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'11 Was Mixed Year for Environment Thanks to Economy - by Tom Palmer
December 31, 2011
As usual, it was a mixed year for the environment in 2011.
The continuing economic problems gave environmental opponents additional openings to undermine growth management, water management, pollution control and land conservation.
And that was just the Florida Legislature, which will be making additional runs at these issues when the next session opens this month.
Thankfully, local environmental news was sometimes better.
In January, federal officials unveiled plans for a new national wildlife refuge in the Everglades headwaters in the Kissimmee River Basin. It will be a mixture of public recreation land and conservation easements on private land in a further effort to protect that part of the watershed, which is under renewed development pressure.
In March, meetings resumed on a study on phosphate's environmental impact in the Peace River Basin, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The first report is due in the spring.
Meanwhile, litigation by environmental groups continued stop phosphate mining in southern Polk and northern Hardee counties until a more complete environmental review can be conducted.
In April, the Florida Trail Association, in cooperation with the Florida Forest Service, completed construction of a new trail bridge across Reedy Creek in the Arbuckle unit of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest near Frostproof.
Also in April, Polk County opened a new boat ramp and park called Heritage Peace River Landing on the Peace River near Homeland, helping to create a better blueway network along this section of the river in hopes of promoting more ecotourism.
In May, Swiftmud Executive Director Dave Moore resigned.
In June, Colt Creek State Park north of Lakeland added improved fishing facilities and a new building for family gatherings and similar events.
In July, a debate erupted over whether to expand hunting on more lands owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Hunters were demanding more access and other user groups, particularly equestrians, pushed back, arguing hunters already have enough land and the gunfire would interfere with horseback riding, hiking and other outdoor recreation activities. The issue was resolved in December with a compromise that opened a few sites for limited hunting, but kept other sites – particularly the Hampton Tract in the Green Swamp – closed to hunting.
In August, Gov. Rick Scott announced major cuts in the budgets of Florida's water management districts and capped executive salaries. The Southwest Florida Water Management District's basin boards were abolished as part of the cost-cutting move. The Governing Board named Brian Guillory to succeed Moore.
Also in August, local history buffs unveiled a historical marker to recognize Kissengen Spring, a one-time natural spring south of Bartow that quit flowing in 1950 because of excess pumping from the aquifer. The marker was later installed at Mosaic Peace River Park downriver from the spring site.
In September, Polk County officials opened the Marshall Hampton Reserve on Lake Hancock to the public for the first time. Also that month, work began on a project to clean up some of the water in Lake Hancock before it flows downstream to the Peace River.
In October, local tourism officials sponsored Polk County's first multi-day nature festival. The event was a mixed success, but will become an annual event to promote all of the diverse natural places that are available for ecotourism in Polk.
In November, Coleman Landing at Shady Oaks was dedicated, providing better boat access to Lake Kissimmee and expanding Polk's park system.
Also in November, a controversy erupted at Saddle Creek Park, one of the most popular birdwatching sites in Polk County, when county officials took action to shut down a cat colony that was being maintained by a local group called Feral Fanciers. Feral Fanciers and Polk officials reached an agreement in December to remove as many cats as possible and find good homes for them. The rest of the cats will be removed by Polk County Animal Services.
In December, the County Commission voted down a proposal to build a pedestrian bridge over a planned truck bypass that will intersect the trail, dismissing safety concerns and focusing instead on the $1.3 million price tag and alleged conflicts with nearby Bartow Ford.
Ken Morrison, the dean of the local environmental movement, former longtime director of Bok Tower and an inspiration to many in the conservation community, died in March. He was 92.
John Beckner, a Sarasota botanist and orchid expert who formally described the endangered scrub lupine found only in Polk and Orange counties, died in September. He was 79.


Environmentalists, government officials to gather in Stuart to discuss Everglades
TCPalm - by Tyler Treadway
December 30, 2011
STUART — About 300 heavy hitters from government, science and nonprofit agencies will gather here Thursday through Saturday to assess the past, present and future of efforts to restore the Everglades ecosystem.
The Everglades Coalition, a consortium of 54 local, state and national conservation organizations dedicated to restoring "The River of Grass" and all its components from Kissimmee to the Gulf of Mexico, will hold its 27th annual conference at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina.
Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will attend the conference, said Julie Hill-Gabriel, state co-chairwoman of the coalition. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also is scheduled to attend; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is sending a representative.
Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to be in Stuart on Thursday, and Hill-Gabriel said he's been invited.
"We're trying everything we can to get the governor," she said.
Mark Perry, executive director of the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society and a member of the coalition board, said it's important to bring the environmental movers and shakers together.
"To get things done," Perry said, "you've got to get everyone talking, face to face, about the issues. And in the case of Everglades restoration, we're talking about multiple jurisdictions — local, state and national — and multiple concerns — water quality, wildlife preservation, economic assets. So it gets really complicated."
Perry said part of the conference will focus on the upcoming state legislative session and the coalition's hope that more money for restoration projects will be forthcoming.
With the theme "Everglades Restoration: Worth Every Penny," the coalition's job will be to convince government officials that the allocations are money well spent, Perry said, adding the restoration effort already has created about 10,500 jobs.
"So it's good for the economy," he said. "If you want to create jobs, why not create jobs that do some good — like restoring the Everglades?"
The keynote speaker will be Carl Hiaasen, a Florida author and syndicated columnist, who will address the dinner and awards ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7.
Topics include management of Lake Okeechobee, how to maximize money for restoration and how to raise money for restoration locally, a session in which Perry and other local environmentalists will talk about Martin County's conservation efforts.
"Immediately after the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was adopted in 2000," he said, "we here in Martin County got going with our projects. We taxed ourselves to the tune of about $75 million over 10 years to put up our share in order to get matching funds. Finally, the federal and state money is starting to come in as well; and what we did here is a model for other counties to follow. So it's appropriate that the conference should be held here."


Everglades Restoration: Parties Produce Miracle
December 30, 2011
Thanks to a pre-Christmas political miracle, some well-needed — and much-delayed restoration of the Everglades is likely to occur.
A bipartisan effort in Washington, and cooperation between the federal government and Florida, led Congress to authorize $142 million for Everglades-related projects recently. The federal spending bill allocates about $97 million to restoration in the Glades and the balance to the Kissimmee River, which flows into Lake Okeechobee. The river and lake were parts of the original Everglades system.
What's more, Gov. Rick Scott's proposed state budget includes $40 million for the Everglades. Last year, Scott proposed $17 million but, the St. Petersburg Times reports, the Legislature allocated $30 million.
Scott's commitment to higher funding next year helped Florida's representatives in Congress gain support from their colleagues for the recent federal appropriation.
U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-St. Pete Beach, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., reached across the aisle, and the two houses of Congress, to gain bipartisan support for the funding. But, in light of budgetary constraints at all levels of government, disagreements between Florida and the federal government, and partisan gridlock in Washington, the Everglades funding — approved or proposed — is a welcome sign of bipartisan agreement. (Kirk Fordham of the Everglades Foundation also cites U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, as substantial contributors to the consensus.)
Congress also authorized — but didn't fund — continuation of a long-term project intended to raise portions of the Tamiami Trail, so that water in the Everglades can flow freely north and south. The first phase of that project is under way in Miami-Dade County, but the federal government hopes to build 5½ additional miles of bridges, at a cost of $324 million. Because funding wasn't attached to the authorization, more hard work — and bipartisan cooperation — will be needed.
Restoration of the Everglades is in the national and state interest on many levels. The River of Grass is a unique environmental asset that provides habitat for native species, large and small.
The Everglades offers two great benefits to humans: It accommodates flood waters from urban areas in the event of storms and it serves as a vital component in the drinking-water supply for South Florida.
The Glades has economic value, drawing visitors and tourists, and that could increase if the restoration succeeds.
As recent history has shown, the task is enormous and the potential for political cooperation to evaporate is great. Let's hope that this time there will be lasting commitments to the Everglades.


Losing the war – Editorial
December 30, 2011
This week's court ruling upholding the Marion County Commission's permitting of a water pumping operation in Salt Springs is just the latest evidence that Florida's water laws are archaic and, ultimately, detrimental to our community's and state's well-being.
Circuit Judge Frances King rejected a request by a Salt Springs resident to overturn the commission's decision to allow the Moody family of Ocala to truck water out of their 12-acre site on the shores of Lake George in the Ocala National Forest. Hill claimed, logically, that such an operation was ill-suited for the quiet, rural area. Hill lives next door to the Moody property.
King found a number of technical errors in Hill's case, but ultimately ruled that the county had followed “the essential requirements of the law” in permitting the project, despite Hill's claims that it had violated its own land-use regulations by putting an industrial operation in the heart of rural designated land.
The real issue, though, and one that continues to go unaddressed in these court cases that are based on land uses and special permits, is that this court ruling allows the Moodys to withdraw up to 100,000 gallons of mineral water a day to be trucked to Ocala for bottling.
The real issue is that Florida, and as one of the state's political subdivisions, Marion County, continues to allow anyone who wants to tap into our aquifer for a buck to do so with little or no compensation to the people of this state.
Meanwhile, the water table in the aquifer continues to fall, spring flows continue to fall, lake and river levels continue to fall — and no one, not the governor, not the Legislature, and certainly not our water management districts are raising the first red flag.
To the contrary, the County Commission actually justified much of its decision with the fact that its economic development chief, Rick Michael, convinced them the Moody project was the first step in a significant economic development undertaking that could generate 120 new jobs and tens of millions of dollars in new capital investment in our community.
Of course, that economic development will be built on exploiting that which North Floridians have spent decades fighting to protect — our once-plentiful groundwater supply. Yes, the Marion County Commission appears ready to surrender the water war and begin peddling our water supply for a few jobs.
In the county's defense, they have been left to fight water battle after water battle through shaky land use and special permit defenses, just like the one Hill lost. So, until Florida lawmakers quit pandering to big business and development interests and recognize our state is truly on the verge of a major water crisis, projects like the Moodys' will continue to spring up and continue to drain our already dwindling aquifer.
Oh, how we long for a voice like Nancy Argenziano's, the so-called “Water Lady” from Dunnellon, who refused to be ignored on water issues during her decade in the Legislature.
Sadly, George Hill lost his battle because the law was not on his side.
But, in case our political leaders did not notice, the law is not on our water supply's side either, and that means the people of North Florida are losing the water war because their own representatives are abrogating their duty.


Hundreds of dead fish wash ashore in southwest Florida from red tide
Associated Press
December 29, 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hundreds of dead fish have washed ashore in southwest Florida because of red tide.
NBC2 News in Fort Myers ( reports the dead fish were found Wednesday on Bunche Beach in Lee County.
Water samples from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show a large patch of red tide south of Sanibel Island. The tide is caused by microscopic phytoplankton that attacks the nerve cells of vertebrate animals.
While the bloom used to be a 30 mile long patch it has now broken into millions of smaller pieces stretching from Lee County to Key West.
Wildlife workers collected hundreds of dead fish, eels and stingrays.


Red tide plagues Southwest Florida waters
December 29, 2011
Continuing algae bloom brings another wave of dead fish to SW Fla. beaches and shorelines.
Dead fish are floating in Lee County waters and washing up on local shorelines again.
The first dead fish associated with a continuing red tide bloom in Southwest Florida were reported Nov. 25 in Estero Bay. Small numbers of dead fish have washed up sporadically since then, and this week, large numbers of dead fish were reported.
Since the bloom started, red tide has killed seven manatees in Lee County and two in Collier County; eight other manatee carcasses recovered in Lee are listed as suspect red tide victims.
“It must have been one big bloom,” said Janice Kufel of South Fort Myers, who was stand-up paddle boarding Thursday near the Sanibel Causeway. “I can’t imagine. Today, I didn’t see any dolphins, sharks or manatees. It definitely had an effect on the rest of the wildlife. They must be smart enough to stay away from it.”
Red tide is a natural phenomenon caused by the single-cell alga Karenia brevis, which produces a powerful neurotoxin.
Under normal concentrations, less than 1,000 cells per liter of water, Karenia is not a problem.
But when Karenia undergoes a population explosion, or bloom, the increased toxin can kill fish and other marine organisms and render filter-feeding mollusks poisonous to humans.
It also can cause respiratory irritation in some humans.
Karenia concentrations of 10,000 to 100,000 are classified as “low” and can kill fish; concentrations of of 100,000 to 1 million are “medium,” and more than 1 million is “high” — water becomes orange or reddish-brown at high concentrations.
On Tuesday, research scientist Rick Bartleson of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation counted 15 million Karenia cells per liter in water samples from Sanibel Boat Ramp.
“You could see the bloom,” Bartleson said Thursday. “There were really high concentrations in that area. As I was driving over the causeway today, I could see dead fish floating. They were abundant.”
Concentrations had dropped to 2 million at the boat ramp by Thursday, when Bartleson recorded counts of 4.7 million at Tarpon Bay and low concentrations at the Tarpon Bay Road beach.
Jacqui and John Klee of Rocky River, Ohio, ran into the results of red tide at the causeway Thursday.
“It looks gross,” Jacqui Klee said. “You don’t know what to make of it when you see dead fish.”
John Klee said: “It does kind of make you wonder what’s up here. We walked up and saw the fish on the beach and said, ‘What’s up with that?’ because we wondered if it was harmful to humans.”
Earlier this week, Bob Wasno, education and resource coordinator at FGCU’s Vester Marine Field Station, saw evidence of red tide while fishing 13 miles off Big Hickory Pass.
“The water was absolutely orange down to 7 or 8 feet,” he said. “Despite that, we caught some nice snapper, but we didn’t see a single dead fish. We put a couple of snapper in the live well, and they didn’t last but two or three minutes.”
As of Thursday, the fish kill was concentrated in the San Carlos Bay area.
John Jensen, co-owner of Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages and Marina and Jensen’s on the Gulf on Captiva, said he’s seen no signs of red tide.
“I’ve heard people south of us talking about it, but we’re clean in the Gulf and in the bay,” he said. “A strong cold front is moving in early next week. Maybe that will blow it away. We don’t like that stuff.”


Sarasota receives national recognition for environmental efforts
ABC-WWSB-ch.7 – by Fallon Silcox
December 29, 2011
SARASOTA, FL-- On Thursday, Sarasota County received national recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department's Assistant Water Administrator made a special trip to tour some of Sarasota’s environmental success stories.
County officials say some of the sites they visited are projects that have been in the works for over 20 years, and evidently, they're working, because they say the environmental quality of the bay is improving, and it's all thanks to Sarasota residents support.
From the Celery Fields to Red Rock Park, Sarasota County has many environmental sites worth bragging about. “It's all of the things that have been done with waste water, storm water, water conservation, folks participating in the Florida yards and neighborhoods program, which we see all throughout the county, no impact design, we just made a stop at a low impact design slate on Honore, and they're all adding up. That's what's making a difference in the bay,” Mark Alderson is the Executive Director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. He says while there's still work to be done, Sarasota’s bay has come a long way. “Phillippi Creek was not a friendly place to visit, and slowly but surely, over the past 25 years, things have really changed dramatically environmentally in the bay.”
Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton says the progress hasn't been easy. “We've redesigned how we build our roads to less pollute the bays, we have a very advanced storm water program in Sarasota, so we visited the celery fields and saw a lot of the nutrient uptake there, and here we are at one of the sewer treatment plants, which normally are not associated with an environmental improvement, but in this case, they certainly are because they took all of the polluting septic tanks that were once located on the banks of the creek and removed them and now the sewer is treated safely in the eastern part of the county, and as a result, all of that pollution is no longering entering the bay.” And because of those efforts, Nancy Stoner with the Environmental Protection Agency made the trip to see how Sarasota has achieved it's success. “How many different organizations have worked together to make this happen, and how people have thought through how to put the pieces together in a way. How to address traffic issues, how to address recreational issues, the economics, and, of course, the environment, so putting all of those pieces together in a way that really works for communities that are politically popular and also save money, that is what Sarasota has really done here today,” Stoner.
County officials say because of these efforts, there has been a significant nutrient reduction in Roberts Bay, and even though there have been many improvements, they say there's still work to be done


Graham tries to fire-up enviros before session begins
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy
December 28th, 2011
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has sent out an end-of-year call from the newly created Florida Conservation Coalition, urging environmental activists to buttonhole their legislators before the Jan. 10 session begins.
The coalition was unveiled last month, with plans to lobby Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to revive state funding for water quality programs, the Florida Forever land-buying program and Everglades restoration, which supporters say have been staggered by budget cuts since 2007.
In his email blast to activists, Graham condemns last spring’s policy changes and spending reductions.
“In three short months of 2011, the Governor and Legislature set Florida’s once proud conservation laws and programs back four decades. In so doing they have handed us a very heavy lift. But what choices do we have? We surrender, or we fight back,” Graham said.
He concluded, “Our immediate job is to convince the Legislature that they went too far and must correct and reverse its misguided actions of 2011.”
The coalition includes Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Land and League of Women Voters.


New coalition will lobby for the revival of environmental programs
Palm Beach Post - byJohn Kennedy, Staff Writer
December 28, 2011
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has sent out an end-of-year call from the newly created Florida Conservation Coalition, urging environmental activists to buttonhole their legislators before the Jan. 10 session begins.
The coalition was unveiled last month, with plans to lobby Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature to revive state funding for water-quality programs, the Florida Forever land-buying program and Everglades restoration, which supporters say have been staggered by budget cuts since 2007.
In his email blast to activists, Graham condemns last spring's policy changes and spending reductions.
"In three short months of 2011, the governor and legislature set Florida's once proud conservation laws and programs back four decades. In so doing they have handed us a very heavy lift. But what choices do we have ?  We surrender, or we fight back," Graham said.
He concluded, "Our immediate job is to convince the legislature that they went too far and must correct and reverse its misguided actions of 2011."
The coalition includes Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Land and League of Women Voters.


An Everglades miracle
Herald Tribune
December 26, 2011
Thanks to a pre-Christmas political miracle, some well-needed — and much-delayed — restoration of the Everglades will occur.
A bipartisan effort in Washington, D.C., and cooperation between the federal government and Florida — see, we said the developments were miraculous — led Congress to recently authorize $142 million for Everglades-related projects. The federal spending bill allocates about $97 million to restoration in the 'Glades and the balance to the Kissimmee River, which flows into Lake Okeechobee; the river and lake were parts of the original Everglades system.
What's more, Gov. Rick Scott's proposed state budget includes $40 million for the Everglades; last year, Scott proposed $17 million but, as Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times reported, the Legislature allocated $30 million.
Scott's commitment to higher funding next year helped Florida's representatives in Congress gain support from their colleagues for the recent federal appropriation.
U.S. Rep. Bill Young, a Republican from St. Petersburg Beach, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, reached across the aisle and the two houses of Congress to gain bipartisan support for the funding.
Parts of a long-term plan
These projects are components of a long-term, comprehensive plan to restore the quality and quantity of water in the Everglades — and the lakes, rivers and watersheds that feed this environmental treasure.
Federal and state funding for the massive project has slowed in recent years, due to budget problems and political disagreements. And, even with the congressional allocations and the $40 million proposed by Scott, the work remains underfunded.
But, in light of budgetary constraints at all levels of government, disagreements between Florida and the federal government and partisan gridlock in Washington, the Everglades funding — approved or proposed — is a welcome sign of bipartisan agreement. (Kirk Fordham of the Everglades Foundation also cited U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, as substantial contributors to the consensus.)
More cooperation needed
Congress also authorized — but didn't fund — continuation of a long-term project intended to raise portions of the Tamiami Trail, so that water in the Everglades can flow freely north and south. The first phase of that project is under way in Miami-Dade County, but the federal government hopes to build 51/2 additional miles of bridges — at a cost of $324 million. Since funding wasn't attached to the authorization, more hard work — and bipartisan cooperation — will be needed.
Restoration of the Everglades is in the national and state interest on many levels.
The so-called River of Grass is a unique environmental asset that provides habitat for native species, large and small.
The Everglades offers two great benefits to humans — it accommodates flood waters from urban areas in the event of storms, and it serves as a vital component in the drinking-water supply for South Florida.
The 'Glades has economic value, drawing visitors and tourists, and that could increase — if the restoration succeeds.
It's encouraging to again have some good news about Everglades restoration.
But as recent history has shown, the task is enormous and the potential for political cooperation to evaporate is great. Let's hope that this time there will be lasting commitments to the Everglades.


Best Of: Riverkeeper issues scathing letter about exaggerated water rule costs
Florida Independent - by Cooper Levey-Baker
December 26, 2011
The story:
In November 2010, The Florida Independent’s Virginia Chamlee reported on internal emails she obtained that revealed that officials in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection knew that the cost estimates it was using to argue against new EPA water quality rules were artificially inflated and, in some instances, mathematically incorrect.
The emails showed officials questioning the validity of the high cost estimates, which were drafted by utilities and other polluters, but were nonetheless being promulgated by the state department. Some officials noted that the estimates factored in a number of industrial facilities that would not actually be affected by the EPA regulations, and one simply observed: “Some of their math is wrong.”
The impact:
After Chamlee’s story posted, the St. Johns Riverkeeper — one of the key environmental groups engaged in the water quality fight — filed a scathing letter with the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, the agency that coordinates and advises governments on policies affecting the St. Johns River and all tidal waters in Duval County. In its complaint, the Riverkeeper cited Chamlee’s reporting as proof of what it had long suspected: That the state “significantly overestimates” the cost of regulation and that the estimates were not to be trusted.
The Riverkeeper’s president added: “What I also find troubling is the fact that even after DEP staff determined the analysis of the costs was full of inaccuracies, including incorrect math, some DEP staff members continued to spread falsehoods about the potential costs.” He went on to press the Commission to support the EPA regulations, adding, “I urge you to read the [Florida Independent] article in its entirety through the enclosed link.”
In additional emails, Chamlee has found messages from EPA opponents fretting about the “significant use of this article by proponents of EPA’s rule proposal” as well as attempts by the Department of Environmental Protection to pacify the industry sources whose work it had now publicly questioned.


(mouseover to enlarge)
A-1 reservoir

Infamous A1 reservoir
location along highway
27 north of Miami.
(Lake Okeechobee
at the top)

South Florida's rocky reservoir history doesn't stop new water storage proposal
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 26, 2011
One unfinished South Florida reservoir collected more taxpayer money – nearly $280 million – than water.
Another $217 million reservoir has plenty of water, but not the pumps needed to make use of it.
Despite those reservoirs already costing South Florida taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars combined, the push is on to build a third reservoir, expected to cost more than $300 million.
Storing stormwater now drained out to sea has long been billed as the solution to South Florida water supply problems. But actually getting reservoirs built and functional remains an elusive – and expensive – goal.
Backers of the new reservoir proposal in Palm Beach County contend it offers a unique opportunity to boost regional water supplies. It would provide an alternative water supply needed for new growth, said project consultant John "Woody" Wodraska.
"It helps the environment. It gives … flexibility from a water supply standpoint," said Wodraska, former head of the South Florida Water Management District.
That's similar to the sales pitch used for the other two reservoirs, also in Palm Beach County, that ended up sidetracked by changing political winds and funding problems. South Florida keeps sinking too much money into reservoirs when it should be restoring wetlands and requiring more conservation, said Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club.
"You are basically buying a very expensive solution," Martin said. "The cheaper solution is called conservation."
South Florida averages more annual rainfall than Seattle, but much of that water gets drained out to sea to avoid swamping farms and towns built on what used to be the Everglades or other wetlands.
An Everglades restoration plan approved in 2000 includes building a series of reservoirs that would hold onto more water for both the environment and growing communities.
"Storage is the key to an awful lot of our problems," said Pete Quasius of the Collier County Audubon Society, on Florida's West Coast. "We need to look at storage, storage, storage."
Creating that water storage remains a key shortcoming of Everglades restoration efforts.
South Florida reservoir projects include:
The Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County was intended to become a 16,700 acre, 62 billion gallon water storage facility to supplement water supplies. The South Florida Water Management District in 2008 opted to stop construction and shelve the project after taxpayers had already invested nearly $280 million.
The district initially blamed the decision to stop mid-construction on a longstanding lawsuit from environmental groups over how to divvy up the water.
But just a few weeks later, the district and Gov. Charlie Crist announced a bid to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. land for Everglades restoration. That ended up changing the timetable and locations of water storage efforts, which have yet to be resolved.
The L-8 Reservoir built from old rock mines at Palm Beach Aggregates, west of Royal Palm Beach, was intended to store water to replenish the Loxahatchee River and supplement community drinking water supplies.
The district's 15 billion gallon, $217 million reservoir was completed in 2008, but it still doesn't include $60 million pumps needed to deliver the water as planned. The district blames water quality problems in the reservoir on a lack of pumps to help circulate the water.
The new reservoir could be built alongside the L-8 Reservoir at Palm Beach Aggregates, collecting stormwater that now drains out to sea through the C-51 canal.
The canal that stretches through West Palm Beach dumps about 217 million gallons of water a day into the Lake Worth Lagoon, washing pollutants in to the lagoon and wasting water that could supplement community supplies.
A new reservoir could reduce the dumping into the lagoon and during droughts provide about 185 million gallons of water a day to restock drinking water well fields in Palm, Broward and eventually Miami-Dade counties, according to district estimates.
The water could be moved south through canals operated by the Lake Worth Drainage District and the cost could end up getting tacked onto South Florida water bills.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus questions the potential cost of building another reservoir. She said better use should be made of the existing reservoir.
"I have serious reservations about it," Marcus said. "You already have a pit out there that doesn't seem to be working. … There are other options out there that I think ought to be considered."
An updated cost estimate for the new reservoir is expected soon. Deciding whether to move forward requires determining how to pay for it and how to divvy up the water.
"We will just need to have those debates," said Melissa Meeker, district executive director.



