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Bomb-sniffing dogs enlisted to stem Florida python invasion
Reuters - by Barbara Liston
April 30, 2012
* Auburn scientists training dogs to hunt Burmese pythons
* Invaders upsetting ecological balance in Florida Everglades
* "Dumb" dogs make best hunters
ORLANDO, April 30 (Reuters) - Some bomb-sniffing dogs trained to help fight terrorism are turning their olfactory attention toward a different scourge: Burmese pythons in
Florida's Everglades National Park.
The dogs are members of "EcoDogs," a three-year-old collaboration at Alabama's Auburn University between the science departments and the school's Canine Detection Research Institute, which trains dogs to detect explosives.
"The dogs are really, really good," said Christina Romagosa, a biologist at Auburn.
She said in a test of python detection in south Florida, the dogs could cover a search area 2.5 times faster than a person.
"People can only see that the snake is there if they can see the snake. The dogs can smell the snake even if it's not visually apparent to us," she said.
Todd Steury, an Auburn conservation biologist and co-founder of the project, said many of the EcoDogs were found temperamentally unsuitable for indoor explosives work but thrive outdoors searching for ecological targets.
Steury estimated training a new dog to detect a scent takes six to 10 weeks. Training for each additional scent takes "about 10 minutes. You can do it by accident if you're not careful," he said, by inadvertently rewarding the dog for something you weren't looking for, which then becomes part of the dog's repertoire.
Two black Labrador retrievers from EcoDogs, Ivy and Jake, went on assignment in 2010 to demonstrate to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers their potential usefulness in battling the python
problem in the 2,358-square-mile (6,100-sq-km) Everglades park.
Environmentalists fear the pythons are upsetting the native ecological balance of South Florida. The invasion is generally attributed to both irresponsible pet owners dumping their snakes and 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which destroyed an adjacent exotic snake warehouse.
In controlled experiments, the EcoDogs success rate in finding pythons at the park was 75-92 percent, Romagosa said. The dogs helped researchers trap 19 pythons, including a pregnant snake with 19 eggs, according to an EcoDog report.
Linda Friar, spokeswoman for the Everglades National Park, said the snakes are so thoroughly adapted to the Everglades, and the park is so wild and inaccessible that there is no expectation of eradicating them, even with the dogs' help. The best hope is to prevent the pythons from spreading and be prepared for future invasions of new exotics, she said.
Romagosa said analysis is underway to determine whether the dogs can play a role in a rapid response team and whether funding their role , in a cost-cutting era is possible.
"The dogs would be useful in a scenario where we might not be sure the python has moved on beyond a certain range. The dogs can give us an idea of whether the species is present or not," she said.
Meanwhile, Ivy retired and was adopted, Steury said. Jake switched to a new project assessing the deer population in Alabama, looking for fawns and deer antlers.
Other EcoDogs are rooting out a tree fungus damaging forests in the state, and locating various skunk, bear and other animal populations based on their scat, or droppings.
"Pretty much a dog can be trained to find anything," Romagosa said.
Three years of working with the dogs disproved a common
misconception that a smart dog is best, added Steury.
"The worst dog is a really smart but kinda lazy dog. Because that dog is always trying to figure out how he can cheat. Once you reward him for cheating, he's done. He'll never work again. The best dogs are the ones that are kind of dumb but just work really hard. We can train those dogs to work all day long and they're the best detection dogs," Steury said.
And the dogs enjoy the work so much that ones like Kasey, who searches for weasel, bobcat and gray fox scat, eventually lose interest in the reward, he said.
"She finds a scat, you'll give her the ball, she plays with it for a really short time, then she's back to the search. She likes the search," Steury said.


Florida water-reuse bill signed
August 30, 2012
Florida's governor, Rick Scott, signed bill HB 639 Reclaimed Water on 24 April 2012 which should make it easier for cities and counties in the US state to use reclaimed water.
A controversial clause, which would have allowed private ownership of reclaimed water to make permitting easier, was removed prior to the bill's approval in response to objections from environmental groups.
As well as defining "reclaimed water" and requiring relevant rule amendments, the bill defines reused water as an alternative water supply and makes it eligible for funding as such.


Way down on the Suwannee – Editorial
April 30, 2012
Withering springs and falling lake and river levels are nothing new to Central and South Florida, even to those of us who live in the home of the world’s most famous springs. It has been a part of the landscape for years as low rainfall totals and high population growth did a double-whammy on water levels.
But now, in the face of the worst drought since 1932, comes the Suwannee River Water Management District calling on residents in its region enveloping the river made famous by Stephen Foster to conserve water while it considers whether to impose mandatory restrictions.
This wake-up call comes as some area springs are drying up and river levels approach historic lows. This, in a region famous for its plentiful water, its world-renown springs, its seemingly endless supply of water from the Okeefenokee Swamp.
“We have entered the dry season, and what rainfall we typically get is less effective in terms of groundwater recharge because of losses to heat and vegetation,” Megan Wetherington, district senior professional engineer, said in a press release. “We can expect to see the rivers set new lows by June, as well as further decreases in spring flows if we don’t get some help from the weather.”
No question the warning is timely. And, yes, the district is right to lay plans for mandatory water use restrictions on utilities, industries and agricultural consumers.
But district managers are fooling residents, and themselves, by giving the impression that this water “emergency” is strictly drought-related.
What’s happening to the region’s springs and aquifer is as much a man-made as a natural catastrophe, as those of us in Ocala/Marion County know from our own experiences with declining spring flows and river and lake levels. The evidence is mounting that over-pumping — both in the Suwannee district and in the neighboring St. Johns River district — is steadily lowering aquifer levels and all but destroying once-healthy springs. Even a return to “normal” rainfall won’t erase that pumping deficit.
This water crisis in the Suwannee Valley won’t be solved by the imposition of temporary restrictions while waiting for the rains to return, just as it will not be solved in any other region of Florida by the same means. Florida faces serious, long-term water challenges that demand strategic and dramatic changes in the state’s water consumption and conservation policies. The water management districts have said so.
Those who follow the health of our water supply know so. The only people who seem to be oblivious to the realities of our dwindling water supply are our legislators, our governor and those appointed by both to oversee and manage our water districts.
This drought may be an attention-getter, but it is not the sole cause of a steadily dropping aquifer and the slow death of our springs.
It is past time, way past time, for the Florida Legislature to quit worrying about the bottom line of the development industry and start worrying about the bottom line on our water supply. If they have any question of the breadth of the program just look way down on the Suwannee River.


