutrient rules, as required by the EPA in 2003. In a settlement approved in November 2009, the EPA agreed to set pollution limits by October 2010 and encouraged the state to develop its own proposal.
Florida failed to meet the October deadline and the EPA proposed its own standards. But the agency also gave the state another chance, until March 6, 2012, to propose its own limits. Missing that deadline would mean Florida's inland waterways would be governed by the EPA's rules.
With the clock ticking, the DEP finished its proposal. The federal agency responded to it Nov. 2 with an encouraging letter, saying it would approve the DEP's proposals for lakes, rivers, estuaries, streams and springs. But canals are iffy.
Under the state's proposals, canals in South Florida are exempt from the rules, because most canals are man-made and designed to move water and prevent flooding. However, canals in North Florida are not exempt, because many are not man-made but naturally flowing. These canals contain plants and animals that are not found in man-made canals and therefore need protection by the state's pollution rules, the state says.
The EPA agrees. However, northern counties, cities and water management districts that oversee canals in northern Florida also want to be exempt from the new rules and intend to fight hard for the exemption. If that happens, the EPA will not approve the state's plan.
The Environmental Regulation Commission will decide whether to approve the state's plan at its Dec. 8 meeting. It then would go to the legislature, which will be busy with redistricting when it starts its session in January.
111119-c Project will help conservation efforts
Sun Sentinel - by Charlie Pelizza, refuge manager at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex
November 19, 2011
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area will advance a long-term vision to save what's left of the Florida your great-grandparents would recognize.
The proposed project is an effort by many partners to add the conservation pieces that would forever protect the Kissimmee River Valley's natural resources. The service would use a combination of 50,000 acres of refuge land and 100,000 acres of easements on private land to connect existing conservation areas, including state wildlife management areas.
The goals are to create wildlife corridors, protect rare species, restore wetlands and expand outdoor recreational opportunities, while also supporting a rural way of life for generations of cattle ranchers.
Other benefits include maintaining a rural buffer around the Avon Park Air-Ground Training Complex, where U.S. soldiers are made combat-ready, and improving water quality and storage capacity above Lake Okeechobee before it spills into the Everglades.
Critics say this is the wrong economic climate to stake out an ambitious, long-term conservation vision. We disagree. Historically, America has found a way to invest in her conservation legacy despite difficult times. During the Civil War, President Lincoln inked the deal for land that would later become Yosemite National Park. In the Great Depression, one-quarter of the refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge system were established.
With our partners, we hope to set a long-term vision for conserving this unique ecosystem for future generations. Whether it takes years or decades, our goal is to be ready to invest in that vision as allowed by willing sellers and available funds from off-shore oil and gas leases, donations or contributions from other sources.
(mouse over to enlarge) Port of Miami
111118- Collateral damage
Biscayne Times - by Jim W. Harper
November 18, 2011
Hold on to your sandbars, Miami. You’re about to get drilled and pounded, but not in the good way. Bullies are here to give Biscayne Bay a beating.
Near downtown, the birds of Jungle Island are atwitter over the arrival of a giant shaft that will bore underneath the bay to create the Port of Miami tunnel. Soon this project will be joined by an even bigger one. The “deep dredge” is ready to literally blow up the Port of Miami.
Biscayne Bay has been called Miami’s backyard. Did you know that your backyard is going to be pelted by the equivalent of 600 bombs?
That’s the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ estimate of the number of explosions needed to deepen the port. Expected to begin in November, this project’s proximity to the port’s other project, the tunnel, means havoc both below and above the surface of the bay. Downtowners, South Beachers, and Fisher Islanders (gasp!) may smell the dead fish and feel the shockwaves for the next two years. (Both projects are scheduled to go till 2014.)
We face the dilemma of responsible urban growth inside a sensitive habitat. Can the giant Maersk container ships and the gentle manatee get along?
The state seems to think so. The drafted environmental permit for Deep Dredge (officially, Miami Harbor Phase III Federal Channel Expansion) will be approved unless new appeals are raised. A coalition of environmental groups won the right to review the state permit until October 24, and their representative expects additional review time will be granted, owing to the project’s barrel of monkeys -- I mean, documents.
As for the tunnel, the billion-dollar project is chugging along on Watson Island, and final approval of the environmental permits was expected by November. The project’s website claims that it “creates no significant long- or short-term environmental impacts.”
That’s hard to swallow, but of the two projects, the deep dredge is the more threatening and disruptive one. It’s really hard to believe that it can contain itself to the shipping channels. Unexpected currents could turn its underwater projectile silt into an environmental threat.
Silt can smother coral and, as it so happens, an extremely rare coral is growing on the jetty of Government Cut. The coral deserves to be protected, but its location is not covered by the project’s current preparations and remediations. It has no insurance.
The coral was unknown to exist in Florida outside of the Dry Tortugas until 2009, when it was discovered near the port by Colin Foord, a marine biologist and co-owner of Coral Morphologic in Overtown. (Go online to see his recent TEDxMIA lecture about this “super coral.” )
The rare coral is a hybrid of two endangered stony corals called staghorn and elkhorn, the first corals in the U.S. to be listed as threatened. Endangered-species legislation does not typically cover hybrids, but this coral can reproduce and, based on Foord’s observations, withstand extreme conditions better than its two progenitors. And it glows in the dark! Foord hopes his hybrids end up in the Keys with the Coral Restoration Foundation.
Many other corals in and around Government Cut must be harvested and transplanted, although small specimens and species will be left behind. Regulations call for saving hard corals above four inches and soft corals above ten inches. Another form of mitigation involves the construction of 25 acres of artificial reef in nearby waters. As for seagrass, it’s expected that eight acres of beds will be destroyed; the deep dredge must replant 18 acres.
But what about all the mud? Both the dredge and tunnel projects share this dilemma. The tunnel won approval to dump its sediments onto Virginia Key, the island along the Rickenbacker Causeway that has long been used as Miami’s toilet, both legally and illegally. This legal landfill will be located near North Point’s new mountain bike trail (see “Park Patrol” in this issue).
Dr. Dredge considered using Virginia, too, but then dumped her. Plans call for his spoils to be deposited either in the bay or offshore in a place called the Miami Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Site. Yuck.
Environmental groups have and should continue to monitor these projects. At the same time, Greater Miami has to deal with its growing pains.
Expansion activity concentrated near downtown is preferable, in my opinion, to sprawl that invades natural areas. I still can’t believe that an international airport was almost erected in the Everglades. Let’s not go there again. Let’s practice urban infill and redevelopment of existing infrastructure.
Modern Miami is far removed from its natural state. Many islands, including the port itself, were created from the spoils of previous dredging in the bay. Many of us live on land that used to be underwater.
Boom! Five hundred and ninety-nine blasts in the bay, five hundred and ninety-nine blasts; take one down, pass it around, five hundred and ninety-eight blasts in the bay….
111117-a Florida’s new water quality rules will aid environment
Bradenton Herald – Letter by Drew Bartlett, FDEP
November 17, 2011
In response to the Herald’s Nov. 10 editorial, “EPA folds to political pressure on water quality.”
Florida is home to the best water resources in the nation, and DEP works tirelessly to protect them from nutrient pollution. We recently moved forward with standards that will improve the health of Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.
These standards, when adopted, will be the most comprehensive in the nation. They provide a clear process for identifying waters impaired by nutrients, preventing harmful discharges and establishing necessary reductions.
They benefit the environment and all Floridians, and it is unfair to characterize them as weak or full of loopholes.
In the Bradenton region, like much of Florida, a majority of the nutrient loading is not due to industry, but comes from individual households. Every one of us leaves a nutrient footprint, and these rules address that issue efficiently and effectively.
Our rules provide a reasonable and predictable implementation strategy, avoiding unnecessary costs on Florida’s households and businesses. By focusing on the individual needs of a waterbody, upholding established restoration efforts and eliminating procedures that do not add environmental value, these rules allow us to focus public dollars where they are most needed.
Florida is committed to improving the health of our waterways, and we lead the nation in research, knowledge and action. These rules allow us to build on restoration efforts already in place to reduce and treat nutrients in valuable estuaries in your area.
These rules were not created in a vacuum. DEP developed them using input, feedback and cooperation from our federal partners and Florida’s stakeholders. We have the support of the Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor Estuaries Programs and Sarasota and Manatee counties to move forward.
Adopting these rules is the right thing for Florida. Drew Bartlett, Director, Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, DEP Tallahassee
EF Board meeting
held in Naples
111117-b Governing by poll ? Rick Scott now says Everglades restoration a top priority
Miami Herald - Blog
November 17, 2011
Eight months after the Everglades Foundation released a poll showing disapproval for Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to cut Everglades restoration money by 66 percent, the Republican governor made an unpublished stop to the advocacy group's two-day meeting in Naples on Wednesday and apparently told attendees that Everglades restoration is now a top priority of his administration.
Here's a copy of the group's press release sent this afternoon:
Gov. Rick Scott reaffirms commitment to Everglades restoration
NAPLES, FL – Florida Gov. Rick Scott told the Everglades Foundation that he is making restoration of the Everglades a top priority of his administration.
Scott spoke during an evening reception Wednesday night, part of a two-day meeting of the Everglades Foundation to discuss progress and strategy of restoring the Everglades.
"My administration is absolutely focused on making sure the right thing happens with the Everglades,” Scott told more than 300 members and supporters of the Everglades Foundation. "I’m very optimistic that we are going to get something done.”
After Scott spoke, Everglades Foundation Chairman Paul Tudor Jones II, thanked Scott for making the issues of protecting and enhancing Florida’s water quality, a signature of his administration.
"Thank you so much. This is a huge step forward,” said Jones.
"We know you are a passionate outdoorsman, conservationist and environmentalist,” said Jones as he handed Scott a Nickelodeon’s Diego Let’s Go Fishing Rod for children and a toy sailfish. "Now you can take your first grandson, Augustus, fishing.”
Others who spoke during meeting included Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, Herschel Vinyard, South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa Meeker, U.S. Department of Interior, Everglades Director Shannon Estenoz, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg and state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers.
"I want to thank the Everglades Foundation for being a fantastic organization,” Vineyard said. "You are really the gold standard.”
Vinyard said Gov. Scott is determined to move Everglades restoration forward and as a result there are discussions at DEP everyday about the Everglades.
"If somebody starts to stall Everglades restoration, I want you to yell and yell loud,” Vinyard said.
Estenoz said that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “loves this project. He views the Everglades as one of the biggest, if not the biggest environmental project in the nation.” Kirk Fordham, Everglades Foundation CEO, said, “Gov. Scott understands that water quality issues affect 7 million Floridians. We look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Scott and his administration and his counterparts in Washington.”
111117-c Project restoring wetlands, wildlife on former ranch in southern Martin County
TCPalm - by Jim Mayfield
November 17, 2011
HOBE SOUND — Like many areas of open South Florida prairie in the 1950s, Culpepper Ranch, located between what is now Florida's Turnpike and Pratt Whitney Road west of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, had a water problem.
People thought there was too much of it.
And like so many other ranches, groves and pastures of the day, the area was drained with a network of culverts, ditches and berms to make the land productive.
However, Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District have reclaimed the 1,280-acre ranch property from the past and established a hydrologic restoration plan to restore natural flow ways to the area.
According an SFWMD Land Stewardship Division Cypress Creek interim management report, that expanse of southern Martin County looked vastly different in the 1940s. Large, open wet prairies dominated the landscape, accented with marshes, sloughs, cypress and oak stands.
The water sheet-flowed along the surface and meandered into Cypress Creek and eventually into the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River, where it revitalized and maintained the freshwater ecosystem there.
Crews finished the $850,000 project in March, and early fall rains have begun to restore the native habitat and wildlife there, water management officials say.
The earthen berms put in place for years to keep water out were graded, ditches were plugged and culverts were retrofitted with control units to manage the water during the wet season.
"It's a perfect example of what Mother Nature can do if given the chance," said Paul Millar, county water resource manager. "The seed source was there and as soon as we got some water on it, everything came right out."
In the area's lower 640 acres, some 500 acres have been restored to a natural wetland, Millar said.
"The wildlife there is just unbelievable," Millar said. "It all just came back."
The six-month project was funded completely by grant money from the Loxahatchee River Preservation Initiative, and the area will have minimal maintenance costs under management of the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission along with help from local volunteers.
The property was purchased in three phases from 2005 through 2007 at a cost of some $37 million with Martin County owning a 6 percent interest in the land, records show.
In addition to helping restore clean water to the Loxahatchee River, the area is also open to the public for passive recreation uses, including hiking, biking and horseback riding, Millar said
Miami-Dade County and Florida Power & Light Co. are pairing up on a reclaimed water agreement for two proposed nuclear units at Turkey Point — and just a few site certifications keep the project from going vertical.
As part of the county's 20-year water use permit from the South Florida Water Management District, Miami-Dade must increase its use of reclaimed water to more than 170 million gallons a day by 2025.
The FPL-county agreement would require the county to clean and send up to 90 million gallons of treated water to the plant each day, amounting to more than 50% of its daily goal, said Doug Yoder, deputy director of the county's Water & Sewer Department. After reaching Turkey Point, the water would be re-cleaned and used to cool the nuclear units.
Radial collector wells would act as a backup source if reclaimed water was not available or couldn't reach the plant.
Before construction can begin, FPL must obtain state and local certification and permits.
FPL has secured a zoning approval from Miami-Dade and a need order from the Florida Public Service Commission, said Mayco Villafaña, an FPL spokesman. The body has applied for site certification with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and for a permit with the Army Corps of Engineers. FPL has also filed a combined license application for a permit with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Mr. Villafaña said that he expects FPL to receive state certification by 2013. If all goes according to plan, the two nuclear units at Turkey Point could be complete by 2022 and 2023.
According to the proposed agreement, the county is to cover the cost of materials and labor for the nine miles of pipeline needed to deliver water from the South District Wastewater Treatment Plan to Turkey Point as well as for ancillary facilities at the plant.
This amount cannot exceed $78 million and a maximum escalation of 4% per year, until FPL is reimbursed for all material and labor costs and the pipeline is conveyed by the county.
Under the agreement, FPL would pay any additional expenses, along with all maintenance and the cost of pumping reclaimed water to Turkey Point.
David J. DUDA, CEO
111116- Sugar deal surprises many
TBO.com – Highlands Today - by Margaret Menge
November 16, 2011 It's not often that land in the Everglades Agricultural Area comes on the market. And usually when it does, everybody in the area knows about it.
So it was a big surprise to the farming community in Hendry and Palm Beach counties earlier this month when U.S. Sugar Corp. announced it was purchasingA. Duda & Sons' entire sugar cane operation in Palm Beach County.
No one, it seems, had heard that Duda was looking to sell.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Judy Sanchez, spokesperson for U.S. Sugar, says it's not even certain which land will be part of the deal, as some of Duda's sugar cane is grown on leased property.
The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office shows A. Duda & Sons has 10,744 acres planted with sugar cane in Palm Beach County, with an assessed value of just less than $9 million and a total market value of $34 million.
The land is muck soil east of Belle Glade. It's been in the Duda company since the 1940s, according to Donna Duda, a spokesperson for A. Duda & Sons.
Besides the land, stock and equipment, U.S. Sugar is acquiring Duda's membership in the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, which will allow U.S. Sugar to continue to mill the Duda sugar cane there.
It's unclear what other value a membership in the co-op might have for U.S. Sugar.
Barbara Meidema, a spokesperson for the co-op, said there hadn't been any communication with U.S. Sugar about the alliance with A. Duda & Sons or how the company might want to exercise its ownership stake in the cooperative.
She said she was "shocked" to learn of U.S. Sugar's plan to acquire Duda's Palm Beach County sugar cane operation.
The 47-member Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida was vocal in its opposition to the state's plan, announced in 2008, to buy the entire U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion, calling it a "corporate bailout" for a competitor.
That deal was whittled down as the economy took a downward turn, and in the end, the state purchased just less than 28,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land in Palm Beach and Hendry counties for $197 million.
And now, U.S. Sugar, instead of closing its doors, as it was going to do, has opened them to expansion and is taking a seat at the co-op's table with the smaller growers.
Meidema says it's not the first time that U.S. Sugar has been a member of the cooperative.
On one other occasion, when it acquired a smaller company, U.S. Sugar acquired a membership in the co-op and milled sugar cane there.
Sanchez says it is U.S. Sugar's intention to continue to deliver sugar cane from the Duda land to the co-op's mill outside of Belle Glade and that the company will also continue to deliver sugar cane grown on the Duda land to the Okeelanta mill, owned by Florida Crystals, and to mill some of the sugar at its own Clewiston Sugar Factory, where a 10 percent expansion of the refinery was recently completed.
A. Duda & Sons, meanwhile, is not out of the sugar business. It will continue to grow sugar cane in Glades County and also in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
As part of the deal with U.S. Sugar, the Duda company will increase production of organic celery, growing some of it on U.S. Sugar land as a rotation crop with sugar cane.
A. Duda & Sons was founded in 1926 by Slovakian immigrant Andrew Duda and his three sons. The company is based in Oviedo.
Since last year, A. Duda & Sons has been headed by David Duda, a great-grandson of the founder. In addition to growing sugar cane, citrus, celery and other vegetables, the company has cattle ranches, a large sod operation and significant real estate holdings in a number of states.
Through its subsidiary, the Viera Company, it developed the residential community of Viera in Brevard County, which covers 20,000 acres and includes within its boundaries the county government offices and the Brevard Zoo. Donna Duda says despite the catastrophic crash in real estate over the last three years, the company just concluded one of the best years in its history.
111115-a EPA administrator defends decision to allow Florida to write its own water standards
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
November 15, 2011
The Environmental Protection Agency has come under fire for its decision to allow the state of Florida to write its own water pollution rules (known as “numeric nutrient criteria”). EPA Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming is now firing back, writing that the Agency commends the state Department of Environmental Protection for its draft of a proposed standard.
A host of environmental groups filed suit in 2008, seeking to compel the EPA to implement a strict set of water pollution standards in Florida, arguing that the state was in violation of the Clean Water Act. In 2009, following what many have deemed years of stalling on the part of the state department, the EPA agreed to implement its criteria.
Industry leaders and lawmakers have blasted the EPA’s mandate, arguing that the state of Florida should implement its own standards, without federal intervention. The state did have its chance, however: As early as 1998, the EPA told the state to develop its own standards.
Fast-forward to 2011, and the state is finally developing its own criteria — with the approval of the EPA.