Florida wildlife managers last year banned personal ownership of Burmese python and seven other constrictors as pets – but grandfathered in snakes whose owners had obtained $100 annual licenses before July 2010. Reptile dealers, researchers and exhibitors also can continue operating under a separate permit program.
The snakes:
• Indian or Burmese python
• Reticulated python
• Nor. African python
• So. African python
• Amethystine python
• Scrub python
• Green anaconda

Reptile Wrangling
The Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
December 25, 2011
Though Florida has cracked down on the pet trade in Burmese pythons and other giant constrictors, proposed federal restrictions remain mired in scientific and political controversies.
When Burmese pythons began slithering across Everglades levees in increasingly alarming numbers, state water managers petitioned the federal government to crack down on the pet trade’s sale of the giant snakes.In the five years since, a string of studies, congressional hearings, articles and nature shows — not to mention bad sci-fi movies — have painted the python as a monstrous ecological menace that threatened to spread to other states. But the proposal to ban the import and interstate sale of Burmese pythons and eight other large exotic snakes has stalled, swallowed up in White House bureaucracy for nearly a year. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has written letters urging the Obama administration to approve the snake ban — among them, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson last month, Tampa-area Republican Rep. Bill Young this month and Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen last week. Despite the pressure, the effort to declare the snakes “injurious species’’ through a cumbersome administrative process called the Lacey Act remains in doubt. The proposal has been buffeted by surging anti-regulatory fervor in Washington and scientific controversy over whether the snakes really pose much of a risk beyond South Florida.
The fact that the snakes acquired lobbyists may explain a few things as well. The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, backed by a small but passionate group of snake breeders and collectors and a New York law firm, has mounting a campaign shrewdly positioning the python restrictions as “job-killing’’ federal red tape based on shaky science. “This thing has tons of problems and no redeeming qualities,’’ said ARK President Andrew Wyatt. “A Lacey Act listing isn’t going to change one thing on the ground in South Florida now. It is going to put people out of work.’’The Obama administration’s delay has befuddled and frustrated proponents of a measure supported by Everglades National Park managers, federal wildlife agencies, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and many scientists and environmental groups. “What this has shown is that any little segment of industry can hire a lobbyist, get an economic study done and hold up just about any regulation,’’ said Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species, comprised of environmental and science groups. “If we can’t push this over the finish line, what the hell can we regulate ?’’  No one — including reptile breeders — disputes Burmese pythons are a big problem in South Florida. In the Everglades and its surrounding farm and wild lands, a population estimated in the thousands has eaten everything from alligators to endangered wood rats. Two months ago, in the latest gruesome find, South Florida Water Management District workers captured a 16-footer swollen with a 76-pound deer inside. Florida wildlife managers have moved swiftly on the snake threat, last year effectively banning personal ownership of Burmese pythons and seven other constrictors as pets. Snakes whose owners had obtained $100 annual licenses and implanted them with microchips before July 2010 were grandfathered in. Reptile breeders, dealers, researchers and exhibitors also can continue operating under a separate permit program, as long as they agree to strict storage and transport rules.
But it’s proven far more difficult to secure sweeping nationwide curbs on the pet trade, which many scientists blame for first unleashing pythons into the Everglades.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 1.8 million of the nine species of large constrictors — pythons, boas and anacondas — that it wants declared “injurious’’ were imported between 1999 and 2008. The agency also estimated that more than 50,000 domestically-bred snakes had been sold during the same period. A 2009 bill to ban Burmese python imports filed by Nelson, a Democrat from Melbourne, never got far — though he clearly got his colleagues’ attention when he unrolled the skin of a 17-footer killed in the Everglades during one hearing. Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lacey Act proposal to declare the seven species “injurious” — which could be enacted without congressional approval — has been hung up since March in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.  Meg Reilly, a spokeswoman for the OMB, which analyzes the economic impacts of proposed administrative rules, said in an email that the office doesn’t comment on pending rules but extended reviews aren’t “uncommon.’’ Parties on both sides believe the snake ban has lost steam in a Washington political climate that has cooled to new environmental rules.“I think the White House got jittery that somehow this was fitting into a frame of regulatory over-reaching,’’ said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, which has joined environmental groups in lobbying for approval of the python import ban.With continuing pressure led by Florida lawmaker s, Pacelle said he is optimistic the OMB will back the snake restrictions. “I think we’ve turned a bit of a corner on this,’’ he said Wyatt, ARK’s president, disagrees. “The White House is sitting on it,’’ he said. “They’re kind of hoping it will just go away.’’ By Wyatt’s estimate, ARK has spent more than $400,000 on its lobbying campaign over the last three years — a huge sum for a North Carolina-based group that claims only 12,000 members but a fraction of what proponents have poured into vilifying the constrictors, he said.“Basically, we were getting killed on this thing because we didn’t have an advocate,’’ he said. ARK’s New York law firm, Kelley Drye & Warren, produced an economic study claiming the injurious species listing would cost the $1.4 billion reptile industry about 10 percent of its revenue every year — $104 million — and cost thousands of cottage industry jobs. Jenkins, the environmental coalition attorney, dismissed the data as “completely bogus.’’  A federal analysis, for instance, predicted far less impact — no more than 300 jobs and $11 million in losses, a figured dwarfed by $100 million a year that one agency alone, the U.S. Interior Department, was spending on controlling the pythons and a host of other invasive species. Eleven Florida lawmakers, joined by 14 other congressional members, have written the White House, saying the delay was costing taxpayers millions of dollars annually and exposing wider areas to colonization by large, powerful snakes.
In her letter, Ros-Lehtinen cautioned against weakening the restrictions on dangerous snakes that are difficult and expensive to control in the wild, can disrupt the natural balance of the Everglades and from time to time prey on their owners. The invasive species coalition has pinpointed 13 deaths from pet pythons over 20 years.  “To offer a half measure, by restricting just a small number of the snakes, would result in the trade shifting from one dangerous species to another and would not achieve any lasting policy solution,’’ she wrote. Python dealers have their champions as well. In a July letter, four Republicans, including Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, urged the OMB to dump the proposal they described as overkill, a “generalized solution to a localized problem.’’ In September, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — whose chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has long railed at environmental regulation — pointed to the python proposal as prime example of “broken government’’ manipulated by environmentalists, lawyers and others. Critics have also attacked studies critical to seeking the nationwide ban — particularly a risk assessment produced by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2009. It found that based on climate alone, South Texas and tropical islands like Hawaii and Puerto Rico were at high risk but a few of the hardier species also could potentially make a go of it in the warm southern belt of the U.S. David Barker, a Texas breeder and python expert who sells expensive color “morphs’’ to collectors around the country by mail, has been among the most savage critics, accusing a “rogue band’’ of federal scientists of exaggerating the threat to secure millions of dollars in research support and scoffing at the idea of snakes somehow learning to survive outside South Florida.  Barker also believes Hurricane Andrew’s destruction of breeder facilities in South Miami-Dade is the most likely suspect in the Everglades invasion — a theory federal scientists have rejected. “There is just no evidence that there is a steady stream of release animals from pet owners,’’ Barker said. It’s not just breeders who have questioned the federal risk assessment. Other scientists also have been skeptical about the climate analysis. Frank Burbrink, a biology professor at City University of New York, co-authored one paper concluding that the python threat was likely confined to South Florida or very small, very hot spots and that there nothing to suggest they could adapt to more northern climes. “Over 90 millions years they haven’t done it in their home range,’’ Burbrink said, “So why would you expect them to do it after 10 years in the United States?’’Florida’s record cold snap in 2010 provided more ammunition, knocking back — though not out — the Glades population of pythons by an estimated half or more. The 130 captured through October this year are only about a third of the pre-freeze 2009 total captured. That same 2010 freeze also killed 10 pythons that were part of a climate experiment in South Carolina, as well as seven of nine in another experiment in Gainesville.Still, Gordon Rodda, a USGS biologist who co-authored the risk assessment and follow-up study rebutting critics, said nothing has emerged to invalidate its findings. “There isn’t a serious map out there as far as I know that doesn’t show all of Florida at risk,’’ he said.  Rodda acknowledged on-going debate about the potential national impact of the snake. Scientists are still trying to understand its impact on Glades wildlife. “Are there people in the community that have a different sense of the climate match ?  Undoubtedly,’’ he said. “You don’t get three scientists together and not have three different opinions.’’ Michael Dorcas, a biology professor at Davidson College in North Carolina who has authored science journals and a book about invasive pythons, said critics focus too much on the end result of the cold studies. In the South Carolina study, which he oversaw, snakes that had adapted to the steamy Everglades managed to survive a dozen nights no warmer than 41 degrees before dying in a freeze that also killed native animals. That suggests, he said, a potential range for hardier constrictors beyond South Florida. He laughed at suggestions scientists were hyping the threat to free up funding.  “I just find it ironic that people who talk about our ‘money-driven’ agenda are the one who make their living selling pythons,’’ he said. “The fact remains the pythons are here because of the pet industry. Whether they were released accidentally or intentionally — at this point, it really doesn’t matter.’’



Burmese python

Florida Looks for Curbs on Some Legless Invaders
New York Times – by Lizette Alvarez
December 24, 2011
MIAMI — To live in South Florida is to make peace with flying cockroach behemoths, brigades of lizards that dart across walls (bedroom and otherwise) and frogs the size of cannonballs that loiter on driveways.
But even in a state as hospitable as this one to scaly, slithering creatures, enough is enough. Florida has the highest number of nonnative amphibians and reptile species, according to a recent University of Florida study, and some of them are obliterating native Floridian creatures.
Florida’s Congressional delegation is now trying to yank the welcome mat from at least some of these “exotic” species, namely nine kinds of large constrictor snakes. Setting aside their quarrels, Democrats and Republicans have jointly written to President Obama to get his administration to ban the importation and interstate trade of these snakes, which include the Burmese python, the boa constrictor and the green anaconda.
A federal Fish and Wildlife Service rule that would list the snakes as an “injurious species” has lingered for three years and still requires the approval of the Office and Management and Budget.
The snakes, particularly the large and powerful Burmese python, have proliferated in the Everglades, a trend that began in the 1980s but worsened after Hurricane Andrew destroyed several reptile houses in 1992. There are thousands of them in South Florida, although precise numbers are elusive. Today, the snakes are often sold by pet stores or online. They typically make it into the wild when they escape their homes or when owners release them because they can no longer care for them.
“South Florida has been invaded by nonnative wildlife, which disturbs our fragile ecosystem and preys on native species,” said the Nov. 22 letter to Mr. Obama, whose signers include Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat, and Representative Allen B. West, a Republican from a neighboring district, a pair who seldom agree on anything. “We are spending billions of dollars to restore the Everglades and if additional invasive snakes are allowed to establish themselves, the native wildlife will be decimated.”
Of the nine snakes on the list, Burmese pythons pose the largest threat, although Florida’s cold snap last year appeared to have diminished their numbers. Impressive because of their length — some here grow to 16 feet — Burmese pythons can eat all manner of small animals like birds, other snakes and rodents. In some cases, though, they overindulge.
In October, a work crew tending to plants in the area spotted a 16-foot Burmese python on a little island not too far from Everglades National Park. The python bulged cartoonishly in its middle. Turns out it had eaten a 76-pound female deer, which was discovered by biologists during a necropsy. (The python was killed, as regulations allow.)
In 2005, a python was found dead with a six-foot alligator jutting out of its mouth. More serious, a 2-year-old girl in Oxford was strangled in her bed in 2009 by a pet Burmese python after it got loose from its terrarium.
The snakes, which favor the warmth and humidity of South Florida, typically hide out in the brush. During mating season, which is occurring now, they often sun themselves on levies near canals.
“Until these animals are listed as injurious, they will continue to flow into the country unabated,” Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has led the effort, said in a separate letter to Mr. Obama. “As I have said for years, it is only a matter of time before a python in the Everglades eats an endangered Florida panther.”
The holdup with the rule appears to be mostly bureaucratic. But there is some concern that licensed Florida snake dealers would have to shut down their operations and, in desperation, would free more snakes.
Last year, Florida tightened the rules on six kinds of pythons and the Nile monitor lizard, making it against the law to buy them as pets. People who already owned them were allowed to keep them, with a permit. But only licensed reptile dealers, researchers and exhibitors can sell them out of state. The federal rule would ban the importation and interstate trade of these snakes altogether.
Florida wildlife officials have grown more adept at tracking and killing invaders in the past decade. The state now holds an amnesty day for pet owners who want to give up their snakes and giant lizards for adoption to other people or facilities that can care for them. There is a hot line to report sightings. And the Python Patrol, a team of snake-loving volunteers run by the Nature Conservancy, routinely scours the Everglades looking for pythons.
The weather, though, may turn out to be Florida’s strongest ally. The 2010 cold snap is believed to have killed off a number of the pythons, although no one knows how many. In 2009, 367 pythons were captured in the Everglades. This year, the total is 130.
The cold weather’s impact on their ability to reproduce is still unknown. Pythons can lay about 60 eggs at a time.
“It will take us another year to find that out,” said Scott Hardin, the exotic species coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “But it takes twice as long to find a python now as before 2010, an indication they got scarcer.”



In Florida, whose water is it, anyway ?
Orlando Sentinel -by Kevin Spear,
December 24, 2011
The next time you go to your kitchen faucet for a drink, think about who owns that water.
Because for every expert who says it belongs to you, others counter you merely have Florida's permission to use it, and you pay only for having water sanitized and pumped into your home.
That disagreement illustrates an intensifying debate over whether the state should regulate water in the future as essentially the private property of metropolitan utilities, agricultural corporations and owners of large properties.
The long-standing approach has been to protect increasingly scarce supplies, including the nearly tapped-out aquifer that serves most of the state, for the benefit of Florida's residents, its environment and as an essential element of life that nobody can claim to own.
"Whose water is it ?" said Audubon of Florida legislative adviser Mary Jean Yon.
Already, serious tensions over scarce supplies span the state, including a Panhandle fight over proposed wells, Jacksonville's contested pumping of the Floridan Aquifer, Orange County's quest to tap a reservoir on remote ranchland and high-stakes competition over South Florida's Lake Okeechobee.
Former Gov. Bob Graham recently launched the Florida Conservation Coalition to thwart what he calls the "privatizing" of water supplies.
Graham said he is concerned in part because of actions by Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers this year to shrink and weaken state-watchdog agencies and a proposed law that would give utilities greater control over sources.
Asked who is behind those measures: "I don't know," Graham said. "Those who appear to have privatization as their goal aren't going to announce that that's their goal."
"If I were game-planning private ownership of water … many of the things happening in the Legislature would provide the leading edge," Graham said.
Not all environmentalists are comfortable using the word "privatization" but worry about the state's control of supplies gradually being taken over by utilities and private entities. They say it could result in rising bills for homeowners, harm to the state's environment and some local governments using expanded rights to monopolize development.
For now, most people may know little about the source and price of their water.
What flows from a kitchen tap in Orlando was, just the day before, 1,500 feet deep in porous limestone of the Floridan Aquifer, where it had been for most of a century.
An Orlando Utilities Commission bill for a household using 10,000 gallons in a month charges $5.35 for operations; $5.02 for customer service; $4.84 for machinery and property; $1.63 for electricity and chemicals; 99 cents for meter reading; and 65 cents in fees — or profit — to the city.
A cup of water, then, costs about one one-hundredth of a penny; but not one penny is spent on the water itself, according to even to local utility officials.
"What you pay for is what it cost to withdraw it from the ground, the cost to treat it, what it costs to transmit it," said Lee "Chip" Merriam, legislative- and regulatory-compliance officer at Orlando Utilities Commission.
Teresa Remudo-Fries, deputy director of Orange County Utilities, said, "We all pay for the cost associated with using the water, not for owning it."
Other experts, such as Jake Varn, a former state environmental regulator and now a Tallahassee attorney specializing in water, dispute that water isn't owned.
"That's poppycock," said Varn, who does agree that aquifer and river waters are state-owned but not the waters captured and pumped by a utility.
"Utilities own the water until it gets to a meter where it goes into your house. Once it passes the meter, they have sold it to you. You own it, and you can do what you want with it, subject to certain regulations."
The state's complex water law was passed in 1972, based largely on Eastern U.S. notions that water is to be shared for reasonable, beneficial and environmentally sustainable uses. Under the law, utilities and big consumers must get a permit that conveys a temporary and revocable right.
What evolved in the Western U.S. "was entirely different," said Elizabeth Ross, a South Florida Water Management District lawyer, outlining water law to the agency's board in October.
"An arid climate, cowboys, ranchers, gold miners: Everyone fought for water out in the Wild West," Ross said. "The user first in time was able to lock up that water right as a property right."
Guided by the 1972 law, Florida water-management districts steadily issued thousands of permits to utilities and to other big users such as a Budweiser brewery in Jacksonville, Deseret Ranches east of Orlando and Niagara Bottling in Groveland.
Water consultant Barbara Vergara, who previously worked at water-management districts for 35 years, said the districts have presided over an orderly doling out of water from the Floridan Aquifer until taking more would drain interconnected springs and wetlands and invite contamination by surrounding seawater.
With little successful effort toward securing new sources, including river or ocean water, utilities are now poised to compete fiercely for any aquifer water that may remain and to horde it for as long as possible.
"Utilities feel fed up with being, I'm going to say 'hassled,' by the regulatory agencies," she said.
Richard Hamann, law professor in the University of Florida's Center for Governmental Responsibility and board member at the St. Johns district, said utilities, agriculture and landowners are pushing to make their permits last much longer and have fewer restrictions.
Added Christine Klein, a professor of water law at the University of Florida: "There's a certain irony that Florida simultaneously denounces the Western system of water rights, while at the same time considering modifications that would cause Florida's system to more resemble the Western approach of perpetual permits."
Now closely watched is House Bill 639, which would eliminate much state oversight of an increasingly valuable type of water reclaimed through aggressive treatment of sewage.
"What that means is that the water-management districts can't tell a utility what it can do with its reclaimed water: waters that utilities have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to process," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, during a hearing this month in Tallahassee.
Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, who opposes the bill, responded that it would give utilities ownership of a vast supply.
"We're saying the water is yours," Van Zant said.
Defending the bill, Greg Munson, deputy secretary for water policy at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said it would reduce state oversight to encourage utilities to invest in recycling greater amounts of treated sewage.
"If you don't give them some incentives, you don't give them a little flexibility in how they use it, they simply won't develop" more, Munson said.
But Audubon's Yon said expecting utilities to manage water more efficiently than the state is a "troubling" sign.


Lake Russell

line the shoreline of
Lake Russell during
a tour of the Disney
Wilderness Preserve
after a September
news conference
on the Everglades
Headwaters National
Wildlife and
Conservation Area

Congress Approves Project Funds For Everglades, Kissimmee River
St. Petersburg Times – by Craig Pittman
December 23, 2011
Amid bitter partisan disputes over payroll tax cuts and other budgetary wrangling, the spending bill that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed contains $142 million for restoring the Everglades and the Kissimmee River.
In a news conference Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., credited a rare bipartisan effort to get the funding pushed through, and praised the work of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, in keeping the Everglades funding intact in the House.
Meanwhile, Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, noted the role played by the ongoing presidential race.
"It doesn't hurt that Florida tends to be a swing state in presidential elections," he said.
He said Florida's congressional delegation has done a good job of convincing their colleagues that restoring the Everglades is crucial for the Florida economy. Without it, South Florida will struggle to find enough water, he pointed out.
Nelson and Fordham also singled out a change in attitude by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who in his first year in office proposed spending only $17 million for the Everglades. The Legislature raised that to nearly $30 million.
Now Scott has requested $40 million for next year, a move that helped persuade Congress that the state is serious about carrying its half of the project.
The bill provides $96.9 million for various Everglades restoration projects and another $45.6 million for restoring the Kissimmee River, which flows into Lake Okeechobee as part of the historic Everglades system.
The bill also includes language authorizing raising another 5.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail, which when it was built in the 1920s effectively dammed the flow of the River of Grass
Construction crews are now at work raising one mile of the highway, a $95 million project first approved by Congress in 1989 and slated for completion by December 2013. That one mile is not nearly enough to restore the historic flow of the Everglades, so that's why federal officials wanted to raise another 5.5 miles.
The plan authorized by the bill calls for using four different bridges, ranging in length from a third of a mile to 2.6 miles, to be built over four years at an estimated cost of $324 million.
Getting the project authorized "is a pretty significant win, especially when Congress is not authorizing a lot of new projects," Nelson said. However, persuading Congress to come up with the funding for those four bridges "is going to take several years."
All in all, Fordham said, "I think we've turned the corner on Everglades restoration."
Projects that had been in the planning stages for years will now be headed for a ribbon cutting in the next year, he predicted.
However, so much progress provides something of a challenge for Congress next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the federal side of the restoration project, is on the verge of finishing up all the Everglades-related projects that Congress has authorized so far. Unless Congress authorizes more, the project will run out of steam again.
The last bill authorizing more Corps work on the Everglades took eight years to pass.


(mouseover to enlarge)
Tamiami Trail dam

The Tamiami Trail
obstructs the natural
flow of water from
the north, resulting in
drier conditions to the south in Everglades
National Park.
( NPS Photo by Lori Oberhofer)

Congress Authorizes ... But Doesn't Fund ... 5.5 More Miles Of Bridge On Tamiami Trail Through Everglades
National Parks Traveler
December 23, 2011
Congress has taken another step toward restoring the flow of water through the Everglades by authorizing construction of 5.5 more miles of bridge along the Tamiami Trail, but stopped short of providing the $330 million currently estimated to get the job done.
The authorization was contained in the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress last week. While Sen. Bill Nelson, one of the sponsors of the language, has hailed its passage as bipartisan proof that Congress wants to see the River of Grass restored.
However, he also acknowledged that the country's current fiscal fitness could make it difficult to obtain the necessary funding to build those 5.5 miles of bridges.
Two years ago construction began on 1 mile of bridge along the highway. The work is seen as vital to restoring water flows through the Everglades to levels not seen in decades.
According to Everglades National Park officials, "removing as many barriers to flow as possible—roads, levees, canals, etc.—has become a mantra of the larger restoration effort, and resolving the deleterious impacts of Tamiami Trail is seen as critical to securing the long-term health of Everglades National Park."
The construction of the Tamiami Trail in 1928 blocked those natural water flows. The Trail—a lengthy east-west roadway that crosses Florida—effectively severs the southern Everglades from the flow of water farther north.
"As a consequence, vast areas of Everglades National Park south of Tamiami Trail now suffer a chronic thirst that manifests itself in the form of frequent droughts, severe wildfires, and changes to the biologic community," says Larry Perez, who works in the Park Service's South Florida Natural Resources Center.
Coupled with recommended road improvements, the bridging along the highway "would allow managers to restore more natural flow patterns to Northeast Shark River Slough—a historic flow way that remains unnaturally dry," said Mr. Perez.
"Taking more than a decade, construction of the original Tamiami Trail was a lengthy and expensive effort," he notes. "At the time of its completion, however, the Tamiami Trail was regarded as a marvel of modern engineering and a testament to human ingenuity.



Our take on: More green for green
Orlando Sentinel
December 23, 2011
Amid intensifying pressure to slash spending, budget writers in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee have given a big boost to funding for Everglades restoration. It's amazing what politicians from both capitals, and both parties, can accomplish when they embrace a common goal.
The latest budget bill from Congress, signed into law last week by President Obama, cut federal spending overall compared to last year. But for projects to restore the Everglades and its water sources, including the Kissimmee River south of Orlando, it contained $142million — a total that elated environmental advocates.
Florida's top Democratic officeholder, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, trumpeted the funding this week, but shared the credit with a top Florida Republican, U.S. Rep. Bill Young of Indian Shores.
Nelson also commended Republican Gov. Rick Scott for proposing in his spending plan for next year to dedicate $40 million in state funds to Everglades restoration. That sum, if approved by legislators, would raise state spending on those projects by almost $10 million from this year.
Scott's proposed increase in state spending for Everglades restoration sent a timely signal to Washington that Florida intends to hold up its part of the bargain in the joint state-federal project.
The Everglades is a critical source of water for South Florida as well as an environmental treasure for the nation. Its restoration should remain a priority for as long as it takes to get the job done.



Who’s Naughty and Who’s Nice: A Year After the Everglades Big Sugar Deal
National Geographic - by Tasha Eichenseher
December 23, 2011
Your celebration this season is, in part, brought to you by southern Florida, where almost 50 percent of the nation’s sugarcane crop comes from.
Last year Florida gave us 12,230,000 tons of cane and 1,433,000 tons of crystallized bliss (refined sugar). Hawaii, Louisiana, and Texas made contributions too, but not on the same scale.
It’s a bittersweet commodity. Our sugarcane sweet spot happens to sit smack-dab in the middle of the Florida Everglades, an impressive wetland ecosystem valued for its native species, commercial fishing habitat, water quality benefits, and flood mitigation potential.
The region has become one of the most engineered “natural” places in the world, with a rich history of man-versus-nature and agriculture-versus-environment battles.
Perhaps nothing describes the Everglades stage better than Waters of Destiny — a historic video produced in the 1950s about the Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to put “water in the right place at the right time.”
“Everything was lovely in Florida, or so it seemed… but once you got past surf and the shore… there was trouble. Nature was frowning. The trouble was water.” This is “the story of such water and its mastery by the determined hand of man”:
Much of the central and southern part of the state is at or below sea level. In an unaltered landscape, rainy season floodwaters would run down the a 240-mile stretch of the state – from Orlando to the Florida Keys — into the Atlantic Ocean, inundating farmland and cities at the cost of millions of dollars.
The Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, possibly the world’s largest water control system, now regulates water through an elaborate network of thousands of canals, levees, and pumps that extend over 11.5 million acres.
A Spoonful of Sugar
During a recent journalism conference in Miami, I was able to visit the Everglades and hear from those who operate it and operate within it.
All of that infrastructure has resulted in a 50 percent loss of wetland habitat and natural floodplains, and has degraded water quality, according to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the agency created as the Army Corps’ local sponsor and now charged with balancing water quality, supply, flood control, and wetland health in the state.
One of the primary concerns is an elevated level of phosphorus, a nutrient that is applied to agricultural fields as a fertilizer and runs into adjacent wetlands causing a growth spurt of non-native species. Cattails eventually take over and change the entire ecosystem – down to the birds and snails.
And one of the primary agricultural crops in the region is sugar.
As you drive the rural roads south of Lake Okeechobee, a sea of sugarcane seems to flow seamlessly into a river of wetland grass.
U.S. Sugar Corp., one of two major sugar producers in the state, operates farmland (for sugarcane and citrus) and facilities on more than 180,000 acres in south Florida.
The company maintains that sugar is one of the most environmentally friendly crops, requiring few fertilizers or pesticides, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. And that they have been able to reduce their phosphorus loads by up to 50 percent for the last 14 years.
Show Me the Money
Apparently there is an ancient Chinese proverb that says “You can’t expect both ends of a sugar cane are as sweet.”
When it came time to buy land for restoration, sugarcane fields made the top of the naughty list.
As part of an ambitious state and federal plan to clean up the Everglades, SFWMD sealed a deal last October to purchase nearly 27,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar at a cost of $197 million.
When former Florida Governor Charlie Crist first announced the deal in 2008, he declared it was “as monumental as the creation of the nation’s first park, Yellowstone,” reported the New York Times. Crist went on to say “I can envision no better gift to the Everglades.”
But unwrapping the restoration of Florida’s River of Grass remains a challenge for policy makers and conservationists.
The Governor’s original plan called for the purchase of 180,000 acres for $1.34 billion, but the Grinch that is economic recession eventually trimmed the package by nearly 85 percent. The State retained the rights to buy additional acreage when funding became available.
For the entire state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, 60 percent of the 232,505 acres of land needed for restoration and improvements have been acquired.
Beyond land acquisition, funding is also needed to convert those 27,000 acres into wetland. For now, 17,900 acres remain planted in citrus and 8,900 acres still produce sugarcane. According to local papers, U.S. Sugar leases the land back from SFWMD for about $150 an acre.
SFWMD, which is facing its own budget cuts, is now trying to figure out the best use for the land and how it could be incorporated into a broader restoration plan, said SFWMD spokesman Randy Smith.
So, for now, phosphorus is achieved at less than target levels by farmers using methods to sweep water off their land before it can accumulate too much of the nutrient (which they say is a natural component of the region’s soil) and by expansive constructed wetland areas funded by government agencies
These areas – 41,000 acres worth – capture run-off from agricultural land and filter it through treatment wetlands before it moves on to the Everglades. Phosphorus levels are reduced from more than 100 parts per billion (ppb) to less than 50 ppb, according to SFWMD. A healthy Everglades equalizes at 40 ppb (and rainwater generally holds 30 ppb), says Paul Gray of the Florida Audubon Society.
Part of the problem, says Gray, is that there is high phosphorus levels flowing into Lake Okeechobee from the north, before the water ever hits sugarcane fields.
When the big sugar deal was first proposed, rival sugar company Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Tribe expressed concern that too much emphasis was being put on buying land from U.S. Sugar — that other elements of the restoration effort would be neglected.
But SFWMD’s Smith says this isn’t the case. “The State of Florida and the Water Management District continue to make considerable progress toward Everglades restoration. Even during a difficult budget year for the state, the Florida Legislature appropriated $29 million to help keep Everglades progress on track.”
And last week, Congress and the president gave the Everglades a boost by approving $246 million in federal funding for the 2012 fiscal year, up from about $232 million in 2011. The entire restoration plan has a pricetag of $7.8 billion over the course of 20 years. The comprehensive plan was passed by Congress in 2000 and since then has received an annual average of $257 million in federal funding and $970 million in state funding.
Just something to think about as you ride your holiday sugar high into the New Year



Expert panel signs off on St. Johns River water withdrawal plan
Florida Today
December 22, 2011
National Research Council: Anticipated impact doesn't account for droughts.
An unprecedented plan to pump hundreds of millions of gallons from the St. Johns River raises few ecological red flags, an expert panel says, but could shrink wetlands, as well as fish and bird populations in the 310-mile sprawling waterway.
Researchers used valid science when they projected mostly “moderate” impacts to habitat and wildlife from future withdrawals in the St. Johns, a national scientific panel has found.
But their projections failed to take into account what the ecological impact would be if Central Florida suffered consecutive years of a severe drought, as has happened within the past decade, according to the recently released report by the National Research Council.
The NRC reviewed the data as part of a larger $3.5 million study the St. Johns River Water Management District launched four years ago. The goal of the study: Explore the impact of drawing up to 262 million gallons a day from the St. Johns and its major tributary, the Ocklawaha River.
The results, expected in February, will drive how much water ultimately gets drawn from the river, holding the future growth of Cocoa, Titusville, Melbourne, Orange County and much of the rest of Central Florida in the balance.
The district wants utilities to rely less on groundwater, and instead draw more from the St. Johns. Studies show projected groundwater withdrawals could harm Central Florida aquifers, wetlands, wildlife, lakes and rivers by 2013. So district officials have vowed by then to stop issuing permits for additional groundwater withdrawals.
Habitat's impact
The district wanted the NRC’s opinion of its methods as more than 80 technical staff and consultants studied impacts to the river’s fish, plankton, bottom organisms, wetlands, submerged plants and other wildlife. NRC’s portion of the overall cost was $622,000.
“The district’s basic scientific approaches are reasonable,” said Pat Brezonik, professor emeritus of civil engineering at University of Minnesota who led the NRC panel. “It was much more work than one typically sees in environmental impact studies. We felt in the end that they did a good job, but that’s not to say they did a perfect job.”
Among the panel’s biggest worries is fish, which could get killed in water intakes.
“You’ve basically going to suck small things like fish larvae into the screens they have in front of the pumps,” Brezonik said. “This does look like it’s the potentially most serious problem for fish.”
Better designs that avoid spawning hotspots, reduce the speed of the water being drawn out of the river, or lower withdrawal rates during spawning could minimize the impact, district officials said.
As part of the study, Florida Tech biologists have been trying to identify the river’s most crucial spawning spots.
Other researchers scooped deep marshes in Lake Poinsett for bugs without backbones, such as the pinky-sized caterpillars that crawl into spatterdock, a lilypad-like plant. Largemouth bass and other prized sportfish rely on the shrimp-like macroinvertebrates, caterpillars and countless creepy-crawly crustaceans that lurk in the river’s deep-marsh ooze.
Researchers took inventory of what they found and are predicting how the insects will respond to changes in the river’s flow as a result of greater withdrawals in future years.
'Moderate' effects
Despite some concerns, under most future withdrawal scenarios, the district anticipates “moderate” effects overall — meaning no significant change to natural resources. The “moderate” effects in the upper St. Johns will be because of water level declines and in the lower St. Johns because of flow-rate declines and salinity increases.
The district’s approach represents a “precautionary principle that is appropriate,” the panel wrote. But the agency only looked at “mean” ecological responses to drought, with little or no consideration of wide ranges that could result in more harm.
“I think it’s about what we expected it to be,” Tom Bartol, director of the district’s bureau of water supply, said of the NRC review.
The district will incorporate NRC’s suggestions into its modeling, he said, noting there remains plenty of time for water supply planning, given the economy.
“Four or five years ago, we had pretty high demand projections because of the population boom and new developments, and since that time, we and water suppliers have more breathing room,” he said.