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S.Lucie inlet
St. Lucie Inlet and the
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Don't count on Everglades restoration plans restoring the St. Lucie River
TCPalm - by Eve Samples
April 29, 2012
Mark Perry has an assignment for us:  Go outside.
Hop in a boat or stand at the shore of the St. Lucie River.
"Watch the mullet jumping, and just feel Florida," said Perry, executive director of Florida Oceanographic Society.
Enjoy the relative health of the river while you can.
After a parched dry season, the rainy season is only a month or so away. If it's a particularly wet one, we can brace ourselves for more Health Department warnings and algae outbreaks on the St. Lucie River.
As optimistic as leaders of the South Florida Water Management District are about restoration projects along the Kissimmee River and elsewhere, they won't eliminate the perennial threat to the St. Lucie River — damaging releases from Lake Okeechobee.
"There's going to come a time when that water's going to rise and we have no capacity to move it south," Perry said.
When lake water rises and the Army Corps of Engineers starts getting nervous about the aging dike around Lake O, it will dump the water west to the Caloosahatchee River and east to the St. Lucie.
The Kissimmee River restoration project won't change that.
The C-44 Reservoir project on the St. Lucie Canal won't change that.
And there's no guarantee that a new, widely praised Everglades planning initiative will change that.
The Central Everglades Planning Project — led by the Army Corps with help from the South Florida Water Management District — aims to tag a group of restoration projects for congressional authorization within two years.
The goal: to send more water south to the central Everglades, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay (sparing the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee).
The catch: the restoration projects must be done on land already owned by the public.
That falls short for Karl Wickstrom, the founder of Florida Sportsman magazine who with Perry is a member of the Rivers Coalition advocacy group.
Wickstrom hopes water managers will exercise their option to buy another 153,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar Corp. — part of a controversial deal proposed by former Gov. Charlie Crist. Nine years are left on that option.
"The public is solidly for a cleanup, but they just don't have a vehicle because most of the politicians and bureaucrats are compromised," Wickstrom said.
Another member of the Rivers Coalition, Ted Guy Jr., is slightly more optimistic about the Central Everglades Planning Project. He hopes it includes a way to move water south from Lake Okeechobee into the Miami River Canal and the North New River Canal.
But it's not clear how much water those canals can move — or how much more they could handle if they were expanded. Guy has been asking that question for months.
Scientists are researching those numbers now, said Melissa Meeker, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
Meeker, who had been on the job 300 days, painted a picture of progress when she spoke Wednesday to the Rivers Coalition at Stuart City Hall.
She pointed to the amount of water being stored on private land around the state and the progress along the Kissimmee River.
Her audience wanted assurances about the St. Lucie River that she couldn't provide.
"There's an awful lot of lip service to solving the problem, but mainly I think they're trying to protect the (Everglades Agricultural Area) and the agricultural water supply and the utility water supply and the golf course water supply," Guy said.
To that point, an alliance of environmental groups just launched a TV ad warning residents that "summer slime" season is coming.
With ominous music playing, the Florida Water Coalition spot declares:
"The recent slew of toxic algae blooms are caused by industrial polluters, sewage, manure, fertilizer. Floridians like to boat, fish and swim in clean water — but our politicians keep protecting polluters."
The St. Lucie River is free of those algae blooms at the moment.
Enjoy it while you can.


Gov. Scott, Legislature revised position, loosened controls on water districts
Naples Daily News – by Eric Staats
April 29, 2012
NAPLES — Gov. Rick Scott has set the stage for Florida's five water management districts to loosen their purse strings, just a year after Scott cinched them shut.
Scott signed a bill April 20 that removes property tax revenue caps imposed on the districts for the 2011-12 budget year as the governor and legislators sharpened their budget-cutting axes.
"Gov. Scott and legislators realized they made a mistake," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, which made reversing the caps its top legislative priority this year.
Scott signed the bill without any fanfare or comment; the governor's office didn't respond to requests from the Daily News for an explanation about why he favored lifting the caps.
The $285 million property tax revenue cap on the South Florida Water Management District, which includes Collier and Lee counties, undercut Everglades restoration efforts, Draper said.
To comply with the cap, the district's Governing Board wrestled with a 32 percent property tax cut for the 16-county district that stretches coast-to-coast from Orlando to Key West. The district's total budget is $576 million.
The Big Cypress Basin, the Collier County arm of the South Florida district, saw its budget go from $13.4 million to $9.3 million.
Removing the cap doesn't restore the district's funding to pre-cap levels. It allows districts to take advantage of property value increases to raise more revenue, but raising the property tax rate would require a further vote of the district's Governing Board.
"That for me is going to be the real test," Draper said.
Southwest Florida's representative on the district's Governing Board said there's "not a chance" the district will return to pre-cap spending levels.
"There was excess in how the district was spending money," board member Daniel DeLisi said. "We owed it to the taxpayers to look at that."
Having a cap, though, "just doesn't make sense" because it takes away flexibility the district needs to pay for Everglades restoration projects.
"What we don't want to do is, because of the mistakes of the past, go overboard," DeLisi said.
The bill Scott signed keeps some restrictions on how districts can spend their money and rebalances district oversight between the state Legislature and the governor's office.
In 2011, a property tax cap bill gave legislators line-item veto authority over the district's budget, something that had been the sole power of the governor. The new bill takes the line-item veto power away from the state Legislature.
Still, a Legislative Budget Commission can reject some district budget proposals. They include a single land purchase of more than $10 million, any cumulative purchase of land during a single fiscal year of more than $50 million and any issuance of debt, starting July 1.
The bill also allows the Legislature, if it chooses, to enact legislation to set a maximum property tax rate for each water management district and to review the districts' preliminary budget each year.


Highlands is a dry county - by Christopher Tuffley
April 29, 2012
SEBRING -- Despite some recent rain, Highlands County is still very dry.
"You can call it a drought," said Robyn Felix, media relations manager for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "It's extremely dry and we are monitoring conditions closely. The 1.7 inches we got last weekend provided some improvement, but we expect it to dry out again."
Felix said that while restrictions have been tightened in Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties, they remain at Phase I here in Highlands County. She described Phase I as a warning stage of response, recommending careful use of water because predictions are uncertain as to what the summer's weather pattern will be.
"We'd like to see above average rainfall so we can fill up," Felix said, but there are no guarantees -- especially because 2011 was drier than usual as well.
According to SWFWMD, more than 80 percent of the area's water supply comes from aquifers.
Aquifers are underground layers of rock and sand that hold water.
As of April 27, the aquifer was slightly more than 2.5 feet below normal.
Rainfall has been well below average in April too.
Historically, it produces 2.49 inches of rain in the region. As of the 27th, there has only been 1.62 inches of rain.
While more than 10 inches of rain typically fall between January and April, this year there has been less than five inches.