A recent St. Petersburg Times editorial accused the EPA of rewarding Florida “for dragging its feet on cleaning up dirty waters,” a sentiment shared by environmentalists who have championed tougher water standards in the state. Not so, says the EPA’s Keyes Fleming, in a response to the editorial published today.
“The Clean Water Act envisions — and the EPA agrees — that states should have the primary role in establishing and implementing water quality standards for their waters, allowing them to innovate and respond to local water quality needs,” she writes. “These standards must meet the requirements of the act, but they need not be identical to standards the EPA would adopt on its own. The FDEP’s proposed standards, in our judgment, meet this test.”
According to Keyes Fleming, the Florida standards don’t mirror every aspect of the federal standards, but they come awfully close.
“The FDEP’s proposed criteria for estuaries are based on methodologies similar to what the EPA has been using in developing its own criteria,” she writes. “The FDEP’s numeric criteria for streams are very close to the EPA’s criteria but will be applied in combination with biological information. Although the EPA did not adopt this approach, we believe it is reasonable to factor in site-specific information.”
Florida currently relies on a narrative water quality standard, the wording of which (.pdf) has been criticized as too vague to be effective. The rule reads: ”In no case shall nutrient concentrations of a body of water be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna.”
Stricter criteria would specifically govern the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen present in state waterways, and should lessen the amount of fish kills and large-scale algal blooms across Florida.
Gwen KEYES FLEMING Regional administrator
for the EPA Southeast
111115- Florida's proposed rules on nitrogen, phosphorous pollution show devotion to clean water
TampaBay.com – Petersburg Times - by Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, Special to the Times
November 15, 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 — caused by stormwater runoff from urbanized areas, discharges from wastewater treatment plants and fertilizer runoff from farms.
In 2008, the EPA determined that measurable limits on discharges of nutrients, known as numeric criteria, are necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act and reduce nutrient pollution in Florida's treasured water bodies. We set in motion a process to develop these standards, making clear that our strong preference was for the state to move forward on its own. When Florida did not act, the EPA issued standards in 2010.
Last week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposed its own rule establishing numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in Florida's springs, lakes, streams and estuaries. If adopted by the state Legislature in its current form, this rule will allow the EPA to withdraw its federal criteria for the same waters. Rather than focus on the merit of the state's proposed pollution limits, a St. Petersburg Times' Nov. 4 editorial accused the EPA of "rewarding Florida for dragging its feet on cleaning up dirty waters." Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Clean Water Act envisions — and the EPA agrees — that states should have the primary role in establishing and implementing water quality standards for their waters, allowing them to innovate and respond to local water quality needs. These standards must meet the requirements of the act, but they need not be identical to standards the EPA would adopt on its own.
The FDEP's proposed standards, in our judgment, meet this test. They rely heavily on the uniquely rich water quality database built by the state of Florida and build on the scientific analysis supporting the EPA standards. Although they do not mirror all aspects of the federal standards, the FDEP's criteria for springs are identical to the EPA's standards and are very similar for lakes.
The FDEP's proposed criteria for estuaries are based on methodologies similar to what the EPA has been using in developing its own criteria. The FDEP's numeric criteria for streams are very close to the EPA's criteria but will be applied in combination with biological information. Although the EPA did not adopt this approach, we believe it is reasonable to factor in site-specific information.
The EPA's evaluation of the state's proposed rule, as written, indicates that it meets the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The agency cautioned that posture could change if the rule or related documents used by the state are weakened as the rule is considered and potentially amended before adoption.
Florida is only the second state in the country to propose numeric criteria for all its waters, and we commend the FDEP. If adopted, the state's proposed rules will limit nutrient pollution, help protect the health of all Floridians and also preserve Florida's greatest asset — clean water — and the prosperity and jobs that go with it. Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming is regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's southeast region.
111114-a Access to Everglades restricted
Sun Sentinel - by Steve Waters, Staff Writer
November 14, 2011
Motorized vehicles prohibited in Area 3A North, but fishing, frogging and duck hunting allowed.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Monday restricted access in Water Conservation Area 3A North of the Everglades Wildlife Management Area because of high water levels.
Motorized vehicles such as tracks and buggys, airboats and other public access to Area 3A North, which is north of Alligator Alley in Broward County, is prohibited. The closure will remain in effect until no longer necessary.
The high water has forced wildlife to congregate on tree islands and levees, which stresses the animals. Boats and vehicles running in the area could stress them even more. Lt. Dave Bingham of the FWC said deer have been crowded along levees in the management area.
Waterfowlers will still be able to hunt ducks when the season opens Saturday, frogging is allowed and anglers will be able to run their boats, other than airboats, in the canals and within one mile of marshes adjacent to the area. Boats must stay a minimum of 100 yards from any tree island or levee.
U.S. Interior Secretary
111114-b Feds: Gov. Scott’s Glades plan falls short
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN
November 14, 2011
Though the initial reviews suggests the state’s latest Everglades pollution cleanup plan falls short, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he is “cautiously optimistic’’ about resolving disputes.
Good start but it doesn’t go far enough, fast enough.
In a nutshell, that sums up the federal government’s initial response to an Everglades pollution cleanup plan personally laid out last month by Gov. Rick Scott during a visit to Washington.
Nevertheless, both sides remain upbeat about resolving the long-running legal and political battle over Florida’s repeatedly delayed plans to reduce the flow of the damaging nutrient, phosphorus, that pours off farms and yards into the Everglades after every rain storm.
In a meeting Monday with the editorial board of The Miami Herald, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was “cautiously optimistic’’ that the state would address initial concerns sketched out in a Nov. 10 letter to the governor from four federal agencies involved in Everglades restoration.
Salazar, whose department manages Everglades National Park and other federal lands in the Everglades, said he had discussed the issues personally with Scott, who also was in Miami to attend a round-table on auto insurance fraud.
“I acknowledge and he acknowledged that the dialogue will continue,’’ Salazar said.
The governor’s office Monday directed questions to the South Florida Water Management District, which released a statement saying the state was pleased with the “collaborative approach.’’
“This letter is validation that we are on the right track,’’ it said.
But it was also an indication that considerable disagreement remains over how much needs to be done. Under orders from U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a massive expansion of the artificial marshes the state uses to scrub phosphorus from water flowing into the Everglades.
Scott’s plan, according to the letter, calls for “significantly smaller’’ cleanup marshes than the EPA plan and also would push back the deadline another two years to 2022. That’s on top of earlier delays by the state that had pushed an original 2006 cleanup deadline back by a decade.
The letter, signed by Salazar, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and top officials for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Justice, also questions the state’s technical assumptions and whether the plan would “compromise achievement of water quality goals.’’ Gold would likely have to approve any new cleanup plan worked out among the agencies.
Environmentalists also have complained the Scott plan did not impose any new fertilizer restrictions on farmers, relied too much on using public lands for water storage and failed to put to use 27,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land acquired in a controversial land deal backed by former Gov. Charlie Crist.
Salazar called the cleanup dispute “big and complex’’ but also the key to all other efforts to revive the Everglades.
111114-c Keep pushing on Scott's plan
Palm Beach Post – by Randy Schultz for the Editorial Board
November 14, 2011
Correctly, U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar wants to make nice with Gov. Scott on the Everglades - but not too nice.
There has been an adversarial relationship between Florida governors and interior secretaries over the Everglades since October 1988. That was when Dexter Lehtinen, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, sued the state for failing to clean water flowing onto federal land - namely, Everglades National Park. The Interior Department supervises federal lands. Mr. Lehtinen's lawsuit resulted in the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, which created the program to clean the water.
Florida had resisted addressing the problem because sugar farm runoff - laden with phosphorus from fertilizer - caused much of the problem, and growers didn't want to change. That history helps to explain why, 23 years after the lawsuit, a federal judge still retains control of the state's compliance, through a consent decree. We saw the continued need for that oversight in 2003, when the Legislature and then-Gov. Jeb Bush delayed final compliance with anti-pollution standards for a decade. Runoff is much cleaner, but not clean enough to stop harming the Everglades.
After meeting Oct. 6 in Washington to discuss the governor's proposal for how Florida will clean the water, Mr. Salazar and Gov. Scott met again Monday. Before that meeting, Mr. Salazar told The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board that the department is evaluating Gov. Scott's proposal but already has raised some issues, notably the timetable and the state's ability to treat the water.
Asked what will happen if the Interior Department raises objections and the state resists, Mr. Salazar said his approach at this point is to consider Florida "a partner. We are not prejudging anything." Mr. Salazar said Gov. Scott is now engaged. When Mr. Salazar phoned in early February to discuss Everglades restoration, the governor "didn't show much interest." Whatever that new interest, Gov. Scott also achieved his goal of a tax cut by taking most of the money from the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency working on Everglades restoration.
Mr. Salazar's mixed-metaphor message is that Florida "has too much skin in the game to make the clock of progress go backward." That "skin" is 17 years worth of expenses to improve water quality and quantity. He stressed the economic importance of a restored Everglades. But in a letter to Gov. Scott last week, he also said the federal government expects the state to meet the final, tough anti-pollution standard. That goal will anger sugar farmers.
Clearly, though, the Obama administration believes that in this most crucial of swing states it can use the Everglades as a campaign issue against a governor whose poll numbers and standing with environmental groups are lower than the president's. Politics aside, the record shows that nothing good happens for the Everglades unless the federal government pushes. We would like for Mr. Salazar to keep pushing.
Water - water -
water - -
111114-d Officials: Rampant water use depleting resources
The Daytona Beach News Journal - by Dinah Pulver, Environment Writer
November 14, 2011
Conservation-minded folks save water by taking shorter showers, turning off the tap while brushing their teeth and dutifully following the water rules. Others aren't so thrifty.
A search of customer billing records provided by local utilities shows that while wildfires burned and lawns shriveled during a near record-setting drought in May and June, dozens of homes used more than 50,000 gallons of water a month -- as much as 10 times more than average.
That profligate water use across Volusia and Flagler counties dismays officials who have preached water conservation for decades and warn the region's water resources are being depleted faster than they can be replenished by rainfall.
"It's totally wasteful," said Don Feaster, former director of the former Volusian Water Alliance, a now defunct organization that promoted collaboration among area governments. "There's no excuse for it."
Utilities trying to delay the need for expensive alternatives such as desalination say conservation is the way to go, less expensive for taxpayers and utility customers. If they could only convince their customers.
Typical customers in the two counties use between 4,000 and 8,000 gallons a month, but hundreds regularly use several times. At least two dozen utility customers used more than 100,000 gallons in May, paying for that privilege with bills ranging as high as $1,000.
At a vacant home on Pine Meadow Drive in Glen Abbey, the meter recorded 216,000 gallons used in May, as much as the entire Ocean Walk Resort complex in Daytona Beach. A home on Barclay Court in DeBary Golf and Country Club, where a new lawn was installed, used 180,000 gallons a month, more than 22 times the average.
'BEST ECONOMIC INTEREST'
For years, conservation was largely a matter of encouragement and education. It has become a matter of economic necessity, said Max Castaneda, water conservation policy analyst for the St. Johns River Water Management District.
With utilities across the region searching for ways to stretch water supplies, and considering expensive alternatives such as building a desalination facility at a cost of an estimated $400 million, conservation is now about saving money for the utility, its customers and taxpayers.
Utilities are going to want to be more detailed about water conservation and how they are going to reduce overall water use, said Al Canepa, assistant director of the district's water resources department. "It's in their best economic interest."
Since 2009, the district has worked with five utilities, including the city of Palm Coast, to develop a new computer model and program designed to boost conservation by helping utilities, and eventually individual customers, keep closer track of water use and find ways to save, Castaneda said.
The research has shown conservation can help utilities delay the need for additional water resources and costly plant capacity expansions, he said. The district continues to refine the program, recently expanding to 30 utilities, including Port Orange. Eventually, Castaneda said, it will help utilities move faster to alert residents when water use suddenly changes.
Currently, several utilities, including New Smyrna Beach and Deltona, say their billing systems don't allow them to track the highest residential users.
Other utilities are proactive, such as South Daytona and Port Orange, notifying customers as soon as a meter reader realizes the water use is higher than normal.
After years of talking about conservation, most utilities, at the district's urging, have adopted a different strategy to try to curb flagrant water use -- much higher water bills.
"If someone wants to use a lot of water, they're going to pay for it," said John Shelley, finance director for the city of Port Orange. "It kind of zings them with a big bill for water and for wastewater.
Customers pay a flat rate for a set amount of gallons, often 10,000 gallons or less, then an escalating rate for additional water.
Volusia County ramped up its rates over the summer, in part to pay for improvements to the system and in part to encourage conservation. Water customers in West Volusia now pay $1.75 per 1,000 gallons for up to 5,000 gallons. Above that, the rate increases in 5,000 gallon increments. Any water use greater than 20,000 gallons is billed at $10 per 1,000 gallons.
The bill that was nearly $1,000 in May would be around $1,600 under the new rules.
NEED TO CONSERVE
Some high users asked not to be identified by name or street address, but some who talked about their bills were shocked at the amount of water they used in May. Brenda Cullum moved into a home in DeBary Golf and Country Club in May, the same month the water meter topped 138,000 gallons for just two people. Two months later, she received another high water bill, for around $900.
"I just about had heart failure,' she said. "We try to water minimally."
Cullum said she has tried everything she can think of to reduce the water use. When it rains, she turns the sprinklers off. A plumber replaced a portion of the irrigation pipe. A lawn irrigation company replaced the sprinkler heads.
"If I had a lush lawn I could understand it, but I don't," she said. "One time this summer the lawn service wouldn't cut my grass. He said it was too dry.'
"He tells me I'm not watering it enough," she said. "But I can't afford it."
In Palm Coast, Jack and Lorna Schaller, had a new lawn installed in May.
"They said I had to water every day for several weeks," said Lorna Schaller. "It was very expensive to put the lawn in and, it was very expensive to put the water on. I hope that I'm cutting back on the water now." Tom Swihart, author of the book "Florida's Water, A Fragile Resource in a Vulnerable State," said it's clear too many people are still using "an excessive amount of water." Studies by the University of Florida have shown lawns do not need such huge amounts of water, Swihart said. State and local laws also require such efficiency measures as valves that shut off automatic irrigation systems when it rains. But experts say the measures are difficult to enforce.
The district's new computer model may one day help customers such as Cullum and Schaller know sooner when their water use is higher than average or when it suddenly increases.
The program determines the normal averages, based on home size and age and size of the lawn.
It allows a utility to plug in customers' monthly water use volumes, apply a variety of possible water conservation measures and determine which conservation programs would save the most water, said the district's Canepa. For example, if a city had $100,000 to spend, the program would say which alternative, such as offering the highest users low-flow toilets, would save the most money and water.
Eventually individual customers could use a version of the program to pull up a cost-benefit analysis for the various conservation options based on how much they want to spend and determine how much water that will save over time, Canepa said.
In Palm Coast, where economic concerns have shelved plans to build a desalination facility, the city hopes the district's new computer program can help the city significantly increase conservation among its water customers.
As the city moves forward with conservation efforts, environmental specialist Brian Matthews said they may use the software to conduct an outdoor irrigation conservation audit, then ask a consultant to work with 20 or 30 of the highest use customers.
A lot of folks still don't understand the need to conserve, Matthews said. "When everybody or an overwhelming majority think that way and there's not enough supply to support that culture, those same folks will have a hissy fit when it comes to paying for that alternative water supply in the future.
"We're trying to look forward to the future and trying to keep our rates in line with what our customers can afford," he said. "It will not eliminate the need for alternative water supplies in the future anywhere in Florida, it will only delay it."
U.S. Interior Secretary
111114-e US Environmental chief says Florida needs to keep pushing on Everglades clean-up
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
November 14, 2011
In a hesitantly hopeful voice, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said he was "delighted" with Gov. Rick Scott's recent trip to Washington to unveil the governor's Everglades restoration plan, but as for the plan itself, Salazar questioned its science and the length of time it will take to get the job done.
"It was a thoughtful review but the jury is still out," Salazar said Monday, during a meeting with the editorial board of The Palm Beach Post. "If there is a dance going on between the United States of the America and the State of Florida, we hope it's a good dance."
Top officials from three other federal partners in the restoration efforts, Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers and Ignacia S. Moreno, the assistant attorney general handling Everglades litigation, joined Salazar's concerns in a 2-page letter, signed by all four and sent to Scott on Nov. 10.
"We are pleased that the State of Florida and the United States agree on the vital necessity of strengthening efforts to restore the Everglades," according to the letter.
"Our commitment to jointly plan the next generation of restoration projects will not be successful without parallel investments" to reduce phosphorus levels, the letter said.
Salazar said he will meet with Gov. Scott this afternoon to discuss concerns of the federal agencies. Gov. Scott's spokesman did not respond to a phone call for comment.
Other concerns in the letter include the size of the storm-water treatment areas in Scott's plan, which are "significantly smaller" than the federal government proposed in court filings earlier this year. Scott's plan also relies on "a different set of technical assumptions" than those also used in the Environmental Protection Agency filings. Although Florida has provided some of the backup data to justify Scott's proposal, EPA scientists have asked for additional information and hope that information "will be forthcoming quickly."
"We can assure you that assessing and responding to the State's proposal has the highest priority of EPA and other federal agency experts and that they will actively engage with their state counterparts as the technical analysis proceeds," according to the letter.
Salazar said the federal agencies have set no deadlines for completing their review. However, two federal judges -- both frustrated by the pace of restoration efforts -- are expected to rule soon on critical and controversial restoration issues. In addition, the EPA is also pressing Florida to enact water quality standards to control nutrient pollution -- mostly from agricultural runoff.
"We're at a crossroads today," Salazar said. "The progress we've made over the last three years we hope will continue under this governor."
Salazar, appointed by President Obama in 2009, said he called Scott, a Republican, shortly after Scott was sworn in as governor in January.
"I was concerned that Florida would start backtracking on Everglades efforts," Salazar said. "I told him it was important not to lose that momentum."
Evidence of uncommon cooperation between Florida and its federal partners came on Oct. 27, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled joint efforts to focus on central Everglades projects using a new process for deciding which projects are most important and making sure they get done as quickly as possible.
"I was happy to see the state join us in joint planning efforts," Salazar said. "The planning efforts need to be put on steroids."
111112- Agency working to protect Florida water
TampaBay.com – Letter by Drew Bartlett, Director, Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, FDEP
November 12, 2011
Florida is home to the best water resources in the nation, and the Department of Environmental Protection works tirelessly to protect them from nutrient pollution. Last week, we moved forward with standards that will improve the health of Florida's lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.