Bill Nelson
Florida Senator (D)

Florida Sen. Nelson: Everglades restoration is bipartisan
McClatchy Newspapers – by Erika Bolstad
December 22, 2011
Related:          Bipartisan Efforts in Washington to Help Everglades
                        From Washington, good news for the Everglades
‎                        Environmentalists cheer funding for Everglades
‎                        Environmentalists cheer Everglades restoration funding; $246M ...
‎                        Everglades, Kissimmee River restoration projects get boost from ...
Florida Sen. Nelson: Everglades restoration is bipartisan.  There’s more bipartisan support for restoring the Everglades than might be expected, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Wednesday — especially given the politically charged atmosphere in Washington and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s previous concerns about spending state money on projects
There’s more bipartisan support for restoring the Everglades than might be expected, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Wednesday — especially given the politically charged atmosphere in Washington and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s previous concerns about spending state money on projects.Nelson, touting the bipartisan push behind some recent legislative victories, said he and others have pressed Scott repeatedly to emphasize the importance of the project for jobs and future water quality. The Democratic senator thanked the Republican governor for for a budget that restores some of the state’s share of funding for the complex, multi-year project.“I think we’re on the way,” Nelson said.Nelson and U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-St. Petersburg Beach, had been scheduled to talk to reporters about bipartisan backing for Everglades projects, particularly from Florida’s legislative delegation, but Young was unavailable because he was traveling. Young was largely responsible for language in a recently passed spending bill that authorizes the next phase of bridge construction over Tamiami Trail, Nelson said.Construction is under way on the first phase of the Tamiami Trail project in Miami-Dade County. The project calls for raising parts of the highway above the wetlands, and eventually could restore the freshwater flow of the River of Grass to levels not seen in 80 years. Ultimately, the federal government would like to build 5.5 miles of bridges on Tamiami Trail. The four-year project would cost an estimated $324 million. Nelson acknowledged that paying for the bridging will be challenging in the face of the fiscal realities Congress must address. But it’s a victory even to authorize such a large-scale project in tight budget times, Nelson said, and he hopes to build on the momentum.“You have to go to steps two, three and four after you’ve done step one. And step one is now a reality,” he said.Kirk Fordham, who heads the Everglades Foundation, said that the first step involved a broad coalition of people — not only Nelson and Young, but also U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. They rarely work together on political issues, Fordham said, but they do work together when it comes to the Everglades.“This has been a pretty rough year for bipartisanship in Washington,” Fordham said. “The Everglades is really a shining star when it comes to an example in the policy arenas where we see continued bipartisan support for this significant ecosystem restoration effort. It’s nothing short of remarkable that the Everglades has scored such a big win.”There’s also been a recent thaw in federal and state relations on the project. In October, federal agencies announced plans intended to speed up work to revive water flow to the Everglades. If approved by Congress, the plans could transform how large federal public works projects across the country are built. The change also is expected to cut the planning process for the next major restoration project in the central Everglades from six years to 18 months.The move to speed up planning came on the heels of a pledge by Scott to deal with on-going legal battles with federal agencies over persistent water pollution problems in the Everglades.



Governor Rick Scott Appoints Michael Bauer to Environmental Regulation Commission, Names Cari Roth as Chair
December 22, 2011
(Related:           Gov. Scott appoints several locals to state commissions , Naples daily News)
Tallahassee, Fla - - Today, Governor Rick Scott announced the appointment of Michael Bauer to the Environmental Regulation Commission and named Cari L. Roth as Chair.
Bauer, 60, of Naples, has been the natural resource manager for the City of Naples since 2005. Previously, he served as a lead project manager for the South Florida Water Management District from 2003 to 2004 and was Southwest Florida policy director for Audubon of Florida from 2001 to 2003. Bauer practiced environmental law for the Yakama Indian Nation of Washington State from 1988 to 1996 and was an assistant refuge manager for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service from 1977 to 1984. Bauer received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Brunswick, a master’s degree from Colorado State University, a law degree from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He succeeds Rhoda Glasco-Foderingham and is appointed for a term beginning December 22, 2011 and ending July 1, 2013.
Roth, 53, of Tallahassee, has been an attorney with Bryan, Miller and Olive P.A. since 2003. With 25 years of public and private sector legal and legislative experience, she has served on the Environmental Regulation Commission since 2003. Previously, she served as general counsel and assistant secretary for the Florida Department of Community Affairs from 1999 to 2003. She received her bachelor’s and law degrees from Florida State University. Roth’s chairmanship is effective December 22, 2011, ending at the pleasure of the Governor.
The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.


Glades restoration money thrills conservationists
Sun Sentinel - by William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
December 21, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Despite the budget crunch here and in Tallahassee, Everglades restoration continues to draw widespread support – and surprisingly generous doses of funding -- from Republicans and Democrats in both capitals.
Though deadlocked on many other issues, Congress provided $142 million for Everglades projects as part of a big spending bill signed into law last week by President Barack Obama.
Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, has proposed spending $40 million of state money on the 'Glades during the next fiscal year that begins July 1, more than double the amount he sought for the current year.
Everglades boosters -- who once feared widespread resistance in both capitals as lawmakers looked for ways to save money -- were surprised and delighted by the latest signs of support.
"The Everglades really is a shining star when it comes to a policy arena where we see continued bipartisan support for this significant ecosystem restoration effort," said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, a Miami-based proponent of restoration, in a teleconference on Wednesday. "In a year when the budget is being reduced, it's nothing short of remarkable that the Everglades has scored such a big win."
"It doesn't hurt," he added, "that Florida tends to be a swing state in presidential elections."
Everglades restoration has been a signature issue for both parties and for candidates eager to burnish their image as a protector of the environment.
The congressional action also authorizes spending to add 5.5 miles of additional bridges along the Tamiami Trail in western Miami-Dade County, which will elevate portions of the cross-glades route to allow more natural water flow into Everglades National Park. A one-mile bridge is already being built.
"This is going to have enormous, enormous benefits to us," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said on Wednesday. The highway, he noted, has served much like a dike, blocking the slow natural flow of the "River of Grass."
The spending bill signed by Obama includes $45.6 million to complete restoration of the Kissimmee River south of Orlando and north of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps of Engineers is putting the natural bends back in the river to nurture plants and wildlife in the valley along its banks while removing pollutants from water flowing into the lake.
The Kissimmee River project is more than two-thirds complete "and by every measure has exceeded scientists' expectations of the amount of wildlife that has been restored," Fordham said.
"We are moving from the phase of planning and design and ground-breaking to where we are going to do ribbon-cuttings as these projects go on line in the next year and a half," he said.
U.S. House members – including Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston – persuaded many of their colleagues that restoring the Everglades would not only preserve an ecosystem but also replenish the fresh water supply for residents in much of South and Central Florida.
Everglades backers also cited a recent study indicating that the massive projects would create jobs and generate $4 of economic activity for every $1 invested by boosting recreation activities, tourism and the value of real estate.
Nelson gave credit to Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Young of Indian Shores, who helped steer the authorization through Congress
"Given the cutbacks in many other agencies, this is a substantial amount that will help us as we go forward," Nelson said.
He also gave kudos to Scott -- once a target of scorn from environmentalists -- for proposing more state money for restoration.
The Florida Legislature must still consider Scott's proposal. In February soon after he took office, the governor proposed only $17 million for the Everglades and indicated little support for environmental causes. The Legislature boosted his request to $30 million for this year.
Since then, Scott has surprised federal officials and environmentalists by proposing restoration plans that would also remove pollutants from waterways.



Industry groups want Congress to defund EPA water rules
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 21, 2011
A number of industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Fertilizer Institute, are calling on Congress to include a provision that would defund a set of Florida-specific water quality standards in the 2012 appropriations bill.
In a Dec. 7 letter (.pdf) to Congress, a group of 14 agricultural, mineral and pulp and paper industries write that they “wish to support the inclusion of certain important provisions aimed at encouraging economic growth and reining in excessive regulation.” Among those provisions: one that “would prohibit EPA from using funds to implement, administer or enforce” a set of federally required water quality standards, known as the “numeric nutrient criteria.
Industry interests have long been critical of the EPA’s draft, arguing that their implementation could add as much to $700 to the average resident’s water bill.
Several studies “indicate the impact of the EPA’s mandates to Florida’s citizens, local governments and businesses will be in the billions,” reads the Dec. 7 letter.
Though the criteria were mandated by the EPA, the agency has agreed to allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to implement its own rules in their place. In an interview last week with The Florida Independent, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Drew Bartlett said that recent studies reveal the cost of the state’s version to be somewhere between $50 and $130 million per year. During a River Summit held in Jacksonville last year, one state representative said that the department estimated the federal version to cost somewhere between $5 and $8 billion.
“The cost figures for EPA’s rules were higher,” said Bartlett. “We include so many provisions, certainty and speed by which they get implemented, and we recognize that it won’t cost as much to implement them.”
A separate letter, signed by more agricultural and industry interests, also references cost estimates “in the billions.”
In that second letter, which was published on Dec. 18 in the Jackson County Floridian, the groups also request the inclusion of the Numeric Nutrient Criteria Amendment — which is part of the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2584) — in the final version of the spending package.
That amendment, which is sponsored by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, would also block funding for implementation of the EPA numeric nutrient criteria. The bill also includes language that stops the attempted expanded regulation of waters under the Clean Water Act during fiscal year 2012.
“Florida’s existing nutrient water quality programs are more effective than the new EPA regulations because the current policies are based on scientific evaluations of the state’s vast, varied and unique ecosystems,” reads the letter. “We respectfully request that you stop EPA from implementing or enforcing its NNC rule for Florida, and allow the experts in Florida to take back control of its water quality programs.”
Florida’s current standard is ineffective, according to many state environmentalists, and hasn’t done enough to ward off harmful algal blooms and fish kills that negatively affect the bottom line in many communities across the state.
The rules will next require legislative ratification and then EPA approval before they can be implemented in the state.



National experts critical of study on St. Johns water withdrawals
Daytona Beach News-Journal - by Dinah Voyles Pulver, Environment writer
December 21, 2011
A panel of national experts has finished reviewing a study about the potential impacts of tapping the St. Johns River to boost regional water supplies and remains concerned about the negative environmental effects that could cause.
For three years, the National Research Council has worked alongside the St. Johns River Water Management District as 80 district scientists and consultants studied the potential effects of using the river to help meet Central Florida's anticipated need for more fresh water.
The district hired the council, in part, to address concerns voiced by environmental groups and others about its study. The river and its tributaries, which border much of western Volusia and Flagler counties, support a wide range of recreational and tourism interests, such as boating and fishing.
The district had previously concluded it would be safe to withdraw more than 150 million gallons of water a day on average from the St. Johns, but interests along the river weren't convinced the district's research was comprehensive enough. That helped prompt the second, more in-depth study.
The Research Council, affiliated with the National Academies of Science, appointed a panel of academic experts from across the country to help. The experts met with the district staff in six formal meetings and a number of teleconferences. They reviewed wide-ranging district research such as effects on plants, river-water quality and fish and other microscopic creatures that live in the river.
Overall, the panel concluded the district's work in studying the river's hydrology was "state of the art science."
In general, the district did "a competent job" of comparing the environmental responses to potential water withdrawals, said Lorin Hancock, a council spokesman. The study and the way it was implemented "were appropriate and adequate" to address the district's goals, Hancock wrote this week.
However, the committee's final report stated it is "somewhat concerned" with the district's final conclusion that the proposed water withdrawals will not have "many deleterious ecological effects."
The report questioned the district's conclusion that increased flows from restoration projects on the southern end of the river would help compensate for the impacts. Uncertainties about future conditions beyond the district's control, such as sea-level rise and land use, "lead to concerns about the reliability of the conclusions," the report stated.
The committee also concluded the district should have put together a working group to examine the effects of changing land use on runoff and water quality in the river. Even though the committee accepted the district's argument that it lacked authority to control land use and population growth, it concluded that didn't absolve the district from the responsibility of considering those issues.
It also recommended further study of the potential impacts of increased salinity in marshes and areas of the river near its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville.
District staff found the review "a very productive, collegial and useful experience," said Tom Bartol, director of the district's bureau of water supply.
District employees were a little fearful of an "ivory tower" approach, but Bartol said they found the council experts critical but helpful.
The committee's final report revealed no surprises, Bartol said.
"They had some areas where they thought we could improve."
Now, the district's engineers and scientists are combing through the committee's 105-page report to determine if any additional changes or work are needed before the district's final study is complete, Bartol said. District staff hope to present that study to the district board in February.
The district plans to present its findings to the community across the region, including business and political leaders.
When the district launched the study, officials expected to face critical water shortages within five years. District scientists said continued overuse of groundwater would have unacceptable impacts on area wetlands, lakes and springs.
However, the downturn in the economy and a serious effort to increase conservation, has delayed the need for alternative water supplies, Bartol said Tuesday. Rate structures that force customers who use more to pay more are "really having a positive effect on water use," he said. "We bought some time."
The committee recommended the district re-examine its conclusions about the potential negative impacts from groundwater withdrawals and weigh those against the impacts of using river water. The district also has launched an initiative to work with two other water-management districts that border its boundaries in Central Florida. The district is working with interest groups and utilities to determine the sustainable limit of fresh groundwater in the region, Bartol said. The results of that study are expected in about 12 to 18 months.
"That will be another milestone and will give us a better picture of how far fresh groundwater can provide water supply without unacceptable environmental impacts," he said.


See the video here

Grand Kankakee Marsh. Is that what will happen to the Everglades ?
The story is so similar.

Everglades of the North:
The Story of the Kankakee Marsh
December 20, 2011
Once known as the Everglades of the North, the Grand Kankakee Marsh (GKM) was one of the largest wetlands in North America. This million-acre marsh covered much of present day Northern Indiana and Illinois, and was home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. For centuries the marsh gave and man took.
Our documentary, "Everglades of the North", will explore the diverse ecology, unveil the astonishing history, and illustrate the controversial saga of the GKM.

We will bring to life the story of how people have used and perceived the GKM from early Native Americans to modern day industrialists, while educating viewers about the vital role wetlands and prairies play in our ecosystem. This project will only be funded if certain fundraising goals are met by December 31, in order to meet the challenge grants.

Permafrost thaw

Thawing permafrost in
Noatak National
Preserve in Alaska -
contributes to flooding Florida


Permafrost thaw — just how scary is it ?
Washington Post - Wonkblog by Brad Plumer
December 19, 2011
One of the least understood — and one of the more unnerving — facets of climate change is the question of what will happen as the Arctic region heats up and permafrost in places like Alaska and Siberia thaws out. There’s a whole lot of carbon locked up in all that frozen soil and organic matter. And, as the frost melts, that carbon will enter the atmosphere, most of it as carbon dioxide, but some of it transformed by bacteria into methane, an even more powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas. That, in turn, will warm the planet further. It’s a potent feedback mechanism, and scientists still aren’t sure just how potent it might be.
Currently, permafrost thaw isn’t very well incorporated into existing climate models. Indeed, most of the widely cited computer models — the ones that experts rely on to argue, for instance, that global greenhouse-gas emissions should peak in the next five years if we want to limit warming to 2°C — actually underestimate the role permafrost could play in warming the planet. “There’s a growing realization of how large that carbon stock is,” says David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The models are still playing catch-up.”
So how worried should we be? Over the weekend, Justin Gillis had a beautifully reported piece in The New York Times on the permafrost question that summed up what scientists do and don’t know: “In the minds of most experts, the chief worry is not that the carbon in the permafrost will break down quickly — typical estimates say that will take more than a century, perhaps several — but that once the decomposition starts, it will be impossible to stop.” There’s no looming apocalypse, but melting permafrost could make it much harder to avoid setting the planet down a path of irrevocable warming.
Last month, the journal Nature published a survey (PDF) of 41 scientists from the Permafrost Carbon Network, who estimated that, by 2100, the amount of carbon released from thawing permafrost could be 1.7 to 5.2 times greater than models indicate. That means current emissions plans to try to prevent more than 2°C of global warming could be on pace to fail badly. (On a longer time scale, if humans keep burning fossil fuels, then, the Nature survey reports, the overall effect from permafrost emissions could be 2.5 times greater than that from deforestation.) NCAR’s David Lawrence, one of the survey’s participants, stressed to me that this was a preliminary estimate, and a lot more work needs to be done here.
So permafrost is, potentially, a big deal — and something to keep in mind when pondering the question of whether humans might get lucky, and global warming might turn out to be less dire than expected. The state of permafrost research offers one piece of evidence that current climate-change predictions seem to be overly optimistic.
Meanwhile, Gillis’s piece — and the Nature survey — largely dealt with carbon that’s frozen in the northern soils. There’s a separate, though related, issue of what happens with the methane locked in frozen hydrates that’s buried in ocean sediment. There are thousands of gigatons of methane beneath the seas, comparable to the amount of carbon contained in the Earth’s coal deposits. And, as the Arctic waters warm, some of this methane is likely to bubble up into the atmosphere. Another troubling feedback.
The problem is that scientists have had similar difficulties getting a handle on just how much methane actually is bubbling up, since the Arctic isn’t exactly an easy place to take measurements. It can also be unclear whether observed methane plumes are new developments related to current warming or long-standing natural trends. At the moment, despite some frightening headlines in the British press, there doesn’t seem to be a “methane time bomb” ready to go off. Read Andy Revkin or University of Chicago ocean chemist David Archer for more context here. There’s no need for lurid Hollywood disaster-movie scenarios. The reality of what’s actually transpiring is apocalyptic enough.



Florida to mess up with
its waters unchecked ?

Water concerns front and center at FFVA
Southeast Farm Press – by Charles Johnson
Dec. 19, 2011
Florida agricultural interests could soon learn if their state can wrest control of nutrient loading standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As things now stand, EPA’s rule on the standards would go into effect in March 2012.
 “In April of this year the governor authorized the department to ask EPA to exit the state and turn this back over to Florida,” says Drew Bartlett, Florida Department of Agriculture director of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, who spoke as part of a panel at the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) annual convention in Manalapan, Fla.
“We petitioned EPA, we knew EPA had a goal of setting nutrient standards — we want them to honor existing programs so there won’t be a second group of rules. We want to make sure they don’t require nutrient reductions where they aren’t necessary,” Bartlett says.
EPA itself may not quite know what to make of Florida’s water situation. “We see nothing in EPA’s rule at all that provides any clarity what the EPA rule means to the ag community,” says Rich Budell, Florida Department of Agriculture director of the Office of Agriculture Water Policy.
Despite that, it is clear that EPA’s rule would be costly to Florida farmers, Budell says. “It would have impacts on our communities. We’re certainly hopeful EPA buys into the Florida Department of Environmental Protection plan,” he says.
Could EPA be persuaded to cede Florida to Floridians ?
“EPA has been receptive to our draft rules,” Bartlett says. “We’re hoping to get a clear signal in October whether they will approve our rules so we can move forward. Our goal is to get legislative satisfaction on this rule in Tallahassee this session, which starts in January. And we also need EPA approval.”
Florida knows how to deal with water issues. “I think our regulatory program works,” says Bob Brown, South Florida Water Management District assistant executive director. “We are far ahead of other states. I think if we continue doing that and work closely with landowners, we’ll have success.”
Terry Cole, a Tallahassee attorney, says EPA initially hoped a foothold on Florida’s nutrient loading standards would give it a base to expand nationally.
“They jumped in and said this is going to be a proving ground for nutrient standards nationally. Then they caught heat and said, no, this is just for Florida. What they want is a number — and you either meet it or you don’t.”
Being forced to adhere to an arbitrary number could cause problems for agriculture. “There is no cause and effect step. You must meet this number just for the number’s sake. Pristine waters by themselves won’t be able to meet these numbers,” Budell says.
Cole notes: “EPA was not able on a regional basis to determine cause and effect of how much nitrogen in the system will have a negative effect. Most of the debate has centered on ‘We don’t need to control nutrients,’ but we need to recognize there have been naturally-occurring eutrophic lakes since the days of Christopher Columbus, and there are also lakes with problems. EPA, to its credit, is trying to deal with the issue in its complexity with the wide variety of lakes in Florida.”
Bartlett thinks the lake-by-lake approach is the right way to go and that it is also what the state wants to do. “We’re going to try to set up our rule and take it water body by water body so you’re not stuck with a number established for some other water body,” he says.
In addition, Brown says, it’s time urban communities share with farmers in clean water responsibilities, particularly regarding canals.
“Best management practices get no credit or benefits from urban areas. This should be revisited in the future so urban environments are doing the same thing agricultural interests are doing. I think we’ve about squeezed everything we can out of farmers and agriculture. With BMP’s, I’m not sure we can do much more in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” Brown says.
Rulings by U.S. District Judge Alan Gold prop up EPA’s case in overriding Florida’s attempts at self-regulation of water nutrient-loading. Gold, openly frustrated by what he sees as intentional delays in reducing phosphorus entering the Everglades system from farms, calls for EPA to issue pollution discharge permits rather than the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Refuting Gold’s stance, agricultural interests in the Glades area say they have reduced phosphorus runoff by at least 50 percent in the past decade and a half. Even so, threat of additional litigation continues.
“Phosphorus coming off my fields into the Everglades is at 10 parts per billion,” says Rick Roth, Belle Glade vegetable and sugarcane grower. “Rainfall here has 30 parts per billion phosphorus. How can they say we’re not doing all we can? The point of these lawsuits is not to help the Everglades — the point is to raise funds for environmental groups.”
Roth concludes the federal government wants agriculture to use fewer nutrients. That would be fine, he says, if researchers can find ways to keep increasing agricultural production. “Agriculture is high-tech — show us how to use less fertilizer and we’ll use less fertilizer. When is the government going to realize that and put money into research?”
All sides still could come to a reasonable middle ground on the Everglades restoration issue, Brown says. “I keep my fingers crossed; I’m very optimistic. The quality of water in the Everglades Agricultural Area is not bad. There are opportunities out there to achieve the water quality the federal government wants for the Everglades using existing infrastructure and with no more expense to agriculture. I think we can do land swaps and not take any new land out of production. We have a lot of fixes — we haven’t sat down with the federal government and explained them all.”
If EPA rejects Florida’s attempt to reclaim its ability to make its own water policy, what happens next? “I think that’s going to be problematic,” Brown says. “I’m so optimistic we’ll get it, I hate to think what happens if we don’t. If EPA doesn’t do this, we’re all in for problems.”
In that case, EPA will be approving Florida’s water permits rather than a state agency, Budell says, and, “That’s just a recipe for disaster.”
EPA involvement could set the stage for increased Army Corps of Engineers participation in Florida’s water affairs, as well, Brown says — which is not a scenario he favors. “If they bring in EPA, I think they could also bring in the Corps on above-ground impoundments, and that’s potentially a disaster.”
Whatever happens, a stable water supply remains key to healthy Florida agriculture. If the state’s population once again booms, the water resources will be pressured.
“We all have to understand that in the future there will be competition for water,” Brown says. “I do think there are going to be competing interests for water, but our position at South Florida Water Management District is that we’re not going to take water away from farmers.
“In some cases, farmers may have to go to deeper wells. We may pay some landowners to store water on-site. There are going to be opportunities in the future, but we have to look at the competition, because it’s out there. At some point, we (Florida) will start growing — we’re going to have to look for alternative sources of water.”
Who picks up the tab for this new water? “Agriculture cannot afford to develop additional water sources on its own,” Budell says. “The hard decision about where the money comes from to develop the alternative water supply is going to come sooner rather than later.
“We work diligently to tell the legislature that if they value agriculture long-term, they’ve got to assure an adequate volume of water to keep agriculture supplied. Agricultural lands have innate value — green space, wildlife habitat, water storage — but there is a general lack of appreciation for that, and a general lack of appreciation for the value of water.”
Few citizens know how cheap their water really is, Budell says. “On the public utility side, all they pay for is the infrastructure to get it to the tap. We’re using 150 gallons per person per day in Florida; in Sydney, Australia, they’re using less than one-third of that. Until people actually see value in water, changes are not going to occur. It’s a finite resource — the more expensive it gets, the less likely it is that agriculture can compete in that environment.”