Burmese python

Pythons blamed for wildlife losses in Everglades
The Washington Post - by Darryl Fears
April 28, 2012
Everglades National Park, Fla. - Kristen Hart's search for a cold-blooded killer came to an end at a perfect hideout - thick scrub brush, dense trees and shade. She crouched with three scouts and whispered.
"Do you see her?" asked Hart, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. "Yeah, she's in there," answered Thomas Selby, a wildlife biologist. "I think she knows we're here," said Brian Smith, another biologist.
Within seconds, the 16½-foot Burmese python uncoiled and made a run for it. What happened next is a drama that plays out every week or so, as state and federal biologists try to prove - or disprove - that the giant invasive snakes are the reason for the near disappearance of rabbits, opossums, raccoons, foxes and even bobcats in the southernmost section of the 1.5-million-acre Everglades.
Smith and Selby charged into the trees. "I've got the head!" Smith shouted. "Grab the tail!" They stumbled out with the writhing snake in a chokehold, huge mouth agape, ready to bite.
It was actually the second time biologists got their hands on Python 51 - the 51st caught. Two months ago, they surgically fitted her with a radio transmitter, motion detector and global positioning system to study her diet and movements.
Now, the snake's days of squeezing the life out of prey and giving birth to about four dozen babies every year are over. The scientists want to retrieve their expensive equipment and the data it contains. She was euthanized last week, along with an even bigger snake, the largest ever captured in Florida, at 17½ feet - more than twice as long as former basketball player Shaquille O'Neal is tall.
Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia. No one knows for certain how the invasive snake entered the park. The belief that Hurricane Andrew blew them there from exotic pet shops and houses in 1992, or that numerous pet owners released them when they grew too large, is likely a myth, according to Frank J. Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation for the University of Florida.
Up to 100 eggs a year
"All it takes is three snakes," he said, mating and laying an average of 50 eggs, and up to 100 eggs, per year.
Their population in the Everglades is estimated at anywhere between 5,000 and 100,000 by USGS. The National Park Service says that more than 1,800 pythons have been removed from the park and surrounding areas since 2002.
Some game officials and citizens have suggested sending bounty hunters with guns and machetes into the park. Bounty hunters are great at capturing snakes - when they find them, which is rare. Hunters are also known to execute small native snakes, mistaking them for python hatchlings.
"Someone could tell you there are 10 pythons in this area, and you could walk all day and not see them," Smith said as leaned on a truck, dirty and tired after wrestling Python 51 and leading the team on a two-mile hike with her live 140-pound body draped over their shoulders.
Pythons prefer warmth, but many in the Everglades have managed to survive hard freezes, leading some biologists to worry about their ability to adapt and travel north. The snake has already been swimming and slithering south toward the Florida Keys.
Once pythons are established, trouble seems to follow. A study co-authored by Hart, Mazzotti and other researchers showed that when pythons started to appear in large numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, mammals in the southernmost part of the Everglades started to disappear.
For the study, researchers traveled nearly 40,000 miles over 11 years, observing wildlife in the southern area. They found that 99 percent of raccoons, 98 percent of opossums and about 88 percent of bobcats were gone. Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, could not be found.
Nearly every news report blamed pythons, but the study - "Severe Mammal Declines Coincide with Proliferation of Invasive Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park" - did not conclude that. It said more research was needed.
"You have to ask the question," Mazzotti said. "Has a crime occurred? Yes, mammals have declined. Do pythons have a motive ? You bet, they have to eat. Do they have the means ? They're like vacuum cleaners on mammals. But then you have to do a much better job of looking at cause and effect."
Mazzotti is also examining the impact of humans, who have drained water for development. "What's happened in the Everglades is that the depth of water has been completely screwed up by humans, and we have to ask the question if hydrology is related to the disappearance of mammals."
Using data collected from recaptured pythons, Hart is testing her own theory. Although humans rarely see well-camouflaged pythons, she wonders whether vanishing marsh rabbits see them all the time, just before their world goes black.
"I used to see marsh rabbits down in Flamingo (a section of the park) and I don't see them anymore," she said. "We don't see such dramatic declines in places that don't have pythons, like Big Cypress," the national preserve slightly north of the Everglades.
Python 51 is one of the keys to that research. She was first captured in February, when park workers spraying vegetation spotted her and called for help. She became the fifth snake fitted with smarter motion detector and global positioning technology since it was first deployed two years ago.
After her recapture, Hart was eager to see the data embedded in the tracking device, called an accelerometer. Its technology is similar to the Xbox and Wii digital game devices, recording data five times a second - "every pitch, yaw and roll," Hart said.
"We can tell when they're belly up," she said. "We can tell if it squeezed a small item," meaning a little creature, "because it would not take long, or that much flipping by the snake," to squeeze its breath out and stop its heart. "But a large item would take lots of flipping."
Accelerometers cost $2,000 each, a pricey sum for the cash-strapped USGS. When an accelerometer was lost last year in April, Hart and her team went out of their way to get it back.
"We were in water up to my waist," said Selby, who is more than 6 feet tall. Smith, his colleague, "was holding the radio. I stepped on something hard and stood up on it. Then I stepped off and this gator splashed away." As it swam away, the signal got weaker and weaker. "He had the accelerometer in him."
Days later, they struck out to find the alligator. "We got the gator that got the python that had the accelerometer," Hart said. The 10-foot alligator is currently at Zoo Miami, where the staff is waiting for him to poop out the device.
"We're hoping to get him X-rayed this week," Hart said. "We might have to go get the equipment through one end or the other. He will be awake. You can get the mouth open. You can reach way in there. I'm sure the gator won't like it."
Gators, in all likelihood, do not like being eaten by snakes, which happens twice as often as the other way around, Hart said. High in mercury, python meat is a dangerous meal, so nothing benefits from eating them.
"What can we do to control this snake?" Hart said. Control is politically correct biologist jargon for killing to drive down a population. All but one of the 52 snakes captured were humanely killed. "That's what I'm really focused on."


A voice for the ’Glades
The Miami Herald - Editorial
April 27, 2012
OUR OPINION: Tough job ahead for politically savvy advocate
The Everglades, our life-sustaining River of Grass, needs every friend it can get. And it’s getting a real whopper of an advocate in Erik Eikenberg, who was named chief executive of the Everglades Foundation this week.
The Foundation is a politically influential, well-funded organization committed to Everglades restoration. Its board found Mr. Eikenberg to be the perfect fit for the lead position. His background backs up that thinking: Now a Tallahassee lobbyist, Mr. Eikenberg is a politically astute former chief aide to Gov. Charlie Crist. He’s well-connected in both Tallahassee and Washington and championed the 2008 Everglades-restoration land deal that Mr. Crist advocated with the U.S. Sugar Corp. Years before, he was chief of staff in to U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, a Fort Lauderdale Republican who was a strong supporter of the landmark $12.4 billion Everglades restoration plan. And how’s this for serendipity? Mr. Eikenberg, a native of Coral Springs, is a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Everglades warrants every bit of political muscle Mr. Eikenberg can flex. It is not only an essential ecosystem, delivering water to South Florida from Lake Okeechobee. In just the past three years, restoration projects have created more than 10,000 jobs — and that was in the midst of a recession. Yet hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on the water system. A healthy Everglades spurs recreational tourism, another moneymaker for the state.
Despite this vital role that the Everglades plays in our lives, it has, over too many years, been abused by polluted runoff from farming areas and homes, gouged by development and, of course, had its funds drained to help balance the state budget. Last year, Gov. Scott and the Legislature decimated funds for Everglades restoration projects. Short-sighted, to say the least. This year, $30 million was restored for projects.
Everglades restoration needs sustained and consistent funding.
In Mr. Eikenberg, the River of Grass appears to have a sustained and consistent voice advocating for its good health.


Billions of gallons of fresh water injected into Caloosahatchee River to fight algae blooms
The Associated Press
April 27, 2012
CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Billions of gallons of fresh water are being released into the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida this week to combat algae blooms.
The News-Press of Fort Myers ( ) reports that nearly 4 billion gallons of fresh water from the Lake Okeechobee system were released into the river this week.
Without the fresh-water flushing in the current drought conditions, water in the river becomes stagnant — making it easier for harmful algae to grow.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, acting on a recommendation from the South Florida Water Management District, released the water down the river at a rate of 2,000 cubic feet per second over three days this week.
The river runs west from central Florida and empties in the Gulf of Mexico between Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
Southwest Fla. river gets fresh water injection           Coshocton Tribune
Fresh water rushes to Caloosahatchee River's rescue The News-Press
Here is the latest Florida news from The Associated Press    WEAR
Southwest Fla. river gets fresh water injection           WWSB ABC 7