These standards, when adopted, will be the most comprehensive in the nation. They provide a clear process for identifying waters impaired by nutrients, preventing harmful discharges and establishing necessary reductions.
They benefit the environment and all Floridians, and it is unfair to characterize them as a gift to industry. In the Tampa Bay region, and around much of the state, a majority of the nutrient loading is not due to industry but to wastewater produced by individual households. Every one of us leaves a nutrient footprint, and these rules address that issue efficiently and effectively.
They provide a reasonable and predictable implementation strategy, avoiding unnecessary costs on Florida's households and businesses. By focusing on the individual needs of a water body, upholding established restoration efforts and eliminating procedures that do not add environmental value, these rules allow us to focus resources where they are most needed.
Florida has dedicated years and millions of dollars to understanding and improving the health of our waterways, and we lead the nation in research, knowledge and action. Under these rules, we can build on restoration efforts already in place to reduce and treat nutrients in valuable estuaries in your area.
These rules were not created in a vacuum. DEP developed them using input, feedback and cooperation from our federal partners and Florida's stakeholders, just as we've done in previous restoration efforts. We have the support of the Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor estuaries programs; the city of St. Petersburg; and Hillsborough, Sarasota and Pinellas counties to move forward with these rules. Drew Bartlett, director, Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tallahassee
Snail kite - an indicator
of changes in Lake Okeechobee environment
111111-a Life Support
Audubon Magazine - by Ted Williams (with original article photography by Katherine Wolkoff)
November 11, 2011
The news for Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades’ lungs and kidneys, is mixed at best. But at last we understand what’s at stake and how to heal the lake.
July 10, 2011, 9:00 a.m., and the heat makes me wonder how people can live in South Florida in high summer. Paul Gray and I push our earmuff bands forward to hold down our hats and feel the welcome rush of cooling air as Don Fox guns his airboat out onto the heart, lungs, and kidneys of the Everglades—Lake Okeechobee.
To our south, hidden by 467,200 acres of dry lake bottom and shallow water draped over the curve of the earth, lie Florida’s ever-thirsty sugarcane plantations, Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay. To our north the lake collects the now-feeble flow of its major artery, the damaged but recovering Kissimmee River. All this is part of the “greater Everglades.” Earth has no other place like this 4.5-million-acre grassland-and-savanna landscape, with its rich mix of salt, brackish, and freshwater habitats. The greater Everglades sustains species or subspecies of at least 1,030 plants, 60 reptiles, 75 mammals, 430 fish, 345 birds, and 40 amphibians.
This is the second time Paul Gray, Audubon of Florida’s Okeechobee science coordinator, and Fox, a fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have guided me around the lake and its marsh system by airboat. A decade earlier Audubon had sent me here to report on Okeechobee’s human-caused illnesses (see “Big Water Blues,” July-August 2001). The word Okeechobee is Seminole for “plenty big water.” Now there isn’t plenty or even enough. But low water was exactly what the long-dormant seedbed in the bottom muck needed to germinate.
The lake and marsh systems have undergone astonishing recovery since I last saw them. This has not been the result of enlightened management—just the opposite. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the lake’s inflows and outflows, and when it comes to controlling natural systems, the Corps is rarely in doubt but frequently in error.
There had been a drought in 2001, too. And in the two years that followed there had been gradual recovery. But high water from the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 erased that recovery. Until 2006 the Corps had, when possible, kept the lake so high that its submergent and emergent vegetation drowned and no sunlight reached the seedbed. The strategy was to make sure the sugar industry and Gold Coast lawns would always have lots of water. But in spring 2006 the Corps’ ancient, earthen Hoover Dike, which rings the lake, began to fail under the pressure of Hurricane Wilma’s water. So the Corps dumped billions of gallons. Then came the drought of 2007. With little water retained in the Kissimmee River floodplain (because the Corps had hacked and gouged it with drainage canals), the lake went down to 8.82 feet—a foot lower than in its recorded history.
Midges and shad are two of the lake’s most important food-chain foundations, passing their energy to small fish, to fish that eat the small fish, to turtles, alligators, and birds that eat fish of all sizes. After all the high water from the hurricanes, midge larvae went from about 10,000 per square meter to two (not 2,000—two). With dirty water again blocking sunlight, plankton disappeared and with it the planktivorous shad.
But for now at least, the midges and shad are back. Mudflats we had slogged across in 2001 clutch chartreuse carpets of wild millet, an important waterfowl staple. Young bulrushes stabilize what had been eroding edges of the marsh piled with windrows of rotting plants ripped out by waves. Across thousands of acres where we’d seen only black water, yellow blooms of American lotus wave in the hot wind. Marsh plants proliferate where we’d encountered an anaerobic witch’s brew of moldering vegetation. Alligators, turtles, and fish swirl from our path.
Everywhere we go we are surrounded by birds orbiting above us, lifting from the surface, dropping onto it, bobbing, dabbling, probing, and strutting through reborn marshes and newly oxygenated water. We count 47 bird species, including long-absent roseate spoonbills, mottled ducks, blue-winged teal, black-necked stilts, long-billed dowitchers, lesser yellowlegs, black skimmers, little and great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, tricolored herons, great and snowy egrets, least bitterns, white pelicans, glossy and white ibises, limpkins, wood storks, and Everglade snail kites, crow-sized raptors with sharply hooked beaks. On Eagle Bay Island, lifeless in 2001, there had been 4,518 wading-bird nests in April.
Okeechobee’s recovery has made a strong impression on Nathaniel Reed, the lake’s and the Everglades’ tireless, ageless advocate, who served presidents Nixon and Ford as Assistant Secretary of the Interior and Audubon as a board member. Reed takes people on airboat rides to raise money for the Everglades Foundation. “They don’t understand why Paul Gray, Don Fox, and I get weepy at certain places,” he says. “This was all open, muddy water, and here we are going through magnificent stands of native plants. It’s hard to explain how much this means to us. It has been the most unbelievable example of nature’s forgiveness I have ever laid eyes on.”
But too little water for too long can be as hurtful as too much. In the drought of 2011 the South Florida Water Management District snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by dropping the lake to a near-record low in order to give sugarcane growers all the water they wanted—more, in fact, than they get in wet years. While the Corps has ultimate authority over Okeechobee water management, the district handles allocations, invariably doing what it wishes.
Even as the marsh plants were rebounding, other parts of the ecosystem were flickering out. Apple snails, recovering from the high hurricane water, were dying again. As soon as a marsh goes dry they estivate in the mud, becoming unavailable to creatures that eat them. Then, if the water doesn’t return within three months, they die.
No creature depends more on apple snails than the Everglade snail kite, one of the planet’s most endangered birds. Everglade snail kites don’t occur outside southern Florida, Cuba, and northwestern Honduras. And the Florida supply of this subspecies (there are two others, in Central and South America) is thought to be fewer than 900—down from 3,500 in 1999. In the years I’d been away, Okeechobee’s snail kites had annually produced an average of three fledglings. But in the spring of 2011 there had been 44 nests. It looked like a banner year until the district dewatered the lake. Only 14 nests produced fledglings, and it’s unlikely that any survived.
“We waited so long to get kites back,” says Reed, “and to lose this group is just so sad. To let birds near fledging starve to death while we were releasing water is insane—and a violation [under the Endangered Species Act].”
The disaster seems to have been partly the work of the state’s new Tea Party governor, Rick Scott. While the state water districts aren’t under direct control of the governor’s office, Scott didn’t hesitate to give advice. All spring he and the South Florida Water Management District ignored Audubon’s repeated warnings to ration water for Everglade snail kites.
The public has made an enormous investment in Everglades restoration. The Water Resources Development Act of 2000 authorized $1.5 billion for initial work. And up until 2010 the federal government had spent $765 million and the state $1.5 billion. But Scott, who likens writing budgets to cleaning attics, has tossed that investment out the attic window along with many of the professionals the public had hired to fix the Everglades. One of his first actions was to petition the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to relax regulations for limiting the fertilizer and animal waste that had been choking the greater Everglades for decades. Here’s how well those existing regulations had been working: In 2000 the EPA accepted a water-district limit for phosphorus entering Okeechobee at 140 metric tons a year. Today the lake gets about 600 metric tons. On watershed dairy farms, Gray and I saw one of the reasons—cows were standing and defecating in ponded tributaries.
On May 26, 2011, Governor Scott signed a bill that slashed the water district’s budget by $128 million (30 percent), crippling its ability to do authorized restoration work. Then in June he flew to the district’s Palm Beach headquarters in his private jet for a “ceremonial signing” of the bill. “To come to Palm Beach County and rub salt in the wounds of people who will soon go home to their families unemployed is insulting,” State Representative Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) told The Palm Beach Post. “Can you imagine the governor showing up to celebrate your unemployment?”
Also in June, Scott appointed to the water district’s governing board Juan Portuondo, former president of the Montenay Power Corporation, whose trash incinerator, known as “the Miami Monster,” polluted the Everglades. Later, according to the Miami-Dade County inspector general, Portuondo was paid by Montenay to lobby for it and simultaneously paid by a company hired by the county to inspect its Miami Monster.
Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, the two Republicans who served as governor before Scott, were Everglades champions. In 2003–04, under Bush, $225 million was appropriated for Everglades restoration. In 2007-–08, under Crist, $100 million was appropriated. And Crist conceived and consummated (though it wasn’t fully funded) a $1.75-billion deal to buy out 187,000 acres of wetlands owned by U.S. Sugar. Scott’s proposed 2011–12 budget for the Everglades calls for $17 million.
“The Everglade snail kite disaster was wholly manmade and wholly predictable,” declared Gray. “Sometimes when we’re talking about kites people say, ‘Well, that’s just one bird.’ But kites are a symbol. When kites disappear it means turtles are disappearing, frogs are disappearing, fish are disappearing, insects are disappearing, neotropical birds that depend on the insects are disappearing. ”
As with most of the lake’s ecological ills, the kite loss is the result of Army Corps engineering. The Corps finished girdling the lake with its Hoover Dike in 1967. And four years later it finished “improving,” as it says, the Kissimmee River by slicing out its meanders and converting it to a lifeless gutter so that its water shot unsettled and unfiltered into the lake. Then, after the water dropped much of its suspended organic matter, the Corps vented it to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico via the “improved” and similarly gutterized St. Lucie canal and Caloosahatchee River.
Before this replumbing of the northern Everglades, summer rain had collected in wetlands and aquifers and, during all but the driest of months, had been doled out to the lake and a cleansing, 100-mile river of sawgrass and pickerelweed that metabolized phosphorus, filtered sediments, and delivered soft, sweet water to Florida Bay. Okeechobee’s natural exhalations were as beneficial as its inhalations because they never lasted long and they allowed organic muck to dry, decompose, burn, and blow away. Insect larvae and succulent vegetation flourished in the shallows, providing food and cover for turtles, frogs, salamanders, alligators, wading birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Then the insects would shuck their larval skins and take wing in vast clouds that sustained North America’s energy-drained songbirds as they funneled through Florida on their way north and south. You can’t have a healthy system if you flush and fill it like a toilet.
“The water district will tell you it dewatered the lake for the economy,” says Gray. “Whose economy are we talking about? In winter the town of Okeechobee’s population doubles to something like 70,000 due almost entirely to the influx of anglers. But last spring they couldn’t even use the boat ramps [so severely did the district shrink the lake].” When the lake’s fishery is healthy it annually contributes $203 million to Florida’s economy.
In late May the district installed pumps to continue allocations for sugarcane irrigation, thereby further flouting not only the Endangered Species Act but the state rule that forbids it to let the lake’s level fall below 11 feet for 80 days more than once in six years. “That’s the power of the sugar people,” says Reed. “They can still reach someone in Washington.” I needed to compare the condition of the whole watershed with what I’d seen from a Cessna 172 in 2001. Receiving no invitation from Governor Scott to fly me around in his private jet, I accepted one from his Palm Beach neighbor Gary Lickle, a board member of the Everglades Foundation. Lickle picked me up at the mouth of the Kissimmee River in his 900-pound Cubcrafters Carbon Cub floatplane, which can take off in less than three seconds and slow to 28 mph without stalling. There’s room for one passenger—directly behind the pilot.
Lickle, who runs a trust company, grew up hunting and fishing, and now, as he says, hunts the sea in summer and the land in winter. “We all lately learned how important the Everglades are to our existence,” he remarked. “We want to make sure all this is around for our kids and grandkids because it’s so special.”
As we flew over the gutter that used to be the Kissimmee River I noticed a metal stick moving between my knees. “Is that how you fly this thing?” I inquired.
“Yes,” he said. “Take over.” With some trepidation I steered north, still following the straightjacket the Corps had forced the Kissimmee into, thereby destroying its magic along with the magic of its name, which it changed to “C-38.” When the river had its way, all marshes within and well beyond its floodplain couldn’t be drained because there was no downhill. With the advent of C-38, landowners over thousands of square miles cut canals, draining their wetlands into it. Perishing with the river were millions of fish, turtles, frogs, salamanders, alligators, snakes, mammals, and marsh-dependent birds.
My mood darkened as I flew north. But suddenly the natural river reappeared and with it all its old beauty, including the birds. Having paid the Corps $35 million to destroy the river, taxpayers have so far paid it $291 million to fix part of it. When that partial fix is completed they’ll be out an estimated $980 million. The Corps had placed 16 miles of C-38 back in the original riverbed and blown up one of the five gated spillways with which it had vainly attempted to control flows. It will blow up another spillway and restore an additional six miles, leaving 30 miles of gutter.
One of the ways the district is attempting to heal the greater Everglades is with stormwater treatment areas (STAs)—giant filter marshes, frequently connected to reservoirs. Presently we swung out over the $75 million Lakeside STA, which will annually remove 19 tons of phosphorus. But STAs are expensive, and in big rain events water goes through so fast it doesn’t get cleaned. To comply with the Clean Water Act the district must cut phosphorus input by 460 tons a year. If it depends on just STAs instead of other options, such as forcing best management practices on dairy farms, it can’t possibly find the money it needs. As things stand now, everyone pays save polluters.
So slow and low were we flying when we reached the lake that I cheerfully relinquished the stick to Lickle. A half-mile swath of brown, withered cattails marked the area Don Fox had sprayed with herbicides. Cattails are native, but when water going to Lake Okeechobee carries more than 20 parts per billion of phosphorus they become invasive. The lake’s inflow now carries 150 to 200 ppb, and as a result cattails and other nutrient-swilling plants are destroying natural diversity all the way to Florida Bay.
We seemed to hover with the ospreys. A manatee that had negotiated the entire St. Lucie canal sashayed over a shallow bar. Tire-sized nests tilapia had excavated with their tails gave wet and newly dry sections of marsh the appearance of having been saturation bombed by B-52s. I could ID most birds, see every turtle and alligator and many fish. I could even make out the rouge of pinhead-size apple snail eggs festooning plant stems.
These were the eggs of South American apple snails, accidentally introduced from private aquaria since my last visit. Adults really are the size of apples. The natives—the size of golf balls—produce white, BB-size eggs and far fewer of them. The alien snails seem to tolerate wild water fluctuations better than the natives; they thrive where alien hydrilla has extirpated the natives; and, best of all, Everglade snail kites eat them.
Unfortunately, the alien snails have taken major hits when the state (formerly the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water district and more recently the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) has herbicided hydrilla along with other plants, alien and native, so that anglers can motor around lakes in the Kissimmee basin. For years Gray tried to get spray crews to avoid the kite nests they consistently destroyed when they poisoned supporting vegetation. “They told me the kites could just go somewhere else,” he says. “I kept telling them, ‘Guys, you can’t do this. It’s a direct violation of the ESA. Your director could go to jail.’ We were getting nowhere with them.”
Then, two years ago, Reed’s wife, Alita, rousted him from sleep because she’d just gotten word that the Department of Environmental Protection was poised to poison hydrilla, water hyacinth, and other plants around active Everglade snail kite nests on Lake Tohopekaliga, in the Kissimmee’s headwaters. Reed raced to the scene where the team was going to assemble. By sheer luck he raised water district board chair Eric Buermann by cell phone. An appalled Buermann promised that any spray order that had been given would be canceled in seconds. It was, and, largely as a result, Lake Tohopekaliga with its alien hydrilla and alien apple snails is one of the few places kites are doing well.
But like Hollywood’s cuddly gremlins, seemingly beneficial aliens have a way of turning nasty. Native apple snails graze primarily on the algal scum on plant stems. The aliens eat the actual plants. The exotic snails are heavier and tougher, and one fledgling was seen to spend seven hours trying to open one. As Gray and I hiked and kayaked along Hickory Hammock Trail, near where the Corps had blown up one of C-38’s gated spillways, it became clear to me that even with Okeechobee’s current ills, its future was brighter than it had been in 2001. Willows, maidencane, pickerelweed, marsh mallow, and arrowhead were surging back in and along the old, newly filled meanders. “The river is better, and there’s an understanding of the lake’s problems,” Gray declared.
Facilitating that understanding has been an Audubon report released in 2007 demonstrating that the water district’s goal of 300,000 acre-feet of upstream water retention needed to be at least 1.2 million acre-feet. The report helped get that goal fixed and was instrumental in the passage of two bills that set better pollution-control rules and increased funding for water-retention projects during wet periods. Water is retained three ways: by reservoirs, pumps that send it into subterranean saline formations, and payment for environmental service whereby ranchers agree to retain water on their land.
The last of these options—designed by the World Wildlife Fund with technical guidance from Audubon—is the least expensive, keeps land on tax rolls, cleanses water, reduces wildlife-killing blue-green algae blooms that occur on reservoirs, and helps wildlife by creating wetland habitat. There are eight cooperating ranches within the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project that can collectively hold 10,682 acre-feet of water. Originally this was a pilot program funded by grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. So well did the pilot program work that the water district has taken over funding and management, and in 2011 it started soliciting payment for environmental service sales from more ranchers.