Note the signataries
with vested interests -
but this is democracy at work, right ?
While voters do have
votes, they don't have
pocketsfull of cash to
Now, which will
eventually decide ?

Amendment concerns raised – Letter by representatives from agriculture, water utilities and the business community, Jackson County Floridan
December 18, 2011
Dear (Editor):
Please find (below) a letter sent to members of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee & House of Representatives Appropriations Committee from representatives from agriculture, water utilities and the business community. In the letter, the groups request the inclusion of the Florida Numeric Nutrient Criteria Amendment that is in the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2584) in the final version of the spending package.
Dear Senators and Representatives:
In November 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized federal numeric nutrient criteria (NNC) for Florida’s flowing waters and lakes. We are deeply concerned this rule will impose substantial new costs on Florida’s citizens, local governments and businesses. As members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, you have the opportunity to protect Florida’s employers, families and economy from this costly, unprecedented rulemaking by including the Florida Numeric Nutrient Criteria Amendment that is in the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2584) in the final version of the spending package.
Studies conducted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and two independent studies produced by Cardno ENTRIX and Carollo Engineers all indicate the impact of the EPA’s mandates to Florida’s economy will be in the billions. Furthermore, it has been estimated that household water utility bills could increase by approximately $700 per year. Additionally, the study produced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concludes that Florida’s agricultural community will lose 14,545 full - time and part - time jobs.
In addition to the serious concerns about the economic burden the EPA water mandates will place on Florida’s employers and working families, there are also significant questions regarding the scientific validity of the new mandates. Experts in Florida continue to question the scientific basis for these standards and whether they are even attainable with existing technologies. Florida’s existing nutrient water quality programs are more effective than the new EPA regulations because the current policies are based on scientific evaluations of the state’s vast, varied and unique ecosystems.
We respectfully request that you stop EPA from implementing or enforcing its NNC rule for Florida, and allow the experts in Florida to take back control of its water quality programs. Thank you for your time and attention to our concerns.
ALICO, Inc., Association of Florida Community Developers, Associated Industries of Florida, CF Industries, FCG Environmental Committee, The Fertilizer Institute, Inc., Florida Beverage Association, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, Florida Engineering Society, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida, Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Florida Home Builders Association, Florida Land Council, Florida Pest Management Association, Florida Poultry Federation, Florida Pulp & Paper Association, Florida Rural Water Association, Florida Water Quality Coalition, Gulf Citrus Growers, Gulf Power Company, Manufacturers Association of Florida, PCS Phosphate - White Springs, Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association, South Walton Utility Co., Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, United States Sugar Corporation



FPL power line debate heats up
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
December 18, 2011
A draft of a Miami-Dade report recommends that the state deny proposed high-voltage corridors through Everglades National Park and down heavily populated section of U.S. 1.
Two years ago, Florida Power & Light quietly secured congressional approval for a land swap that would allow it to run a trio of high voltage power lines with towers 150 feet tall along the northeastern edge of Everglades National Park.
Despite that influential stamp of approval, the utility’s plans now appear to be on increasingly shaky ground.
In a draft report, Miami-Dade County recommends rejecting sections of the proposed pathway within the park, flatly stating that there are “less impacting alternative alignments’’ that could “entirely avoid’’ the Everglades and adjacent sensitive wetlands.
The report also recommends denial of a second corridor FPL wants along a swath of U.S. 1, a route that has riled residents from Cutler Bay to Coconut Grove — unless the utility would agree to bury the line at its own expense. The towering lines, the report said, would conflict with existing land-use codes, impede development and amount to a visual blight.
The county report, which had been due to state environmental regulators on Friday but was held to resolve legal questions, echoes concerns expressed by environmentalists, park scientists and South Miami-Dade communities since the utility two years ago filed for state permits to build two new major transmission corridors as part of its proposed expansion of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in South Miami-Dade.
“These are gigantic power lines,’’ said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “There are Everglades restoration impacts, wetlands impacts, impacts on birds. There are also visual impacts. The first thing people are going to see are these 150-foot tall towers.’’
Mayco Villafaña, a spokesman for FPL, said the utility had not yet reviewed Miami-Dade’s report, which could still change, but noted it wasn’t the only or final word in the state’s long, complicated process of approving major power line corridors.
On Thursday, another key agency, the South Florida Water Management District, endorsed the utility’s proposals — though with a list of conditions intended to address concerns including interference with radio-controlled flood gates, damage to flood control levees and disruption of colonies of endangered wood storks that feed and breed in nearby colonies.
Jack Osterholt, Miami-Dade’s deputy mayor, said the county has held numerous talks with FPL, mostly over concerns about the eastern route through densely developed suburbs and cities.
FPL hasn’t backed off either route, but in a series of public and private meetings over the last few months with county agencies, water managers and other groups, the utility has signaled it is open to alternatives that could push the northeast Everglades segment east of Krome Avenue — even though the deadline for submitting a new proposal has passed.
“Even at this late date, after the deadline has passed, we are willing to work with a credible entity if they identify a corridor that has merit,” Villafaña said.
Two alternatives have been accepted for consideration by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — one proposed by Coral Gables and Pinecrest that would push a proposed 230 kilovolt line off U.S. 1 to an existing, older corridor that runs north through an unincorporated area east of Florida’s Turnpike to a substation near Sweetwater, then east to Miami
Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, who praised the county’s draft report, said FPL had been anything but cooperative and “incredibly arrogant’’ in discussions.
“They’ve fought us tooth and nail,’’ she said. “The attitude is the utility knows all and the utility knows best.’’
A second one came from the Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association, a group of rock-mining companies in the county’s northwest. They proposed a relatively small change that would take two miles of transmission lines out of a state water conservation area and move them east into a wetlands area the industry is supposed to restore as part of Everglades restoration.
Tom MacVicar, an engineering consultant for the mining industry, said FPL had been open to the route and other ideas that could potentially steer the western corridor — which would be more than 1,000 feet wide to accommodate three sets of side-by-side 500 kilovolt towers — further from Everglades National Park.
“Inside the park is nobody’s preferred option, including FPL’’ said MacVicar.
FPL applied for new corridors in 2009, calling them crucial to improving reliability, handling projected population growth and the additional juice generated by two proposed additional nuclear reactors at Turkey Point. The lines, including a new substation, are projected to cost some $710 million in an expansion that could run an estimated $12 billion to $18 billion.
Villafaña said underground high voltage lines would add $12 million to $16 million per mile, costs that customers in the area would wind up paying.
FPL’s “preferred” western corridor depends on swapping a 7.4-mile long strip of land it acquired more than 40 years ago in the Eastern Everglades that has since been absorbed into Everglades National Park. In exchange for the strip, only as wide as a football field, the park service would grant FPL a narrow easement three miles east along the park’s eastern boundary.
With FPL’s existing strip sitting smack in the way of a critical part of the Everglades restoration effort — bridging Tamiami Trail to restore water flow down the Northwest Shark River Slough — FPL, water managers and the U.S. Interior Department proposed the land swap as one possible solution.
The deal, supported by both Florida senators at the time — Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez — was added to a massive spending bill Congress approved in 2009. But it only authorized a potential swap, leaving the final decision to the interior secretary.
The backlash against the swap idea has been strong. An initial study by the park found either route could have significant negative impacts on wading bird nests nearby as well as projects to restore water flows in the parched Eastern Everglades. The park has received more than 10,000 comments from the public on the proposal, almost all of them against the swap. The first draft of a full-blown environmental impact study is expected in September 2012 and a final federal decision by August 2013.
The federal review, separate from the state power-line approval process, poses additional potential problems for FPL.
Under the current schedule, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is expected to finish its analysis and recommendations by March 2012. A month-long hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled to begin in September 2012. From there, any final decision on the corridors will ultimately be made by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. With Miami-Dade seeking an extension on its deadline for comment, the schedule, already delayed 10 times, will likely be pushed back again.
That sets up the possibility that FPL could win state approval for an Everglades border route that it would be unable to use if federal agencies reject the swap.
For now, Villafaña said the utility is going to let the state process play out. FPL does not intend to draw up any new alternatives of its own, she said.
Dawn Shirreffs, Everglades restoration program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental group that advocates for parks, is skeptical of reviews by state agencies, which she said were under heavy pressure from FPL.
The water district, she said, had softened its power-line review by removing 16 conditions calling for tougher environmental scrutiny contained in a June version of the report. Water managers said they removed redundant language but did not reduce protections.
Shirreffs said the state’s complicated and expensive power-line process frustrated groups, cities and agencies that might otherwise propose alternate routes. The proposal from Pinecrest and Coral Gables, for instance, runs nearly 500 pages.
“It’s not as easy as drawing lines on a map,’’ she said. “You have to hire a transmission line siting expert to meet the requirements. It becomes really burdensome.’’



Global - - and FL too !

What are our top 10 environmental problems ? - by WHIT GIBBONS, Columnist
December 18, 2011
Q. A few years ago you conducted a poll of ecologists to identify the top 10 causes of environmental problems. Would you comment on your original list in the context of today's world?
A. Listing the top 10 sources of environmental problems is one way to put them in perspective. The original list included seven that were somewhat interchangeable as to how they should be ranked. One, two, and three were the same in almost everyone's list, although not always in the same order. Following is the original ranking of environmental problems, in order of increasing concern, with my current comments.
10. Invasive plants and animals. Recently reported problems of fire ants around the world, ambrosia beetles that infect red bay laurels, and pythons in the Everglades confirm the ongoing problem with introductions of exotic species.
9. Global climate change. A problem today is the impaired ability of some native species to respond appropriately to climate change as they have in past millennia because humans have compromised natural environments. "Global warning" has become such a volatile issue that debates between advocates and disbelievers about potential impacts and solutions are seldom productive. Nonetheless, numerous credible scientific studies have documented changes in recent decades.
8. Degradation of marine habitats. The oceans are huge, but they cannot withstand the current rate of worldwide pollution and unsustainable harvesting. Reports of commercial extinction of once common fish such as cod and grouper and the decline of coral reefs around the globe focus attention on the severity of the problem.
7. Air pollution. Uncontrolled releases by industry and the excessive use of fossil fuels have led to acid rain, dissolution of the ozone layer, smog, and the general degradation of "clean air."
6. Unsustainable agriculture. Humans are dependent on food production, but agricultural siltation, pesticide runoffs, and loss of natural habitats are constant threats to a healthy environment. "Dead zones" of oxygen-depleted waters in the Gulf of Mexico and other bodies of water are attributed primarily to the excessive use of chemical fertilizers by agricultural systems.
5. Threat of disease. This category in the previous list focused on impacts of human diseases. But disease is also an environmental concern for countless native species in many regions of the world. Included among the devastating invasive diseases is the Asian fungus that drove American chestnuts almost to extinction. Chytrid fungus, believed to have been introduced from Africa, is held responsible for widespread die-offs of frogs in many parts of the world.
4. Freshwater quality and quantity. Sewage from cities and unregulated releases from industrial and agricultural sites collectively exacerbate the worldwide problem of pollution in freshwater ecosystems. Saltwater intrusion resulting from overuse of groundwater in many coastal regions is a looming specter. Water wars between states are now a reality in the U.S. West and Southeast following long-term droughts.
3. Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. The loss of natural habitats because of human development and deforestation continues to be the major cause of the decline in biodiversity nationally and globally. Many species, especially in tropical rain forests, are on an inexorable path toward extinction because their native habitats have been destroyed or despoiled.
2. Human overpopulation. Unchecked human population growth, leading to overconsumption and associated world poverty, is one of the top culprits of environmental problems. Virtually every problem from 3 through 10 can be attributed to there simply being too many people for the available resources. At least in part because of religious or cultural constraints, most political leaders do not address the issue of birth control on a global scale, ensuring that most of our environmental problems will worsen before they get better.
1. Apathy. I still consider this our number one environmental problem. As proof, you need look no further than the majority of U.S. politicians, who seldom acknowledge, let alone propose solutions to, environmental problems. Sounds like apathy to me. Unless they are ignoring the public good for their own personal gain--which would be even worse than apathy.
Send environmental questions to
Whit Gibbons is an ecologist and environmental educator with the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.


Thumb up: Rick Scott shifts gears and proposes spending hikes for education and Everglades restoration
TCPalm - by Editorial Board
December 17, 2011
TURN ABOUT:  Florida Gov. Rick Scott can be a real puzzle.
His latest budget proposal is a prime example. Last year, he proposed big hits to the budgets for the education and the environment and got much of what he wanted passed by the state Legislature. This year, he's proposing big increases in the state budget for education and for Everglades restoration.
So, what's that all about?
Of course, the governor is proposing big cuts this coming year in Medicaid spending, which is causing some howls of protest. And, who knows what the Legislature will do when it gets its hands on Scott's budget proposals.
Still, if the money he is proposing for schools and for the Everglades represents something of a change in policy, there is reason for at least some optimism in those areas.
Who knows what other tricks the governor may have up his sleeve ?


AUDIO (click):
Listen to FCIR Associate Director Trevor Aaronson discuss this story on WUSF 89.7 News

Large Corporations Cash in on Florida Environmental Fund - by M.C. Moewe, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
December 16, 2011
When Wilma Council’s parents bought a home in Marion County 38 years ago, they didn’t know the gas station across the street had already begun to poison their dreams.
“You could smell the contamination,” Council said of the water from her parents’ well.
In about 1966, petroleum from the old Imperial Gas station started leaking into the ground and aquifer, according to a state-commissioned study in 1987. Nearby residents were told not to drink the well water.
“They were an elderly couple; they had to move,” said Council, still trying to determine who is responsible for cleaning the contamination on the land she inherited. “Nothing is being done about it.”
The state created the Inland Protection Trust Fund in 1986 to respond to leaking petroleum storage tanks, such as this one, which threaten human health and the environment. The fund is financed largely from a tax on gas wholesalers, which pass on the cost — about $190 million a year — to Florida drivers through retail gas prices.
Council and her parents didn’t know the Inland Protection Trust Fund existed. State officials say the deadline has long passed for them to apply for state cleanup money, and the Imperial Gas site itself was not among the more than 17,000 that went through the qualification process.
Following the fund’s creation, the state offered amnesty programs to contaminated site owners to pay for the majority of the cleanup costs. But abandoned sites, such as Imperial Gas in Marion County, were not likely to get access to the funds because the agency tasked with handling the money made it a policy not to seek out abandoned properties. “The Department has always taken a stance of being a resource only,” said Robert Brown, bureau chief for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Petroleum Cleanup Program. “We did not seek out facilities and property owners to get them qualified.”
While Council and her family didn’t benefit from the state fund, major corporations are benefitting in a big way from that pool of public money.
Large corporations now own hundreds of the contaminated properties eligible for state cleanup money, according to records analyzed by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. Since the program began 20 years ago, $64.8 million has been spent on 407 Circle K Stores properties, $63.9 million on 325 7-Eleven sites, and $46.9 million on 184 ExxonMobil Oil facilities.
The state only lists the current owner of the property, so whether those companies purchased the properties before or after the state paid to clean the contamination is unknown.
Over 20 percent of the $2.8 billion paid from the fund since 1990 has gone to mitigate environmental pollution at properties now owned by 20 companies, accounting for $624 million paid out for 2,716 properties, according to state records analyzed by FCIR.
Over 20 percent of the $2.8 billion paid from the fund since 1990 has gone to mitigate environmental pollution at properties now owned by 20 companies, accounting for $624 million paid out for 2,716 properties, according to state records analyzed by FCIR.
Those 20 companies currently have 2,042 properties that are in the process of being cleaned or waiting for cleanup with the public funds, indicating Florida drivers could be paying millions more to clean up pollution for those companies.
“That’s just another example of corporate welfare that is not in the public interest,” said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, a group that works to strengthen clean water laws in Florida. “These are successful corporations. Why is this not part of their cost of doing business ?
Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said the fund is being used as intended. “It started so the marketers would turn themselves in and say, ‘Yes, we have a problem,’ ” Bowman said. “That money doesn’t go to those companies. That money goes to pay the contractors and the workers in the state of Florida to clean up these sites.”
Twenty years ago, a federal law required petroleum storage tank owners to purchase commercial insurance for contamination accidents. Most of the leaks covered by the trust fund happened before this requirement.
But in 1999, Florida lawmakers added a program tailor-made for companies whose properties have repeat spills. If a petroleum leak or spill happens on a property already approved, the trust fund will pay some cleanup costs for the new leak or spill. So far, nearly $2 million has been approved for that program, according to state records.
The Pantry Inc., headquartered in Cary, N.C., tops the list of companies that have taken advantage of Florida’s fund — with $91 million so far used to clean up polluted properties. The Pantry operates 1,655 convenience stores in 13 states under brands including Kangaroo Express and reported $27.4 million in net income for fiscal year 2010.
A Pantry spokesman declined to comment for this story, as did representatives of other companies that received Inland Protection Trust Fund money.
Companies such as The Pantry bought some of the Florida properties already contaminated and may not have made that purchase without the existence of the state fund, Bowman said. “They have as much right to use the fund as any other of our members,” Bowman said.
As cash-strapped Florida has struggled to the pay the bills, The Pantry’s profits have been bolstered thanks to the Inland Protection Trust Fund. “In Florida, remediation of such contamination reported before January 1, 1999 will be performed by the state (or state approved independent contractors) and substantially all of the remediation costs, less any applicable deductibles, will be paid by the state trust fund,” according a recent SEC filing by The Pantry.
“That’s got to be nice, to build a gas station, then spill gas and then get the government to fix it,” said Frank Williams, who owns a residential lot next to the old Imperial Gas site in Marion County.
Young, the Florida environmental advocate, said she believed that the state money was being used to clean up abandoned contaminated sites, not those owned by large companies. “You can drive to almost any town and you can see abandoned gas stations,” Young said. “There are properties that are never going to get purchased by a new, viable business.”
The old Imperial Gas site has been abandoned for as long as Williams can remember. He inherited the property from his grandmother five years ago. “She never was able to drink the water,” Williams said. “Nobody could drink it. You could smell it [contamination in the water] and you could tell it wasn’t fit for drinking.”
Imperial’s petroleum started leaking around 1966 and continued to soil the ground for the next 20 years, according to Florida Department of Environmental Protection records. “Residents have been required to use bottled water or other potable water sources,” according to a 1997 report on the site. “Somehow this site fell thru (sic) a crack and was never addressed.”
More recent tests on the one remaining well near the site show the well water is no longer contaminated, said James Martin, a spokesman with the Marion County Health Department.
State officials say what clean up remains to be done won’t be known until an assessment is done on the site. That step could cost $125,000 to $200,000, according to a state report.
Brown, the bureau chief for FDEP's Petroleum Cleanup Program, said Imperial Gas’ owners did not apply for the amnesty programs that would have allowed state money to be used at the site. “It certainly could happen, if there was no property owner or nobody with the wherewithal to do this," said Brown, adding that he does not know how many other sites like Imperial are in Florida.
Large companies operating in Florida, on the other hand, have streamlined the process necessary to tap the hundreds of millions in available cleanup money. Whether named Kangaroo, Lil Champ or Smoker's Express, all of the Pantry's 360 properties that have received funding show the same contact information, and several properties use the same cleanup contractor.
The complicated approval process is evident by the number of documents submitted before an approval. In 1985, a Handy Way Food Store in Lawtey, Fla., reported to the state that one of its three underground tanks had begun leaking, according to FDEP records. A professional site assessment report and follow-up questions from the state resulted in 67 documents being filed before funding was approved five years later. But it paid off. So far, the state has spent $1.5 million for that cleanup.
The complicated approval process is evident by the number of documents submitted before an approval. In 1985, a Handy Way Food Store in Lawtey, Fla., reported to the state that one of its three underground tanks had begun leaking, according to FDEP records. A professional site assessment report and follow-up questions from the state resulted in 67 documents being filed before funding was approved five years later.
But it paid off. So far, the state has spent $1.5 million for that cleanup.
In contrast, the Imperial Gas site shows only four documents filed between 1984 and 1991, according to FDEP records. Nearly $300,000 for the Imperial Gas site was authorized in 2006, but records indicate the site has a large gas plume and clean up “at this site will be extremely difficult and expensive,” according to one state report.
The convoluted history of the Imperial Gas site has been difficult for state workers to sort out. “Since this site was being addressed by the State since as early as 1983, would it have been reasonable that the former owner did not think he needed to apply ?” a state worker asked in the 1997 report.
On March 14, 1980, the owners of Imperial Gas, the Imperial Florida Oil Company, voted to sell all its assets to Cheker Oil Company, according to Marion County property records. In 1981, Cheker sold the property to an Ocala resident after granting him a two-year, $30,000 mortgage at 13 percent interest.
While Cheker’s mortgage loan was paid off in 1984, the owner stopped paying property taxes. Little happened with the property until 2006, when Marie Yolaine Giordani-Pierre, of Miami Gardens, purchased the property for $52,900 in back taxes.
After examining the Giordani-Pierre’s finances, the state has asked her to pay $34,576 to help clean up Imperial Gas’ mess, said Lisa Kelley, a spokeswoman with FDEP’s central district. “Typically we would look at the current owner of the facility,” Kelley explained. “Typically in purchases the people would have done their due diligence.”
Giordani-Pierre, who could not be reached for comment, told FDEP that her circumstances have changed and has agreed to pay $800 for a second financial evaluation. An extension was granted but with a warning.
“Failure to complete the ‘Financial Affidavit’ and submit it to the Department by February 15, 2012 will result in the initiation of an enforcement action by the Department,” according to a letter sent to Giordani-Pierre on Oct. 6.
FDEP plans to pay for any costs Giordani-Pierre cannot afford, Brown said. The site was found to be near a public well supply, which gave it imminent threat status and the state the discretion to pay for cleanup.
Should Giordani-Pierre’s financial situation improve, the state can try to recoup costs. “We do have an ability to go back for recovery if their financial circumstances change,” Brown said.
But the state will not likely pursue Imperial Gas, the company that allowed petroleum to leak onto the property in the first place.
“We don’t often allocate our resources in that manner,” Brown said.
Charts and map by Grant Smith for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. This story was funded in part by a grant from the Society of Environmental Journalists

River Ranch and water policy
The Ledger - by Tom Palmer
December 16, 2011
I learned that someone at River Ranch–perhaps there are others–thinks that if only the S0uth Florida Water Management District could have foreseen the October storm that washed out the entrance road and flooded a few homes, the storm would have been uneventful.
I’m skeptical, but it does bring up the false reliance on control structureas.
Once upon a time there were no structures and people knew where the flood plain was located. It is no accident that older Florida cities are situated on high ground.
Today there is development on low ground. River Ranch is one of many.
When you’re on low ground, are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Water will be flowing downhill through the place you live. The Kissimmee River east of River Ranch is at the bottom of a valley. Everything to the east and west of it will be higher and the water will flow accordingly.
2. The fact that one of the named geographic features within your development is called Buttermilk Slough should be a clue that water will be headng your way from time to time.
3 It is physically impossible to move enough water in a short period of time from a system as large as the Kissimmee River to have much of an effect on flooding when there’s a foot of rainfall in one day.
Meanwhile, the issue of how early to release water has been a perennial point of contention on all managed systems.
If water managers don’t release water in anticipation of rainstorms and flooding occurs, they’re blamed for lack of planning.
When water managers do release water in anticipation of the rainy season and the rain doesn’t occur as heavily as expected, the people upstream complain that the boat ramps don’t work and criticize water managers for incompetence.
That’s the ubris of water management. Working with nature is messy,too, but it’s cheaper and you get yelled at less for causing problems



Department of Environmental Protection defends its version of water pollution rules
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 15, 2011
Though environmentalists have argued that Florida’s version of a set of federally mandated water pollution rules is inadequate, the state Department of Environmental Protection is defending its rules, saying they offer more provisions, and more protection, than those drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The so-called “numeric nutrient criteria” are the result of a 2008 lawsuit brought by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the St. Johns Riverkeeper, which led to a federal mandate from the EPA requiring Florida to create stricter water rules.
Though the EPA planned to establish and implement the Florida-specific standards, the agency recently acceded to demands from industry leaders and lawmakers, many of whom have argued that Florida should develop its own rules. The Department of Environmental Protection’s version of the nutrient criteria were unanimously approved by a state Environmental Resource Commission last week, much to the chagrin of state environmental groups.
“Essentially, if you look at the numbers in EPA’s rule and the numbers in DEP’s rule, they are the same,” says Drew Bartlett, the director of the state’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration and its resident expert on the nutrient criteria. “The main difference is that we included a lot more provisions and language that explains how everyone needs to implement the criteria. We want to make sure everyone knows what to do, to make sure the waterbeds are protected.”
Environmentalists say the state’s version of the rules are poor, and only acknowledges pollution after it has degraded water bodies. Bartlett disagrees, saying his department includes provisions that will help detect trends in nutrient pollution, something the EPA did not include.
“We also included a biological assessment, so that we can evaluate nutrient concentrations as well as the biological conditions of a waterbody,” he says. “Some might argue that we’re only double-checking whether or not there’s a nutrient problem, but I would counter that the biological assessment ensures that you don’t miss any nutrient pollution.”
“There are a lot of checks and balances,” says Bartlett, who calls the state’s rules “absolutely more comprehensive” than those drawn up by the EPA.
As for whether these standards were “rushed” — drawn up quickly to get them out in front of the federal version — Bartlett defends the department’s actions.
“We’ve been working on these standards since 2002, when we put a technical advisory committee in place,” he says. “Eventually, we formed a second technical advisory committee and we’ve held numerous meetings over the years, with no shortage of scientific input. … And really we are trying to get them in place before EPA’s mandatory deadline. We need to get them adopted, so that we can use them.”
Who exactly will be affected by the rules is still somewhat unknown — as is the cost of implementation. Because nutrients come from several sources (including neighborhood lawn maintenance, industry effluent and agriculture, just to name a few), the criteria will likely affect everyone.
“The unique thing about nutrients is that they occur simply because society exists — so where you have agriculture producing food for society, households in which people living, waste that is treated through septic tanks, neighborhoods with lawns … all those activities can add up to excess nutrients in the waterbody,” says Bartlett. “So basically, as we look at the waterbodies themselves, we would turn to the entities within that watershed” (i.e. utilities, neighborhoods, industries responsible for any effluent) ”to see what changes could be made.”
The Department of Environmental Protection currently estimates the cost of compliance to be between $50 and $130 million per year, a different figure than one widely touted by the EPA. Last year, the EPA estimated costs for its own set of criteria to be around $130 million, a figure disputed by both industry and the state department. During a River Summit held in Jacksonville last year, one state representative said that the department estimated the federal version to cost somewhere between $5 and $8 billion.
“The cost figures for EPA’s rules were higher,” says Bartlett. “We include so many provisions, certainty and speed by which they get implemented and we recognize that it won’t cost as much to implement them.”
The rules will next require legislative ratification — a simple “nod or shake,” says Bartlett, that shouldn’t bring about any significant changes to the rules — and then EPA approval.


Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee and
its marshes are subject
to seasonal water level
fluctuations that are
regulated by the US-ACE.