clean water
clean water

May 15 Forum to Address Threats to Silver Springs and St. Johns River
Florida Sportsman Newswire
April 27, 2012
On Tuesday, May 15 at 6 p.m., St. Johns Riverkeeper, Silver Springs Alliance, and Florida Springs Institute will be hosting a forum to discuss the current threats to Silver Springs and the declining health of many of our springs, lakes, and rivers in North Florida.
The forum will be held at the Wyndham Jacksonville Riverwalk. It’s open and free to the public.
Map and Directions:
Dr. Bob Knight and other experts will present information about the significant decline in flow and increase in pollution that has been documented in many of North Florida’s waterways, including Silver Springs.
While Silver Springs is a world-famous tourist destination and iconic Florida natural and cultural treasure, it is also an important source of clean, fresh water for the St. Johns Riversystem. This first magnitude spring flows from the aquifer into the Silver River before converging with the Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary of the St. Johns River. Long-term flows in the Silver River have declined by more than 30 percent, and water from the aquifer that feeds Silver Springs is polluted with nitrate nitrogen, the result of excessive fertilizer use and insufficient wastewater management.
“The health of so many of Florida’s springs and rivers is in decline due to encroaching development, pollution, and excessive groundwater withdrawals,” explains Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “This forum will help us better understand the interconnectedness of our aquifer, springs, and St. Johns River and why we must take action now to protect these priceless resources.”
The forum will include an in-depth discussion about a proposed large-scale cattle operation in Marion County that could have serious impacts on the health of Silver Springs, a National Natural Landmark, and the Silver River, an Outstanding Florida Water.
Adena Springs Ranch is seeking a permit to withdraw over 13 million gallons of water a day, more water than is used by the entire city of Ocala on a daily basis. St. Johns Riverkeeper is opposing the permit, due to the potential impacts to the flow of Silver Spring and Silver River and an increase in nitrogen loading from fertilizers and livestock waste
St. Johns Riverkeeper is a privately-funded 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy organization that serves as an independent voice for the St. Johns River. Our mission is to work on behalf of the community for clean and healthy waters in the St. Johns River, its tributaries and its wetlands, through citizen-based advocacy.


Shell Shocked: Landmark Victory for Alligators – by Art Stevens
April 27, 2012
In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court, in a narrow 5 to 4 vote, declared today that alligator relocation from Sanibel to the Everglades is unconstitutional.
Reading from the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the rights of alligators had been systematically eroded during the past twenty-five years through a series of repressive laws passed by generations of Sanibel Island city government.
Civil rights forces throughout the country hailed the decision as a victory for minority groups and vowed they wouldn't rest until the courts also recognized the rights of jellyfish, frogs, egrets, wasps and pussycats.
The Supreme Court decision invalidated a Sanibel law which required alligators to be shepherded to designated areas out of the reach of human beings.
Speaking for the majority, Justice Thomas said: "It is the majority opinion that the rights of alligators, a beloved and endangered species, have been politicized by Sanibel governments to promote and foster vacation packages and tourism. Toward that end, alligators have become second class citizens with fewer and fewer rights.
"The constitution provides for the right of our citizens to congregate peaceably regardless of the size of our noses, the number of teeth, or the texture of our skin. What this decision means in day to day terms is that henceforth alligators will have the right to shop at Jerry's and sunbathe on public beaches without fear of reprisal."
In a prepared statement, Orville Alligator, president of the National Federation of Alligators, commented that the Supreme Court decision fulfilled a lifelong battle for equality by the Sanibel alligator population and made a show of force academic.
"We were prepared to exercise several options to demonstrate our determination to break the shackles that were binding us. The first option we considered was to chew our way to freedom. If the Supreme Court had voted against us, we planned to eat them.
"Another option we considered was a hunger strike. We planned to eat one human less a day until our cries for equality were heard. Fortunately, we did not have to exercise any of these options."
The Sanibel City Council expressed dismay when told about the Supreme Court decision.
"Now that alligators have the same rights we do, think about how long the lines at Timbers and Doc Ford's will be. If you think the wait was long before, you ain't seen nothin' yet."
Those most affected by the decision are the island's alligator relocators. At a crowded press conference at Ding Darling, Frank Buck, executive director of Local 31 of the Brotherhood of Gator Getters, issued a dire prediction.
"I truly wonder if the Supreme Court knows what it's done. They sit there in their judicial chambers behind their judicial robes and don't know what it's like to come home and find an alligator in your chaise lounge.
"We will now have to share our public facilities, restaurants, schools, beaches and even our homes with alligators. Soon our daughters will be dating alligators. Is this what the Supreme Court wants ?"
In a show of symbolic unity, civil rights groups and alligators swam victory laps in the Ding Darling swamps together. Because of the suddenness with which the Supreme Court decision was made, a number of groups that will be affected have not had an opportunity to explore the full ramifications. For example, the airline industry declined to comment pending further analysis.
One airline official speaking off the record wondered if the decision meant that airline first class menus would now have to include bugs and insects.
Church groups wondered if the Supreme Court took into account the natural predatory habits of alligators.
"Alligators must learn to pray in a church, not swim in it," one church elder soberly volunteered.
Extremist alligator groups were only partly satisfied with the Supreme Court decision however. Said one radical alligator while munching on a humanburger, "We won't be satisfied until at least one alligator is appointed to the Supreme Court. Only then will we feel validated."
Bennett Leatherhead, a spokesman for the Shoe Manufacturers Association, said that the decision seriously affected his industry.
"What's high fashion without alligator shoes ? Oh, well. We'll just have to continue to be trend setters. But is the world ready yet for elephant shoes?"


Expedition Reaches Its Destination: Wildlife Corridor Work Continues
WFIT - by Michelle Walker
April 26, 2012
Blistered and bug-bitten, a group of conservationists reached their destination of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia, on Earth Day. The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team set out, back in January, at the southern tip of Florida in the Everglades National Park. They made their way up through the sunshine state on foot, by paddle and even occasionally on horseback. Their goal has been to garner attention for a vision to link Florida’s already existing corridors of protected natural areas, to lands with the potential to be protected. The hope is that this will eventually lead to a state-long corridor of wild and rural lands.
Now that the 100 day expedition has been a success, the focus of expedition co-leader, Carlton Ward JR. and others involved in the corridor project could be even more challenging. That focus includes getting funding restored for the state’s land acquisition, environmental restoration and water resource development program, Florida Forever.
Tom Hoctor, director of the Center for Landscape Conservation Planning at University of Florida, and co-founder of the Florida Wildlife Corridor concept, says that if Florida Forever is supported and gets funding returned to pre-economic downturn levels, big parts of the Florida Wildlife Corridor could get protected in the next few years. Hoctor explains that this funding is an investment in the health of Florida’s environment and economy through long-term planning.
“Natural and rural lands provide us with many different services, including water storage, water purification, flood control, storm protection, air purification, etc.” Hoctor says.
He adds that these resources are actually worth a lot of money.
Back at Camp Blanding, expedition member Mallory Lykes Dimmit explained that conservation is a bipartisan issue.
“It’s supported by a large majority of Floridians and in general, around the country, polling data shows that we’re largely for conservation.”
She adds: “Without the voice of citizens demanding these things from our elected officials, it’s very easy to cut those kinds of programs out.”