Money is just one of the benefits ranchers get when they agree to retain water. Near Sebring, Jimmy Wohl showed Gray and me around his family’s Rafter T Ranch. He used to pump out the diked section so he could grow grass for the cows, but no matter how much he pumped, the earth stayed wet and the grass did poorly. When diesel fuel hit $2 a gallon he quit pumping. Now he has converted that section to a 150-acre retention area within the 1,000-acre wetland that the state pays him to keep filled during rainy periods. He plants it with limpograss, which can tolerate lots of water and is reasonably nutritious. “Limpograss can still grow when the land is flooded in summer and when the cows aren’t grazing here,” he said. “And by October, when most of the water is off, it helps feed them till we sell the calves in late June.” “If water management doesn’t improve, the Everglade snail kite will probably go extinct in 20 to 30 years,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. “But we’ve finally got the water district’s attention; at least they’re talking about the problems.” Even as he was depressing me with the worst news about the greater Everglades he reminded me that there’s good news as well. Although Crist’s sugarcane plantation buyout got whittled down from $1.75 billion and 187,000 acres to $197 million and 26,800 acres, it has gone through, and the state retains the option to buy the remaining property. To facilitate desperately needed water flow, the House Subcommittee on Appropriations has approved a 5.5-mile addition to the one-mile Tamiami Trail bridge. With this Congress and this economy that’s a miracle.
Recently the shells of golf-ball-size alien snails have been showing up under kite nests. That could mean the parents are teaching their young to select for immature snails they can open. Maybe the water district has learned something from all the bad press and the knowledge that it caused unlawful jeopardy to snail kites. (Audubon has been contemplating legal action but as of this writing is pursuing dialogue.) Maybe Governor Scott, already hugely unpopular even with his Tea Party, will serve but one term.
“One thing I’ve learned in this job is patience,” Gray told me shortly before we went our separate ways.
I’m shorter on both patience and decades than Gray. But if I’m around in 2021, I hope and expect to find: a cleaner Lake Okeechobee; agriculture that doesn’t corrupt water quality, wildlife, recreation, and political leadership; inflows and outflows that seep as well as gush; and even more birds—including fledgling Everglade snail kites.
The SFWMD considers
setting aside land near
the Kissimmee River as
a preserve to relocate
gopher tortoises digging
into and endangering
South Florida levees
111111-b South Florida gopher tortoises could get new preserve
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
November 11, 2011
Buried alive through decades of South Florida’s encroaching development, gopher tortoises finally found a way to strike back.
Burrowing gopher tortoises are leaving holes in the levees that protect South Florida from flooding.
Whether the holes are just the result of long-suffering animals searching for higher ground or well-coordinated reptilian revenge, the state agency that maintains the levees is ready to surrender.
The South Florida Water Management District proposes setting aside 140 acres of taxpayer-owned land to create a save haven where gopher tortoises could be relocated to, far from South Florida’s levees and the neighboring sea of asphalt.
State law protects gopher tortoises, which can live 40 to 60 years, because their deep burrows provide habitat to more than 350 different species, including burrowing owls, snakes, rabbits and mice.
Whether fixing a levee or building a new neighborhood, the law requires relocating gopher tortoises instead of just filling in the holes as was done by in the past by sprawling development.
The water management district has been relocating gopher tortoises to private property, but now is considering turning some of its land near the Kissimmee River into a gopher tortoise reserve.
The land for the proposed gopher tortoise preserve was donated nearly two decades ago as part of Kissimmee River restoration. The property, several feet above the water table with sandy soils and grasses and other low-lying vegetation to feed on, is ideal for gopher tortoise digging and foraging, according to the district.
The district’s proposed reserve could become home to gopher tortoises removed from the levees as well as other sites where reservoirs and water treatment areas are planned for Everglades restoration. District officials may also open the site to tortoises relocated from other government construction projects.
The proposal for the gopher tortoise reserve could go before the district’s board in December.
But hurdles remain.
The district is considering selling off some of its land as the result of state-imposed budget cuts. If district officials think they can get a good price for the 140 acres in Highlands County, then the gopher tortoises may lose their proposed home to yet another Florida land deal.
111110-a Critics question proposed refuge
Sun Sentinel – by Steve Waters, Outdoors Writer Sun Sentinel Columnist
November 10, 2011
Lack of funding, fear of access restrictions chief concerns about Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge
The biggest question about the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area is do you trust the federal government to do the right thing?
For many people who fish, boat, hunt, camp and hike in the region, the answer is no
On paper, the proposal sounds good: Purchase up to 50,000 acres from willing sellers to create a refuge and buy conservation easements on up to another 100,000 acres to protect lands bordering the Kissimmee River and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the water flowing into the Everglades.
You'd say it's a no-brainer, but that term also could be applied to the federal bureaucrats who are promoting the deal.
As those who have attended public hearings about the plan as well as a Congressional subcommittee that held its own hearing last week in Washington have pointed out, there is no firm funding for the deal, which could cost as much as $700 million. There also is no guarantee that outdoor recreation will be allowed on the new refuge and the feds have even admitted that there'd be no significant benefit to the Everglades.
That's why so many outdoors enthusiasts who have taken the time to read the proposal believe it's a waste of money that will kick them off the water and out of the woods.
"How can you be against the refuge?" said Jorge Gutierrez Jr., the president of the Everglades Coordinating Council, who testified before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs on Natural Resources. "Because there's a better way to do it."
Gutierrez, of Miami, would like the feds to first address the backlog of Everglades restoration projects south of Lake Okeechobee.
As for the proposal, instead of a refuge, Gutierrez wants the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to manage the public property, rather than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages refuges. Gutierrez said USFWS "has established a pattern of limiting access" and noted that activities such as airboating and alligator hunting, which are popular on the waters that would be encompassed by the refuge, are not allowed at refuges such as Loxahatchee NWR in Palm Beach County.
The feds have contradicted themselves about where the money would come from. The proposal website — fws.gov/southeast/evergladesheadwaters – says the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives royalties from offshore oil and gas projects, would be used. But USFWS project coordinator Charlie Pelizza said at a meeting at the South Florida Water Management District that only a small percentage of the fund's $900 million is made available to the entire refuge system.
Then there's the question of why easements to prevent development of wetlands are even needed. Robert Stossel and Jeff Giles, both of Okeechobee, run R&J Osceola Outfitters, a turkey hunting guide service. They often use their airboats to access lands that they fear could be closed if the refuge is created.
The founder of the Florida Sportsmen's Conservation Association, Stossel led the fight to get the state-managed Kissimmee River Public Use Area opened for recreation. He has a list of broken promises made by officials to allow access on lands along the river.
Others have questioned the language in the refuge proposal. On the website you'll find phrases such as primitive camping, ATV use and boating "would also be considered." Campers, hunters and anglers would prefer something like the USFWS "must" allow those activities. The deadline to comment on the proposal is Nov. 25. Comments can be e-mailed to EvergladesHeadwatersProposal@fws.gov, faxed to 321-861-1276 or mailed to the USFWS at P.O. Box 2683, Titusville, FL 32781-2683.
111110-b Ranchers Wrangle Over Leases With South Florida Water Management District
Sunshine State News - by: Kenric Ward
November 10, 2011
The South Florida Water Management District is tweaking a land-lease program that has come under fire.
Critics of the current policies say the proposed revisions are an admission of past wrongdoing, and they vow to push for more changes when the SFWMD governing board meets Thursday in West Palm Beach.
"There's a pattern here. [SFWMD] has a dirty house, and it will take a big broom to clean it up," Glades County rancher Mark Pearce told Sunshine State News.
Pearce and other landholders were outraged when the district extended leases on 4,701 acres last month without putting them up for competitive bids.
Old River Cattle Co. currently leases the Glades County tracts in three parcels for $55,381 -- or $11.78 per acre.
District officials maintained that, per SFWMD regulations, extensions do not require bidding. But Pearce and others argued that Florida Statute 373.093 says otherwise.
Two board members -- Jim Moran and Glenn Waldman, both lawyers -- cast the only dissenting votes against the extensions at the Oct. 13 meeting
At a workshop Wednesday, Bob Brown, the district's recently appointed assistant executive director, laid out revised rules that call for termination and bidding of expiring leases where there had been no previous bids.
Critics of the lease program say that if SFWMD changes its policies, the agency should redo all leases under the principle of retroactivity.
It is unclear if the district would agree to that, but with $4.3 million in annual leases on 129,000 acres, SFWMD taxpayers have a lot at stake.
"The Old River land was never put up for bid," said Pearce, whose land borders the leased property. "These [proposed] changes admit to wrongdoing because they're now saying you have to bid."
Under the new proposal put forth by Brown:
"Leases of less than 10 cumulative years may be renewed for up to five years, provided the overall term, including the renewal does not exceed the total of 10 cumulative years. Exceptions to be approved by the governing board."
The proposed revision also includes a "board waiver" from competition on new leases.
Disgruntled ranchers, alleging favoritism in the district's leasing policies, contend that corners have been cut and rules have been bent to keep some lessees in "good standing."
Pearce notes, for example, that the district repaired exterior fencing on leased property, even though SFWMD regulations stipulate that lessees are responsible for such maintenance.
Going forward, Pearce, a part-time auctioneer, would like to see open auctions for all leased lands, as well as strict application of the "land manager" criteria for bidders.
"Make it transparent, do it all in the open and the district will get the most money," he said
111110-c South Florida water managers delay vote on making land-lease policy transparent
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
November 10, 2011
WEST PALM BEACH — Drastic changes quickly proposed after the South Florida Management District was accused last month of leasing land without seeking competitive bids or publishing notice were put on hold Thursday.
The district's new assistant executive director, Bob Brown, explained the proposed changes, which include publishing notice of available leases in local newspapers and seeking competitive bids, but asked the governing board to delay voting on a new policy until staff could meet with stakeholders and further develop a new lease policy.
Brown said he also wants to provide more information about each lease on the district's web site and review the 129,011 acres land the district leases to determine whether some of the land should be sold as surplus.
"If we have a piece of property and we know we're not going to do anything with it, we should consider surplus," Brown said. "The acreage we lease should be dropping over time."
The district bought the land hoping to use it for restoration or water storage projects. However, some projects have been scuttled, leaving the district with land it may never use. Last year the leases brought in $4.2 million in rent and saved the district countless more dollars in managing the properties.
The district's lease policy came under suspicion after a prominent Okeechobee county cattle-ranching family accused the district of extending nine leases at its Oct. 13 board meeting without publishing notice of its intent to lease the prime grazing land or allowing other ranchers to bid on the lease.
No action will be taken on any of the district's existing agricultural leases, including six that will expire before the end of the year, until the policy review is complete, Brown said. The district's Water Resource Advisory Committee, which meets again in January 2012, was tasked with examining the lease issue.
111110-d State ready for comprehensive water protection
Palm Beach Post - by Drew Bartlett, Letters to the Editor
Nov. 10, 2011
Florida's communities are defined by our diverse water bodies, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection works tirelessly to protect each and every one of them. Last week, we moved forward with standards that will directly protect our waterways from nutrient pollution.
Contrary to what was expressed in Tuesday's editorial, "State wins, Florida loses," these rules are not weaker than federal rules. In fact, they are practically identical to the rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, and when adopted will be the most comprehensive standards in the nation.
They provide a clear process for identifying waters impaired by nutrients, preventing harmful discharges and establishing necessary reductions. Our rules also provide a reasonable and predictable implementation strategy that sets clear expectations for protection while avoiding unnecessary costs on Florida's households and businesses.
Florida easily leads the nation in research, knowledge and action related to improving water quality. These rules will allow us to build on efforts already in place to ensure that nutrient pollution does not impact valuable waters such as Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys.
These rules establish standards for all lakes, rivers, streams, springs and for almost half of Florida's estuaries. Furthermore, they set a firm schedule for addressing nutrient pollution in water bodies that have not yet been addressed, leaving Florida the only state in the nation with protections established for all water bodies.
It is time to end the debate over how to protect our waterways and actually start protecting them. Adopting these rules is the right thing for Florida.
DREW BARTLETT, Tallahassee Editor's note: Drew Bartlett is director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
111110-e EPA folds to political pressure on water quality
Bradenton Herald - Bradenton.com - Editorial
November 10, 2011
Agency letting state adopt weaker standards
Shame on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for caving in to politics and abdicating its responsibility to clean water in Florida.
After a two-year fight over water pollution standards, the EPA announced last week the agency is willing to withdraw its strict numeric restrictions on contaminants since the Florida Department of Environment Protection finally came up with a plan. But the state standards are weaker, differing from the federal plan in how phosphorus and nitrogen are measured and chock-full of loopholes and waivers that favor polluters.
Stricter limits on sewage, fertilizer and manure pollution would help prevent incidents such as October’s toxic algae bloom off Sarasota, Lee and Charlotte counties, which spawned a major fish kill in the Gulf. In August, a pollution-fueled bloom appeared in Old Tampa Bay. In July, a toxic slime covered the Caloosahatchee River near Alva. Phosphorus and nitrogen feed red tide outbreaks, and strict standards on both nutrients would better protect state waters.
But with Florida’s big business organizations and political leaders of both parties here in Florida and Washington standing in opposition, the political pressure became too much for the EPA -- and the Obama administration. The EPA’s detractors call tight environmental rules “job killers.”
So public health and the environment will be sacrificed. Plus, the threat to Florida’s tourism and fishing industries will remain high. Already, pollution fouls more than 550 miles of coastline, some 380,000 acres of lakes and 2,000 miles of rivers -- by the state’s own accounting.
So the EPA is now giving Florida another opportunity to adopt new standards. Both the state Environmental Review Committee and the Legislature must approve the DEP’s new standards before the federal agency grants formal approval.
The EPA’s action appears to violate a legal settlement with environmental groups. The agency first ordered Florida to establish numeric nutrient limits in 1998 under the Clean Water Act, but did little to enforce the edict until environmentalists sued in 2008. A year later, the EPA settled the lawsuit by agreeing to set numeric standards.
But in the ensuing firestorm, powerful business organizations claimed the costs would run into the billions, fear-driven figures that lacked sound support. But the claims caught the attention of politicians, who attacked the EPA from every angle, even legislation.
The threat to several key industries and public health comes in a distant second to the politics of the moment. Florida’s future water quality looks cloudy. Shame on the EPA.
111110-f EPA folds to political pressure on water quality
November 10, 2011
But with Floridas big business organizations and political leaders of both parties here in Florida and Washington standing in opposition, the political pressure became too much for the EPA — and the Obama administration. The EPAs detractors call tight environmental rules job killers.
So public health and the environment will be sacrificed. Plus, the threat to Floridas tourism and fishing industries will remain high. Already, pollution fouls more than 550 miles of coastline, some 380,000 acres of lakes and 2,000 miles of rivers — by the states own accounting.
So the EPA is now giving Florida another opportunity to adopt new standards. Both the state Environmental Review Committee and the Legislature must approve the DEPs new standards before the federal agency grants formal approval.
The EPAs action appears to violate a legal settlement with environmental groups. The agency first ordered Florida to establish numeric nutrient limits in 1998 under the Clean Water Act, but did little to enforce the edict until environmentalists sued in 2008. A year later, the EPA settled the lawsuit by agreeing to set numeric standards.
But in the ensuing firestorm, powerful business organizations claimed the costs would run into the billions, fear-driven figures that lacked sound support. But the claims caught the attention of politicians, who attacked the EPA from every angle, even legislation.
The threat to several key industries and public health comes in a distant second to the politics of the moment. Floridas future water quality looks cloudy. Shame on the EPA.
111109-a Army Corps calls for South Florida levee improvements
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
November 9, 2011
Work under way to improve East Coast Protective Levee.
More must be done to shore up levees that protect South Florida from flooding, according to new findings from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps is in the midst of a nationwide evaluation of levees, prompted by the failure of levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Since 2009, the Army Corps has identified deficiencies in South Florida's East Coast Protective Levee, which keeps the Everglades from swamping western Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The Army Corps now has finalized its review of the 100-mile East Coast Protective Levee and found it minimally acceptable, the middle tier on the federal government's new three-tiered levee-rating system.
This comes after the Sun Sentinel reported last year that the Broward County section of the levee failed to meet certification standards for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The South Florida Water Management District, which maintains the levee, agrees with the findings by the two federal agencies and is at work on a two-year effort to beef up the levee.
"There's no imminent risk [of] failure associated with these levees," said Tommy Strowd, district director of operations. "What we are seeing is a post-Katrina emphasis on the levees and we think that's a good thing."
The district plans to spend $15 million upgrading the Broward section of the levee to address both FEMA and Army Corps concerns.
Work improving the Palm Beach County section of the levee is expected to cost about $7 million. More work could be required when that stretch of the levee needs FEMA certification.
Failing to meet FEMA standards can result in increased home insurance costs for those who live in areas at risk from potential levee failures.
Concerns about the levee raised by Army Corps' inspectors include: erosion, levees being too low, overgrown vegetation obstructing maintenance, fencing and gates in disrepair, slopes being too steep and culverts needing repair.
Those problems must be addressed to "provide a greater degree of certainty that the [levee] system will perform as intended," according to the Army Corps' report.
Levee improvements underway or planned include: raising 2,000 feet of the levee about 2 feet; reinforcing portions of the outer base of the levee; removing vegetation growing on the levee as well as burrowing animals; and installing monitoring stations to identify potential erosion.
"We are doing a fix that will leave it [sound] for another 50 to 100 years," said Jeff Kivett, who oversees levee engineering for the district.
The East Coast Protective Levee is part of more than 900 miles of levees that guard against flooding in South and Central Florida. The federal review has also highlighted maintenance needed at water conservation and treatment areas in South Florida.
While water seeping through the earthen levee is necessary for restocking drinking water supplies, the Corps contends that levee improvements are needed to stop erosion that can lead to breaches and flooding
111109-b Water district poised to stop leasing land without competitive bidding
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
November 9, 2011
Less than a month after a prominent cattle-ranching family accused the South Florida Water Management District of quietly leasing public land without competitive bids, sweeping changes proposed for the district's lease policy were unveiled on Wednesday.
"I think the recommendations are certainly a good and major first step subject to further revisions," said governing board member Glenn Waldman, who voted against extending the lease of the Old River Cattle Company in Okeechobee after the Pearce family complained at the Oct. 13 governing board meeting.
The district leases 129,000 acres of land in its 16-county territory, for farming, grazing and other agricultural uses.
Among the changes proposed by its Project and Land Committee: abide by a Florida law that requires the district to publish notice in a local newspaper of its intention to lease land. The district will also open all its leases for competitive bidding -- a dramatic change from current policy, which has rubber-stamped lease renewals for years.
"The market will constantly evaluate the value of the property," added board chairman Joe Collins at the committee's meeting in West Palm Beach on Wednesday . "I think it's a very positive step to let the market establish the highest amount the district can get."