Lake Okeechobee water releases to resume on heels of drought
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 15, 2011|
Draining Lake Okeechobee water out sea resumes Friday, just a few months after low lake levels contributed to South Florida’s water supply strain.
It’s yet another example of South Florida’s feast-or-famine water supply situation.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to start releasing Lake Okeechobee water west into the Caloosahatchee River to help counterbalance rising saltwater levels in that coastal estuary, which threaten the health of sea grass and oyster beds that provide vital marine habitat.
Plans call for draining about 290 million gallons of lake water into the river over seven days. That’s enough to fill more than 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools
This isn’t one of the high-volume water discharges that have been used during the years to lower the lake due to flood control concerns, with damaging environmental effects on coastal estuaries.
This water release is intended to provide an environmentally-beneficial boost of freshwater aimed at helping the Caloosahatchee at the beginning of South Florida’s winter-to-spring dry season.
But releasing any water lake out to sea would have been out of the question just a few months ago, when water management officials worried that the lake – South Florida’s primary backup water supply – was too low heading into what is projected to be a drier than normal dry season.
Previous manipulations of Lake Okeechobee water levels worsened the effects of the drought this year that prompted emergency watering restrictions from Orlando to the Keys.
Lake Okeechobee this year dropped to its lowest point since 2008. South Florida’s driest October-to-June stretch on record strained drinking water supplies and that was worsened by the decisions in 2010 and 2011 to release Lake Okeechobee water out to sea.
The Army Corps of Engineers in 2010 dumped more than 300 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water out to sea to ease the strain on the aging dike that protects lakeside communities from flooding.
A rainy summer combined with near-record rainfall in October washed away the drought and boosted lake levels.
The Army Corps of Engineers tries to keep the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level and on Thursday, the lake was 13.78 feet. That’s more than a foot higher than this time last year.
"Things have kind of flattened out. (That’s) not a bad place to be," said Tommy Strowd, the South Florida Water Management District's director of operations.
The Army Corps and the water management district each week re-evaluate the status of lake releases.
"Further releases will be evaluated on a case by case basis with regard to longer term lake-level prediction," said John Kilpatrick, of the corps’ Jacksonville office.
South Florida typically gets enough rainfall each year to meet its water supply needs, but draining land to prevent flooding farms and towns built on former wetlands leads to dumping much of that water out to sea



US Feds Change Course: Will Let Florida Set Own Water Standards
Ecosystem Marketplace - by Genevieve Bennett
December 15, 2011
Related:  Florida Ruling Supports Water Quality Trading
In a dramatic reversal of stated policy, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called off its push for federally-imposed numeric water quality standards for Florida waterbodies, and instead gave a preliminary blessing to standards developed by state officials. 
The spar between state and federal officials in Florida over who gets to set water quality standards has been watched closely by other states and environmental groups. The EPA’s 2010 Final Rule introduced statewide quantitative nutrient limits to replace existing narrative, or qualitative, criteria. The Rule was upheld by a district judge in April who sided with the EPA that Florida authorities had failed to protect the state’s waters.
But in a November 2nd letter, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner indicated that the agency would withdraw its own controversial guidelines pending the approval of new state rules developed by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.  These standards were approved last week by the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission and are now on the way to the legislature. In other words, state control over water quality criteria is looking like a done deal.
The debate in Florida is important to water quality market advocates, since earlier this year it looked like the EPA was willing to bring down the hammer in order to ensure that all states had quantitative water quality standards. Having numeric criteria in place is one less hurdle for water quality trading and other payment mechanisms, since it can act as a de facto cap to drive market demand. The Final Rule also suggested that if a state failed to clean up its waters, the EPA just might do it for them. 
Florida remains the only state where EPA has sought to impose standards - normally these are set by states. In that sense, the Final Rule was understood by opponents and supporters alike as an important precedent for federal oversight of state water quality standards.
Weaker federal role = Weaker standards ?
The new DEP-developed rules are also numeric, but less strict on several fronts. Florida authorities will create a new sub-category, “Class III-Limited.” If regulators think that water quality goals can’t be met cost-effectively, the Class III-Limited category effectively allows them to lower the standards for a waterbody. It’s a departure from federal law that aims at maintaining or improving water quality – not downgrading it. Florida officials say they’ll only use the special designation for man-made canals and other waterways where there isn’t a threat to natural ecosystems, though the EPA has granted state officials considerable leeway in granting Class III-Limited status.
Unsurprisingly, environmental groups are unhappy with the weaker state draft rule. The Clean Water Network of Florida has threatened to sue the EPA. A St. Petersburg Times Nov. 4 editorial accused the EPA of "rewarding Florida for dragging its feet on cleaning up dirty waters.”
The Bottom Line
It's mixed news for water quality markets. Numeric standards that can act as 'caps' are an essential foundation for trading. Of course, if those standards are relatively lax, there's little demand for trading since the regulated entities can easily meet their obligations; there’s no need to search out the most cost-effective strategy for cleanup.
Indeed, most of the resistance to the tougher EPA standards centered on their projected costs of implementation - which varied widely depending on who was crunching the numbers. The EPA pegged compliance with federal guidelines at between $135 and $206 million. A consultancy hired by industry and utility groups estimated costs at over $4 billion.


Environmentalists question selling South Florida land pegged for conservation, restoration
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 14, 2011
Environmentalists are sounding the alarm over the South Florida Water Management District potentially shrinking its vast real estate holdings.
Audubon of Florida and the Sierra Club are among the environmental groups raising concerns that budget cuts have the district selling off too much public land once slated for restoration or conservation.
The district, which leads Everglades restoration, is considering selling off 3,000 acres across South Florida that the agency considers surplus.
Of particular concerns to the environmental groups is the district possibly getting rid of about 1,000 acres along Bird Road in Miami-Dade County, near Everglades National Park. The district’s plan is to sell unused land and then use the money to build overdue water projects, such as water storage or treatment areas that are part of Everglades restoration.
The district owns about 1.4 million acres across 16 counties, from Orlando to the Keys.
The district board plans to discuss the surplus proposal on Thursday.
Selling land has become a bigger part of an agency downsizing imposed by the Florida Legislature, which shrunk the district’s allowable budget by about 30 percent.
That prompted more than 100 layoffs and has the district refocusing on its "core" missions of flood control, water supply and restoration.
"What are our most urgent needs? … What are the priorities here?" asked district Board Member Daniel O'Keefe, referring to what land should end up on the surplus list.
O’Keefe heads the district lands committee.
The federal government or environmental groups could acquire the Bird Road property, district Board Member Daniel DeLisi said.
Holding onto environmentally sensitive land with no plans to build there may no longer be considered part of the district’s core missions, DeLisi said.
"I’m not sure it’s the district’s responsibility to preserve wetlands in an ownership way," DeLisi said at a board meeting Wednesday.
But Jane Graham of Audubon of Florida pointed out that state law specifically authorizes the water management district to acquire land for conservation.
"This is within your mission," Graham told the board Wednesday.
Environmental groups have argued that conserving existing wetlands and restoring other environmentally significant land is necessary to wildlife animal habitat and help recharge South Florida water supplies.

111214-b    (MOUSEOVER and/or CLICK the map for ENLARGEMENT) :
Everglades draft plan gets major reworking
December 14, 2011
A new Everglades National Park management plan that could add boating rules to Florida Bay likely will spend most of the coming year being reworked, a park planner says.
"We likely at least a year or so away from the draft park plan being released," chief Everglades planner Fred Herling said Friday.
Controversy over Florida Bay had nothing to do with delaying the plan, which was expected to be released in 2010, Herling said.
Concern over the federal budget and national economy do.
As part of its new management plan - the first major update in more than three decades - Everglades National Park
  Florida Bay
said it would consider rules that may restrict boating in Florida Bay shallows to protect seagrass beds.
Various "alternative" plans ranged from not imposing any new bay rules to banning use of engines in waters less than 2 feet deep at low tide.
No preferred alternative has been released, but discussion at local workshops suggested it would likely include some shallow areas where access could be restricted.
Few speakers at 2009 hearings disagreed that seagrass on shallow-water flats in the national park has suffered from boat groundings and propeller damage, but measures the park should take to safeguard flats prompted spirited debate.
As as compromise, the park in 2010 established a test pole-or-troll zone in Snake Bight, east of the mainland Flamingo visitor Center, to assess improvements and problems.
The Florida Bay plan will not proceed until the park gets ready to move on its overall plan, Herling said. Large elements of that plan - a suggested $78-million rebuilding of Flamingo facilities heavily damaged by hurricanes, and a new Gulf Coast visitor center - are being rewritten because of cost concerns.
Plans to building a new Flamingo Lodge already have been scrapped.
Expenses needed to implement any Florida Bay rule changes are not major, and will not delay the plan, Herling said.

Miami-Dade could join Broward, Palm Beach water deal
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 14, 2011
Plan calls for building a new reservoir to boost regional water supplies
Miami-Dade County could get in on a proposed water-sharing deal involving Broward and Palm Beach counties that calls for building another costly reservoir west of Royal Palm Beach.
The latest projections for the deal show there would be enough excess stormwater collected in Palm Beach County to help restock drinking water supplies there, in Broward and in Miami-Dade.
The reservoir would make use of stormwater now drained out to sea for flood control.
How to pay for the new reservoir — expected to cost more than $300 million — and how to move the water as far south as Miami-Dade remain key stumbling blocks to the deal that has been about five years in the making.
Also making a new reservoir a tough sell is the South Florida Water Management District's recent history of sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into reservoirs that were left unfinished or unusable.
"This project could be feasible," said Dean Powell, district water-supply bureau chief. "There's a lot more negotiating to be done."
The Sierra Club contends that South Florida should focus more on water conservation and restoring wetlands, not building another expensive reservoir.
It would be built next to an existing reservoir that still isn't working as planned.
"It has proved to be an unsuccessful concept," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. "Now you are going to turn around and do the same type of project."
A coalition of utilities in Broward and Palm Beach counties has pushed for building a reservoir near the C-51 canal that stretches from western Palm Beach County through West Palm Beach.
Draining stormwater through the C-51 canal is polluting the Lake Worth Lagoon and "wasting" water that could be held and used to bolster regional drinking water supplies, Powell said.
The canal dumps about 217 million gallons of water a day into the lagoon, according to the district.
The new reservoir would reduce that dumping, and during droughts provide about 185 million gallons of water a day to restock wells in Palm Beach, Broward and eventually Miami-Dade County, according to district estimates.
The water would be moved south to Broward through canals operated by the Lake Worth Drainage District.
Getting the water into Miami-Dade would require more infrastructure improvements, making that a long-term aspect of the deal, Powell said.
Beyond the reservoir, a series of pumps and other infrastructure improvements would be needed to move the water south.
That potential public investment in a new reservoir comes at a time of steep government budget cuts and would follow two recent controversial reservoir projects that have yet to deliver.
Making better use of stormwater could allow utilities to avoid costly new water plants that tap deeper, saltier water supplies, said John "Woody" Wodraska, a consultant for the Lake Worth Drainage District and the former head of the water management district.
"For new growth we have to turn to new water supplies," Wodraska said.
The district already spent $217 million to turn old rock mines at Palm Beach Aggregates west of Royal Palm Beach into a 15-billion gallon reservoir. It was completed in 2008, but the district has yet to finish $60 million pumps needed to use the water as intended.
Also, after nearly $280 million was spent on an Everglades reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County, it was left unfinished. The district shelved the proposed 62-billion gallon reservoir in favor of buying land from U.S. Sugar Corp.
The district is considering turning that unfinished reservoir into a smaller water storage and treatment area.


Everglades Foundation applauds Scott’s budget proposals
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 13, 2011
The Everglades Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group, has come out in support of Gov. Rick Scott’s recent budget proposals, which include a recommendation to the state Legislature that it invest $40 million next year on Everglades restoration.
The number is a significant increase from Scott’s first budget, in which he recommended spending only $17 million. (Legislative leaders eventually increased that amount to $29.95 million.) A poll conducted after Scott unveiled his budget recommendations last year revealed that 55 percent of Florida voters opposed that plan.
Though Scott isn’t known for environmental advocacy, he has recently taken steps to change that reputation. Last month, Scott told a crowd of Everglades Foundation supporters in Naples that his administration is “absolutely focused on making sure the right thing happens with the Everglades.”
“We know Gov. Scott has to face tough choices in making his budget recommendations,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham in a press release. “The fact that Gov. Scott is willing to more than double his previous request for Everglades funding, demonstrates his understanding that protecting the Everglades and our water supply is a necessary ingredient to growing our state’s economy.”
The Foundation will soon be taking part in the Everglades Water Supply Summit, which will be held Jan. 17 and 18 in Tallahassee; the event will “bring together policymakers, business and civic leaders, and citizens from across Florida to aid in the effort of increasing appropriations for the Greater Everglades ecosystem.”


Whistle-blower: Engineering firm bilked feds on Everglades restoration
Orlando Sentinel - by Rene Stutzman
December 13, 2011
PBS&J overbilled the Army Corps an estimated $15 million, suit alleges.
An Orlando federal judge Tuesday unsealed a lawsuit against one of the nation's biggest engineering firms that alleges Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan Inc. cheated the Army Corps of Engineers out of roughly $15 million on an Everglades restoration project.
Kermit Prime Jr. of Isleworth was a senior vice president at the firm and helped negotiate the $90 million, 15-year contract, according to his suit.
But he later discovered the company was cheating the Corps, his suit alleges, by telling the government PBS&J paid its employees more than twice what it really did.
When it negotiated the contract in 2001, the firm included projected labor costs based on its then-workforce, according to the suit. But once work began, the firm hired lower-cost employees and did not update the Corps or contract, the suit alleges.
That happened even though the contract banned the company from making any profits on those labor costs, the suit alleges.
Between 2001 and 2007, the firm booked a 23-percent profit on the contract, according to the suit - $8.9 million in net income on billings of $38.6 million. But at the time, its executives were telling Corps officials in Jacksonville that the profit margin was no more than 10 percent, the suit alleges.
The suit accuses the firm of pulling a labor cost "bait and switch". It also accuses the firm of wrongfully firing Prime in 2009 because he complained twice to his boss, Robert Paulson, about the labor charges.
Prime is the former president of the Florida Engineering Society. He joined PBS&J in 1997 as director of its Central/North Florida environmental division and was promoted to national senior vice president for environmental engineering.
He testified before a U.S. House subcommittee in 1995 on the federal Clean Water Act and holds a patent related to military radar systems.
PBS&J was acquired by WS Atkins, plc, a British company, last year. Carol Hobbs, a spokeswoman at its Winter Park office, said her company had not seen the suit and knew nothing about its allegations. The firm is "very proud," she said, of its work in the Everglades.
The suit was filed Dec. 29, 2010, but remained a secret until Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ordered it unsealed. The federal government, she wrote, had declined to pursue a case against PBS&J.
Federal law allows whistle-blowers to sue on behalf of the U.S. government in fraud cases and keep a portion of the recovery for themselves. That is what Prime is doing. He asks for one-fourth of the money generated by the suit.
Prime's attorney, David S. Oliver, of Orlando, estimated the labor overcharges at $15 million to $20 million. The suit asks for unspecified triple damages.
The Corps Everglades project is one of the world's largest eco-system restoration jobs, encompassing 18,000 square miles. It's projected to cost $7.8 billion and take 30 years to complete.
When the Corps sought private engineering help, PBS&J formed a partnership with Parsons Corp. and was hired. Parsons Corp. is also a defendant in the suit.


Everglades Foundation to host Tallahassee summit
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy
December 12th, 2011
With Gov. Rick Scott emerging for many environmentalists as a surprising defender of Everglades restoration, one of the issue’s biggest advocates is taking its case to the state Capitol next month.
The Everglades Foundation announced Monday that it will host a two-day water supply summit in Tallahassee, Jan. 17-18, hosted by NBC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd.
 The state capital summit comes on the heels of last year’s America’s Everglades Summit in Washington, D.C. That huddle featured state and federal leaders, supporters of the Everglades, and had former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw hosting a discussion on the challenges facing Everglades restoration.
 ”Anytime you can bring together people who care deeply about Florida’s economy, the Everglades and the future of our water supply, you create an opportunity to find answers that will work,” said Paul Tudor Jones, the hedge fund millionaire and Everglades Foundation chairman.
Scott proposed spending $40 million for Everglades clean-up work in the budget proposal released last week.  The money would be steered toward the effort Scott unveiled in October plans to build reservoirs, unblock flow ways, control seepage and expand man-made wetlands by 2022.
The governor’s proposal stretches the already stalled clean-up plan another two years. But it was designed to answer federal environmental officials critical of the state’s slow action on the project, which once was scheduled to be completed by 2006.


Florida’s environmental treasures
Miami Herald – Editorial (Our Opinion)
December 11, 2011
OUR OPINION: The health of the Everglades, Biscayne Bay got short shrift in 2011
Will the Everglades ever be restored to its natural splendor? Among The Miami Herald’s editorial priorities is the protection of the area’s natural resources, especially the River of Grass, and ensuring Miami-Dade County’s urban development boundary, or UDB, stays put unless there’s sufficient growth to require construction in the far west portions of the county that border on the Glades.
Similarly, Biscayne Bay remains a jewel that warrants protection in the midst of the Port of Miami’s port-tunnel construction and deep dredge plans — both important projects that will rev up South Florida’s economy. Today we look back at this year’s environmental battles to prepare for 2012.
Sadly, in the case of the Everglades, commitment — especially from the state level — has been missing in the fight to preserve this national treasure. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $615 million in projects that he called “shortsighted, frivolous, wasteful spending.”
What’s alarming is that more than half of the funds vetoed would have been used to buy land to help clean up the Everglades after decades of abuse. Remember, this battle started back in 1988.
Protecting the River of Grass is not a frivolity. The Everglades is a life-sustaining system that supports wildlife, generates tourism revenue and recreation and provides us with drinking water through Lake Okeechobee.
The governor signed a bill that took an ax to the South Florida Water Management District’s funding, cutting it by 30 percent. Mr. Scott called it a “tax cut” yet the savings for most property owners was minuscule. Busting the district’s budget was a foolhardy move, for it cut into its ability to provide high-quality water-management services, better regulating, for instance, the cycle of drought-flood-drought-flood that plagues our region.
The state’s long-delayed plans to reduce the flow of phosphorus, a debilitating nutrient that runs off of farms after it rains, is still stalled. The feds don’t think the state’s curtailed proposal goes far enough. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a huge expansion of artificial marshes that would clean phosphorous from water flowing into the Everglades. The governor’s plan scales it way back and adds another two years to the 2020 deadline. Add to that the lack of restrictions on fertilizer use and the 10-year delay imposed by the state under a previous administration, and it’s clear there’s lack of serious commitment to this most vital resource.
Hold the line
In an astonishing move this month, the Miami-Dade Commission staged yet another assault on the Urban Development Boundary — which holds the line between development in the westernmost part of the county and the Everglades.
The Ferro Investment Group again is seeking to move the line farther west — and a majority of the commission, unfortunately, agreed to send the application up to the state for review.
The community has fought this battle before and, in holding the line, emerged the winner in the fight against rampant growth. This time, Ferro’s request comes amid a changed dynamic — changed for the worse. A new state law, with Gov. Scott’s blessing, severely waters down Florida’s 25-year-old growth-management regulations, giving counties and municipalities greater freedom to amend their local comprehensive development plans that were put in place to control sprawl.
Despite the loosening of the reins, Miami-Dade County — and the Everglades — cannot afford to lose the fight to contain runaway growth.
Biscayne Bay
Though the governor’s environmental bona fides leave something to be desired, he made the economic vitality of South Florida, indeed the state, a priority when he secured $77 million from the Legislature for the dredging project at the Port of Miami. He was right to get behind this project.
When combined with the construction of the port tunnel and the Florida East Coast rail link, the dredging will generate well-paying jobs and revenue when super-container ships from the Panama Canal are able to berth here.
But these projects, which will include blasting, will put Biscayne Bay under tremendous stress and pressure. It’s home to manatees and unique coral; it has abundant sea life and is a recreational attraction for boaters and a place for fishermen to net shrimp and lobster or to coax snapper and grouper onto a hook. Its value to this community is clear.
Environmentalists have followed through on their threats to challenge the project, filing a petition with the state in late November. It is under review by the Department of Environmental Protection and is expected to delay final permitting for the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed.
Clearly, the tug of war between our natural resources and commerce this year has already set the stage for more of the same in the next. Progress demands that both be balanced for the community’s best interests. We will continue to challenge those who offer short cuts and quick fixes in the name of economic development that ignore Florida’s environmental treasures



Director of the Clean
Water Network

Update on the ERC decision
CWN-FL – by Linda Young, Director of the Clean Water Network, FL.
December 10, 2011
We know that you wanted to hear about the ERC hearing on Thursday, December 9, 2011.  Many of you may have read the media coverage which was appreciated, but scant on important (to me) details. So here are some of my impressions.
First of all, for anyone who didn¹t see a newspaper article, our amendment did not pass.  This was not a huge surprise. As I told you in previous emails, of the six commissioners there were only four that we even had a slight chance of convincing. As it turned out, only three were truly receptive. We were given plenty of time to present our amendment and explain its merits. I appreciated that.  In addition to myself, two local Tallahassee medical doctors also presented testimony.  Dr. Ron Saff, who is an allergy and asthma specialist, spoke to the health effects on sensitive populations to breathing airborne toxins from toxic algal blooms as well as the health care cost associated with recent red tides in Florida. Dr. Raymond Bellamy, a surgeon in Tallahassee and a former two-term ERC (Environmental Regulatory Commission) commissioner himself also spoke on behalf of our amendment and addressed health concerns that could result from the industry slanted rule. They were both very impressive and greatly appreciated.
Three of the commissioners were very interested in the details about the implementation of the rule. I had provided them with information about our concerns and documentation prior to the meeting. I also had phone and in-person meetings with four of the commissioners. So, those four were well informed on why our amendment was important. They asked quite a few good questions of DEP even before I gave my presentation. Their questions were in regards to allegations that I had made about the inadequacies of the nutrient rule.
Unfortunately, FL-DEP gave answers that were:  untrue, twisted, misleading, completely theoretical and/or confusing. It is always so frustrating to listen to FL-DEP staff discuss their water program policies.  They put a very convincing and effective spin on their malfeasance, so that someone who isn’t constantly following DEP’s work would never be able to perceive the duplicity and deceitfulness that is skillfully woven through their rhetoric.
I tried to tactfully point this out to the commissioners with two examples and I think they were smart enough to know that they were getting a slick, industry-driven spin job from the agency. They asked some pointed questions of FL-DEP, which the staff could not deny as they knew that the commissioners had my documentation right in front of them.
Ultimately, there were three potential votes for us ­ at best.  I think they would have voted for us, but that was not enough to win and the other three made it clear they were in industry’s camp.  I would like to think that our three commissioners did the math and decided to not go out on a limb that would clearly not support them. I understand their reluctance to draw fire for a cause that was not going to succeed on Thursday. They also knew that we can take this issue to federal court, which we absolutely will as soon as EPA approves Florida’s rule.  So, we have not reached the end of this journey yet.
It would be great to have leadership in our state government that is not completely sold out to the polluters, but we won¹t have that until Florida voters quit electing them.  I hope that day arrives soon!!!
If you sent emails or comments to FL-DEP or the ERC members or your state representatives and did not copy me on these letters yet, please forward me a copy. I am printing out all of the ones that you sent me and they will go in a packet to EPA. That packet will become part of the record that will then be submitted to the court when we ultimately sue over this issue.
Thank you so much for everyone’s help. I received many of your comments that you sent to FL-DEP and the ERC members and they were excellent. Several of the ERC members told me they were getting deluged with comments. So, they know you care and they know that they adopted a rule that will allow Florida’s waters to get even more polluted.  I’m so glad that I don’t have to get up every  morning and know that I voted for the further destruction of Florida’s waters.
The next step is for the Florida legislature to vote on the rule.  I’m going to look into the timing for that and potentially ask you to help me alert them to our opposition to this rule.  I won’t ask you to do anything more on this until after the holidays, so everyone enjoy the season.
As you reflect on 2011, and look toward the new year ahead, think of the efforts that you made to help protect Florida’s waters for their value to this amazing planet upon which we live. Every effort you made is joined by that of thousands of other people. We may not win every step of the way, but we will ultimately succeed.
As I said in my last email to you, just the fact that there are so many people in Florida working on this TOGETHER, makes us successful.  We are scattered from the Keys to Pensacola, but we are focused and working TOGETHER on one of the most important issues in this state.  I wish I could bring us all together
 in one place so that all of you could know each other.  It is such a gift and a blessing to me to have the opportunity to work on protecting Florida’s waters with you.
Finally, I send my sincere appreciation to all of you who have sent your financial support for our work this year.  Your contributions make a significant difference in how much we can do.  Thank you so much for your generosity and for sharing your hard-earned money with CWN-FL. If some of you would still like to send a tax-deductible contribution to CWN-FL it will go to the continuation of this effort and our commitment to protecting Florida’s waters. You can send your donations to:  PO Box 5124, Navarre, FL  32566.
For all of Florida;s waters,
Linda YOUNG, Director – Clean water Network, Florida.



Environmental Commission unanimously approves state water rules
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 9, 2011
Related: Commissioner Putnam Applauds ERC Approval of Florida's Water Quality Standards
               DEP's water nutrient rules pass first step in approval process
               Florida panel backs clean-water rules to replace EPA standards
               Florida regulators approve water pollution rule
               State regulators OK water pollution rule
               State water pollution standards closer to approval

Despite objections from environmental groups, the six-member Environmental Regulation Commission unanimously approved a set of water pollution standards drafted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection yesterday.
Last week, a coalition of environmental groups announced their decision to file a petition against the Department of Environmental Protection’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of water pollution standards they argue are not strong enough to fully protect Florida’s waterways.
The criteria are the result of a 2008 lawsuit that led to a federal mandate from the EPA requiring Florida to create a stricter set of water rules. Though the EPA was set to establish and implement the Florida-specific standards, the agency recently caved to demands from industry and lawmakers arguing that Florida should develop its own rules. Environmentalists say the state’s version of the rules are poor, and only acknowledges pollution after it has degraded water bodies.
In a statement released in response to yesterday’s unanimous decision, Earthjustice attorney David Guest says the rule “was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters” and won’t clean up state waterways “by any stretch of the imagination.”
The rules will next be submitted to the Florida Legislature for ratification.
Guest’s full statement:
The rule they passed today was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters. It certainly won’t clean up our waterways — by any stretch of the imagination.
We are talking about toxic slime in the water from sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution. We need to clean it up.
What we need are clear limits on the amount of sewage, fertilizer and manure that’s allowed in our water. The state Department of Environmental Protection’s rule doesn’t provide clear limits. In fact, this rule will let the toxic algae outbreaks that cover our water with nauseating green slime continue and get worse.
This is a public health threat that has gone on too long. This slime really affects our economy. The state Department of Health has had to post warning signs to keep swimmers out of the water. That’s not good. This is Florida and our entire economy depends on tourists.
People want our water cleaned up, and soon. They don’t want state leaders giving out more favors for polluters.
DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard made a statement that this is “the right thing to do.”
That only makes sense if you think it’s right to keep letting corporate polluters use our public waters as their private sewers. We don’t think that’s right at all.


Gov. Scott proposes restoring Everglades funding
CBS News – WTSP-10
December 9, 2011
TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Governor Rick Scott has proposed restoring some spending for environmentally sensitive land.
The proposal would put $40 million into Everglades restoration.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard said this amount "will allow Florida to keep the momentum going in the state-federal partnership to restore one of Florida's most valuable natural treasures."
This year the state put $30 million into the Everglades cleanup project. The Everglades Foundation called the increase "significant, and noted that the $30 million was only spent after lawmakers upped dramatically Scott's recommendation last year for $17 million.
"The fact that Gov. Scott is willing to more than double his previous request for Everglades fundingdemonstrates his understanding that protecting the Everglades and our water supply is a necessary ingredient to growing our state's economy," said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
The governor also proposed putting $15 million into the Florida Forever program, moneythat is currently surplus trust fund cash.
"Audubon is encouraged to see Gov. Scott make a commitment to Florida Forever and Everglades restoration in his 2012-2013 budget recommendation," said the environmental group's Julie Wraithmell in a statement. "As the Florida legislative session unfolds early next year, it is our hope that House and Senate leadership will use these amounts as a starting point that leads to increased funding for these critical programs."
But Scott's plan isn't all good news. The governor has proposed shrinking DEP with a cut of more than 80 vacant positions and by reducing its budget by about $100 million.