New court battle brews over State, federal water rules - by Jim Saunders News Service of Florida
April 26, 2012
Florida's long-running fight about water-quality standards for rivers, lakes and springs could be headed toward a federal appeals court in Atlanta.
Groups on both sides of the fight have given formal notice they could appeal a federal judge's ruling about what are known as "numeric-nutrient criteria" -- an issue that has drawn widespread attention from state policymakers, local governments, business lobbies and environmentalists.
The South Florida Water Management District also filed such a notice Wednesday, though an attorney said the move was largely procedural. The district wants to make sure it is in a legal poition to address issues that might be raised by other groups or agencies.
The notices stem from a February ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in a voluminous case about the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to require new water-quality standards in Florida. In filing the notices, groups do not have to explain their objections to Hinkle's ruling, but they would have to file detailed briefs later with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Albert Ettinger, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Gulf Restoration Network, which filed a notice April 16, said the environmental groups are concerned about issues such as whether the EPA's proposed standards would adequately protect water quality in springs.
Also, Ettinger said the groups are concerned about whether criteria are strong enough to protect recreational users of lakes. He said the EPA focused more heavily on whether aquatic life could recover from exposure to phosphorus and nitrogen.
"The government never considered, in our view, recreation users,'' he said.
While environmental groups have contended the proposed standards are not stringent enough, state leaders, business lobbies and local governments have long raised questions about whether the numeric-nutrient criteria are needed and whether they will drive up costs for taxpayers and industries.
A coalition that includes the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Stormwater Association, the city of Panama City, the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, South Walton Utility Co., and Destin Water Users, also filed a notice of appeal April 18.
Kurt Spitzer, executive director of the Florida Stormwater Association, said part of filing the notice was procedural. But he said the broader goal is to have water-quality standards developed by the state Department of Environmental Protection -- a key issue in the dispute about EPA's proposal.
"The fundamental thing we want to see accomplished eventually is the adoption of the Florida version of the numeric-nutrient criteria,'' Spitzer said.
Hinkle's 86-page ruling in February sided with the EPA's basic determination that numeric-nutrient criteria are needed for Florida water bodies to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
Such criteria are more stringent than the state's longtime standards, which are known as "narrative" criteria. The goal is to reduce nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that can cause problems such as algal blooms.
"The narrative criterion has proved insufficient to control Florida's widespread nutrient pollution,'' Hinkle wrote in the ruling. "The (EPA) administrator recognized at least as early as 1998 that the narrative criterion is insufficient and that numeric criteria should be adopted."
Hinkle's ruling approved EPA's proposed standards for lakes and springs, but he found problems with the standards for rivers and streams. He required EPA to publish a proposal by May 21 for streams and rivers in much of the state.
The issues in the federal lawsuit are tangled in a state administrative-law case that centers on the Department of Environmental Protection's effort to move forward with numeric-nutrient criteria that will be acceptable to the EPA and will survive legal challenges.
Environmental groups challenged the department's plan in December, and an administrative law judge held a hearing in February and March. In a filing this month, the department said its plan incorporates the parts of the EPA standards that Hinkle approved.


Environmental land purchases to resume
April 25, 2012
Florida Forever's land-acquisition priority list was approved Tuesday morning, setting up a scaled-back return of the once vigorous purchase of environmentally sensitive land.
Florida Forever is the nation's largest state land-conservation program to protect natural treasures and once worked with annual appropriations of $300 million. That big money went away with reduced state budgets but will return in less robust form beginning July 1 with an $8.4-million appropriation and a short list of 14 projects.
The move pleased both officeholders and environmentalists as a welcome, if modest, return of Florida Forever.
"I think (Department of Environmental Protection) Secretary (Herschel) Vinyard has done a good job stretching limited resources by moving toward more conservation-easement approaches than outright purchases of land which allows them to save on the management costs and protect more acres of land for the same amount of money," said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The projects are chosen by the Acquisition and Restoration Council with aid from staff at DEP.
"I'm actually pleased with the items on the work plan and would be thrilled if they actually acquired those," said Janet Bowman, director of legislative policy and strategies for The Nature Conservancy.
Bowman said she lauded the transparency of the selection process and the explicit principles used to choose the priority acquisitions.
Those included focusing on conservation easements rather than outright purchases, small-tract purchases that can complete larger projects and proposals that serve dual purposes, such as providing further buffering for military bases.
Gov. Rick Scott said he'd favor doing more than tight budgets allow.
"All of us, I think everybody I know, cares about our environment and make sure we want to preserve our great state for future generations," Scott said. "There's always more you'd like to do, but there are a lot of good projects on there."
Even with the small appropriation, Bowman said she was heartened by the fact that Scott included Florida Forever in his budget proposal and now looks forward to again seeing acquisitions and easements brought before the Cabinet for approval.
"I think everyone is learning what the new political realities are and what projects will resonate with the new Cabinet," Bowman said.
Tight budgets contribute to an ongoing concern with Florida Forever and the 682,000 acres of land acquired with $2.85 billion since 2001: managing the resource.
"We continue to, I think, fail to adequately provide for the management of all the state lands," Putnam said. "It's my view we need to continue to look for opportunities to partner either through leases or partnerships with other state agencies to get our arms around control of invasive plants and animals, to get our arms around better resource management, whether that's using for timber leases, for cattle leases, for other recreational opportunities."
Bowman agreed.
"As the economy improves, it's really important to constructively address land-management costs of the state's stewardship of its land."


new CEO of the
Everglades Foundation

Eric Eikenberg, former Charlie Crist Chief of Staff, gets Paul Tudor Jones' nod for Everglades job
Sunshine State News
April 25, 2012
Billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chairman of the Everglades Foundation and major proponent of former Gov. Charlie Crist's failed 2008 land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp., kept his Crist-friendly foundation close to the vest and in the family Wednesday, announcing that Eric Eikenberg has become its new CEO.
Eikenberg is Crist's former chief of staff and campaign manager.
Eikenberg, once a political hand to former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale, Eikenberg briefly managed Crist’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2010 but quit when the governor decided to run as an independent. While he was Crist’s chief of staff, Ekenberg -- along with George LeMieux, another Crist adviser at the time -- helped steer the effort by the South Florida Water Management District to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp.’s land holdings within the Everglades.
Since leaving Crist’s campaign, Eikenberg has worked for the law firm Holland & Knight.
In a Wednesday morning statement about the appointment, Jones said this: "Eric impressed us from the first moment we met. He has a deep understanding of what it takes to achieve success both in Washington and Tallahassee and he has the leadership skills that will help the Foundation continue to be at the forefront of Everglades restoration.”
The still-well-connected Eikenberg replied with this: “I am eager to re-engage on the many issues facing the Everglades. The Everglades Foundation is the premier voice when it comes to Everglades restoration."


Florida forever marches quietly in tough times
Florida Courier - by Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
April 25, 2012
TALLAHASSEE - With little money to spend and new projects out of the question, the state is focusing its current environmental efforts on "connecting the dots" and providing water resource protection through a handful of projects.On Tuesday, the governor and Cabinet approved the 2012 Florida Forever priority list, more than 100 projects, ranked in order of importance, where state environmental officials say a parcel is important enough to be saved from development and population growth.
But with limited funds available, the Department of Environmental Protection chose to focus attention during the next 12 months on 14 projects that do not involve outright purchase and will in some cases connect parcels that are substantially complete.
The work list also includes buffer areas around military bases such as Eglin Air Force Base, and Naval Air Station/Whiting Field in the Panhandle and the Avon Park bombing range in Central Florida.
In Southwest Florida, the list included Save our Everglades and Estero Bay restoration efforts.
"It is important to capitalize on those projects that not only protect our state’s critical water resources, but also provide an added benefit of stretching acquisition dollars further," the Department of Environmental Protection said in its recommendation to the Cabinet.
Collectively, the Florida Forever program has protected over 682,000 acres of land with $2.9 billion in funds through Feb. 29.
But the land-buying effort was under the knife this session as lawmakers filled a $1.4 billion hole in the state budget. In the end, the Legislature found $8 million to put toward managing and lease arrangements, though the state won't purchase any new land for now.
Environmental groups nonetheless praised lawmakers for coming up with some funds during tight financial times.
"It wasn't a lot of money, but it was a strong recommitment to the programs," said Eric Draper of Florida Audubon.