The proposed policy -- scheduled for a vote by the district board tomorrow -- distinguishes between lands leased for cattle ranching and crops. Cattle leases will be for 10 years and all other leases, including crops, equestrian, mining and airboat concessions, will be for 5 years. Tenants must comply with district land management practices to protect the environment.
"We've been doing this since 2005 and we need to come out in the sunshine," said Bob Brown, the district's newly appointed assistant executive director. "Some legitimate points have been raised and this leadership is going to make the policy clear."
The district collected $4.2 million in rent last year from agricultural leases . Most of the acreage under lease is used for cattle ranching. Sugar cane and citrus account for most of the other leases.
In Palm Beach County, nearly all of the 27,432 acres is leased to Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar, for growing sugar cane.
The district purchased the land with the hope of using it for restoration projects. However, some of the projects have been scuttled -- leaving the district with land that it may never use. For example, the district owns 18,734 acres north and east of Lake Okeechobee with no foreseeable plans for construction.
Last month the board renewed nine leases for that property without publishing notice or seeking competitive bids.
Among the renewals was a lease of 4,700 acres to the Old River Cattle Company, set to expire in March 2012. The Pearce family had waited nearly five years for the lease to expire, hoping to bid on the lease and return their cattle to land that, until 2006, had been in the family for five generations.
Over the strong objections of the Pearce family, the board agreed to renew the lease and review its lease policies. At the governing board meeting today, the board will decide whether to accept the proposed changes.
The Pearces appeared before the Projects and Land Committee on Wednesday, asking for the board to nullify its lease extension for the Old River Cattle Company land and put the lease out for bidding. Waldman said he would not be in favor of reconsidering the board's decision to renew the Old River Cattle Company's extension.
Mark Pearce and his wife Patricia vowed to make another plea at the governing board meeting today.
"I'm here to tell you, I'm going to make them put it up for public bid," Pearce said.
111108- EPA showing restraint on water-quality issue
Daytona Beach News Journal
November 8, 2011 12:05 AM
The federal agency and Florida have been feuding for a few years over the regulation of the state's inland water sources. Now the state Department of Environmental Protection is working on standards that may satisfy the EPA, clean up our water and avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. The EPA has given preliminary approval to the state's alternative standards.
The EPA wanted strict measurements, called numeric nutrient criteria. The rules would supposedly help decrease algae-causing nutrients -- phosphorus and nitrogen -- and would force compliance. Many state and local leaders, including Deltona officials, warned the new infrastructure needed to treat water would cost at least $200 million annually. One estimate from industrial sources said the costs for new infrastructure could total $21 billion, translating to $700 in new annual costs for Florida homeowners.
Environmentalists say some estimates are exaggerated. But Deltona officials said the city's equipment cost would be between $11 million and $20 million.
Florida and cities like Deltona just didn't have that kind of money immediately ready to build new treatment plants. Now the EPA seems to have gotten the message. On Wednesday, the EPA said that if it gave final approval of Florida's own standards, it would not impose a federal mandate.
The state and EPA still have to agree on the final standards, but the preliminary approval is a telling sign. It is good news for Florida and good news for democracy. The EPA's proposals -- covering 24,000 miles of rivers and streams, hundreds of springs and 1.47 million acres of lakes -- were seen as more of the agency's aggressive rulemaking, apart from Congress, which likely wouldn't have passed such strict rules.
This is not the first shot fired by the EPA. The EPA is also in the process of coming up with the first-ever regulation of carbon dioxide from power plants. The regulations, sought by some states and environmental groups, will be expensive and burdensome. The EPA has delayed the rule twice this year as it hears from power producers.
Quite unlike carbon dioxide, there is little debate that nutrient pollution and algae cause harm to the environment. The EPA and the state of Florida must deal with the problem of nutrient runoff. Nutrients get into rivers and lakes via discharge from treated wastewater and manufacturing facilities, and rain that washes fertilizers and pesticides off lawns and farms.
When that happens, the nutrients cause algae growth. That hurts the ecosystem by causing oxygen depletion -- which can kill fish -- and it also hurts the look of the waterways. The Sierra Club says the green slime hurts property values as it settles in near riverfront condominiums and marinas.
Florida environmental activists suspect the St. Johns River was affected by this type of pollution in mid-2010, when hundreds of fish died, algae sprung up regularly and a foam coated some parts of the water.
It's a real problem but the solution offered by the EPA was shockingly expensive and allowed little time for Florida to adjust.
The 21st century will bring new water-management technologies, problems and expenses. The issue of nutrient runoff is one of the problems the states will have to deal with, but it will take time to reduce such pollution.
It is also an issue Florida is trying to solve without harsh mandates from the EPA. The EPA should work with states to solve these important problems in the most timely and cost-effective manner available.
111107-a EPA backs off tough clean-water rules in hopes of helping Obama carry Florida in 2012
The Palm Beach Post – by Randy Schultz, Editorial Board
November 7, 2011
Facing a choice of cleaning up Florida's actual waters or navigating Florida's political waters, the Obama administration went with the 2012 election.
Two years ago, after a lawsuit charged that the Environmental Protection Agency wasn't adequately enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida, the EPA agreed to set specific anti-pollution standards for the state's lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries. A year ago, the EPA announced the standards but gave the state an extra 15 months to comply. Yet polluting industries and government utilities kept complaining, claiming that the cost of compliance would bankrupt companies and drastically raise customers' water bills. The resistance got bipartisan support from the state's politicians.
Last week, the EPA surrendered. In a letter to Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, EPA acting Assistant Administrator Nancy K. Stoner said the agency would let Florida develop its own anti-pollution rules. Those are significantly weaker. Notably, the EPA's original plan would have set tough criteria to keep waters from becoming polluted. As conservation groups pointed out in comments to the DEP, the state system would postpone action until a lake, stream or river has been declared dirty.
Florida wants to set what amounts to anti-pollution goals, rather than strict, specific standards of the type used for restoring the Everglades. That sort of loose standard prompted the lawsuit. Also, some South Florida waters are excluded entirely from the state's plan.
But this capitulation has nothing to do with a debate about science. President Obama wants Florida's 27 electoral votes, and the EPA has become the Republican Party's excuse for all the nation's economic problems. It isn't true, but "job-killing regulations" is a cry Mr. Obama doesn't want to hear in Florida.
On Dec. 8, the Florida Environmental Regulatory Commission will approve the state rules. The Legislature will go along next year. We believe that, given the technology options, Floridians would have to pay a relatively small price for clean water . Residents who agree, and remember those pea-soup-green canals in Martin County, must hope that the original plaintiffs challenge this sellout as a violation of the court order that led to the much-reviled EPA standards.
For all the talk about cost, we would stress the economic benefit of protecting Florida's environment and the health of our residents. State politicians love to say that we live in paradise, but they remain unwilling to protect it.
111107-b Finally, EPA Does the Right Thing for Florida
Sunshine State News - by: Nancy Smith
November 7, 2011
Groups like Earthjustice and Sierra Club didn't like it, but last week the Environmental Protection Agency finally listened, did the right thing and approved a state alternative to the EPA's draconian water pollution regulations proposed for Florida.
The alternative proposal now moves to the Legislature and, if approved, the EPA's maligned numeric nutrient criteria rule will likely become history. That's because the EPA will probably grant it final approval.
Not everybody wants the state involved. Believe it or not, some people prefer seeing Florida under the federal government's thumb.
Besides environmentalists, the St. Petersburg Times, for instance.
In a Nov. 4 editorial, the Times disapprovingly called the action "a testament to politics winning out over science."
But I don't see it that way. What I see is reality winning out over economic disaster.
Let's have a look at some of the facts in this case.
In 2008 Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of five environmental groups: Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club. These groups claimed that, in Florida anyway, the EPA hasn’t enforced its own standards in the Clean Water Act.
To settle the suit, the agency entered into a legally binding agreement with these groups, working out a plan for stricter limits for phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida’s waterways. Trouble is, the limits set and the timeline to reach them had little scientific foundation. Even today, the EPA can’t justify them.
The EPA, incidentally, isn't enforcing those standards in any of the other 49 states. Only in Florida.
What's more, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Florida studied the EPA’s plan. They claim it could cost Florida up to $1.6 billion a year – never mind the 14,500 jobs it could destroy. A private study actually pegged the costs astronomically higher -- anywhere from $1 billion to $8.4 billion annually.
Even the Times' PolitiFact Florida of March 1, 2011, acknowledged as "mostly true" that EPA's numeric nutrient criteria rules would force the state to make drainage canals every bit as clean as pristine Florida river systems. Imagine the cost.
What the Times wants to see amounts to an unfunded mandate. This is all money that will have to be collected from taxpayers or diverted from more useful purposes.
Florida would have to find that money, not the federal government.
A survey of nine utilities last summer estimated that, in order to pay for the needed municipal improvements, a household’s sewer rates would jump $62 a month, or more than $700 annually.
Even for the EPA, the most enthusiastic supporter of unfunded mandates among hundreds of intrusive federal agencies out there, the numeric nutrient criteria regulations are spectacularly over the top.
The Times puts its faith in the federal Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that is autonomous, an agency that isn’t elected and can't be voted back to oblivion. It truly is the bully on the block, the kid who calls the shots for the rest of the neighborhood.
Certainly it is the essence of a national government to make laws that inconvenience someone, somewhere, and inconvenience almost always costs money. That's completely understandable. But the EPA's hit on Florida went above and beyond inconvenience and the kind of pricetag you can excuse away.
The EPA -- entering into a "deal" as it did, to settle a lawsuit in the middle of a recession -- could have done irreparable harm to Florida.
With 10.6 percent unemployment and job recovery uncertain, the EPA rule threatened so many sectors of Florida's economy.
111107-c Fish can be dangerous
Daytona Beach News Journal - by John Salvaggio, Port Orange
November 7, 2011
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has identified 80 species of fish in Florida that have hazardous levels of mercury. Mercury is toxic and is a threat to our health: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at least 1 in 12 -- and as many as 1 in 6 -- American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put their baby at risk of developmental disorders and learning disabilities.
New protections proposed by the EPA would reduce mercury nationwide by over 90 percent. We need to show President Barack Obama and the EPA that Floridians support a strong mercury safety standard.
111107-d World's most endangered sites
Itineraries.msnbc.com – by A.H. Graham and S. Ramani
November 7, 2011
There’s an aquatic ecosystem so threatened it was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2010 — for the second time. But this site isn’t in a Third World or war-torn country. It’s the Florida Everglades.
In 2010, Florida’s Everglades were added to the Danger List for a second time after a 14-year stint (1993–2007) from Hurricane Andrew damage. Overdevelopment and unremitting aquatic degradation continue to threaten the site’s delicate mangrove ecosystem, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and its saw-grass prairie, the world’s biggest. Thirty-six endangered species, including the Florida panther, manatee, and scrub jay, live in the Everglades—the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America. It’s currently the only danger-listed site in the United States.
Every summer, UNESCO evaluates the status of its World Heritage sites, and no country is immune from scrutiny when it comes to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The sites reflect a concern about both cultural and environmental heritage. They include everything from tropical wetlands to ninth-century minarets to royal African tombs. We’ve chosen to highlight 10, emphasizing sites most recently added to the list.
Determining the status of each site’s “outstanding universal value” follows a strict methodology. UNESCO works with experts at the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to monitor the sites’ conditions. These organizations in turn make recommendations to UNESCO based on extensive visits and studies. The few that have serious threats are dealt a set of corrective measures and added to the list.
“Legal status, mining projects and building roads are several such cases that could be deemed to have impact on the outstanding value and authenticity of the site,” says Kishore Rao, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris. In June 2011, for instance, Sumatra’s Tropical Rainforest was added to the danger list because of poaching and plans to build roads through the vulnerable habitat.
Many countries view danger-listing as a blow to tourism, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The U.S. government actually requested to have the Everglades listed in 2010 because its delicate ecosystem was still struggling to recover from Hurricane Andrew damage. “The process of putting sites on the Danger List is meant to draw attention to the fact that there’s a threat, but most important, to mobilize national and international support to help the country and site deal with that threat,” says Rao.
And there are comeback stories. Twenty-three sites, including the Galápagos, Angkor Wat and Timbuktu, were once on the Danger List and dropped after improvements. As bureaucratic as it can seem, UNESCO’s process encourages us to consider the value of both man-made and natural wonders, the bond between them, and our role as travelers in their upkeep.
111106-a Plan for Everglades Refuge Pleases Some, Worries Others
Infozine.com - by Pamela Engel
November 6, 2011
A dispute over what should happen to 150,000 acres of the northern Everglades pitted environmentalists and sports enthusiasts against each other at a House subcommittee hearing Thursday.
Washington, D.C. - infoZine - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t said which 150,000 acres in Florida it wants for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. The agency says the proposal will improve the quality and quantity of ater and protect wildlife. Those opposed to the plan worry about public access to the land.
“These areas need to be open. They need to be open to recreations,” Jorge P. Gutierrez, president of the Everglades Coordinating Council, told the House Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs subcommittee.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would purchase easements to protect 100,000 acres from future development. The land would remain privately owned. The agency would buy 50,000 acres to create a refuge open to visitors for recreational activities, including hunting and boatingSome witnesses worried about not being able to hunt and boat on the 100,000 acres that would remain under private ownership.
“Air boaters are unique individuals, and we don’t really appreciate land being locked up,” Bishop Wright Jr., president of the Florida Airboat Association, said. “There are no airboats for public use in refuges.” Mark J. Masaus, deputy regional director for Region 4 of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said officials are meeting with hunters to hear their suggestions about the project.
Some committee members questioned how the proposal would be funded. The government plans to use money from offshore oil and gas revenues.
The project would take several years to complete and cost about $450,000 annually to maintain and operate. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., the subcommittee chairman, said it would cost $700 million to buy the easements and land, a figure others said was merely an estimate.
“What the service fails to tell the American people is how many thousands of new jobs will be lost by locking up this land to no development in the future,” Fleming said
Go ahead, just pollute.
We will clean after you -
11106-b Socialized pollution
The Gainesville Sun - by Linda Young,
November 6, 2011
How would you like your government to tell all of the major polluters in your community (sewage plants, paper mills, phosphate facilities, chemical plants, etc.) that they can dump their pollution in your local waters forever and never have to account for what comes out of their pipes?
It sounds kind of crazy, huh? What if the free-for-all was limited to just the most troubling chemicals for Florida waters? Would that help?
What if the state and federal government agreed that this is a good idea and that the cost of dealing with the most polluting chemicals would be spread out for everyone to pay, so our biggest polluters would not be troubled with the problem?
Well, the owners of those big discharges into our streams and bays would certainly like that, but what about the rest of us? Are we ready for socialized pollution ? Is more corporate welfare one of your top priorities in these tough economic times?
This is not a theoretical scenario. This is what is happening in Florida right now.
The federal government has already made it so. The state has an opportunity to fix this very bad idea and take steps to protect us and our waters from even more pollution in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients), which are already choking our waters with toxic algae.
You won't need to go far in Florida to find a spring, lake, river or bay that is suffering from too much nitrogen and/or phosphorus. The result is fish kills, respiratory problems, and slimy, stinky waters.
Even so, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is determined to protect politically powerful polluters in Florida and make the rest of us pay for their pollution.
On Dec. 1, the Florida DEP will ask the Environmental Regulation Commission to approve new rules that not only reinforce the new federal law for Florida, but take state waters even closer to destruction. While the new state and federal pollution rules have numeric limits for the first time, the numbers actually mean very little.
No pollution pipes in the state will be required to meet these numeric limits. Agriculture is exempt as well.
Each water body will be sampled throughout the year in various locations. All the samples will be combined to find an annual geometric mean for each water body (lake, spring, river, etc.).
If the geometric mean is too high for a whole year, then ... no problem. If it's too high for a second year then the federal rule offers numerous ways to change or ignore the limits or simply delay doing anything at all.
The state and federal rules are clear that at no time will discharge pipes be required to meet the new pollution limits.
In simple language, our rivers and estuaries will become automatic “mixing zones” (places in the water where pollution laws aren't applied) for every polluting industry and sewage plant. If our waters ever get cleaned up, it will be up to local governments and individual taxpayers to make it happen.
This is socialism at its worst and the exact reason that so many Americans are marching in the streets across our country right now. If the state of Florida wants to protect its waters from excess nutrients, then it must make sure that every industrial and sewage pipe meets Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) standards for nutrients, at a minimum.
Now is the time to speak out for the waters that you love and rely on for drinking, fishing, swimming, etc. Contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel about socialized pollution. You can also follow this link for more details and a quick and easy way to take action: http://www.cleanwaternetwork-fl.org/actionalerts.php Linda Young is director of The Clean Water Network of Florida, made up of 300 environmental, civic and recreational organizations.
Miami flooding - -
111105-a Climate Change Endangering Florida
The Ledger.com - by Tom Palmer
November 5, 2011
I recently returned from a national environmental journalism conference in Miami.
It was no accident that climate change and sea level rise were prominent on the agenda.
If things continue as predicted, the bottom floors of the hotel where we were meeting would be part of Biscayne Bay — well offshore in Biscayne Bay — by the turn of the century.
And even the parts of Dade County that aren't underwater will be uninhabitable because the rising sea level will have made much of the Biscayne Aquifer, the shallow aquifer that supplies drinking water in this part of Florida, too salty to drink.
That will force regional water managers to move wells farther inland at great expense to supply water to whatever areas in the region are still habitable.
Add to that the fact that substantial portions of South Florida that aren't covered by the advancing sea will be underwater anyway. That's because the canal system that for decades drained subtropical rainfall to the sea will be relatively useless.
The reason this is so is that the canal flow will be stopped by the incoming tide a lot farther inland. Even today, strong high tides already reach parts of downtown Miami at times, we were told.
There are plans to install larger pumps to push the floodwater downstream, but engineers acknowledge the technology has its limits.
That's not the only infrastructure problem.
The sea level projections show Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point nuclear power plant seaward of the new Florida coastline.
That will leave the marine environment strewn with debris from whatever structures the sea overtakes and that cannot be moved, said Harold Wanless, who chairs the Geological Sciences Department at the University of Miami and provided much of the sea level data we saw.
The reason behind these predictions, Wanless and other scientists who attended the conference explained, is that massive ice sheets from Greenland to Antarctica are melting at an increasing rate as air and ocean temperatures gradually increase.
We even had a first-hand live report via Skype from scientist Kim Bernard at a research station at Palmer Peninsula on Antarctica. She discussed the changes in ecology that has altered the food sources available, which has led to the decline in penguin populations.