State Water Pollution Standards Closer to Approval
The News service of Florida – SE-AgNet News by Julie
December 9th, 2011
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE – A panel of state regulators unanimously approved a new slate of statewide water pollution standards Thursday, following public testimony that included criticism from environmental groups over the new rules.
The vote puts the new standards a step closer to being final, but they still need legislative approval and an OK from the federal government.
Meeting to set specific numeric standards for pollution levels in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams and other fresh water bodies, the state Environmental Regulation Commission approved the changes, which a Florida State University study estimates could cost $55 million to $160 million to implement, a figure below the $600 million figure that business groups say stricter federal standards could cost.
The proposed state rules, drafted by the Department of Environmental Protection, would replace the more stringent rules that were drawn up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and slated to go into effect next year. The EPA later backed off its standards after criticism from business groups and Florida governmental leaders, and offered Florida the chance to write new rules for the amount of nutrients that can go into water, as long as Washington approves of the rules.
The proposed standards set numeric limits on nutrient content, but also allow water bodies to be judged in part on their level of imparity and the degree to which pollutants are affecting the surrounding biological ecosystem.
“Its’ been a difficult balancing process,” said ERC chairwoman Cari Roth. “I don’t want to wait and try to make it perfect. It’s been a long road to get here.”
The amended rule has already been challenged in the state administrative courts. EarthJustice, which originally filed suit against the EPA for failing to enforce clean water standards in Florida, has filed a challenge to the new rule with the Division of Administrative Hearings.
On Thursday, Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer, said the group would review the newly amended DEP proposal.
“It is our belief that these rules are not only not going to prevent this degradation to continue, but they are going to make it worse,” Reimer said.
Business groups and several state officials, however, applauded the ERC’s passage of the criteria.
John Buss, representing the Florida Stormwater Association, said the new rules will make it easier to target clean-up funds to water that has already been determined to be impaired, a provision not included in the federal rule.
“Keep in mind that there are limited financial resources,” Buss said. “Any rule that misdirects a limited resource is working against our state’s water quality goals.”
The controversial issue has pitted federal regulators against state officials from both sides of the political aisle, who called the proposed EPA standards inflexible. The new standards, state regulators hope, will take into account the varying characteristics of Florida freshwater.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam praised the vote.
“The unanimous action by the ERC reiterates that Florida knows best how to protect Florida’s water resources,” said Putnam. “The ruling sends a strong message to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that, based on its strong history in protecting water resources, Florida is prepared to continue developing and implementing water resource protection programs.”
“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s vote, and look forward to working with the Florida Legislature to advance the most comprehensive nutrient pollution limitations in the nation,” DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in a statement. “Florida has invested millions of dollars to create nutrient rules that address the complexity of Florida’s waters, and we remain committed to finishing the job.”
The public will have an opportunity to review the new rules, make comments and file objections.


Water stewardship economic driver - Editorial
December 09, 2011
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is up to its neck in financial woes, and while severe cutbacks are necessary, Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers should be prepared to throw a lifeline. Its stewardship is critical to the state's economic growth.
As the Tribune's Keith Morelli reports, reduced tax revenues resulting from lower property values and cuts by the Legislature and Scott have reduced the regional water district's budget almost by half.
The district, commonly called Swiftmud, is using reserves to carry on critical responsibilities, such as cleaning rivers and lakes, helping agriculture reduce groundwater use and developing alternative water sources.
The money will run out within a couple of years, and then much of the district's vital water protection functions will be compromised.
Already the district has virtually halted land acquisition and now is looking at selling land.
All this should be intensely troubling to anyone who cares about Florida's future.
Florida can't grow without clean and abundant water sources. And it won't prosper if it wrecks its natural beauty.
Swiftmud's water controls have helped the region meet the water demands of a growing population while protecting critical resources. Its land conservation preserves beautiful stretches of wilderness that provide key wildlife habitat and offer countless recreational opportunities.
These lands also buffer rivers, springs, lakes and bays from polluting runoff. They avert costly flooding projects by preventing construction in flood-prone areas. Land purchases prevent harmful development without property rights disputes.
Yet some politicians act as if conserving land is a waste of money. That is a shortsighted attitude that will prove costly to taxpayers and the environment. Scott, to his credit, provides $15 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program in this year's budget. It's a minimal amount but shows the state intends to keep the effort alive even during these tough times.
We don't suggest that Swiftmud and the other four state water districts be exempt from serious cuts. Like many state agencies, they grew accustomed to a heavy flow of tax dollars during the boom years.
New Southwest Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory now is seeking to wring every possible efficiency from operations.
It should be a beneficial exercise for taxpayers and the agency, as long as the district's water-protection mission remains the priority.
Similarly, selling some land of limited environmental value may be appropriate, particularly if the district sells it with restrictions that will prevent harmful uses. But such transactions deserve the utmost scrutiny.
The better approach is to encourage more public use of the land, which the district has emphasized in recent years. It offers an excellent guidebook detailing all the land available for hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing and other activities. Officials also are right to pursue expanded use, particularly hunting, which is prohibited at many sites. It can be managed so it has little impact on the land or other users.
Hunters — outdoor enthusiasts — should be natural allies of the district's conservation work. In these financially difficult times Swiftmud needs all the advocates it can get.
The painful austerity steps the district is undergoing now may result in a leaner more efficient operation. But voters should watch to ensure the district's critical stewardship responsibilities are not crippled.
A Florida that doesn't invest in safeguarding its natural riches will soon find itself wanting for water and economic opportunities.


Audubon Encouraged by Scott's Everglades Support in Budget
Sunshine State News – by Jim Turner's blog
December 8, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott drew praise from environmentalists for his proposal to include $40 million for Florida Everglades restoration in the proposed 2012-13 budget released Wednesday.
“Audubon is encouraged to see Governor Scott make a commitment to Florida Forever and Everglades restoration in his 2012-2013 budget recommendation,” Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation with Florida Audubon, stated in a release.
“As the Florida legislative session unfolds early next year, it is our hope that the House and Senate leadership will use these amounts as a starting point that leads to increased funding for these critical programs. As always, Audubon is eager to work with state officials in crafting the best plan for protecting the places that make Florida special.”
The Everglades funding would top the $17 million designated for the Everglades in the current year.
Scott also proposed $15 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program. The program received no money for the current year’s budget.
On Tuesday, Kristina Janolo, Miss Florida 2011, a University of Central Florida marketing major and Kissimmee resident, told Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet that she will continue to push for Everglades restoration if she takes the national title in January.


Florida regulators approve water pollution rule
The Associated Press - Miami Herald, Naples Daily News
December 8, 2011
Related: Commissioner Putnam Applauds ERC Approval of Florida's Water Quality Standards
               DEP's water nutrient rules pass first step in approval process
               Environmental commission unanimously approves state water rules
               Florida panel backs clean-water rules to replace EPA standards
               Florida regulators approve water pollution rule
               State regulators OK water pollution rule
               State water pollution standards closer to approval

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida environmental regulators have approved a pair of hotly debated state water pollution rules.
Environmentalists, though, say the rules approved Thursday by the Environmental Regulation Commission are too weak to control algae blooms that are choking Florida's waters.
They are an alternative to federal rules that have drawn opposition from agriculture and business interests, as well as utility officials.
The critics say the proposal by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would be too expensive, costing "billions" to implement.
The state rules also need approval from the Legislature and EPA.
The EPA drafted its numeric nutrient standards to settle a lawsuit filed by environmental groups. The federal agency, though, has since given preliminary approval to the state's alternatives.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, have filed an administrative challenge against the state rules.


Nancy Marshall

President of the Arthur
R. Marshall Foundation,
a nonprofit organization
devoted to developing
and delivering award-
winning, science-based,
environmental education
programs and grass-
roots public outreach
programs essential for
the restoration of the
Everglades ecosystem.

Nancy Marshall hosts Everglades benefit
Palm Beach Post - by Barbara Marshall, Staff Writer
December 8, 2011
Nancy Marshall may be the country's most elegant tree hugger.
Perfectly coiffed, with an air of moneyed refinement more akin to Palm Beach socialites than Everglades supporters, Marshall is no little old lady in tennis shoes.
Embroidered Belgian loafers are more her style.
Yet Marshall has been honored for her passionate advocacy of a place as far in spirit from her chic Trump Tower living room as one could get: the Florida Everglades, one of the swampiest, buggiest, most inhospitable, beautiful, misunderstood and endangered places on earth.
"When we started, the only tree I knew anything about was a Christmas tree," she said.
But love - and an organized address book - can build a foundation.
Marshall, now 71, was a Marriott public relations executive in Washington when she married John Marshall, a sixth-generation Floridian, retired Marine Corps colonel and former top-gun pilot.
In 1998 they moved to West Palm Beach so John could be near the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve, named for his late uncle. Art Marshall was a renowned environmental scientist and Everglades activist. In the 1970s, he wrote a guide to Everglades restoration that is still a blueprint for environmentalists.
John felt called to continue his uncle's work.
Naively, Nancy asked how she could help.
"John reached in his pocket and hauled out 38 crumpled business cards," Nancy said. "He asked me to build a database from them."
From those cards, the two built the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation to advocate for Everglades restoration. John is chairman, Nancy the president and her daughter, Josette Kaufman, its executive director. The only paid staff are two educators and a part-time bookkeeper.
"I love people and John loves the science of it, so it's a great division of labor," she said.
To Nancy, the foundation's most important job is introducing children to the threatened wilderness at their back door.
Friday night, the foundation hosts its sixth annual River of Grass gala at the Kravis Center in hopes of raising $100,000 to further that cause.
"I've seen what a difference it makes when children become involved in the environment," Nancy said. "We take kids out to the refuge who have never seen an alligator, never seen the birds we have there. They've spent their lives indoors. You can sometimes watch a sullen, withdrawn child wake up when they reconnect with nature."
Last school year alone, the foundation introduced more than 25,000 Palm Beach County schoolchildren in 43 schools to the Everglades. Each summer, five college interns, called "Marshall Scholars," are selected to work in the field on environmental issues.
Today, the foundation that began in the couple's spare bedroom 13 years ago has a $500,000 budget and an office in Lake Worth and has become a power player in the swampy ground of Everglades science and politics.
"We were considered tree huggers when we started, but that's changed as interest in Everglades restoration has increased. I feel there is much more respect today for the work we're doing," she said.
In recognition of the foundation's increased visibility, earlier this year the Everglades Coalition, made up of 54 local and national groups with a stake in Everglades restoration, named Nancy Marshall their Conservationist of the Year. Other recipients include nature photographer Clyde Butcher, former Martin County Commission Maggy Hurchalla and Jupiter Island's Nathaniel Reed.
"Nancy could sell ice cubes to Eskimos," said her husband. "She just so good at engaging people and convincing them that introducing children to the Everglades is a really good cause. Without her, we'd just be plodding along making public comments at water district meetings."
Planting seeds of restoration
But she's equally happy to shed her tasteful suits and get down in the muck with hundreds of volunteers.
"My favorite thing is the harvest," she said, of the annual October weekend where families, Scout troops and school groups come to the refuge to collect cypress seeds.


Southeast Facilities Ordered to Comply with Clean Water Act; Costs of Restoration and Civil Penalties Total Nearly $1 Million
EPA Press Release
December 8/2011
Contact Information: Davina Marraccini, (404) 562-8293,
(ATLANTA – Dec. 8, 2011) Over the past fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 has cited 16 entities throughout the Southeast for depositing dredged and/or fill material into waters of the United States in violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Such unauthorized discharges threaten water quality and damage habitats. As part of the settlements, the responsible parties in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina will spend an estimated $672,000 on restoration and monitoring activities. Four entities in Florida and Georgia were additionally assessed a total of $320,500 in civil penalties.
"By taking these enforcement actions, we are sending a strong message about the importance of protecting wetlands and waterways” said Gwen Keyes Fleming, Regional Administrator. “By addressing the violations noted in our inspections, these entities will restore hundreds of acres of wetlands and thousands of linear feet of streams and creeks, in addition to protecting the quality of life for families across the Southeast.”



Florida State (R)
sponsored a reclaimed
water bill

Water policy committee passes reclaimed water bill, despite reservations
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 8, 2011
Despite reservations from some members, the Florida House Select Committee on Water Policy yesterday passed state Rep. Dana Young’s bill to redefine reclaimed waters and prohibit water management districts from requiring a permit for their use.
Young, R-Tampa, defended her bill during the committee’s meeting yesterday, arguing that it would “incentivize and optimize” the use of reclaimed water.
As I reported in October, the bill would treat reclaimed water as an “alternative water supply,” rather than as “waters of the state.” Though the bill has the support of the majority of the committee, as well as utility companies, some environmentalists and lawmakers see it as potentially problematic.
Under the bill, utility companies would still have to obtain a Consumptive Use Permit from a local water management district but, once they draw the water and use it, it would be theirs and no longer subject to additional permitting.
Environmentalists have argued this would make water a commodity, rather than a resource — a sentiment echoed yesterday by state Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville. “Does it then become a commodity?” he asked Young. “Can it be traded, sold or bartered for gain by a utility?”
“There’s not some Wild Wild West scenario where you are selling water to the highest bidder,” Young said. She later clarified her statement, saying that reclaimed water could, in fact, be sold by utility companies to other water users, like golf courses, but that she thought of it as a way for them to recoup their investment, rather than use the water as a moneymaker.
“While it’s not a commodity, it does seem that there is a mechanism by which the groups processing [the reclaimed water] and then putting it toward another use can save some expense on that,” Bembry said.
“Reclaimed water can be sold by the utilities because utilities and local governments make sizable investments of taxpayer dollars,” Young said. “As a taxpayer, I want them to recoup some of that investment. … There is nothing in the bill that prevents the utilities from selling the water — that’s kind of the point. … We want to encourage them to sell this water to golf courses, and to residential developments and to large industrial uses.”
“They could flush it out to tide … but this bill incentivizes it … to make it useful for as many people as possible,” Young said.
State Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, also had reservations about the bill.
“Once we say, ‘This water is yours,’ that’s the problem I’m having with this bill,” he said. “I don’t care if they make a profit. What I care about is giving them carte blanche opportunity to disperse it out of the aquifer. … Water is fast becoming gold in this state and we need to protect that and make sure it’s going back into the aquifer.”
Water is currently at an all-time low in the Suwanee River, a waterbody in Van Zant’s district, and the lawmaker said he fears that Young’s bill could accentuate that. “I don’t call it a ‘reuse,’ I call it a ‘ruse,’” he said.
The Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Audubon of Florida had representatives on hand to express their groups’ opposition to the bill, as written. The groups, however, said they would work with lawmakers to make it more appealing.
Despite reservations from lawmakers, the bill passed the committee 14-1. Van Zant alone voted against it


Everglades Foundation Says Scott Understands Need for Restoration
Sunshine State News – by Jim Turner's blog
December 8, 2011
The Everglades Foundation says Gov. Rick Scott understands the need to protect the Florida Everglades by more than doubling his funding for restoration efforts.
“We know Gov. Scott has to face tough choices in making his budget recommendations,” Kirk Fordham, Everglades Foundation CEO, stated in a release. “The fact that Gov. Scott is willing to more than double his previous request for Everglades funding, demonstrates his understanding that protecting the Everglades and our water supply is a necessary ingredient to growing our state’s economy.
“We are encouraged by Gov. Scott’s effort to prioritize Everglades restoration. We would also ask the Legislature to join Gov. Scott in funding this initiative.”
Included in the $66.4 billion budget Scott proposed for the 2012 fiscal year is $40 million for the Everglades restoration, up from $17 million in the current year.


After layoffs, South Florida water management district hiring again
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton
December 7, 2011
On Aug. 29, a week after the South Florida Water Management District laid off 135 workers, the district hired an electrician. Three weeks later, despite having laid off six engineers, the district hired a senior environmental engineer.
Today, six months after 257 workers left with a severance package in June and three months after the August layoffs, the district has 15 job openings posted on its website, including two more engineering jobs.
"The positions that are being filled now are essential to fulfilling the district's core mission," the district wrote in response to questions from The Palm Beach Post. "In refocusing the agency on its core mission, the district conducted a thorough workforce analysis and through strategic decisions determined the number and types of positions necessary to effectively operate the agency."
The staff cuts and benefit reductions for remaining employees were made to comply with a new law backed by Gov. Rick Scott that required the district to slash its property tax collections by 30 percent — about $128 million.
The positions now posted range from a vegetation management technician, with a starting salary of $33,405, to a principal scientist and engineer, with top salaries of $118,955. An additional four positions are open only to current employees.
One of the two available engineering positions is specifically for Everglades restoration and was posted on the district's website about a month after Scott traveled to Washington to unveil his own restoration plan, which focuses on the long-overlooked central Everglades.
"It's interesting that the district and governor are on board to restore the central Everglades but they fired the people with the expertise," said Chris McVoy, a former senior environmental scientist in the Everglades division, who was laid off in August. McVoy said he recently learned about the job openings at the district but has not applied.
"A lot of us wondered at the time, what was the process they used to come up with the list of people to lay off?"
More than half the positions are for specialized operations and maintenance positions. Some are existing positions left vacant when employees took a buyout rather than risk being laid off in August. Other positions have been created to operate restoration projects that are nearly finished. Others have been vacant since before the layoffs.
Besides the electrician and senior environmental engineer positions, the district rehired a 20-year employee whose prior position in purchasing paid $48,464. His new position as a storekeeper pays $35,900.


Appeals court rules against Rinker Materials' bid to mine rock in Glades
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton
December 7, 2011
For the second time in four months, environmentalists seeking to block rocking mining south of Lake Okeechobee have won a favorable appellate court ruling against Palm Beach County and Rinker Materials of Florida.
In a single-page ruling issued today, the Fourth District Court of Appeal blocked plans to build a proposed mine, finding there was not enough evidence to prove aggregate from the mine would be used for either agricultural or public road-building projects.
The county's comprehensive plan allows mining for only three purposes: agriculture, public road and Everglades restoration. Rinker, doing business as Cemex, wants to dig nearly 4,000 acres over 38 years in the area south of Belle Glade and east of State Road 827. The resulting holes would be used to store water.
The Sierra Club and the 1000 Friends of Florida filed a lawsuit in May 2008 to block the mine, claiming Palm Beach county commissioners failed to assess the mine's effect on the environment and that the mine did not conform to the county's comprehensive plan. A lower court judge disagreed and found sufficient evidence to prove that the mine would be used for either agriculture or road building. The group appealed.
"Although there was some evidence that the proposed mine might support agricultural activities, this was a tangential, collateral benefit," the court ruled.
"This is a huge deal," said Robert Hartsell, of the Everglades Law Center, which represented the environmental groups. "These are lands the state of Florida and the federal government are spending billions of dollars to repair, and to dig giant holes in the ground while we're trying to restore the Everglades is poor, poor judgment."
Rinker's attorney, Martin Alexander, declined to comment on the ruling or whether Rinker would ask for a re-hearing.
The ruling is the second loss for mining companies, who are the target of three lawsuits filed by the environmental groups. In August, the appeals court decided that Bergeron Sand and Rock Mine Aggregates could not expand its operations unless it could show that the aggregate it produced would be used for public road projects, a requirement the company said it could not meet.
A lawsuit involving the Lake Harbor Quarry is pending



A River of Fiscal Insanity Flows Through Florida
Gainesville Sun; Bradenton Times - by Linda Young, Director, Clean Water Network, Florida
December 7, 2011
In your wildest dreams, you could barely imagine the corporate welfare that is flowing to some of Florida’s biggest air and water polluters.  From 2009 and up to the present day, the federal government gives paper mills billions of dollars to do something that they have been doing for decades: burning “black liquor” in their boilers.  Black liquor is a byproduct of their process.  By adding petroleum to their “liquor” fuel, they qualified for a federal tax credit that was intended to encourage the burning of biomass for industrial fuel.  Here is the list of Florida corporations that are exploiting the tax code and the amount of your hard-earned dollars that they scarfed up in 2009:
International Paper (Pensacola): $2.06 billion in black liquor credits; $2.36 billion net income
Smurfit-Stone Container (Panama City): $654 million; $8 million net income
Rayonier (Fernandina Beach): $205 million; $313 million net income
Buckeye Technologies (Perry): $130 million; $154 million net income
Georgia-Pacific/Koch (Palatka):  $1 billion (at least); net income unknown
This federal corporate welfare for paper mills continues until at least 2015 . And the State of Florida is doing its part to make the situation even worse. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is seeking approval on December 8th, of a water quality rule that would give these same big polluters an unprecedented “free-pass” to use Florida’s rivers as giant dilution/mixing zones These giant corporations (along with the mining and chemical industry) discharge massive amounts of nutrients into our waters that in turn, cause fish kills, red-tides and other harmful algal blooms.  They smother sea grasses and destroy our fisheries.  The cost for health care when humans are exposed is only beginning to unfold. And the FDEP wants to configure the rules to make even higher levels of pollution legal. The ERC faces a clear choice: pander to politically powerful polluters, or protect our waters and the many businesses that depend on clean water for their livelihood. Right now, unless we stop them it looks like they are going to choose pollution over protection.
A huge chunk of Florida’s work-force is job-dependent on clean water: restaurants, hotels, charter boat operators, real estate, fishing related businesses, recreational companies, etc.  The list goes on. If we continue to allow the reckless dumping of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds into our waters, the steady degradation that we have all witnessed over the past few decades will continue. We all recognize the need for more jobs in Florida and everywhere, but without clean water, Florida’s economic future looks grim. No one wants to spend their vacation on a beach, suffocating from toxic air that is blowing in from near-shore waters.  No one wants to spend $50 on a seafood platter that may have contaminated fish on it.  No one will eat our wonderful oysters if they may contain poison from algae-infested waters.  
We can’t afford to keep subsidizing big polluters who are not doing their part to protect and preserve the resources that are the economic lifeblood of our state. Don’t think that the federal government will come to our rescue – they are on board with the big polluters, too. Yet they expect us to keep sending our tax dollars to Washington and Tallahassee so they can squander them on the very companies that are destroying the natural beauty of Florida which is our most important capital resource .  This river of fiscal insanity is flowing backwards and you can turn it around by speaking out now. You can find the contact information for the ERC members at:


Court rules against Palm Beach County rock mine
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
December 7, 201
Rock miners on Wednesday lost another legal round in their push to dig on Palm Beach County agricultural land eyed for Everglades restoration.
Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal sided with a coalition of environmental groups and ruled against plans for the nearly 4,000-acre South Bay Quarry near Belle Glade.
The court disputed the notion that mining would be primarily for agricultural or road-building purposes, which are among the qualifications for mining in the vast farming area south of Lake Okeechobee that was once part of the Everglades.
Environmental groups contend that the digging and blasting of rock mining threatens to eat up land needed for Everglades restoration. They also argue that the deep pits can lead to contaminated water supplies.
The courts now have ruled against two of the three western mining proposals challenged by environmental groups that include the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida.


(mouse over to enlarge)

FWC billboards attract attention along I-75

Water Coalition places ‘slime’ billboards along I-75
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 7, 2011
The Florida Water Coalition, a group that recently filed a petition against the state’s recently drafted water rules, has put up two billboards in an effort to “educate Floridians and visitors about the state’s widespread algae pollution problem and to urge citizens to let their government representatives know that they don’t want more delays – they want clear limits on the amount of sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution  in our public waters.”
Both billboards contain a photograph of a large-scale algal bloom in Fanning Springs, an area that was once clear all the way to its sandy bottom. According to the Coalition, “development and large-scale agricultural operations in the spring’s watershed have spewed pollution underground into the aquifer, and it bubbles up in the spring, altering the water chemistry and triggering nauseating toxic algae outbreaks.”
One billboard is loicated on Interstate 75 between Gainesville and Ocala, the other is also on I-75, just south of Lake City.
The Florida Water Coalition — which is comprised of the Florida Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper — recently filed a petition against the state’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of standards they argue aren’t strong enough to ward off nutrient pollution in waterways.
The coalition has argued that the standards are so poor, in fact, that they “would actually be less protective than no numeric nutrient standards.” Many environmentalists have argued that the government dragged its feet in producing the standards, and is now favoring the polluters over the public.
“The toxic algae that comes from sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff is a public health threat. It is  poisoning our drinking water and making people sick,” said Monica Reimer, an attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “Among other things, it causes respiratory problems, stomach problems, and rashes.”
Another problem, says Reimer, is that the pollution is harming businesses across the state.
“We depend on tourists to run our economy,” Reimer said. “Look at the reality on our billboards.  This is obviously not good for Florida tourism. This affects jobs.”
According to a press release, the funding for the billboards came from grassroots activists. Though there are currently only two billboards erected, the Coalition has hopes it can spread its message across the state as the campaign expands


Small croc
A small crocodile will be
released into one of the
cooling canals adjacent
to the FPL Turkey Point
Nuclear Power Plant
during a crocodile
survey in Homestead, FL.
The crocodile monitoring
program began in 1978.
The initial goal was to
ensure that the plant did
no harm to the species
but over the last three
decades it has helped
raise the number of
crocodiles to more than
1,500 today. It is now
classified as threatened,
a small step toward
the specie’s survival.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Cooling canals
The maze of FPL nuke
plant cooling canals -
as seen from space .

Biologists monitor crocodiles at nuclear plant
Associated Press - by Suzette Laboy
December 6, 2011
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — An unexpected but fruitful relationship has blossomed between two potent forces in the swamps of South Florida: the American crocodile, and a nuclear power plant.
The reptile has made it off the endangered species list thanks in part to 168 miles of manmade cooling canals surrounding Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant in the southeastern corner of the Florida peninsula. It turns out that Florida Power and Light was building prime croc habitat just as virtually every other developer was paving it over.
Federal wildlife officials give the state's largest public utility part of the credit for a five-fold increase in the species' population in Florida. There are only two other sanctuaries for the crocodiles, which are still considered threatened.
"The way the cooling canal system was designed actually turned out to be pretty good for crocodile nesting," said John Wrublik, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It wasn't designed for crocodiles, but they've done a very good job of maintaining that area."
Hundreds of crocodiles, as long as 15 feet and as heavy as one ton, roam the swampland surrounding the power plant. They're monitored by wildlife biologists hired by the utility, who sometimes need quick reflexes to keep all their fingers.
On one recent nighttime survey, Mario Aldecoa jumped from an airboat in total darkness and darted into the bushes to grab a 13-pound crocodile to mark it for identification.
"It's usually just adrenaline and instinct," he said.
The American crocodile is often confused with its plentiful cousin, the alligator. Alligators are black, have broad, rounded snouts and are found throughout the deep South. Crocodiles are grayish, have narrow tapered snouts and are so sensitive to cold that their only U.S. habitat is in South Florida.
South Florida's rampant development eroded the crocodile's habitat over decades of booming growth. By the 1970s, there were less than 300 in the state. The federal government had classified the species as endangered, meaning it was in danger of becoming extinct.
In 1977, Florida Power employees stumbled upon a crocodile nest in the plant's cooling canal system. A monitoring program set up a year later was originally intended to ensure the plant did no harm to the species, but ended up recording the facility's role in the crocodile's rebound. Dozens of other protected species, including the manatee and loggerhead turtle, also are found on the utility's properties across the state.
There are more than 1,500 American crocodiles in South Florida today. An opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2006 noted that the increase in has been attributed to Florida Power's management activities in its cooling canals.
Canals and berms such as those found at the power plant site provide nesting habitat that has "to some extent compensated for the loss of habitat elsewhere," explained Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida.
The recirculating water system at Turkey Point works somewhat like the closed cooling system in a car. Eight large, powerful circulating water pumps take cooling water from canals at Turkey Point and circulate it through a condenser. The water then flows back to the closed-loop canal network, which essentially serves as a giant radiator.
Aided by such habitat, the crocodile has since gone from "endangered" to "threatened" — a small step toward their survival. Government and utility biologists have detected no sign of radiation in the animals.
Florida Power biologists monitor the reptile's population growth and survival rates at the plant under guidelines set by state and federal regulators who oversee the program. The animals are quickly weighed, tagged with microchips if this is the first time being captured, marked with white (to keep them from being captured twice on the same night) and slipped back into the water.
Microchips are used as a reference ID — much like a thumb print — to scan the captured animal, as well as to track any animal that falls prey to others as a result of cannibalism. Biologists said one crocodile was found with eight chips from other crocodiles inside its belly. The bony plates or scales on crocodiles, called scutes, are clipped during first captures. The markings are permanent and represent the animal's number and location of capture, which could be one of three sanctuaries including Turkey Point.
On average, crocodile experts such as Aldecoa capture 350 baby crocodiles each year out of approximately 22 nests during the summer. About 400 adult and adolescent crocodiles can be found in the plant's canal system at any given time, according to state data.
The plant is remote, making it difficult for humans to disturb the animals or their habitat. That isolation, wildlife officials noted, also has contributed to the species' population spike.
"We wouldn't advise people to normally make those types of impacts," Wrublik said of removing wetlands to make way for a nuclear power plant. "But this just so happens to have benefited the crocodile population."
Aldecoa said crocs are not nearly as aggressive as many people imagine.
"They're shy and sensitive to sound and to movement," Aldecoa said. So much so, he said, that biologists often have just one chance to get a snare around a crocodile's neck before it scurries away.
"They are very misunderstood. All reptiles are," Aldecoa said. "They are a lot smarter than people think. And they just look like dinosaurs, and that's pretty neat."