One way for Big Sugar to help pay for exploitation of Florida's waters - Letter by Margaret Eubank, Port St. Lucie
April 25, 2012
Letter: One way for Big Sugar to help pay for exploitation of Florida's waters
Margaret Eubank, Port St. Lucie
Use small tax to clean Everglades.
I commend this newspaper for the excellent editorial, "Shift burden to Big Sugar," on April 10.
I have long thought big agriculture should return the water it borrowed from Florida waters to produce crops in at least as good condition, if not better, than when it was borrowed.
Since Big Sugar has been a polluter for years, how about if one cent of each pound of sugar sold in Florida was deducted at the sale and used for Everglades Restoration?
The taxpayer would not be taxed additionally, and Big Sugar would be helping to clean up the environment and paying for the use of Florida waters.


Water Management director details efforts to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges into Treasure Coast waterways
TCPalm - by Cynthia Washam
April 25, 2012
STUART — A special appearance by the director of the South Florida Water Management on a dry day, in a dry year, drew no more than the usual three or four dozen to Wednesday evening's meeting of the Rivers Coalition. Attendance would have been very different, said Coalition member Karl Wickstrom, during an especially wet season.
"If it had been 2005," he said, "you couldn't get a seat in here."
Heavy rains that year led to massive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee that were shunted through the C-24 canal into the St. Lucie and Indian rivers. Phosphorus in the water caused harmful algae blooms and fish kills.
Reducing discharges through the canal is a goal of the Everglades restoration plan, which Water Management Director Melissa Meeker presented to the group. The massive, long-term effort was created to bring the flow of water through the lower half of the state as close as possible to its natural roots.
The first phase focused on slowing water flow into Lake Okeechobee by restoring the natural curves of the Kissimmee River and creating reservoirs to hold water near the lake.
"We're storing more water on the land," Meeker said.
The second major objective of Everglades Restoration is bringing water from the lake south, back into the heart of the Everglades, which acts like a natural sponge. That phase has been slowed by drained agricultural land between the lake and the Everglades.
The one improvement the coalition most wanted was one Meeker couldn't deliver. A drought in recent years has spared local rivers from polluting discharges. But they're bound to return during a wet season. The Army Corps of Engineers holds down water levels in the lake to prevent a major break in the aging dike should a hurricane strike. Repairs to the dike are expected to continue for many years.
"Until we fix the dike," Meeker said, "we're still going to have discharges."
That worries Rivers Coalition members, who fear a wet season will not only bring polluted water into the rivers, but also stir up contaminants that have settled in the bottom.
"The sediment issue is an impending nightmare," member George Jones said. "When we have another wet season, we'll have another disaster."
Mark Perry, director of Florida Oceanographic Society, urged members to inform others about the river quality and the threat from lake discharges.
"Tell people this is way the estuary always should look," he said.


Florida Water Coalition Launches TV Ads
Targeted News Service
April 24, 2012
Earthjustice issued the following news release:
The Florida Water Coalition launched a 30-second TV ad today that will play in markets across Florida during the "summer slime" season.
The ad explains that massive toxic algae blooms in Florida are fueled by industrial pollution, sewage, manure and fertilizer. These polluters have been wrongly protected by Florida's politicians who refuse to crack down on those who use our waterways as their personal sewer systems.
While polluters profit from externalizing the costs of their waste, toxic algae harms Florida's economy, property values, and tourism.
The ad encourages Floridians to write to President Obama and demand that the Environmental Protection Agency step in and fully enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida.
"Floridians are tired of watching waterways get covered with slimy green toxic algae from sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "It's bad for people and it's bad for wildlife. Just weeks ago, Lee County's health department issued a warning for people not to have contact with natural waters in the county, and to keep their pets and livestock away, too. It is time to address this health threat; it's been dragging on too long and we need our leaders to step up and protect the public."
The Florida Water Coalition is made up of Earthjustice, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and St. John's Riverkeeper.
Learn more about the Florida Water Coalition's website.
Environmentalists warn of Florida 'slime' season       The Northwest Florida Daily News
Florida environmentalists warn of 'slime' season        WTXL ABC 27
Florida environmental groups warning of 'summer slime' season in ...           The Republic
It's "Summer Slime Season" in Florida           Public News Service
Water Pollution War Waged In Ad Campaign           The Ledger (blog)


new CEO of the

Former Charlie Crist aide lands Everglades job
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
April 24, 2012
Eric Eikenberg’s experience in Washington and Tallahassee was called a ‘perfect fit’ for the politically influential Everglades Foundation.
Eric Eikenberg, chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist and a seasoned Republican strategist, has landed one of the state’s most influential environmental advocacy jobs.
The Everglades Foundation, a Palmetto Bay-based group whose membership boasts deep pockets and political clout, will announce Wednesday that Eikenberg will become its new chief executive.
Eikenberg has experience and connections in both Tallahassee and Washington and championed the Everglades restoration land deal Crist pitched in 2008 with the U.S. Sugar Corp., a controversial project strongly supported by the foundation and other environmental groups.
“Eric impressed us from the first moment we met,’’ foundation Chairman Paul Tudor Jones II said in a release. “He has a deep understanding of what it takes to achieve success both in Washington and Tallahassee and he has the leadership skills that will help the foundation continue to be at the forefront of Everglades restoration.’’
Eikenberg, 36, a Coral Springs native and graduate of Majory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland who will leave his current job as a Tallahassee lobbyist, said he looked forward to leading an organization he called “the premier voice when it comes to Everglades restoration.’’
With a well-heeled, well-connected board led by Jones — a billionaire hedge fund manager and avid fly-fisher who owns an Islamorada home — the foundation has significantly raised its profile and influence in shaping Everglades policies in the past few years.
Under previous chief executive Kirk Fordham — also a former Republican political aide in Washington who resigned in March to lead Gill Action, a Colorado-based gay advocacy organization — the foundation’s budget grew from $3.9 million in 2008 to nearly $7 million this year.
The foundation boasts a team of scientists and last year added three full-time lobbyists in Tallahassee. It’s also a major contributor to other environmental groups in the state, last year giving a total of $1.3 million to 15 other organizations.
Eikenberg comes with a similar political pedigree to Fordham but with far more Tallahassee connections.
He spent two years as Crist’s top aide. He also ran the former governor’s ill-fated Senate campaign before resigning in May 2010 when Crist, facing a certain loss to Marco Rubio, quit the Republican Party to run as an independent.
Earlier, Eikenberg spent four years in Washington as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, a Fort Lauderdale Republican who was a strong supporter of the landmark $12.4 billion Everglades restoration effort. Since June 2010, Eikenberg has worked for the Holland & Knight law firm in Tallahassee, co-chairing a lobbying team with former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez.
In a foundation release, Martinez and Shaw praised the choice.
“Eric has the ability to work with anybody and find solutions to difficult problems,’’ said Shaw, who called him “the perfect fit.’’
Eikenberg, who will move to Miami with his wife, Tonya, and four children, said he was looking forward to “re-engaging’’ on Everglades issues.
“The mission is simple: Save the Everglades,’’ he said.
Eric Eikenberg to lead Everglades Foundation        The Florida Current
Former Crist aide named new Everglades Foundation CEO‎ Palm Beach Post
Everglades Foundation taps ex-Crist aide as new CEO‎         Juice (blog)