She said she and other scientists working in Antarctica are seeing the effects of climate change first-hand and it worries them.
We learned that the long-term implications are attracting the attention of emergency planners, insurance companies, urban planners, oceanographers, marine biologists, wildlife officials and more.
At the top of the list is the human impact.
Eventually, sea level rise in Florida may produce a wave of "climate change refugees" that may change the demographic geography of Florida.
There has been some discussion in this part of Florida among planners and environmental scientists about the effect on local water and wildlife resources if substantial numbers of these displaced people relocate here.
Another aspect is that it's unclear how the insurance industry will respond to climate change in writing property insurance. That is, there's a real unanswered question of what it will cost to deal with the effects of climate change and who will pay for it, according to Sharlene Leurig of Ceres, a nonprofit that works with investors and insurance companies on this another sustainability issues.
Additionally, the sea level rise will cause some extinctions as habitat in Everglades National Park, for instance, is converted from fresh water to marine and from uplands to wetlands.
In the background of this discussion has been the debate over the validity of the science.
It is notable that physicist Richard Muller, who had been openly skeptical of the conclusions climate scientists had been reaching, has now accepted climate change as a fact.
That comes despite the fact that his independent examination of the climate data was funded in part by the Charles Koch Foundation, which is run by oil industry interests who have funded attempts to try to discredit the science that calls for cutbacks in greenhouse emissions caused by burning oil and coal.
Muller's intellectual honesty should advance the scientific basis for the concerns about climate change.
It also may counteract the anti-science, anti-intellectual bias that has been becoming a staple of politics that I heard scientists complain about during the conference.
This is something the coming generations should really worry about.
LAKE HANCOCK TALK
An update on plans to build a wetlands treatment system to remove nutrients from water heading downstream from Lake Hancock into the Peace River will be the topic of a program Thursday at the next meeting of Ancient Islands Sierra Club.
The program, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. at Circle B Bar Reserve, 4399 Winter Lake Road.
111105-b Native Americans in Florida put life back into a dying swamp
Examiner.com – by Richard Thornton, Architecture & Design Examiner
November 5, 2011
The Perdido Bay Muscogee-Creek Tribe and Escambia County, Florida jointly sponsored the restoration of an ailing wetland vital to Pensacola Bay. The grand opening this weekend has drawn public officials and visitors from throughout the Southeast to see how cooperation between Native Americans and governments can work.
PENSACOLA, FL– November 5, 2011 – (Examiner.com) - Five hundred years ago, the young Spanish colonial town of Pensacola was surrounded by permanent and seasonal wetlands. The swamps were considered a vital part of the colony’s defenses. They made transportation of heavy siege cannons near the fortifications of Pensacola by a European enemy almost impossible. Few people considered the possibility that the fetid swamp waters containing human and animal fecal wastes were a major cause of the high death rate in Pensacola.
Great Britain won the French and Indian War in 1763 and in process, gained all of the present-day Southeastern United States. Attacks by large European armies were no longer a concern. Defense of the harbor against enemy fleets and privateers became the focus of military engineers. Expansion of the potential farmland around Pensacola became a major objective of British colonial officials. Work crews of African slaves were utilized to construct drainage canals out of the wetlands.
West Florida became a province of Spain again at the end of the American Revolution in 1783, but Spain had been an ally of the fledgling United States during the war, so it did not initially worry about a land-based attack. Defense from land-based attacks briefly became a concern during the War of 1812, but the war was primarily between the United States and Great Britain, along with their Native allies.
All of Florida was part of the United States after 1821. The population in and around Pensacola exploded. Newly arrived farmers and land speculators drained remaining swamplands whenever their low level technology permitted it.
By 1900 doctors were aware that malaria and yellow fever were transmitted by mosquitoes. The drainage of the Pensacola’s remaining swamps accelerated. The construction of the Pensacola Naval Air Station and vast increase in the city’s population during World War II further accelerated the drainage of swamps. By now diesel-powered pumps were in general use. Almost daily, county health departments used gasoline-powered pumps to spray DDT on the remaining swamps.
The DDT directly or indirectly killed most natural wildlife in the swamps. Both good and "bad" insects were killed, which then eliminated a major food source for fish. It entered the food chain and caused birds to be unable to reproduce. The remaining swamps became moribund basins - full of dangerous bacteria, trash, fecal matter and toxic chemicals.
In the late 20th century, the leaders of Pensacola became increasingly aware that the destruction of natural wetlands had harmed the ecology of the region, and made it more vulnerable to hurricanes. It seemed too late to make any significant improvements in the situation, because of the cost of labor and materials required by the wetland restoration process. A healthy wetland system ringing the periphery of the metropolitan area would dramatically improve the water quality of Pensacola Bay by filtering storm drainage run-off prior to entering the ocean. The question remained, how to accomplish this massive project in an era of tight government budgets.
Experimental project restores vital wetlands
In 2008, the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection adopted “targets” for improving water quality in Bayou Chico and Pensacola Bay. On October 10, 2011, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida DEP, Escambia County, City of Pensacola, U.S. Navy and several partners jointly adopted the Bayou Chico Restoration Project in response to environment studies of the Pensacola Bay Area.
In the meantime, however, an innovative partnership primarily between Escambia County and the Perdido Bay Muscogee-Creek Tribe, with the assistance of the State of Florida, has made dramatic strides in the improvement of water quality. This was accomplished with minimal funding assistance by government agencies and lots of work by the Native Americans. Some of the work was accomplished through a “Green Jobs Initiative” financed by the Federal government.
Escambia County gave the Native American tribe 1,700+ acres, which includes 1,300 acres within the Jones Creek Watershed. The donation had a stipulation that the tribe carry out major environmental improvement projects that would restore the area to something approximating its original ecological vitality.
There are many projects underway at the Jones Swamp Wetland Preserve and Nature Trail. In addition, to the cleaning of remaining natural wetlands, a recharge pond has been constructed, sections of the preserve have been replanted in native species, areas have been sown in native plants utilized by water fowl and migratory species, plus much of the site has been made accessible for passive recreation. In addition, the entire site, which has been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
In September of 2011, the tribe received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support operation and educational programs associated with its new native plants propagation program. In addition to cultivation of species for restoring the Jones Swamp, the facility may in the future be utilized to propagate native plants that can be planted in dryer locations along the Gulf Coast.
The Perdido Bay Muscogee-Creek Tribe is providing a variety of attractions for visitors during the grand opening. These include one-to-one contact with Creek Indians, traditional Native American dances, musical concerts, the grand opening of its museum and a display of high quality, Native American crafts for sale to the public.
Visitors can go hiking and horseback riding along the preserve trails and watch nature closely as the swampland sanctuary is abounding with a variety of lively and striking species. Owl boxes and a butterfly garden were installed on the land to attract desirable wildlife. Day camps for children, soil and water projects and classes to teach Native American arts-and-crafts will be offered. The Perdido Bay Muscogee-Creek Tribe’s Cultural Heritage Center is located on the Jones Swamp Wetlands Preserve, at 3300 Beloved Path, Pensacola, FL 32507 TEL 850-453-7382
South Florida Water
111105-c Water district won't abandon science
Palm Beach Post – Melissa Meeker, Letters to the Editor
November 5, 2011
A more streamlined, mission-focused budget at the South Florida Water Management District will continue to deliver progress in Everglades restoration without abandoning the science that supports it, despite what some critics suggested in the article "Wetlands restoration panel worries over loss of money for monitoring."
The district is assessing the scope of our science, research and monitoring. Science has an important role in our work. Over the past six years we have invested more than $250 million in the monitoring and assessment of South Florida's ecosystem and flood control system. To gather water quality information alone, the district annually collects samples from close to 2,000 monitoring stations and runs more than 300,000 tests. To evaluate water flow, we gather data from 4,500 sensors at more than 500 sites throughout the Everglades.
The district has committed more than $32 million for this year to produce data that will be helpful to restoration projects. This funding is further enhanced by significant investments made by other government, academic and environmental organizations.
As a partner in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the district also finances a monitoring and assessment program, in which we have invested $75 million over 10 years with our federal partners. While some good information has come out of this effort, it was based on an assumed CERP implementation schedule and designed to assess both pre-restoration project conditions and environmental response after project construction. We now have more than a decade of pre-project data, plus the knowledge that some of the data being collected is not as applicable to restoration objectives as originally thought.
As CERP projects become authorized by Congress and construction a reality, we can verify the level of pre-project data and refocus our monitoring efforts on measuring the response of the ecosystem to implemented restoration projects. In the meantime, it's incumbent upon state, federal and local partners to reevaluate the monitoring program and ensure that our resources are invested wisely. We must strike the right balance between allocating taxpayer dollars toward monitoring the environment and building the projects that will improve it.
MELISSA MEEKER, West Palm Beach Editor's note: Melissa Meeker is executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
EPA’s surprising decision to approve long-contentious water pollution limits for nutrients in Florida could be politically motivated, some environmentalists are charging.
It was "obviously a political decision that’s going to be a real blow to the environmental movement in Florida,” said Nathaniel Reed, a Florida Republican and longtime environmentalist who was an assistant Interior secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Environmentalists in Florida are huddling to discuss suing over the standard, Reed said, probably in a coalition.
The EPA wrote Wednesday to the state environmental department approving draft regulations for nitrogen and phosphorus, which cause algae blooms and remove oxygen from the water, damaging fish and plant life and sometimes endangering human health.
The state came up with its pollution limits after the EPA prepared its own stringent version in response to a long-running lawsuit by environmentalists. The state’s rule differs from both the EPA proposal for Florida and from what acting EPA water chief Nancy Stoner has been pushing nationally during the last year.
But an EPA official says the agency has always said it would prefer that Florida develop its own standards — and now that the state has stepped up to the task, the EPA wants to support that. The agency still has to decide whether it can approve the requirements under the Clean Water Act, the official said.
The state’s decision isn’t final. Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission is considering the draft rule, and then it will go before the Florida Legislature in 2012, after which the EPA will have another chance to approve or deny the final regulation, the EPA letter says.
How the EPA would choose to regulate in Florida has been a hot issue for activists, industry and regulators nationwide because the decisions there could set legal precedent elsewhere. Industry groups and the state agriculture department have charged that the requirements EPA wanted would be massively costly and difficult to implement, a cry that congressional members from Florida have brought to Washington.
Defusing the issue may prove helpful to Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces one of his toughest elections in years in 2012.
"I’m sure for Sen. Nelson it’s a blessing,” Reed said. “He was in a hell of a jam.”
A spokesman for Nelson said that “the state has some of the best water-quality data around, so it makes sense for Florida to have a say in these rules.”
But environmentalists say the EPA has taken a huge backward dive in expectations.
“What we had here is a contest between the health and safety of Florida’s families on one side and the deep-pocket polluters on the other,” Earthjustice attorney David Guest said in a statement. “Unfortunately, today the polluters and their expensive lobbyists won.”
Environmentalists criticized the state’s draft water pollution rule in an Oct. 18 letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from the Gulf Restoration Network’s Matt Rota.
According to the activists, Florida’s draft doesn’t hit on two requirements that Stoner has told states are crucial: that the limits protect downstream waters from accumulated pollution and that the rule is aimed at preventing impairment rather than responding to impairment.
That second requirement is particularly tricky and has been a sticking point between the EPA and states. For one thing, the amount of nitrogen or phosphorus that would lead to a polluted lake or river can vary among water bodies.
Stoner has fought back against states that wanted to set numeric pollution limits in a way that would require that pollution be evident in the water body before a discharger, such as a sewage treatment plant, would be considered in violation of Clean Water Act permit requirements.
So EPA’s decision to approve Florida’s standards — in a way the agency has denied other states — is a change in position.
In neither case does Florida’s approach exactly match the federal standards and requirements, the EPA official said, but nevertheless the agency feels they can be interpreted to protect downstream waters.
But environmentalists aren’t convinced.
“Obviously we’re not happy,” environmental attorney Albert Ettinger said.
While EPA has always said Florida is welcome to put out its own standards, Ettinger said, “I think you’re safe to believe that it has more to do with politics” than a scientific decision.
Still, Ettinger said, “There’s politics and there’s politics.” He said there is a difference between political decisions made for election purposes and, for instance, making a practical decision that there is only so much that the state is willing to do to enforce what the EPA is requiring.
“My hunch would be that it’s some of each,” Ettinger said. “Human motivations are not that simple.”
But Reed said, "I don't think the president's off the hook.”
He said the EPA should "have dodged past the election" on the issue and agreed to study it further or make some kind of interim deal. "There’s all kinds of things that they could have stalled on."
Reed also noted that the decision could hurt President Barack Obama politically in the state with environmentalist voters. And he said the president was unlikely to win the votes of opponents of the nutrient standards anyway.
Herschel VINYARD FDEP Secretary
111104-b Environmental agency to proceed with plan to set regulations
The News Service of Florida - by MICHAEL PELTIER
November 4, 2011
TALLAHASSEE - Bolstered by a letter of confidence from Washington, Florida's top environmental regulator on Wednesday said his agency would proceed with its proposed plan to set specific pollution levels for the state's inland and coastal waters.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had given a preliminary nod to new state standards would allow the agency to continue its re-write of fresh water quality standards.
"This is the right thing for Florida," Vinyard said in a statement.
"If adopted, these rules will be the most comprehensive nutrient pollution limitations in the nation, and will serve to protect our rivers, lakes, streams, springs and estuaries."
Vinyard's comments came shortly after an announcement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Director Nancy Stoner that the federal agency had given preliminary approval to state rules released for comment last month.
Stoner's letter cautioned state officials not to deviate significantly from the draft rules sent to EPA in October. Though the federal agency will continue to monitor the new rules, what federal officials have seen so far appear to make sense.
"While EPA's final decision to approve or disapprove any nutrient criteria rule submitted by FDEP will follow, our formal review of the ruleâ€» leads us to the preliminary conclusion that EPA would be able to approve the draft rule under the CWA," Stoner wrote.
111104-c EPA backs Florida implementing its own water pollution standards
American Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
November 4, 2011
The Environmental Protection Agency has responded positively to a draft of water pollution rules submitted by the state of Florida. In a letter written on Nov. 2, an EPA rep writes that, based on a review of the state’s rules, they will likely be implemented in place of a similar set of federally mandated standards.
Earlier this week, in a statement released on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, department Secretary Herschel Vinyard authorized his staff to move forward with its draft of a set of water pollution standards. The standards, known as “numeric nutrient criteria,” will likely take the place of a similar set of rules mandated by the EPA. Critics argue that the EPA’s rules will prove to be too expensive to implement, so the EPA is allowing the state to create its own set of rules.
“The future of Florida’s environment depends on the health of our water resources, and no one knows our waters better than us,” said Vinyard. “This is the right thing for Florida, and the right thing to do.”
In a letter (.pdf) penned on Nov. 2, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner applauded the department’s decision to move forward with its own rules, saying that the majority of the state’s draft rules appear to be consistent with the Clean Water Act.
“While EPA’s final decision to approve or disapprove any nutrient criteria rule submitted by FDEP will follow our formal review of the rule and record under section 303(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), our current review of the October 24, 2011 draft rule, guidance, and other scientific and technical information supporting the draft rule, leads us to the preliminary conclusion that EPA would be able to approve the draft rule under the CWA,” writes Stoner. “Should EPA formally approve FDEP’s final nutrient criteria as consistent with the CWA, EPA would initiate rulemaking to withdraw federal numeric nutrient criteria for any waters covered by the new and approved state water quality standards.”
111104-d Feds defer to Florida on water purity
MarcoNews.com - by Dave Trecker
Posted November 4, 2011
The battle over Florida water quality has entered a new phase.
Bowing to political pressure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to let Florida officials set their own pollution levels for state waters -- a huge victory for those who feel Florida knows what's best for Florida.
The immediate issue is regulating nutrients -- dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus that come largely from fertilizer runoff. Unchecked, these nutrients can cause algal bloom, reduce dissolved oxygen, lead to fish kill and damage marine organisms.
Until now, no actual limits have been placed on nutrients. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is in the process of setting those limits.
The agency has taken input from locales around the state, adopting a hold-the-line principle. That is, current nutrient levels can be used as benchmarks for specific rivers, bays and estuaries.
Recently, after reviewing FDEP proposals, the EPA gave the Florida the green light. EPA Acting Assistant Director Nancy Stoner told the FDEP, "Our formal review of the rules ... leads us to the preliminary conclusion that EPA would be able to approve the draft rules under the CWA [Clean Water Act]."
While it's not over until it's over, this looks like a big win for Florida business, which for years has been concerned that overly strict limits would require huge clean-up costs. And it's a setback for environmentalists, who generally reject the hold-the-line approach, fearing that already-polluted waters would remain polluted.
What does this mean locally?
Let's look at two very different cases: Naples Bay and Clam Bay.
Naples Bay is polluted. In 2010, its impairment due to nutrients was rated 95%. In a letter to the FDEP, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida argued, "In systems where there is already a known imbalance, it is certainly not appropriate to set thresholds to current nutrient levels. Yet, DEP has proposed to do that, including in such severely degraded estuaries as Naples Bay."
Clam Bay is not polluted. Embedded in a mangrove forest, it is a National Resource Protection Area. Studies by Collier County and the Pelican Bay Foundation have led to a proposal for standards as a function of salinity based on actual nutrient levels measured over a 20-month period.
For Clam Bay, hold-the-line makes sense. For Naples Bay, it does not.
Meanwhile, the FDEP train is rumbling down the track. The state Environmental Regulatory Committee has until December 1 to adopt the FDEP proposals, and the Florida legislature, until end-of-session in February to ratify them. The EPA plans to finalize the regulations by November 2012.
What could derail the train ? Lawsuits. Political upheavals. Ecological setbacks.
Any number of things could happen.
A year is a long time in environmental politics!
111104-e Florida's big water polluters win again
November 4, 2011
Why is the federal government continuing to reward Florida for dragging its feet on cleaning up dirty waters? The latest gift to the state's big polluters and their enablers in Tallahassee came this week when the Environmental Protection Agency gave tentative approval to new state pollution standards. The rules are far short of what Florida waterways need — a testament to politics winning out over science.
The EPA is backing off a long-running fight at the expense of public health, the environment and tourism. In 1998, the federal government told the states to limit nutrient pollution in lakes, rivers and coastal areas by 2004 or it would do the job for them. But the deadline came and went. Environmental groups sued in 2008 seeking to compel the EPA to intervene under the Clean Water Act. The agency settled the case in 2009 under an agreement that it would draft the standards for Florida. After 11 years of stalling, new rules were on the way and expected this year.