End the Everglades horror story
The Miami Herald - Editorial
December 6, 2011
OUR OPINION: Obama administration should enact anti-commerce rule for pythons
Killer pythons in the Everglades are not a joke, a punch line or a great screenplay for a cheesy horror movie. These large constrictor snakes are real and a danger to the ecological and economic vitality of the River of Grass. These invasive snakes are not natural predators helping to maintain an ecological balance in this environment. Rather, these snakes are gobbling deer and alligators whole and putting people in danger.
The fight to eradicate them has become a drain of scarce public funds. And at a time when restoring the deteriorating River of Grass is environmental imperative No. 1 in Florida, the killer snakes are a huge, creepy menace.
So why won’t the Obama administration sign a rule that would ban the trade in these creatures?
Such imported snakes have been sold on the Internet, at swap shops or at flea markets to people wholly unqualified to handle them. In South Florida, when these snakes outgrew owners’ ability to safely keep them at home, they did the easiest — and most irresponsible — thing possible: Released them into the Everglades. Others sometimes escaped during hurricanes.
A group of Florida’s congressional leaders is calling on the president to enact a rule barring commerce in dangerous snakes. In this highly polarized political climate that has stopped law-making in its tracks, the fact that this is a bipartisan group of officials alone should get Mr. Obama’s attention. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, on the Democratic side, and Republican Reps. Allen West and David Rivera are among those who are supporting the rule. Here’s want the rule would do: It would put nine species of deadly snakes, including boa constrictors, anacondas and pythons, on a list of banned “injurious species” under the Lacey Act.
The proposal to add the snakes to the list has been under scrutiny for a long five years, predating the current administration in Washington. In 2006, the South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking that Burmese pythons be classified injurious. Eighteen months later, in 2008, Fish and Wildlife sought public comment on the proposal.
A year and a half after that, the U.S. Geological Survey determined that constrictor snakes were a threat to the stability of natural ecosystems. In 2010, Fish and Wildlife issued a proposed rule to label the nine species of snakes as injurious; and in March of this year, the White House Office of Management and Budget/Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs received the final ruling.
This rule has been thoroughly vetted, scientifically and otherwise. It’s time to stop the trafficking in these snakes. Many states, including Florida, are out in front of the federal law, where they have made it illegal to breed, sell or possess these animals. The federal rule would stop movement into the United States and across state lines. For instance, in 2003 Congress banned interstate sale of tigers, lions and other big cats.
Adding the nine species of constrictor snakes to the “injurious” list would go a long way in bolstering Florida’s no-possession law, working hand-in-glove to crack down on this deadly scourge. In the fight to save the Everglades, the federal government should not throw good money after bad. It’s time for the administration to prohibit trade in snakes that have become a real-life horror story.


EPA penalizes Clean Water Act violators, including three in Florida
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it had issued Consent Agreements and Final Orders against 25 entities throughout the Southeast for violations of the Clean Water Act. Three Florida wastewater utilities were also penalized, for improperly disposing of sewage sludge.
As part of the settlements, the responsible parties have agreed to pay $184,317 in civil penalties, and spend  an additional $284,791 to come into compliance.
Ten entities were cited for alleged stormwater-related violations of the Clean Water Act, which are a leading cause of impairment to the nearly 40 percent of water bodies nationwide which are not currently meeting water quality standards.
Wastewater utilities in 14 municipalities, including Florida, were also penalized for “failing to provide biosolids reports and/or otherwise failing to comply with Section 503 of the CWA covering requirements for land disposal of sewage sludge.” Plantation, Lake City and Starke were each fined $900 for their failure to comply.
“By taking these enforcement actions, we are sending a strong message about the importance of protecting rivers, lakes and streams,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming in a press release. “By addressing the violations noted in our inspections, these entities will prevent millions of pounds of pollution from entering the environment, in addition to protecting the quality of life for families across the Southeast.”
Pollutants of concern include nutrients, sediment, oil and grease, chemicals and metals. When left uncontrolled, water pollution can deplete needed oxygen and/or otherwise result in the destruction of aquatic habitats, as well as the fish and wildlife that depend on them. Water pollution can also contaminate food, drinking water supplies and recreational waterways, and thereby pose a threat to public health.
A coalition of environmental groups, including the St. Johns Riverkeeper and Sierra Club, recently filed a petition against a set of water standards recently drafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The groups allege that the standards are not strong enough to comply with the Clean Water Act, since they allow waterways to further degrade before they are cleaned up.



Consult also EvergladesHUB-Legal

For clean water in Florida, depend on judge, not state
Palm Beach Post – by Randy Schultz,for the Editorial Board
December 6, 2011
With the state Department of Environmental Protection reverting to what critics once derisively called "Don't Expect Protection," Floridians who want clean rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries must depend on the federal courts.
Today, the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission almost certainly will approve the state's proposed anti-pollution rules that most certainly would not protect the state's waters. Call it a temporary victory for polluting industries and the Obama reelection effort.
In 2008, the environmental law firm Earthjustice filed a lawsuit, alleging that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida. Martin County residents in the St. Lucie River estuary - where fresh water meets salt water - who have seen canals turn green from pollution-laden runoff understand the damage from this failure. As a result of the lawsuit, EPA agreed to set specific anti-pollution standards if the state didn't propose its own sufficient standards. Though the DEP did craft some strong rules in 2009, the rules quickly were quashed after the agriculture and phosphate industries and public utilities criticized them as too expensive.
So in November 2010, the EPA proposed rules that nearly matched what the state proposed. Of the 22,000 public comments to the EPA, 20,000 were favorable. The two agencies took 13,000 water samples. This was sound science. The EPA gave the state 15 months to implement the standards. Instead, the state sued in January to block the standards. Then last month, the EPA basically agreed to the state standards, no doubt because President Obama didn't want the hassle in the largest swing state.
Earthjustice attorney David Guest said in an interview that the state rules would give polluters a "get-out-of-jail-free card." Any body of water found to be substandard, he said, could shed that designation with a "biological assessment" that a private consultant could provide. "These standards will be easy to manipulate. And the standards were written by industry. This wasn't just a matter of 'input.' They wrote them."
Fish kills and algae blooms continue to be problems in state waters. This state's leaders regularly proclaim that Floridians live in "paradise." That description will not apply if the state continues to stall on rules that would protect the most important resource of "paradise." Notably, according to material on the Environmental Regulation Commission's website, the proposal set for a vote today does not include the St. Lucie River estuary.
Fortunately, Earthjustice went back to back to court last week. Officially, the defendant is the Department of Environmental Protection, but the lawsuit is a reaction to the EPA backing down. Perhaps the courts can persuade Florida that never is too long to wait on clean water.


Miss FL'11
Kristina JANOLO
Miss Florida 2011

Miss Florida to Meet with Gov. Scott, Cabinet to Discuss Everglades
December 6, 2011
TALLAHASSEE , Fl. – Kristina Janolo, Miss Florida 2011, will speak about restoring the Everglades during a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
(Note: Janolo is at the top of the Cabinet agenda. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.)
“Water is a basic, necessary substance for life. It is part of everything we drink and eat. We cannot find an alternative to water,” Janolo wrote in a recent column for Orlando Sentinel. “ That is one of the reasons that as Miss Florida 2011, I will compete for Miss America by talking about water issues -- the need to develop water-friendly policies, and oppose any effort to diminish our fragile Everglades ecosystem.”
Janolo, 24, is from Kissimmee and is a marketing major at the University of Central Florida. Janolo is Miss Florida 2011 and she will represent the Sunshine State in the 2012 Miss America pageant.
“Tomorrow I will urge Governor Scott and the Florida Cabinet to secure the water supply for 7 million Floridians by moving Everglades Restoration forward.” said Janolo.
She recently traveled to Washington, D.C. where she met with members of Florida’s congressional delegation to discuss Everglades issues.
COMMENT:   “Great - two people who know little or next to nothing about aquatic ecology and hydrology will be "discussing" the problems of the Everglades - all this while Criminal Scott continues to eviscerate and castrate FDEP.”  (Pete Zahut).



former Florida governor
and US Senator.

The Everglades: A Capital Crime
The - by Bob Graham - OP-ED Column
December 6,
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 Earth's most important and unique environments and protecting the freshwater 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) would result in $46.5 billion in gains to Florida's economy and create more than 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 multiyear, multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration program.
While progress toward the goal has been delayed because of 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 under way replacement of a portion of the Tamiami Trail earthen dike with 6.5 miles of bridges. More fundamentally, the 2000 America-Florida engagement is the only initiative that 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 is the agency charged with representing the state's interest in Everglades restoration. The district and its predecessor agency have had strong public and bipartisan political support since their creation in 1948.
In 60 days, the last Legislature virtually emasculated the 60-year-old Water District.
Funding for 2011-2012 was cut 48.3 percent — $519.6 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; 343 positions — men and women who had served the district in its Everglades and other water management functions critical to the southern region of Florida — were eliminated.
Since its establishment, the Water District 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 micromanage the budgets of the districts. This injection of partisan politics into water-management decisionmaking will be especially disruptive because Everglades restoration has and will require multiyear 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 Corp. 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 resurfacing.
Into this gloomy picture there has now come a ray of light. Gov. Rick Scott, speaking last month 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.
Bob Graham, who served as Florida's governor and U.S. senator, is a charter member and founder of the Florida Conservation Coalition. He wrote this op-ed column for the St. Petersburg Times.


In Fla., Cautious Hope For Everglades Protection
NPR News - by Greg Allen
December 5, 2011
At the annual dinner of the Everglades Foundation recently, there was a surprise guest: Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The governor made a brief appearance before the group with some reassuring words.
"We are absolutely focused on making sure the right thing happens for the Everglades," he said.
It's a new focus for the Republican, a businessman who's a relative newcomer both to Florida and to politics. After taking office earlier this year, his statements and actions suggested he saw environmental protection not so much as a goal, but as a problem.
With the legislature, he dismantled a powerful state agency, the Department of Community Affairs, which helped control development and protected natural areas, including the Everglades. He also eliminated funding for Florida Forever, a program that allowed the state to buy and preserve land in critical areas.
Jonathan Ullman of the Sierra Club says Scott's record on Everglades restoration is clear.
"Up until now, it would have to be negative," he says.
The move that has had the most direct impact involves the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency charged with restoring the Everglades. Scott approved a plan that forced the District to slash its budget and draw down its reserves.
"As a result, there were massive layoffs," Ullman says. "Especially hard hit were Everglades science."
More than 250 employees, including many top scientists, were let go. Also gone is much of the money set aside for land acquisition, including more than 100,000 acres of land now owned by U.S. Sugar, available to the state under a deal brokered by former Gov. Charlie Crist.
New Initiatives
On his cattle ranch north of Lake Okeechobee, Woody Larson has a load of visitors on board a swamp buggy. It's a high-rise, all-terrain vehicle useful in running cattle across marshy areas on his ranch.
Larson has just signed an agreement with the state of Florida that will pay him tens of thousands of dollars each year to turn some of his ranch into wetlands. Instead of using canals to drain nutrient-rich water that eventually ends up in the Everglades, he's keeping it here.
The head of the South Florida Water Management District, Melissa Meeker, says projects like this are a cost-effective way to improve water quality in the Everglades.
"When you hear the governor and the administration talk about public-private partnerships, this is exactly the type of thing we're talking about," she says. "We're looking for innovative ways that we can work to reduce the upfront capital investment of the state and taxpayer dollars."
Meeker says programs like this aren't a substitute for land acquisition. To restore the Everglades, she says Florida will have to buy and preserve more land.
When Meeker talked about it with Scott recently, she says he agreed.
"We started to talk about ideas and he said, 'Stop. If we agree on a plan, we'll get it funded.' So, he's committed to getting it funded, so I don't feel that will be a huge hurdle for us," she says.
Former Florida Governor and US Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat, says the Everglades can only be fixed by the state and federal government working in partnership. Graham worries that marriage right now is on the rocks.
"One of the leadership responsibilities of the governor will be to restore that level of confidence that the federal government has a reliable partner that is capable of delivering on its half of the partnership for Everglades salvation," he says.
Graham and other Everglades advocates say they're encouraged by what Scott and others in his administration are saying. Now, though, they're impatient for action.

Swiftmud coping with deep budget cuts
The Tampa Tribune - by Keith Morelli
December 05, 2011
After years and years of being flush with cash, the agency that oversees water resources in West Central Florida is in a real funding crisis.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is feeling the pinch of the staggered economy and plummeted property values. The pinch means district executives will have to change the way they do business. The good news for administrators is that the district will plod on this year, and maybe the next because of cash reserves it has amassed, but two years down there road is a roaring financial waterfall.
In its heyday, the district was bursting with success. It spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying up wetlands for preservation and literally set the standard for agricultural and commercial water consumption.
It delved into groundwater and surface-water quality and had the ability to put restrictions on development that didn't adequately plan for water usage.
In times of drought, it established residential lawn watering guidelines. In times of rain, it examined ways to ease flooding.
That was before a few years ago, when the economy tanked and property values precipitously fell. The district budget is dependent largely on property taxes in the 16-county area which it covers.
Now, the district is forced to run its far-reaching programs this year under a $155.5 million budget. It may seem like a lot for a water management district, but it's almost half of what it was last year.
Already, the district is directing some of its crew to jump ship with offers of separation packages backed up by the looming threat of layoffs next year.
"If you look at the history of the district," said newly hired district Executive Director Blake Guillory in a recent interview, "we've been different sizes at different times.
"We're going to be OK.
"We can do better, efficiency-wise," he said. "We can. We are looking at every department, every bureau, every section. We are evaluating everything."
The total operating budget for the district this year is down 44.4 percent from the $279.8 million budget last year. The biggest part of the $124.3 million decrease is due to a $57.4 million reduction in property tax revenue.
Besides the cut in tax revenue, the state cut its portion of the district's funding by $28.9 million, which had gone into the Florida Forever and Water Management Lands Trust Fund. Other reductions include a $1.7 million cut in local funding and a $2 million reduction in interest on investments.
To further cut operational expenses, the district's governing board in May merged the budgets of the eight basin boards, which resulted in a projected savings of as much as $400,000 a year.
With all that, it will take cash reserves to carry the district for a year. If the district continues to operate under its current budget, it could go into the red in 2013 to the tune of about $30 million.
Until then, said Guillory, who has been on the job less than two months, the ship will continue on.
"We have reserves," he said. "And we also have a lot of projects that were funded that … have been canceled. We call that balance forward, that money is carried forward."
He said the $50 million deficit this year can be funded through reserves and money saved through those canceled projects.
"We are going to be OK this year," he said. "Looking forward, this is sustainable for two years. We're looking two years out. We saying in two years, we might not be able to continue funding projects at the same level."
Such programs that may be cut or eliminated include one that aims to improve the quality of surface water, such as rivers and lakes; another is an incentive project for the agricultural industry to cut its dependence on groundwater.
Storm-water retention projects along with programs that encourage alternative water supply uses also may be on the chopping block, he said.
"We are not cutting those programs this year," Guillory said.
Another way to cut costs is underway now, he said, and that's a hard look at the district's surplus lands program.
"We're re-evaluating district properties right now," he said. Being examined is all the land owned by the district and how much of that is not environmentally sensitive. Can revenue be made by selling that land or trading it for other acreage that is environmentally sensitive? Can it be leased to agricultural concerns? And, if so, what are the appropriate rates?
Guillory said he will have to get answers to all those questions over the next two years to squeeze out every dime possible.
The goal is to streamline the district's operations as much as possible, to preserve critical programs and the staff.
In October, the district implemented its organizational restructuring plan – expected to reduce expenditures by $15 million a year. The plan includes staff reductions and a realignment of the staff based on types of work they do.
Currently, more than 700 people work for the district and managers want to cut that by as many as 150 positions. Forty of those currently are vacant positions or filled by contractors whose work is nearly finished.
Eligible employees are being offered "separation packages" that will be available for 45 days. If the voluntary efforts don't produce the necessary reductions, the district will begin involuntary layoffs in January or February.
"I knew what I was getting into," he said, when he took the job, "and whatever we do, we are trying to keep and do what's best for our staff."
He said some employees have already volunteered to quit and before the end of the year, "a good number" will join them in taking the packages.
"We are looking for that level of sustainability," Guillory said. "How efficient can we be before we really have to start cutting into our core mission. We're not there yet, but that's what we looking for."


Regional planning needed - Letter to the Editor
December 4, 2011
I dearly love Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, but yet another two-year, million-dollar "blueprint" study for downtown development is just a distraction from the real, regional planning that needs to take place. Instead of trying to create the best-little-block-in-Tampa, why not work to create the best quality metropolitan statistical area Florida? Instead of every mayor and county commissioner fighting to win for themselves that white knight job-creating company to relocate here, why not together challenge Miami's prominence in the state?
Eighth-ranked MSA Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach has a combined population of 5.5 million people, compared to 19th-ranked Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater with over 2.7 million people. Yet the Miami MSA has many more times the financial clout of the Tampa MSA. However, if we further expand the view of ourselves as the West Central Florida MSA, we then have the population to rival the Miami MSA. We just lack the vision and political will to become a greater region.
We only have to look at how many roads and bus routes seem to stop at county lines to understand the problem. We think local, not regional. When we do think regionally, we tend to think of the mythical Orlampa I-4 corridor as becoming a unified economic powerhouse. We don't need The Mouse to be great. We have it all, and more, right in our own backyard.
Take for example the planning area considered by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA), which includes the counties of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota. Take note that this is a north-south corridor that includes numerous world-class schools, hospitals, a major military base, many square miles of pristine environment, three international airports, three deep-water ports and a network of highways and rail lines.
It is long past time for us to stop pushing around peanuts and compete on the world stage. Unless Miami figures out how to expand into the Atlantic or the Everglades, there is no place for it to grow. West Central Florida can plan now for regional commerce, transportation, agriculture, clean water and energy to attract and accommodate business, students, residents and eco-tourists for the next 100 years — if we choose to come together, do it now, and do it right.


Government pace on county projects so slow it's "painful''
Sun Sentinel - by Brittany Wallman
December 3, 2011
Tired of delays in building a convention center hotel, Broward County commissioners set a deadline of midnight to get a contract signed.
Alas, that was 11 years ago. There's still no hotel.
Years have passed, too, since the public first heard that a new elections headquarters would be built in Broward, and a new county courthouse. Two more projects that have been talked about and worked on for years: a ship "turning notch'' and ship-to-rail facility in Port Everglades.
A new airport runway – that one's been in the headlines for decades.
Palm Beach County has its own dream of a convention center hotel, still not realized.
The county spent a decade and almost $1 million trying to create a plan for western growth, but ditched the "sector plan" two years ago because of mounting opposition. On Thursday, commissioners once again called for reviving efforts to better prepare for development of agricultural land west of Royal Palm Beach.
A $217 million reservoir west of Royal Palm Beach was completed by the South Florida Water Management District in 2008, but it still doesn't have the $60 million pumps needed to move the water east.
Another year will close out with all of the above still in the works, the thousands of new jobs and infusion of more than $1 billion into the South Florida economy pushed off again.
Why is government so dang slow?
"It's painful. It's absolutely painful,'' Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler said. "It's a disgraceful wonder.''
Government is slow? Yeah, says Fort Lauderdale developer Alan Hooper. And "babies cry."
In the same period that Broward and Palm Beach counties focused time, energy and money on the same few unfinished projects, a lot was accomplished in the rest of the world: The Navy Seals found and killed Osama bin Laden. National healthcare was passed. The entire downtown Fort Lauderdale erupted in high-rises. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opened in Hollywood. Libya turned out Gaddafi.
Back in Broward, Wexler was waiting Thursday for a lobbyist to talk to her about that elections headquarters.
"And the beat goes on, and on, and on,'' she said.
Businesswoman Barbara Sharief, a self-made multi-millionaire who is new to the County Commission, said the belaboring of things "over and over again'' is "probably one of the most frustrating things about being on the commission.''
The county is like a $3.2 billion business, she said, and delays can hurt when it comes to projects that would build up the economy.
Long-planned deepening and widening of Port Everglades, for example, would position Broward to handle super-freighters when the expansion of the Panama Canal is complete in 2014. But Miami has a port, too.
"You sit around and twiddle your thumbs for too long,'' Sharief said, "and your competition's going to pass you by.''
Hooper has listened to the public discussions about the runway and other projects, while he and his business partner built and opened Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle restaurant, Avenue Lofts, New River Trading Post, and The Mill and The Foundry residential lofts in Fort Lauderdale and opened Yolo restaurant and Vibe lounge, all in Fort Lauderdale.
"Time is money,'' Hooper said, "and we can't waste too much of either.''


Maybe Scott will start to 'get it' on clean water - by Diane Roberts, director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, teaches at Florida State University
December 3, 2011
Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently wrote an oped piece for the Tampa Tribune, insisting that he's committed to a "healthy environment." That's good to know. On the evidence of his first 11 months in office, a lot of us got the distinct impression that all he cared about was making rich folks richer.
Perhaps it has dawned on the governor that the widely disseminated images of rivers and lakes blanketed in green slime do not exactly beckon more tourists to our shores. Perhaps he's noticed that it's not exactly good for the economy when a water treatment plant shuts down due to toxic algae (as happened at the Olga facility in 2008) or when property values in St. Lucie County sink by half a billion dollars because the once-pristine water bodies people like to build their houses on are so polluted that they stink.
Perhaps somebody in his administration has finally figured out nobody wants to move to a place where agri-corps dump manure and other unedifying wastes into every available water body, tainting our drinking water.
Not just another day in paradise, is it?
The governor says he understands that Florida jobs and Florida's environmental quality are inseparable. Nobody's going to argue with that.
The thing is, we need to see some action, some evidence that he really does get it.
Along with the Cabinet and the legislative leadership, he's fought against scientifically measurable numeric standards for our waters. Scott says Florida knows "more about our water bodies than any federal agency." True: that's why the Environmental Protection Agency used Florida's Department of Environmental Protection data to craft the water quality standards that have caused such hissy fits among the big polluters and their fellow travelers in the state Legislature.
Like the governor, they all say they love clean water. Yet they behave as if their livelihoods depend on dirtying it.
Legislators went wild this past session, slashing $20 million from Everglades restoration, hamstringing the Water Management Districts' ability to protect regional drinking water, dumping Florida Forever — the nationally lauded program to acquire conservation lands for the citizens — and eviscerating the Department of Community Affairs, the state agency that tried to protect Floridians from rapacious and destructive development. That was a revenge killing: Developers had long seethed over DCA's ability to scupper building a strip mall on sensitive wetlands, a marina in a state sea grass preserve, or a gated community out where there are no roads, no electricity, or no sewer. Now DCA can't stop them — and you, the taxpayer, will foot the bill.
The radical profiteers, the drain-it-and-pave-it lobby, are back in charge of the Legislature. But perhaps the governor is no longer in lock-step with them.
After all, clean air, clean water and good habitat shouldn't be partisan issues.
Nathaniel Reed, Florida's greatest environmentalist, the man who saved the Everglades from becoming an international airport in the 1960s, is a Republican. He has joined forces with a noted Democrat, former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, plus dozens of other Floridians, who know that the state is in crisis. They've come together to form the Florida Conservation Coalition (, an organization dedicated to save us from ourselves. Check them out.
And let's hope Gov. Scott is listening. Let's hope he's learning. Water — Florida's essential element — is imperiled as never before. Our rivers are sick, our lakes choking, our springs cloudy. They aren't just landscape decoration or "recreational resources": This is our drinking water. This is Florida's life.


Stop the neglect – Our Opinion
December 3, 2011
Conservation of our state must be evergreen
You can't blame a former governor for wanting to see some of the signature works of his administration maintained in good working order, regardless of who follows him in office.
No public official who is serious about leadership and turning a state around wants to think his or her most visionary ideas have an expiration date of a partisan nature.
It's good to see former U.S. senator and Florida Democratic Gov. Bob Graham reaching across party lines to Gov. Rick Scott to support growth-management and land-acquisition programs that started during the Graham administration in the 1980s.
Not that there's been much growth to manage lately, but Florida's always got its sunshine, and growth will resume in time.
In a rally at the Capitol last week, Mr. Graham announced the creation of the Florida Conservation Coalition, a bipartisan group whose goal is to remind all that water and the environment are important to Florida's quality of life, and therefore its economy. One of its most prestigious members is Republican conservationist Nat Reed, a legendary environmental consultant to the late Gov. Claude Kirk as well as Presidents Nixon and Ford, for whom he served in the U.S. Department of Interior.
The new organization wants to restore funding to Florida Forever land-acquisition programs and re-establish some of the growth-management laws, both of which the former governor says are vital to protect natural assets so important to the people.
And, yes, to the job-creation goals of Mr. Scott as well, because quality of life is a big draw to businesses anticipating a move to our state.
Mr. Graham saluted the Republican Mr. Scott for his leadership in Everglades restoration matters, and he urges the first-term governor to use the power of his office to not only lead but also help stop the harm that has already been done by neglect of conservation efforts in recent years.
Of course money remains tight, but the message is timeless: Florida cannot kill the goose that lays the golden egg — it's magnificent natural systems that invite tourism, outdoor recreation and a distinctive quality of life that we can't afford to let slip away.


Legal petition submitted
(Read full PDF text)

Earthjustice, Riverkeeper discuss challenge to state water pollution proposal
Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
December 2, 20112
Related:           Environmental Groups Challenge Water Rule  (, Orlando, FL)
Florida Rule Alternative To Tougher Federal Regulations
                        Florida's water standards challenged by environmentalists
‎                        Lawsuit: Environmentalists claim proposed water-pollution ...
‎                        Environmentalists file legal challenge to proposed Florida water ...