Eric Eikenberg lands job lobbying for Holland & Knight
Times/Herald - by Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee Bureau
June 26, 2010
TALLAHASSEE — Six weeks after he quit as Gov. Charlie Crist's U.S. Senate campaign manager, Eric Eikenberg's brief period of unemployment is over.
Eikenberg has landed a high-profile job as a lobbyist for Tampa-based Holland & Knight — a sign that the law firm is looking to strengthen its lobbying presence in the state capital.
He starts work Monday in Tallahassee as senior policy adviser and co-leader of the firm's Florida government advocacy team working with former Gov. Bob Martinez of Tampa. Eikenberg is not a lawyer, but it has been common for law firms with big lobbying practices to hire nonlawyers with political connections as key decisionmakers.
"We're extremely fortunate to get Eric to join us," said the firm's managing partner, Steve Sonberg. "It's extremely important geographically for us to be strong in Florida, and I think Eric adds enormous strength to the firm overall and particularly in the government area."
Holland & Knight's clients in the state capital include the city of Tampa, the Hillsborough County School District, Waste Management, PCS Phosphate, CCE Entertainment, Dave & Buster's and the National Safety Commission. Holland & Knight also has clients in Washington, D.C., including the National Indian Gaming Association, Florida Power & Light and Dow Chemical.
As a former chief of staff to Crist, Eikenberg is barred by the state Constitution from lobbying his former employer, the Governor's Office, through November 2011. But he can legally lobby state agencies that were under his direction during a two-year tenure in the Governor's Office.
Eikenberg, 34, a Coral Springs native and graduate of American University, was making $15,000 a month as Crist's campaign manager. He quit shortly after Crist announced he would leave the Republican Party and seek Florida's open U.S. Senate seat as a nonpartisan candidate.
His salary at Holland & Knight was not disclosed.
"I look forward to working with the team in Tallahassee, the lawyers and policy advisers, to make the firm a go-to place in the state capital," Eikenberg said.
Eikenberg said he bonded with Holland & Knight partners in Washington when he worked as chief of staff to then-U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale. He said he also was close to the late Tillie Fowler, a former Jacksonville-area U.S. representative who also worked for Holland & Knight.
Eikenberg said he maintains good relations with Sen. Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Dean Cannon, the likely incoming leaders of the Legislature in November and said he gets along with Democrats, too. "I'm grateful for their support," he said.
Holland & Knight also employs former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, the Tampa Democrat whom Crist defeated in the 2006 race for governor. Davis is a partner in the firm's public policy and regulation group.
"He's a good man," Eikenberg said of Davis. "I look forward to joining him in this effort."


Gov. Scott to meet with cabinet, talk Florida Forever plan
April 24, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott and the state’s Cabinet meet this morning in what looks to be a routine gathering the will last likely fewer than two hours.
The meeting’s agenda includes reports from the Departments of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Veterans’ Affairs, and the Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission.
Members of the Cabinet will also sit as the State Board of Administration as well as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund.
The latter includes presentation of this year’s Florida Forever five-year plan and the Florida Forever land-acquisition priority list. In years past – during less stringent budgets when hundreds of millions of dollars were annually appropriated to the nation’s largest state land-conservation program, sometimes even in cash instead of borrowed money from bond issues -- these presentations have been much bigger deals. Not so much this year. The state spending plan that kicks in July 1 includes $8.4 million for Florida Forever. There are also the remnants of past funding still available, but nothing approaching the program’s peak. State planners suggest a trimmed-down wish list that focuses on cheap, critical, nearly done projects.
“With limited funding and 117 Florida Forever projects to work on, (Division of State Lands) suggests narrowing its focus on those acquisition projects that protect Florida’s water resources, have funding partnerships (especially those with important resources that also provide buffers to military installations), are conservation easements and/or are substantially complete,” reads the agenda item before the trustees. “It is important to capitalize on those projects that not only protect our state’s critical water resources, but also provide an added benefit of stretching acquisition dollars further.”
There are 14 projects in the work plan, none closer to Tallahassee than a project in Walton County.



US Vice-President

Biden, Nelson visit Everglades with heavy dose of politics
Tampa Bay Times - by Marc Caputo, Miami Herald
April 23, 2012
With a politically threatened Sen. Bill Nelson at his side, Vice President Joe Biden mugged before the television cameras Monday to tout the Democrats' successes in helping to restore the endangered Everglades.
Biden and Nelson's speeches were short on any new initiatives and focused more on the efforts of President Barack Obama's administration in accelerating and spending more for Everglades restoration projects.
Republicans were invited but none accepted to share the stage with Nelson, Biden or Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings.
From the stagecraft to the recurring Obama administration references to the made-for-TV images of the three politicians air-boating through the Everglades, the event had a strong campaign quality to it as the general-election season starts in the nation's largest battleground state.

"If you're a political official, of which of course the vice president would be a prime example, everything you do is by definition political," said former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, who attended the event. "And now that we're in an election year, it becomes more focused."
Right now, the most recent state poll shows that Nelson and the Obama-Biden ticket are leading their Republican rivals in Florida — a must-win for Republicans. But the race will likely tighten and neither Obama nor Nelson has more than 50 percent of the theoretical vote.
Republicans Connie Mack, George LeMieux and Mike McCalister are vying to unseat Nelson — the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida.
Reinforcing the event's campaign-style flavor was Nelson's introduction by Hastings, who received applause for saying the Democrat was about to win his "third term as our United States Senator."
Nelson said he was happy to give Biden "a little glimpse into this extraordinary God's creation."
"The vice president got to see the River of Grass," Nelson said. "And he got to see those alligators. He didn't get to see the Burmese pythons, which we are desperately trying to get rid of and, finally, thanks to this administration, they have stopped the importation of this invasive species. Amen to that."
Biden also touted the administration's successes. He suggested that no Everglades restoration project happened before he and Obama were elected. Biden, though, was referring only to the Everglades restoration projects approved under a federal law passed in 2000.
Biden made no mention of the fact that many were in the permitting and design phase under the previous administration of President George W. Bush. Biden also failed to credit former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in highlight a restoration project in Collier County called Picayune Strand.
Still, environmentalists point out that the Obama's administration has called for more spending and more restoration projects more quickly.
Dawn Shirreffs, Everglades program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, an environmental group that advocates for restoration, said the visit was important to maintaining support for the project in Washington. "If we're going to keep plugging away, we have to be able to show there has been success and progress,'' she said.
In addition to highlighting the Picayune Strand restoration project, Biden drew attention to other clean-up projects, such as the $400 million plan to replace sections of the Tamiami Trail with a bridge that would allow more water to flow through the historic River of Grass.
For the administration, Everglades restoration is a good way to showcase its environmental bonafides as well as its argument that government spending creates jobs.
Biden noted that the administration has kick started a $1.5 billion investment into re-plumbing the Everglades, which he says has helped fund 6,600 "good-paying jobs" through the Army Corps of Engineers and "and thousands of indirect jobs."
Biden said about 4.3 million tourists visit "the federal portions of the Everglades" and that the current restoration projects underway will produce $46.5 billion in economic activity in Florida.
"What we're talking about here is an economic engine that generates millions of tourists to Florida who are renting hotel rooms, buying food, renting autos, taking out airboats and everything else you can imagine that goes along with it," Biden said.
Also, Biden pointed out, Everglades restoration helps guarantee freshwater for a third of the state's population and a large part of its agricultural industry.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus issued a written statement bashing Biden's "taxpayer funded trip to the swing state of Florida (that) demonstrates how worried the Obama campaign is about its chances in November."
When asked about the criticism, Nelson said that "about 99.5 percent of Floridians know that restoration in the Everglades is important. It has been this administration that has helped us get things moving. And right here this bridge that's being built that'll let the water flow from the north into the Everglades national park. Proof's in the pudding."
But when asked if this was more a political than policy event, Nelson said: "When you see the Everglades, you see the necessity of policy being in action real time."
Biden in Everglades, touting restoration projects       Newsday
Joe Biden Spends Monday In Everglades With Bill Nelson And Alcee ...   Huffington Post
Vice President Joe Biden takes airboat tour of Everglades    WPBF West Palm Beach
Biden, Nelson visit Everglades with heavy dose of politics
Vice-President Joe Biden, Sen. Bill Nelson visit Everglades with ...
Joe Biden-Bill Nelson Everglades photo-op has a campaign quality to it.
Biden in Everglades, touting restoration projects
Photo: Biden cruises through the Everglades Washington Examiner
Biden tours Everglades with officials, highlighting restoration ...     Palm Beach Post
Vice President Biden talks Florida Everglades as Fla. Sen. Rubio ...            The Hill
Joe Biden visits Everglades: To discuss Obama Administration ...
Biden Calls Everglades 'The Ever-Gators'      Fox News -
VP Biden visits Everglades    Local 10
VP Biden Touring Everglades Monday         NBC 6 Miami