But the agency backtracked after industry groups and newly elected Republican leaders made wild and inflammatory charges about what the cleanup would cost. In June, the EPA said it would give the state another chance to write new standards on its own. This week, the agency said in a preliminary review that Florida was headed in the right direction. While the EPA has not formally agreed to sign off on the rules, its tacit approval weakens the agency's leverage in forcing a meaningful cleanup of Florida's waterways.
Environmentalists are right that the EPA's concessions need to be seen in their totality. The agency agreed to exempt entire industrial operations from the clean-water rules. It created loopholes for meeting the law, a waiver process for polluters to wiggle out from it, and delayed enforcement. Even this week, the EPA almost apologized to the state for having to intervene as part of complying with a court order. EPA has also signaled to the state that it would be flexible in how it enforces the cleaner standards.
Pollution taints 2,000 miles of the state's rivers, 380,000 acres of its lakes and 569 square miles of its coastal areas. Runoff from farms, utilities and sewer plants sparks fish kills, taints the public drinking water supply, damages waterfront property and tourist attractions and causes outbreaks of respiratory illness and other diseases. If state leaders want to talk costs, they should at least be honest enough to acknowledge the damage that polluted water causes to our property, health and tourist economy. This case is not ending with the protections that Floridians deserve. The EPA should quit mollifying the special interest voices in Florida and work instead to protect the public interest.
111103-a Everglades refuge plan draws criticism in Congress
Sun Sentinel - by William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
November 03, 2011
WASHINGTON A plan to spend more than $700 million to create a 150,000-acre refuge at the headwaters of the Everglades drew fire on Thursday from congressional Republicans, who questioned the wisdom of spending money on ranchland north of Lake Okeechobee rather than on water projects closer to South Florida.
Obama administration officials defended the plan at a House hearing, saying a conservation area south of Orlando would be a relatively cheap way to filter out pollution while bringing the right amount of water into the lake and the Everglades.
They plan to move ahead without congressional approval, using a land-conservation fund to buy 50,000 acres and pay for "conservation" easements for another 100,000 acres from willing ranchers that would allow agricultural use but bar housing development. The fund comes from grazing fees, timber sales and oil-drilling royalties paid by energy companies.
But some Republicans on the House subcommittee on fisheries and wildlife resented a plan formed without congressional input, and they noted that the administration has put limits on offshore drilling, which helps pay for the fund.
"The administration, without congressional authorization, wants to move forward, jump ahead, grab off these purchases through willing sellers to preserve these lands, but . . . is working against us on oil production," said subcommittee chairmanJohn Fleming, R-La.
Florida environmental groups support the plan, saying it would complement Everglades restoration, not compete with it. Restoration costs, split between Florida and Uncle Sam, are expected to exceed $13 billion over three decades.
"They [Republicans] are looking for a reason to pick a fight with the administration on it," Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said before testifying. "Some of it is pure politics. Some of it is the cost. But there are enough Florida members who support it, and I don't think the committee is completely hostile to restoration."
Congress ultimately holds the purse strings because it authorizes the land fund, which already has a backlog of $3.4 billion worth of conservation work.
U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, said he would draw up legislation to accommodate congressional concerns. Two fellow Florida Republicans — Dennis Ross, of Lakeland, and Steve Southerland, of Panama City — are intent on giving access to sportsmen.
"We are very aggravated with public money, our taxpayer money, being used to [gain access to] property and not have an opportunity to hunt," Southerland said
111103-b Florida Considers Numeric Nutrient Standards
November 3, 2011
Tallahasse, FL, Nov. 3, 2011 -- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is moving forward with draft rules to develop numeric nutrient standards for Florida’s waterways. These rules set limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen, also known as nutrients, allowed in Florida’s waters.
The new rules would replace narrative guidelines currently used by Florida to control nutrient runoff from that flows into lakes, rivers, streams and springs.
US EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner issued an announcement granting the agency’s “preliminary” blessing to the Florida draft regulation.
EPA issued numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s inland water bodies in late 2010 after determining the state’s narrative standards for water quality did not effectively address the nutrient problem. In April, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) submitted a petition requesting that EPA withdraw the rule and refrain from proposing or promulgating any further numeric nutrient criteria. In return, FDEP promised to move forward on its own rulemaking for nutrient criteria.
“Today, I authorized staff to move forward with rulemaking for numeric nutrient standards for Florida,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said in a statement released this week. “The future of Florida’s environment depends on the health of our water resources, and no one knows our waters better than us. This is the right thing for Florida, and the right thing to do."
If adopted, these rules will be the most comprehensive nutrient pollution limitations in the nation, and will serve to protect Florida rivers, lakes, streams, springs and estuaries.
“Using more than a decade of data collection and analysis, Florida has developed standards that account for the individual characteristics and needs of Florida’s diverse water resources. By setting standards focused on site-specific conditions we are better able to protect public health, improve water quality and preserve aquatic life in Florida’s unique water resources throughout the state,” Vinyard said.
(mouse over to enlarge)
This is a map of the
Wildlife Refuge and
U.S. Department of
the Interior, Fish
and Wildlife Service.
111103-c Mixed reception in Washington for Everglades refuge
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
November 3, 2011
The proposed federal refuge north of Lake Okeechobee, which calls for putting some 100,000 of pasture land under permanent conservation and buying another 50,000, is touted as way to preserve both wildlife and ranches
A proposed wildlife refuge north of Lake Okeechobee that is a big piece of the Obama administration’s shifting Everglades restoration strategy got a mixed reception Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Environmentalists and ranchers extolled the plan to purchase conservation easements on some 100,000 acres of pasture and buy another 50,000 acres outright, saying it would protect wildlife, wild lands and the water supply along with a way of life under increasing pressure from development.
“We have an opportunity now to stop urban sprawl and stop this part of Florida from going the way of other parts of the state,’’ Rick Dantzler, a former state senator from Winter Haven and co-chairman of the pro-refuge North Everglades Alliance, told a U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee.
But hunters said they feared the plan would shut them out of most of the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Several lawmakers questioned pursuing a $700 million plan when the government is gushing red ink and a slew of projects in the existing $14 billion Everglades restoration plan remain stalled and unfunded. John Fleming, a Republican congressman from Louisiana who chaired the hearing, argued that the refuge would divert money from more important Everglades projects south of the lake — a view echoed by one Florida congressman on the subcommittee, Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City.
Southerland noted that the U.S. Interior Department had relied on public input to shape the refuge proposal but “unfortunately it seems to me that it’s not shaped by the brutal reality that we are broke.’’
Lawmakers also expressed concerns that the White House was moving forward on the refuge without congressional authorization. That’s because Interior has administrative power to create refuges and intends to bankroll land and easement buys through its Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is supported by annual royalties for leases on offshore oil and gas drilling.
Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican whose district includes Everglades National Park, talked about how critical a healthy ecosystem is to South Florida’s water supply and said he generally supported the refuge proposal. But he also pressed Interior to draft legislation that would give lawmakers more say and offer firm assurance that the refuge would be open to hunting use and for access by state water managers.
The administration proposed the refuge, which would extend from southwest Osceola County down to Lake Okeechobee, early this year, pitching it as a softer, less expensive approach to Glades restoration.
Supporters say it would call for relatively little expensive infrastructure, leave two-thirds of the land in private hands and open at least 50,000 acres to hunting. Only land owned by willing sellers would be targeted for purchase.
The areas targeted for conservation are a mosaic of habitats — such as pinelands, wetlands, prairies and scrub — that support 98 threatened and endangered species, including the Florida black bear, panther and scrub jay. The land is also critical to South Florida’s drinking water supply.
Supporters acknowledged the refuge would likely only have “marginal” water quality benefits, slowing down and filtering pollutants before they flow from farms and suburbs into Lake Okeechobee. But they said the open lands could be used to expand water storage essential to the lake, Everglades and farmers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also bankrolling Everglades conservation easements, this year spending $100 million to acquire development rights to some 24,000 acres in four counties around Lake Okeechobee. Last year, the USDA paid $89 million to acquire development rights for another 26,000 acres.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, an assistant secretary of the Army who oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the refuge proposal was just one of several encouraging signs for restoration.
Federal agencies also announced an overhaul of plans last week intended to speed up work to revive water flow to the parched River of Grass, which came on the heels of a pledge of support from Florida Gov. Rick Scott to deal with persistent water pollution problems.
“We’re both in tight budget situations but we are both committed to this restoration effort,” she said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended public comment on the proposal until Nov. 25. A final decision on the plan is not expected until next year and it could take years to purchase easements and land.
111103- Republicans wary of Florida water refuge plan
Sun Sentinel - by William Gibson
November 3, 2011
A federal plan to create a 150,000-acre refuge at the headwaters of the Everglades at a cost of more than $700 million drew fire on Thursday from Republicans in Congress.
They questioned the cost and the wisdom of focusing on ranchland north of Lake Okeechobee instead of water projects closer to South Florida.
Obama administration officials testified at a House hearing that a wildlife refuge and conservation area south of Orlando would be a cheap and effective way to bring the right amount of clean fresh water into the lake before spilling into the Everglades farther south.
They plan to use a land-conservation fund to buy 50,000 acres and to pay for easements from willing ranchers for another 100,000 acres to create a buffer against housing development. The fund comes from grazing fees, timber sales and oil drilling royalties paid by energy companies.
But some Republicans on the House subcommittee on fisheries and wildlife resent a plan formed without congressional input, and they noted that the administration has put limits on offshore drilling, which helps pay for the fund.
“The administration, without congressional authorization, wants to move forward, jump ahead, grab off these purchases through willing sellers to preserve these lands, but . . . is working against us on oil production,” said subcommittee chairman John Fleming, a Republican from Louisiana.
Florida environmental groups support the plan, saying that easements would preserve a ranching way of life and are much less expensive than buying the land.
“They (Republicans) are looking for a reason to pick a fight with the administration on it,” Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said before testifying. “Some of it is pure politics. Some of it is the cost. But there are enough Florida members who support it. I don’t think the committee is completely hostile to restoration.”
U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, said he would draw up legislation to provide for the refuge while taking into account the needs of hunters and other stakeholders.
111103- U.S. Sugar Corp. Puts Your Tax Dollars to Work
Sunshine State News
November 3, 2011
Is that Charlie Crist's old pal U.S. Sugar Corp. I see over there buying land with taxpayers' money?
Land smack in the middle of the Everglades restoration footprint?
Better land than it sold to the state?
Why, I believe it is.
You remember U.S. Sugar Corp., don't you ? Fifteen months ago the Clewiston-based company virtually held a gun to the head of the South Florida Water Management District Board to buy 26,800 acres for $197 million.
The board didn't mind. We buy this land now, we can buy the rest of the U.S. Sugar holdings later, as money loosens up -- that was SFWMD's rationale on Aug. 12, 2010, when the board voted to pay $7,350.75 an acre for 9,000 sugar cane acres and 17,800 mostly unusable citrus acres.
Well maybe, just maybe, U.S. Sugar has no intention of selling its holdings. Maybe it unloaded a ton of bad land, grabbed that $197 million of taxpayers' money and waited to get the better land it wanted to grow more sugar cane.
Everglades restoration? Not a priority at U.S. Sugar Corp.
On Wednesday, USSC announced plans to acquire A. Duda and Son Inc.'s sugar cane production business near Belle Glade. That's the lock, stock and barrel business including land and equipment.
It's the good stuff, muck land high in organic content, some of the best land in the Everglades for growing.
The company announced it's keeping the terms of the deal -- price and number of acres -- under wraps until closing, expected in spring next year.
Well, of course it is. The farther away U.S. Sugar can get from the Charlie Crist-inspired boondoggle, the easier it will be for the company to slip the new Duda deal under the radar. The company isn't going to want anybody to connect the dots on the two deals.
In 2010 it took a newspaper from New York City to show Floridians that U.S. Sugar was taking them for a ride on the land deal. And even then, they wouldn’t believe it. Land is the thing. Gotta have land. And so, with Crist's encouragement, the U.S. Sugar deal continued through two downsizings.
Well, I spent a lot of years as an editor and columnist in Stuart writing about the folly of land purchased for something that turned into nothing – the millions of dollars spent on the Inlet State Park that never became one, the property for a public golf course that lapsed into a preserve, the rights of way purchased for roundabouts that were engineered and then canceled on a commission’s whim.
But I had never seen anything to match the sheer dimwitted absurdity of handing over $197 million, the sum total of all your cash – as the water management district did on Aug. 12, 2010 – to a seller holding a gun to your head.
The seller, U.S. Sugar, gave the district one day to agree to the deal, and a week to get the board to the Aug. 12 “decision meeting.” It’s that or nothing, U.S. Sugar said. And if you agree to the $197 million for 26,800 acres but have to back out of the deal later, you owe us $10 million.
And for $197 million, you get to let U.S. Sugar use 17,900 acres of dead citrus land for free, for as long as 20 years; and 8,900 acres of the sugar land for $150 an acre. Bottom line, you empty your pockets, U.S. Sugar fills theirs, you come to a dead stop, they keep on truckin’.
You’ve created one happy seller because now you can’t afford to develop any part of the Everglades restoration project. You’re broke, they’re flush, and unless you raise some taxes, you haven't got a hope of using acre No. 1 of that land you've just bought the taxpayers of Florida.
Can't blame Duda. Those folks did what they had to do.
In a prepared statement, David Duda, president and CEO, said, "This transaction allows Duda to grow its east coast vegetable operations and take advantage of opportunities in other areas of our business, including the expansion of our diversified agricultural operations and real estate holdings across the country."
DUDA will continue to grow sugar cane in Glades County and in South Texas.
Like other taxpayers who feel as if they had their pockets picked, I can't wait till the spring to see how the Duda-U.S. Sugar deal shakes out.
111103-f Witnesses Question Obama Administration's Priorities on Everglades Restoration
WaterWorld.com - Targeted News Service
November 3, 2011
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs issued the following news release:
Today, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held an oversight hearing on, "Florida Everglades Restoration: What are the Priorities ?" The hearing focused on how the Obama Administration's proposed establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area will contribute to the overall goal of restoring the Florida Everglades.
"Since 2001, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have dedicated themselves to the Comprehensive Everglades Management Plan. This project, which is the largest in our history, is designed to restore the Florida Everglades by improving water quality, removing phosphorus and other contaminants and 'getting the water right.' Together, the federal government and the State of Florida have pledged some $14 billion to complete 68 projects - the vast majority of which are occurring south of Lake Okeechobee. It is in this context that earlier this year, the Secretary of the Interior announced his intention to establish a 150,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area north of Lake Okeechobee," said Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (LA-04).
"In addition to the more than $700 million it will cost our taxpayers to buy these Florida lands and easements, there are additional consequences. For instance, the Service has freely admitted that there are at least sixty major development projects in the Everglades Landscape that are either in initial stages or have been approved. When the economy improves, those projects are likely to proceed. What the Service fails to tell the American people is how many thousands of new jobs will be lost by locking up this land to no development in the future."
"The Florida Everglades is one of our nation's greatest natural treasures.
The Everglades' combination of abundant moisture, rich soils, and subtropical temperatures support a vast array of species. However, flood control and reclamation efforts of the past have manipulated the Everglades hydrology, redirecting freshwater destined for the Everglades out to sea.
The ecosystem has changed because it now receives less water during the dry season and more during the rainy season. The projects under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program will capture freshwater - the lifeblood of the Everglades - destined for the sea and direct it back to the ecosystem to revitalize it and protect threatened and endangered plants and wildlife. However, while I generally support the Everglades Headwaters project, I believe that only Congress may authorize a new refuge and therefore encourage the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to draft legislation that can be introduced in Congress, either by myself, another Committee member, or one of my Florida colleagues, so we can use it as a base to modify, codify and address concerns raised by stakeholders, including allowing state agencies to access the refuge for flood mitigation and pollutant control. With Congressional authorization, any agreements entered into with hunters, ranchers, airboat operators and others will also be set in stone," said Congressman David Rivera (FL-25).
The Florida Everglades, consisting of 2.5 million acres throughout Central and Southern Florida, is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the world.
In 2000, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) as a component of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), committing to work with the State of Florida to spend at least $13.5 billion for the restoration of the Florida Everglades.
The objective of CERP is to revive the Everglades by providing sufficient water quantities into the system, restoring water quality, and moving the water through the system at the right time. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a proposal to establish a 150,000 acre Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area north of Lake Okeechobee through conservation easements and land acquisition for inclusion within the National Wildlife Refuge System. FWS plans to purchase the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area at a cost upwards of $700 million despite the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service has an operations and maintenance backlog in excess of $3.4 billion.
According to Mr. William Horn, a former member of the National Academy of Science's Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress, the proposed refuge overlays areas already managed by Florida state programs, wasting federal funds that would be better used on other projects. "I am persuaded that more commitment to water storage and water quality treatment, south of Lake Okeechobee, and elimination of physical barriers to natural water flows within the Everglades, are much higher priorities for Everglades restoration than diversion of finite resources, dollars and personnel, to a new refuge unit north of the Lake.
Moreover, the State of Florida has already enacted programs directed at conservation, including water quality improvement, of the Lake Okeechobee headwaters region. There is no indication that a federally directed conservation effort (i.e., a new refuge) will be superior to the State-directed conservation program." Horn continued, "That raises issues worthy of scrutiny: what additional benefits, if any, are provided by the establishment of new federal refuge unit in this area already the focus of State conservation programs ? Are the incremental benefits that might arise from the refuge worth the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for federal land acquisition ?"
Mr. Bishop Wright, Jr., President of the Florida Airboat Association, voiced sportsmen's concern that the proposed acquisition by the Federal Government will result in severely restricted access to the lands."As of right now we have 28 refuges in the state and only 7 allow hunting. Out of those 28 refuges, there is no valid reason at all that we can find for them not to allow hunting on at least 5 more refuges immediately, so this new refuge they are proposing we can only believe will be off limits also. No matter what they promise, Floridian hunters and sportsmen cannot allow the Federal government to lock up any more land."
Locking up lands north of Lake Okeechobee provides no guarantee water quality will improve in the Everglades, puts the economic prosperity of the surrounding communities at risk by restricting development, removes a source of revenue for local counties, and has the potential to lock-up the land for public access and wildlife dependent recreation.