Yesterday, a coalition of environmental groups announced their decision to file a petition against the state Department of Environmental Protection’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of water pollution standards they argue are not strong enough to fully protect Florida’s waterways. The Florida Independent spoke with both the St. Johns Riverkeeper, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, and Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who is representing the plaintiffs, to discuss the potential effects of the petition.
“For us, this is a continuation of a 14-year struggle in the St. Johns River to deal with nutrient pollution,” said the Riverkeeper’s Neil Armingeon, shortly after a press conference announcing the petition. “This is the fourth or fifth time we’ve had to basically file suit in order to get anything done.”
In 1998, the federal government gave the state until 2004 to develop nutrient criteria as a way of limiting phosphorus and nitrogen in waterways, which often lead to algal blooms and fish kills. 2004 came and went, without any new standards for Florida, so a group of environmental organizations (the Riverkeeper included) filed suit, alleging that Florida was in violation of the Clean Water Act.
That suit was settled in 2009, with a federal mandate from the EPA requiring Florida to implement a more strict set of standards. But the EPA recently caved to demands from industry and lawmakers arguing that Florida should develop its own rules. So the state Department of Environmental Protection did just that. The problem, according to environmentalists like Armingeon, is that the state’s version is weaker than the federal version — and weak water rules are what got Floridians into this mess to begin with.
Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission is set to consider the state’s draft rule on Thurs., Dec. 8. If it is approved (which many say is likely), it will next go before the Florida Legislature, after which the EPA will have its chance to approve or deny the final regulation.
“[The state's version] allows waterways to further degrade before anything’s done,” says Armingeon, “so we filed the administrative challenge. In administrative law, you can challenge a rule before it goes through the regulatory process. The real question is: Does our challenge prevent the ERC from taking action? That’s unknown.”
According to Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who is representing the environmental groups in the case, the ERC doesn’t have to hold off on going forward just because of the challenge.
“Legally, they have in the past gotten away with going forward in a circumstance like this, because of legislative amendments,” says Guest. “If we were big polluters raising this question, there’s no doubt that the commission would wait. But we are representing the public.”
Guest says the purpose of filing the petition goes beyond simply making a statement — it is a challenge to both the state’s draft rule and to existing law. Florida now relies on a narrative standard which states, rather vaguely: “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.” The Department of Environmental Protection’s draft rule, says Guest, doesn’t go much further than that.
“We are challenging this … narrative imbalance of ‘when it turns slime green, something must be wrong,’ on the grounds that it does not comply with state law or the Clean Water Act,” he says. “It doesn’t protect it, it only acknowledges the destruction after the destruction has taken place. The rule itself is fully dependent on that principle. It’s entitled ‘numeric criteria,’ but if you read it, it’s nothing different than the narrative ‘wait till it turns green’ standards.”
Guest says he will attend the Dec. 8 meeting of the Environmental Resource Commission. “I’ll be given the opportunity to speak,” he says. “Whether the ERC will listen to anything that the public has to say is in doubt.”
Should the Commission submit the rule to the state Legislature for ratification, Guest says there is “every signal in the world that the Legislature will do something.” What that “something” is, though, remains unknown.
“It’s not the habit of the Legislature to rubber-stamp anything,” says Guest. “The rule will come out very differently.”



(mouse over to enlarge,
map with photos):

Water Pollution sites in
Florida - an Interactive
map with photographs
(by Sierra Club) .

New Lawsuit Attacks State Failure To Curtail Pollution
Florida Sportsman
December 2, 2011
Earthjustice, a non-profit public-interest law firm specializing in environmental issues, filed a legal challenge against Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) because the state agency is failing to protect residents and tourists from nauseating—and dangerous—toxic algae outbreaks.
“Toxic algae outbreaks are a public health threat and they also affect Florida’s bottom line,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “These outbreaks can cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets, and we need to be cleaning it up.
“The state DEP rule was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters,” Guest said. “Polluters know it is cheaper for them to use our public waters as their private sewers, and the state is giving them the green light to keep doing it.”
“The DEP’s decision to weaken pollution standards is an economic slap in the face to the thousands of Floridians who work in the tourism industry,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon, who has watched businesses suffer as the St. Johns gets covered with repeated toxic slime outbreaks. “This pollution hurts people who work in restaurants, hotels, beach concessions, the fishing industry, the boating industry, the dive industry, and the real estate sales and rental markets.”
After years of seeing toxic algae outbreaks on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters.
The rule that the EPA set for Florida was a “speed limit sign” that gave everyone fair notice of what specific level of pollution would be allowed in a particular water body. If the speed limit was exceeded, regulators could take action to prevent toxic algae outbreaks and green slime. But the DEP’s rule doesn’t provide that certainty, and it won’t protect public health.
“The DEP rule basically says: ‘Well, there could be a speed limit sign here, but we need to do a study first and then we’ll decide.’ Under the state DEP rule, by the time the state takes action, a waterway is already slimed. The whole point is to clean it up before it gets that bad,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The Sierra Club offered photographic proof of the dire need for immediate cleanup action. The Club unveiled an interactive map of Florida’s slimed waterways, which stretch from South Florida to the Panhandle.
Earthjustice filed the administrative challenge in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
“We have a massive fish kill in Estero Bay right now, and it is happening because the state has delayed acting to solve this major pollution problem for the past 15 years. The DEP’s weak rule is just going to delay cleanup further. The DEP is just kicking the can down the road another 15 years, and that’s not fair to the citizens. We all deserve clean water,” said Jennifer Hecker, policy director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.


Officials turn to ranchers on environment efforts
Associated Press, Miami Herald – by Matt Sedensky
December 2, 2011
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. -- Short on cash to make big land purchases with public money, environmental officials are increasingly turning to ranchers and other landowners to help in projects aimed at flood prevention, water quality improvement and Everglades restoration.
Eight ranchers north of Lake Okeechobee signed land management deals this week with the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. The water management district is now involved in about 100 such contracts, which are seen as a cheaper alternative to traditional government land acquisition programs.
"It's cost-effective for the government, it's profitable for the ranchers and it's good for the environment," said Melissa Meeker, executive director of the water management district.
The projects vary from site to site, but often take the shape of the one Meeker and other officials surveyed at Dixie Cattle Ranch in Okeechobee. Woody Larson, the ranch's owner, has built simple berms, levees and other catchment areas to hold rainwater.
Holding the water on site acts as a flood prevention tool at Lake Okeechobee, where waters run south to. By preventing it from running into the lake, runoff is also kept out of estuaries, where freshwater can alter the salinity levels, which in turn can disturb sea grass, a cornerstone of life in such bodies of water. And the water storage also plays into larger Everglades restoration efforts, by curbing the flow of phosphorous, a fertilizer that fosters the growth of cattails that can limit native vegetation.
"The health of the Everglades is about getting the water right," said Herschel Vinyard, the DEP secretary. "And a key part of getting the water right is getting the land right."
Perched atop a swamp buggy, Larson sloshes along through his sprawling ranch. Cows rest in the shade beneath palm trees; birds fly in formation overhead. A foot or two of water now covers some areas that were once dry.
Proponents of the program say it's far cheaper than buying up huge swaths of land, plus by keeping ranches in private hands, they remain on the tax rolls. Under the deal, Larson will receive $150 a year for every acre foot of water storage, or about $146,500 annually.
"There has to be some incentive," he said, "or we wouldn't do it."
Though pilot public-private land management projects similar to the one at Dixie Ranch began around 2005, they're expected to become increasingly popular out of financial necessity.
State lawmakers cut Everglades restoration funding this year from $50 million to $29 million, slashed water management district property taxes by $210.5 million, and withheld funding from the Florida Forever land-buying program.
Meeker said land management deals are just "a piece of the puzzle" and still must "be coupled with our larger regional storage and water quality projects."
State Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, who is helping organize a new Everglades caucus in the Legislature, said "land acquisition is the cornerstone of restoring the Everglades" and that he hopes to see Florida Forever funded next session. But he said land management deals such as those signed this week are also positive tools, particularly in tough budget times.
"You can buy a lot more," he said.


Toxic Algae: Environmentalists File Suit Over Florida’s Water Pollution Standards – by Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida
December 2, 2011
Prompted by proposed state regulations it says are inadequate, a coalition of environmental groups on Thursday filed an administrative challenge to the new rules set up to determine acceptable pollution levels in Florida waters.
Earthjustice attorney David Guest said the group filed the challenge at the Division of Administrative Hearings in response to recently proposed state clean water standards that the lawsuit contends fall far short of Federal Clean Water Act requirements imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit claims Florida is failing to protect residents and tourists from nauseating—and dangerous—toxic algae outbreaks.
“Toxic algae outbreaks are a public health threat and they also affect Florida’s bottom line,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “These outbreaks can cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets, and we need to be cleaning it up.”
The state Division of Environmental Protection rule “was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters,” said Guest, said Guest, whose group successfully sued in 2008 over the adequacy of the state’s water pollution standards, which resulted in the federal EPA stepping in to impose numeric criteria for nutrients in water. “Polluters know it is cheaper for them to use our public waters as their private sewers, and the state is giving them the green light to keep doing it.”
After years of seeing toxic algae outbreaks on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed the Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.
After negotiations with the state, however, the EPA backed off, with DEP agreeing to propose its own set of numeric criteria for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters, as required by federal officials.
The 30-page challenge filed Thursday contends that the new proposed DEP rules will still result in years of delay in cleaning up Florida waters and let the state off the hook on protecting Florida waters from ill effects of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients in Florida’s lakes and streams.
The federal standards had been opposed by a host of groups from the business community, power generators and government officials from both sides of the political fence who said the federal rules were inflexible and too expensive to enact, a claim the coalition rejects.
The new state-drawn rules “are not designed to protect state waters from adverse impacts of nutrient over-enrichment,” the complaint asserts. “Instead these rules go so far as to prevent finding of impairment due to nutrients until the water body is covered with nutrient-fueled toxic blue-green algae.” (See the full text below.)
Joining Earthjustice in the challenge is the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and St. Johns Riverkeepers.
“This is not just an environmental issue,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon. “This is an economic issue.”
The 2008 lawsuit filed by Earthjustice argued that the federal Clean Water Act wasn’t being enforced in Florida, despite a ruling in 1998 ordering states to comply with an EPA edict to set verifiable limits on nutrient discharges that are largely responsible for algae blooms and other degradation of inland waters.
In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters. But in November, the state DEP sent Washington an alternative, a slate of draft rules for state numeric measuring of nutrients, and EPA announced that it was likely to approve them.
Opponents of the EPA rules said there’s no scientific reasoning behind numeric limits on pollution, and contend that the criteria would force costly upgrades of facilities such as sewage-treatment plants, which discharge water into rivers and streams.


Bipartisan Coalition wants Scott to Champion More than just Everglades Restoration
Sunshine State News - by Jim Turner
December 1, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott has already taken a leadership role in protection of the Florida Everglades, beyond mere statements, a spokesman said, while a new bipartisan coalition wants the governor to make conserving all of the state’s natural resources a top priority.
Former Gov. Bob Graham was joined by longtime Republican conservationist Nathaniel Reed of Jupiter Island and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, in a media conference on the back steps of the Old Capitol on Wednesday to announce the formation of the Florida Conservation Coalition.
The overall focus of the nonprofit group -- which released statements of support from 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon of Florida, the Sierra Club, and League of Women Voters -- is water quality.
Dockery said a decline in water quality should be viewed as a quality-of-life issue and that any degradation of water standards “directly affects our economy.”
Graham challenged Scott to “lead” a bipartisan effort to reverse water protection policies that the two-term governor says legislators have been enacting the past few years.
“We need strong gubernatorial leadership to reverse the damage that has been done and to avoid future damage,” Graham said.
Scott’s spokesman Lane Wright stated in a release that Scott has been doing just that.
“He has met multiple times in person and via phone with our partners in Washington to get everyone moving in the same direction and develop a plan to restore the Everglades,” Wright stated. “He understands a healthy economy is dependent on a healthy environment.”
The offices of House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, did not respond to requests for comment.
Graham said he was encouraged by Scott’s Nov. 16 comments before the Everglades Foundation that the restoration of the Everglades will be a top priority of his administration, and an op-ed Scott submitted to the Tampa Tribune that ran on Nov. 28.
In the column, Scott declared that “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.”
Dockery said that in the last seven years, she has watched as fellow legislators have defunded the Water Protection and Sustainability Trust Fund and Florida Forever, while cutting spending to water management districts.
“We recognize that in tough economic times ... the environment has to take a hit as well, but we were zero-funded where most agencies were decreased by 10-to-15 percent,” Dockery said.
She also called on Scott to take the helm to protect Florida’s water supply.
“We encourage him and stand ready to help him to be a leader in water, to follow in the footsteps of some of our greatest governors who have made this a priority for the state of Florida,” Dockery said.
Reed, who served as assistant secretary of the interior under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and is chairman emeritus of 1000 Friends of Florida, said the group intends to "raise Cain" against the cuts legislators made earlier this year.
“The developers paid for and got what they wanted,” Reed said. “And it’s a disgrace to the state of Florida.”



former Florida governor
and US Senator.

Bob Graham blasts legislature for reversing 40 years of enviro progress
Miami Herald Blog
December 1, 2011
Related articles:
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The Everglades: a Capitol crime

Surrounded by environmental officials of previous governors, former Gov. Bob Graham forcefully urged Gov. Rick Scott to reverse the environmental damage done by legislators last session and “now lead.”
In a rare rebuke, Graham said the 2011 legislature  “reversed 40 years of Florida’s progress in water and land conservation.’’
“We are in a time machine which has now delivered us back to the 1960s,” he said to a rally of activists and former officials of previous administrations outside the OId Capitol.
Graham stopped short, however, of condemning Scott for failing to renounce the deep budget cuts that led to massive reductions in staff and funding at water management districts around the state.
He pointed to a statement Scott made last month, and an opinion piece he wrote on Sunday, suggesting that water policy and restoring the Everglades will be a priority for his administration and he sounded a hopeful plea that the freshman governor, and his new staff, will see political value to preserving Florida’s resources.
“We commend Gov. Scott, now we ask for his leadership,’’ Graham, a Democrat said of the current governor, a Republican. He noted, however, that the $210 million in property tax savings achieved by Scott and lawmakers saved property owners the equivalent of two pizzas a year but cost the state the “dramatic reduction in our ability to assure sustained quality water and flood control protection and, yes, the restoration of the Everglades.”
Scott spokesman Lane Wright said the governor's leadership on Everglades restoration "goes beyond mere statements" and has included numerous meetings with officials in Washington. "He understands a healthy economy is dependent on a healthy environment,'' he said.
In a opinion piece in the Tampa Tribune on Sunday, Scott said that he wants to create a stable regulatory environment thath focuses more dollars on environmental projects than bureaucracy but that "does not mean lower environmental standards."
Graham announced that he and the state’s top environmental advocacy groups have formed the Florida Conservation Coalition to elicit public support and to join Scott’s “army” for a reversal of the damaging policies.
“The governor in Florida for the last 40 years has had the responsibility for protecting that public asset,’’ he said. “Governor, we call on you with our thanks and appreciation for the statements you have made. Now lead.”
Graham questioned the motives for reversing years of water policy -- to create a surge of jobs in Florida.
“There are over one million unsold homes. There are hundreds of thousands of vacant commercial facilities. Does anyone believe that by changing the character of our water management districts we are going to suddenly put millions of people back to work in construction in Florida?,” Graham asked.
He warned that the legislative cuts to water managmenet district funding, and changes in water policy, resulted in dismantling the professional staff at the water  districts, removed the authority of their citizen boards and “has raised questions as to Florida’s long-term commitment to Everglades restoration.”
Graham said proposals now pending before the Legislature, such as a plan to allow for 50-year permits to extract water from the Floridan Aquifer, threaten the state’s water supply. Meanwhile, the halt to the state conservation land acquisition program weaken protections of floodplains and rivers.
“We have to stop the hemorrhaging — do no harm,” Graham said.
Nathaniel Reed, a former environmental adviser to Republican Gov. Claude Kirk and President Richard Nixon, joined the rally and blasted the Legislature’s decision to “eviscerate” major parts of the state’s growth-management laws, including limiting the state’s role in reviewing local land-planning decisions.
“The developers paid for and they got what they wanted,’’ Reed said. “It’s a disgrace.”
He chastised lawmakers for attempting to shift control of water management districts from the local level to Tallahassee. “I can think of nobody that knows less about water management in Florida than the members of the two chambers opposite me,’’ he said.
State Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who fought many of the proposed budget cuts, said it was time to take politics out of water policy.
“The governor should be accountable, not the legislature, for water management districts,’’ she said. She also urged Scott “to follow in the footsteps of some of our greatest governors who have made water conservation a priority.”
Graham said the group will not only monitor water management district decisions and conduct grass roots conferences but will have a presence in next year’s elections. “We want to alert the voters of 2012 as to who was responsible for what happened in 2011,” he said.


Earthjustice Files Suit to Protect Floridians’ Right to Clean Water
Earthjustice NEWS RELEASE - Contact:  David Guest, 850-681-0031
December 1, 2011
State Department of Environmental Protection Weakening Pollution Limits
TALLAHASSEE – Earthjustice today filed a legal challenge against Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) because the state agency is failing to protect residents and tourists from nauseating -- and dangerous -- toxic algae outbreaks.
 “Toxic algae outbreaks are a public health threat and they also affect Florida’s bottom line,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “These outbreaks can cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets, and we need to be cleaning it up.
 “The state DEP rule was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters,” Guest said. “Polluters know it is cheaper for them to use our public waters as their private sewers, and the state is giving them the green light to keep doing it.”
 “The DEP’s decision to weaken pollution standards is an economic slap in the face to the thousands of Floridians who work in the tourism industry,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon, who has watched businesses suffer as the St. Johns gets covered with repeated toxic slime outbreaks. “This pollution hurts people who work in restaurants, hotels, beach concessions, the fishing industry, the boating industry, the dive industry, and the real estate sales and rental markets.”
After years of seeing toxic algae outbreaks on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.  In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters.
The rule that the EPA set for Florida was a “speed limit sign” that gave everyone fair notice of what specific level of pollution would be allowed in a particular water body. If the speed limit was exceeded, regulators could take action to prevent toxic algae outbreaks and green slime. But the DEP’s rule doesn’t provide that certainty, and it won’t protect public health. 
 “The DEP rule basically says: ‘Well, there could be a speed limit sign here, but we need to do a study first and then we’ll decide.’ Under the state DEP rule, by the time the state takes action, a waterway is already slimed. The whole point is to clean it up before it gets that bad,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The Sierra Club offered photographic proof today of the dire need for immediate cleanup action. The Club unveiled an interactive map of Florida’s slimed waterways, which stretch from South Florida to the Panhandle. 
 “With the help of local citizens and clean water watchdogs all over the state, the Sierra Club has compiled photos of the red and green muck that plagues too many of the springs, rivers, lakes and bays of our state.  This map lets you take a photographic ‘slime tour’ of Florida – and it is not a pretty picture,” said Craig Diamond, Executive Committee, Sierra Club Florida Chapter. 
Earthjustice filed today’s administrative challenge in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
“We have a massive fish kill in Estero Bay right now, and it is happening because the state has delayed acting to solve this major pollution problem for the past 15 years. The DEP’s weak rule is just going to delay cleanup further. The DEP is just kicking the can down the road another 15 years, and that’s not fair to the citizens. We all deserve clean water,” said Jennifer Hecker, policy director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.  


Swamp Heritage Days celebrate a watery way of life
Naples Daily News – by A.C. Shilton, Daily News Correspondent
December 1, 2011
As cars cruise along U.S. 41 East, past the outskirts of Naples and into the Big Cypress Swamp, it’s easy to spot wading birds and alligators from the comfort of your air-conditioned sedan. Passing the big brown signs that mark the entrance to Big Cypress National Preserve, it’s obvious that this is a place of great natural beauty and ecological significance. Lesser known, however, is that this is a place of great human significance too.
Today and Saturday, the national preserve, which protects 729,000 acres of freshwater swamp, will host its first-ever Swamp Heritage Days event, celebrating the life and culture of the swamp.
“We just have a lot of new things here at the park that people haven’t necessarily heard about,” said event coordinator and park ranger, Jill Wilson, adding, “Since we never really had a grand opening for the new welcome center we wanted to invite the public in for this.”
The heritage celebration, which runs today and Saturday, will serve as both a way to show off the 10-month-old Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, and as an opportunity to engage the public in a discussion about both the preserve’s past and future.
As a national preserve, and not a national park like its well-known neighbor, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve is a partnership between federal agencies, landowners, the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, and the public.
Because of this, it’s almost impossible to talk about many of the natural resources in the area without mentioning the long history of human activity within the preserve.
“Once you get to know the landscape you realize that it really does go hand-in-hand with the cultural traditions of the region; the two really are connected,” advises Wilson. She adds, “And it’s not a done heritage or culture; this is ongoing culture and a lot of the communities here have direct ties to this culture.”
One highlight of the two-day festival is a large collection of Rob Storter drawings, on loan from the Friends of the Everglades City Museum. Done in the last 30 years of Storter’s life, the pictures depict a bygone era in Southwest Florida. The collection takes up almost every square inch of wall space in the welcome center’s auditorium, and truly captivates anyone with any fondness for the region.
“Whatever community you’re from, you’re likely to find at least one image that’s intriguing to you,” says Wilson, adding, “He drew early Naples, Everglades City and Marco; there are scenes that locals will recognize.”
And there’s nothing like seeing the drawings in the setting where many of them were inspired. Walking out on the welcome center’s boardwalk, which overlooks a brackish canal, it’s easy to imagine Storter himself sitting on one of the benches, sketching away.
After you’ve strolled through Storter’s stunning collection, take time to head out to the preserve’s newest exhibit, an installation on swamp buggy heritage. The exhibition’s centerpiece is a vintage swamp buggy that once patrolled the trails of Big Cypress. Telling the tale of these unique-to-the-swamp vehicles are a host of new signs and waysides, covering everything from the buggy’s use in firefighting and trail maintenance to their recreational and cultural significances.
Throughout the two days, rangers and volunteers will lead a variety of free programs on topics relevant to the preserve’s natural and cultural history. Park guide Rudi Heinrich will present a program titled “Fisher-Folk of the Swamp,” which chronicles the region’s two-plus millennia of fishing history.
“There is this immense continuity of fishing culture in the area,” says Heinrich, describing what his 45 minute-long talk will cover.
Particularly interesting to Heinrich, is that though times and cultures have changed, many of the methods of fishing have remained similar. Beyond that, Heinrich stresses that this is one of the few places in the country where the old-time fishing culture still exists in some way, shape or form.
“I think it’s important for people to come and see how unique this place is. There are still people fishing here the way their ancestors did. It’s a snapshot of something that’s rapidly going away, but there are still vestiges of fishing culture here,” he says. Heinrich adds, “It’s truly part of my heritage as a Floridian, and our heritage as Americans.”
And if a brief history of fishing isn’t your thing, you can always come to the event just to sing the praises of the swamp, literally. Volunteer Dave “Gator” Gates will be leading a sing-along program featuring seven swamp songs. Some are his own compositions, while others are tunes he’s borrowed, but all of them celebrate the natural beauty of the place.
“I only play my Martin because I enjoy it,” he says, adding, “You know that saying, don’t quit your day job? I’m pretty sure that applies to me.”
Gates’ songs range from funny to serious to educational, and include such soon-to-be-radio hits as “Don’t Feed the Gator,” and “Mosquito Lullaby.” “Paw Prints in the Sand” is one of the songs he wrote himself, and is inspired by a set of very fresh Florida panther tracks.
“They were so fresh, like water seeping back into them fresh,” explains Gates, adding, “So I got off my ATV and tried to track him. I went about a mile and never saw even another sign of him, though I’m totally convinced he watched me the entire time. But I thought to myself, what if I was the last person on earth to ever see panther prints again? That’s what inspired the song.”
Some of the songs are serious and some are whimsical, but for Gates it’s all about using music to illustrate the beauty and wonder of the Big Cypress Swamp. “Sometimes the message is better through music than just when it’s spoken,” he says, adding, “Song lyrics often kind of have a picture to them.”
And that’s the whole point of the two-day event. Urging locals to come into the swamp and see more of the picture than just the natural beauty that’s so visible from the highway is the preserve’s ultimate goal.
“I think a lot of people pass by this place and don’t really understand it,” says Heinrich, adding, “The human history of Big Cypress National Preserve is compelling, and today’s visitors to the swamp are just the latest chapter in the swamp’s heritage.”


Water deal with ranchers nothing to cheer about
Palm Beach Post – Blog by Sally Swartz
December 1, 2011
Martin County residents don’t have to stand up and cheer about a state deal announced this week to pay ranchers to store water on their pasture lands.
A subdued, “Well, that’s something,” will do.
Residents have had no luck lobbying officials for more than 13 years to stop dumping the lake’s overflow into the river during wet years. Every drop of water that stays on farmlands stays out of Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River.
Some may question why state environmental officials should pay farmers and ranchers $53 million over the next five years to store and clean water before sending it to the lake.
For Martin County residents, storing water anywhere beats dumping it into the lake. Because, Lake Okeechobee’s overflow dumps into the St. Lucie River to the east and the Caloosahatchee River to the west during wet years. The discharges, polluted with nutrients from cities and farms, devastate estuaries and economies on both coasts.
Residents know the drill. Sick fish, with sores and rotting flesh. Signs warning residents not to touch the water. Rivers coated with slimy green algae. Tourists who leave in droves. Bait shops, restaurants, hotels and other businesses that suffer when snowbirds leave for areas where water is cleaner and fishing is safe.
Martin residents try to forgive, but they can’t forget the sad problems of dealing with too much polluted lake water. So storing it anywhere helps. In October, the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers restarted a project to build a reservoir near Indiantown that will hold and clean runoff from nearby farms and cities, but won’t be big enough to handle lake overflow.
The deal with farmers is a contract with eight ranchers north of the lake to hold and clean water on 9,500 acres. The water district will pay farmers as much as $150 per acre foot to store water over the next 10 years. (An acre foot equals water a foot deep over an acre of land.)
Mark Perry, executive director of Florida Oceanographic Society and board member of the Everglades Coalition and Martin’s Rivers Coalition, said storing water north of the lake helps slow and clean the flow as the Kissimmee River once did.
That changed when the Corps dug a canal that bypassed the river. Water that once meandered south to the lake over months sped down the canal in a week. The Corps later restored a portion of the river, which has helped improve the quality of water sent to Lake Okeechobee.
So paying farmers to store water will help. But will it help enough?
“Maybe something is better than nothing,” Mr. Perry said, noting that the idea of paying farmers for storage has been controversial.
A check of campaign contributions to Gov. Rick Scott shows that Lykes Brothers Inc., Lykes Land Investment Inc. and Syfrett Development Inc., all with interests in ranches that will be paid to store water, each gave the governor $500 in 2010.
The ultimate goal is to store 450,000 acre feet north of the Lake, so these small water storage projects are the proverbial drop in the bucket. But they’re something compared with previous failures.
Engineers’ dreams of pumping water underground to store, then retrieve to treat and drink later, are not going to come true. The water district’s $300 million reservoir south of the lake was abandoned unfinished, and a $250 million reservoir in western Palm Beach County stored water too salty and polluted to save.
While small solutions help, Mr. Perry said, with the lower East Coast of Florida and the Everglades starved for water in dry times, “we
still pump out more fresh water to tide (down canals and out to sea) than we consume.”
Paying farmers to store water, especially already rich and politically connected corporate farmers, isn’t the best solution. Even if Department of Environmental Protection secretary Herschel Vinyard thinks it’s “innovative” and water district chief Melissa Meeker predicts widespread environmental relief.
To Martin residents, periodically faced with polluted lake water devastating the St. Lucie River, it’s better than nothing — but not nearly enough.
Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is


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