111103-g Wrangling over Everglades restoration
WPTV.com News Channel 5 - Pamela Engel Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
November 3, 2011
WASHINGTON – A dispute over what should happen to 150,000 acres of the northern Everglades pitted environmentalists and sports enthusiasts against each other at a House subcommittee hearing Thursday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t said which 150,000 acres it wants for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. The agency says the proposal will improve the quality and quantity of water and protect wildlife. Those opposed to the plan worry about public access to the land.
“These areas need to be open. They need to be open to recreations,” Jorge P. Gutierrez, president of the Everglades Coordinating Council, told the House Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs subcommittee.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would purchase easements to protect 100,000 acres from future development. The land would remain privately owned. The agency would buy 50,000 acres to create a refuge open to visitors for recreational activities, including hunting and boating.
Some witnesses worried about not being able to hunt and boat on the 100,000 acres that would remain under private ownership.
“Air boaters are unique individuals, and we don’t really appreciate land being locked up,” Bishop Wright Jr., president of the Florida Airboat Association, said. “There are no airboats for public use in refuges.” Mark J. Masaus, deputy regional director for Region 4 of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said officials are meeting with hunters to hear their suggestions about the project.
Some committee members questioned how the proposal would be funded. The government plans to use money from offshore oil and gas revenues.
The project would take several years to complete and cost about $450,000 annually to maintain and operate.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., the subcommittee chairman, said it would cost $700 million to buy the easements and land, a figure others said was merely an estimate.
“What the service fails to tell the American people is how many thousands of new jobs will be lost by locking up this land to no development in the future,” Fleming said
111102-a Critics battle EPA on water
TBO.com – by George Duncan
November 2, 2011
New Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards in Florida would cost agricultural industries hundreds of million of dollars and cause sharp increases in food prices, according to state and local agricultural officials.
EPA officials say the new "Numeric Nutrients" standards — which are scheduled to become law in March — are needed to maintain water quality in the state and that the costs have been exaggerated by critics.
Those critics include local farming and citrus officials, and the state of Florida. The state has filed a lawsuit against the EPA asking for a temporary injunction against the new standards. The suit is backed by citrus groups and other agricultural organizations. The critics say the EPA standards are not scientifically based and will not substantially improve water quality.
The proposed EPA standards are different for each body of water — streams, rivers, lakes, etc. — in the state but, in almost all cases, the proposed mandate is higher than the federal standards currently in use.
The standards are without scientific justification, according to Rich Budell, director of the Office of Agricultural Water Quality for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
"It's unreasonable but they excel at being unreasonable," Budell said of EPA officials. "We don't believe their methodology has adequately captured the variety of waters that exists in Florida."
The state has also picked up the support of both of Florida's U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who represents Highlands County. Rooney has an ongoing feud with the EPA about the standards, and has some harsh words for the agency and for Lisa Jackson, its administrator.
Jackson will not agree to complete "the most basic scientific and economic studies on this rule to back up the rule and analyze its impact," Rooney said. "This my-way-or-the-highway attitude isn't helpful as we try to reach a compromise, which is my goal."
The first hearing on the state's lawsuit will be held in January. Budell said the state hopes a federal judge will issue an injunction against the federal agency.
Budell said state officials are continuing negotiations with the EPA and there is a possibility some compromise can be reached before the court date. The EPA should accept the water quality standards and procedures established by the state Department of Environmental Protection, he said. The state DEP standards maintain water quality without the multimillion-dollar cost, he said. Ray Royce, president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, strongly backs the state.
"The citrus community is extremely concerned that the EPA has proposed criteria that is not feasible for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is there is no scientific basis for it," Royce said.
Royce said he agreed with the state analysis that the cost of implementation would be $1 billion to $1.6 billion. Although the initial costs would be born by agricultural businesses, much of the cost would be passed along to consumers, raising the price of food and services at a time when many residents are struggling to make ends meet, he said.
An op-ed written in March by Rooney and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio charged that water bills in the state could double and that the total cost of the EPA rules could reach $2 billion.
Both Budell and Royce emphasize that the state DEP is backing standards that are reasonable, maintain the quality of the state's water supply and are much less costly.
EPA officials would not comment directly but released a statement about the dispute.
"EPA believes that numeric standards are necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act in Florida, whether these are designed by FDEP or EPA. These standards are and must be based on the best available science and significant public input.
"EPA scientists consulted with scientific experts in Florida and calculated the standards for Florida's inland waters based on a review of over 13,000 water samples that the state collected from over 2,200 sites statewide," according to the statement released by EPA public affairs specialist Davina Marraccini.
111102-b Department of Agriculture outlines objections to EPA clean water rules
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
November 2, 2011
Speaking to the state House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources yesterday, the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Rich Budell continued to express concern with federally mandated water pollution standards. Though the state of Florida is currently in a race to draw up its own rules before the EPA can implement its regulations, Budell said that ”the concerns are really the same” no matter who creates them.
“Florida collects more water quality data than any other state in the nation … [and] we have the most advanced reuse,” said Budell, who has criticized the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria in the past.
Among Budell’s concerns with the EPA’s version of the water pollution rules? “The science is weak,” “we don’t think they do an adequate job considering the diversity of waters in Florida” and “many biologically healthy waters under the EPA rule would be determined impaired.”
As for claims that Florida’s agricultural industry (whose fertilizer-laden effluent often contributes to algal blooms and fish kills) wouldn’t be affected by the rules, Budell told the panel it’s an assertion that “is at best naive.”
Budell claims that point-source polluters like pulp and paper mills, dairy operations and hog farms would definitely be impacted, despite EPA claims to the contrary.
“EPA has made it very clear in other parts of the country … [and] clearly indicated the direction they are taking is to require states to implement programs to regulate agricultural stormwater flow,” he said. “The Clean Water Act may not give them permitting authority over agriculture [but] they have other mechanisms. … That’s the connection we make from what we see the agency doing in other parts of the country.”
Though Budell himself admitted that much about the rules remains uncertain, he made clear his stance that “no sector of agriculture can comply with the … criteria as proposed.”
Budell did say that the ag industry in general supports the state’s efforts to write its own rules, which he said would be “infinitely more palatable” than the EPA’s version.
111102-c EPA water regs are way too extreme for Florida
TBO.com – Highlands Today
November 2, 2011 Every reasonable person is willing to sacrifice to protect the water quality in our Florida rivers and lakes. It all falls apart, though, when extreme measures threaten to break the bank with too many people in our state, and that's exactly what's going on with the Environmental Protection Agency's idea on "numeric nutrient criteria" regulations being implemented in March.
Numeric nutrient criteria is a fancy way of saying that the EPA has come up with convoluted, complicated and unfair demands on water quality standards. It's supposedly to protect against algae blooms and red tides.
It all came about when environmental groups sued the EPA because Florida's water standards were not completed in time by the state. The result is the settlement, and it's a mess and a giant overreach.
The EPA did testing throughout the state and set standards from data gleaned from thousands of sites. It put some waterways in similar categories as pristine rivers. It even puts some manmade drainage canals in the same categories and forces cleanup to make sure it stays that way.
Although EPA disputes how much this will cost Florida taxpayers, consumers and businesspeople, the real price tag is likely well over a billion dollars. And this doesn't even include waterways south of Lake Okeechobee. The study for those areas is ongoing.
No one disputes the need to help control these algae blooms, but the EPA is killing a fly with a bazooka, and the collateral damage will be huge.
Consumers are much more likely to see food prices climb as agricultural operators and producers are forced to shell out huge amounts of money to abide by these regulations. These regulations will most likely put some people out of business. That's the last thing anyone needs.
There are attempts to head off these drastic EPA regulations. Just about everyone in Florida government and business is asking for some kind of reprieve from implementing this.
There is little doubt that this is a terrible idea for Florida. It's unrealistic to believe that the same water standards can be maintained for drainage canals and our most pristine rivers. The cost is too high to everyone concerned.
111102- Federal and State Regulators Side with Polluters
Earthjustice.org – Press Release
November 2, 2011
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s blessing today of Florida’s polluter-friendly water quality rules is a loss for families who deserve clean water
Today, the EPA sent a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announcing its preliminary approval of ineffective draft state regulations on sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution. This pollution has spawned outbreaks of toxic green slime all over the state, killing fish, closing drinking water plants and swimming areas, and causing illness in people exposed to the water and its fumes. See pictures of slimed Florida waterways—including massive recent outbreaks during the past six months.
“What we had here is a contest between the health and safety of Florida’s families on one side and the deep-pocket polluters on the other. Unfortunately, today the polluters and their expensive lobbyists won,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.
“Federal and state environmental regulators are abdicating their responsibility to protect the health of Floridians and our state’s tourism industry. People support clean drinking water and clean beaches, springs, and rivers. Our environmental officials keep allowing corporations to use our public waters as their private sewers. Then we taxpayers end up shouldering the huge cleanup costs. It isn’t right,” Guest said.
“Rather than preventing toxic slime outbreaks, the DEP’s rule says ‘Let’s wait until the slime appears before we do something.’ By then, it’s too late and the public is on the hook for costly cleanup—if pollution can even be cleaned up at all,” Guest said.
In its letter, the EPA indicates preliminary approval for the ineffective rule proposed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The state’s Environmental Regulation Commission will hear a presentation on the DEP’s draft rule at a meeting in Tallahassee tomorrow. If the ERC signs off on the draft rule, it goes before the Florida Legislature in the 2012 session. The EPA will then have the opportunity to approve or deny the state’s final rule.
Earthjustice filed suit to compel the EPA to set limits on sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and St. John’s Riverkeeper.
111102-e Water-Management Districts: Scott Drains Protections
TheLedger.com - Editorial
After seeing their budgets cut by more than $700 million collectively this year, Florida's five water management districts are embarking upon a new era of smaller budgets, reduced staffs and fewer resources. At the same time, water managers are being asked to embrace a new, more "customer friendly" culture in which developers and big utilities are seen not as adversaries but as "partners."
By the way, they also are expected to continue to oversee the state's diminishing-and-deteriorating water supply and resources as well or better than ever. A tall order, for sure.
Whether that is possible or not, the districts' downsizings are just the latest less-government, less-regulatory initiative of Gov. Rick Scott.
Polk County is served by two water-management districts, Southwest Florida, known as Swiftmud, and South Florida. The South Florida Water Management District cut its budget by 47 percent, from $1.09 billion to $571 million, and cut its staff by more than 270. Swiftmud cut its budget 44 percent, from $280 million to $160 million, and cut its staff by 135.
Often seen as imperious, bloated and bureaucratic — especially to big developers, big polluters and big utilities — the water districts were prime targets for Scott's now-infamous budget ax. However, what the governor has done goes far beyond belt-tightening.
Scott and his administration have also done away with local basin boards, frozen purchases of sensitive watersheds, killed the Florida Forever land preservation program, caused the dismissal of dozens of scientists working on the critical Everglades restoration and ordered all "major" decisions to be sent to Tallahassee for approval. Districts also were ordered to drain their reserves to a bare minimum, and slash employee benefits and top-echelon salaries.
Today, look for a portion of the aquifer that has a higher level than a generation ago. Look for a community that is not worried about where its water will come from a generation from now.
Cutting budgets and making the permitting process easier for monied interests no doubt plays well to Scott's core constituencies.
What he should concentrate on is meaningful policies that will truly protect our water supply, develop new sources of water and help clean up the more than half of Florida's waterways that are polluted.
111101-a On Everglades, can Feds, Florida get along ?
Politico.com – by Bob King
November 1, 2011
Billions of dollars into a mammoth ecological overhaul of the Everglades, the Obama administration is finding itself in a mix of cooperation and potential confrontation with Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The cooperative spirit was on display last week, when representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the EPA joined with Florida environmental officials to announce an attempt to speed up the planning for restored water flows in the heart of the central Everglades. That’s an essential but long-neglected aspect of an approximately $15 billion, multidecade Everglades restoration effort that is finally starting to show some progress, 11 years after getting the blessing of a Republican Congress and former President Bill Clinton
Federal Everglades leaders had been hoping since last year to get the state to join in the planning initiative, which is aimed at accelerating the corps’ notoriously lumbering bureaucracy and getting Congress’s approval for the next phases of the Everglades makeover.
On the confrontation side, Florida and the Justice Department are still locked in a 23-year-old lawsuit over the state’s failure to stop farm and suburban runoff from polluting federally managed portions of the Everglades, despite promises the state made in a 1991 settlement agreement. But the feds are mulling over a peace offering from Scott, who met with Interior Secretary Ken Salazarlast month in Washington to make a pitch for more time to finish the $1 billion-plus cleanup.
Meanwhile, Scott’s staff says he has yet to take a position on Salazar’s ambitious proposal for a 50,000-acre national wildlife refuge and 100,000-acre conservation area in the Everglades’s historic headwaters south of Orlando. That proposal could be in for some tough scrutiny at a hearing Thursday by a House Natural Resources subcommittee, which noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has an operations and maintenance backlog exceeding $3 billion.
Backing by the GOP governor could give Salazar’s proposal some political cover with House Republicans in Washington. But Scott press secretary Lane Wright said this week that “the governor hasn’t had an opinion either way.”
On the other hand, Wright said, “Gov. Scott has shown commitment to getting something done in the Everglades. … I think we all have the same goal.”
Take the Everglades pollution cleanup, which arose from a 1988 lawsuit against the state by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami. The state has since spent more than $1 billion creating tens of thousands of acres of pollution-filtering marshes on former farms and hunting grounds, but it has also faced criticism from federal scientists and a series of U.S. district judges for failing to meet limits on phosphorus and other pollutants.
That criticism reached hurricane pitch eight years ago, when state lawmakers and then-Gov. Jeb Bush postponed the cleanup’s December 2006 deadline until 2016, a move that enraged environmentalists, a federal judge and even some conservative Republicans in Congress. Scott’s proposal, which includes an expansion of the treatment marshes and additional water storage, would push the deadline even further, to 2022.
Meanwhile, Scott has angered green activists this year by imposing layoffs and steep budget cuts on the state agency in charge of Florida’s Everglades efforts. That came after he rejected $2 billion in high-speed rail money from the Obama administration, vetoed state money for a major conservation land-buying program, eviscerated Florida’s growth management laws and told reporters that he wouldn’t mind shooting an alligator.
But so far, Scott’s cleanup proposal — including a pledge to meet all pollution limits — has mainly drawn cautious responses from both the feds and the greens.
Some are happy that the state and the feds are talking to each other — and, by all appearances, listening.
“It’s been a long time since there has been any real dialogue,” said Eric Draper, executive director of the group Audubon of Florida, who is scheduled to testify at Thursday’s hearing. “They’ve just been at war.”
That doesn’t mean Washington should just rubber-stamp Scott’s plan, Draper said. “But you’ve got to credit him for having gone to the key federal agencies, sitting down and putting a plan on the table. We can all pick at the details.”
Other environmentalists are more suspicious of Scott’s motives but, for the moment, are holding their fire.
“This governor has been, up until this point, the most environmentally unfriendly governor that most environmental leaders can remember,” said Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club. “There are some people who are saying, ‘Maybe this new Everglades plan signals that he’s starting to change his tune.’ And I’m not one of them, but I am going to look at this plan, and the Sierra Club is going to look at this plan very carefully.”
The Interior Department has yet to respond to Scott’s cleanup proposal but said it welcomes the chance to work with the governor.
“Our recent meetings with Gov. Scott and other Florida leaders have given us an opportunity to further the conversation about our mutual goals to restore the Everglades watershed and the 4 million acres that are managed by state and federal agencies,” department press secretary Adam Fetcher said by email. He added, “Florida and the U.S. government regularly coordinate on these types of issues at all levels and we look forward to continuing this important partnership.”
Last week, Salazar and other federal officials could barely contain their excitement in their statements following their Central Everglades planning announcement. The new initiative includes attempts to tie the state’s cleanup efforts with federal work aimed at increasing water flow into Everglades National Park, as well as to sharply reduce the time it takes the corps to study new projects.
The cleanup is separate from the broader restoration effort in which Florida and the federal government are supposed to be 50-50 partners in reviving an Everglades ecosystem ravaged by farm runoff, creeping suburbia and more than 130 years of ill-conceived drainage projects. The restoration is also supposed to augment South Florida’s water supply, much of which now flows through canals by the hundreds of billions of gallons into the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
Congress approved the restoration in 2000, endorsing a $7.8 billion price tag and a schedule that called for significant chunks of the work to be finished in the first decade. But in subsequent years, the price tag swelled; the deadlines slipped and Congress largely failed to provide its promised half of the money. Florida wound up paying for 79 percent of the $3.5 billion that the restoration incurred through fiscal year 2010.
Since 2009, supporters of the restoration credit the Obama administration with sharply increasing federal spending on the restoration. Some early but crucial Everglades-related efforts are on track for completion in the next few years, including a highway bridge west of Miami that’s necessary for additional water flows into the park.
Ultimately, though, the long-term fate of the Everglades may come down to how well the state and the federal government can continue to get along.
Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who created Florida’s Save Our Everglades program as governor in the 1980s, told POLITICO last spring that both sides “have had reasons to complain.”
“To me, the major concern in the Everglades ever since the year 2000, when this partnership was established, has been the prospect of a divorce,” said Graham, who has been harshly critical of the state’s budget cuts. “If the two parties get to the point where they can’t live together, if either of them walks, then the project is over.”
111101-b Swiftmud planning conservation land sales
Herald Tribune - Staff Report
November 1, 2011
SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - Plans to sell off pieces of public conservation land are moving forward, with regional water managers holding their first formal meeting on the subject Thursday.
A committee of five members of the Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board will decide how to evaluate 450,000 acres of conservation land owned by the 16-county district.
The meeting Thursday will focus on establishing an evaluation process to combine technology, site visits and outside expertise. The goal is to identify pieces of land that do not meet the district's core mission of flood control and the protection of water resources for drinking water supply and natural systems.
Land that does not meet those criteria will be listed as surplus to be sold.
Much of the water district land under consideration was purchased through tax-funded conservation programs, such as Florida Forever and Preservation 2000.
Many parcels also are held in partnership with counties or federal and state agencies. The district owns development rights only on a small portion of the parcels.
The district's 13-member governing board is undergoing several initiatives to save or generate money, following a drastic 44 percent cut to the district's budget. Last week the board voted to cut 130 to 150 employees from the district's staff of 768 employees.
The meeting Thursday will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at the Tampa Service Office, 7601 U.S. 301 in Tampa. Opportunity for public comment will be available.