Lake O waters flowing into Caloosahatchee
April 23, 2012
The South Florida Water Management District is releasing 15,000 gallons of water per second from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee because of concerns about the water quality.
During the next three days, about 15,000 gallons of water per second will flow into the Caloosahatchee to help flush out the stagnant water.
Water quality has been in the news because Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Everglades National Park.
Biden spent time touting the Obama Administration's commitment to restoring the Everglades.
"The return on that investment will be phenomenal for the state of Florida and the nation," said Kurt Harclerode, Operations Manager, Lee County Natural Resources.
Next month Harclerode is traveling to Washington to lobby lawmakers to support what's known as the C-43 West Basin Reservoir.
"The C-43 Reservoir Project is critical for the Caloosahatchee River. It's our piece of that overall Everglades restoration," said Harclerode.
It's planned on 10,000 acres of former farmland in Hendry County.
Water managers say they could better control water from Lake Okeechobee during the wet season and provide essential water flow during the dry season to help avoid algae blooms.
The c-43 project comes with a price tag of nearly $600 million. That's why Congress hasn't already approved it.
Senator Bill Nelson's Office says they're working on a way to fast track and streamline the process


Making a Florida Wildlife Corridor a Reality – by Steve Newborn
April 23, 2012
It's been 1,000 miles in nearly 100 days. They started at the tip of the Everglades, and Sunday, members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition reached the finish line - Georgia. Their goal is to connect the state's WUSF's Steve Newborn has been following the group, and reports on their mission - and whether it has a chance of succeeding.
Expedition member Carlton Ward Junior remembers slogging for days through the heart of the Everglades on kayak...
"We pushed on into the night, so we had about two hours in the dark, following the line, kind of flying by instruments on the GPS," he said. "Man, I ran over two alligators that nearly threw me out of my kayak. You couldn't quite tell what was coming around each corner."
And filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus remembers being regaled by cowboy poets at campfires and dining on frog legs and turtles at an Indian reservation near Lake Okeechobee ...
"Florida's one of the greatest studios that exist," he said. "And to be able to be outdoors and see these epic scenes and trying to emotionally capture small slices of life as we go through this expedition has just been an incredible experience.
Now, they've reached the end of the trail.
On Sunday, the four members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition walked across the Georgia state line into the Okeefenokee Swamp. It was one thousand miles and nearly 100 days ago when they boarded kayaks in Florida Bay at the tip of the Everglades.
They sport calluses and legs hardened by three months of hiking through sawgrass, palmetto stands and piney woods. They risked their lives walking across two Interstates.
But that might have been the easy part.
Now, they have to make their vision of creating a continuous corridor for wildlife running the length of the state a reality.
It's not a new idea. Corridors to connect fragmented wild areas have been proposed for states as different as California and New Jersey. There's even a trans-national one planned to stretch from "Yukon to Yellowstone."
But do they really help to heal fragmented landscapes ? Who better to answer that question than the guy behind the web site, "Do Corridors Work?"
"These are the questions that take decades to answer, and we don't really know that corridors will serve this purpose," says Paul Beier. The professor of conservation biology at Northern Arizona University co-authored statewide maps of wildlife corridors in Arizona and California.
"All the studies that have been done so far has done at typically small scales, and only looking at very short-term animal movement," he says. "What's yet to be done is whether the longer corridors - on the scale of miles - will over the long term promote gene flow and allow things like animals to re-colonize areas."
Still, Beier says that's no reason to give up on the idea. What may be more practical, he says, is a system of shorter connections.
"The way to conceive of this interconnected system of corridors in Florida would not be to think of one corridor going from the Everglades to Georgia," he says. "There can be some very valuable corridors that go from one national park to the next, to the next state park and to the next wildlife area. And each of those corridors can be very valuable - even if the entire network doesn't come to fruition."
And just who would pay for a corridor?
Florida Forever, the state's main land preservation program, barely has enough money to maintain the lands it has. So that means leaning on people like private ranchers, using conservation easements and tax incentives so their land doesn't get developed.
"Private landowners are really starting to embrace the future of conservation," says Nick Wiley, is head of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. "Those are the original Floridians who love the land. And that love for the land is translating into a broader vision, a broader interest, in protecting that landscape."
One of those ranchers on board is Mike Adams. He's the third-generation president of Adams Ranch, 54,000 acres and 9,000 cows in Osceola County. I spoke to him in March, when the expedition stayed overnight in his lodge.
"From our business, in the cattle business, we feel we're a good fit with the wildlife," says Adams. " It's something that we were raised with and have a great respect for. And we feel like this is an important project to see go forward, because essentially, all our coastlines on either side have been built out, and those corridors are gone. And they will not return."
Expedition leader Carlton Ward says half the battle is just educating Floridians on the ranches, swamps and beauty of natural Florida.
"We have nearly 19 million people, most of those people are living along the coastlines, two-thirds of those people weren't born in Florida. And so there's not necessarily a place of sense or a sense of identity that relates to interior Florida," says Ward. "At the same time, most of our water, wildlife and food come from this interior area. So it has tremendous importance to everyone living along the coasts - but in many ways is still terra incognitia in their minds."
He says publicizing that "unknown land" in the minds of the state's movers and shakers is their next mission.


Oil drilling

Drilling for oil

The Week Ahead: Drilling, Everglades in focus - by Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia
April 23, 2012
The week of April 23 will bring the next phase of House Republicans’ push to speed oil-and-gas drilling, high-level White House attention to Everglades restoration, and perhaps the next chapter in the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline.
This week House and Senate leaders may name members who will take part in talks to craft compromise transportation programs funding legislation – negotiations that will continue the struggle over the controversial pipeline proposal.
The House, defying a White House veto threat, approved a short-term version of the transportation bill Wednesday that mandates a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s pipeline, a top priority for Republicans.
But the Senate version of the bill does not approve construction of the pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Stay tuned.
More Capitol Hill action: On Thursday a House Natural Resources Committee panel will hold a hearing on a suite of new bills aimed at boosting onshore energy development.
The bills would set a floor on the amount of acreage that must be leased for oil-and-gas drilling and other projects, ensure streamlined environmental review and limit the Interior Department’s ability to withdraw or cancel leases.
They also set new deadlines for acting on drilling permit applications and create new limits on judicial review of energy projects, among other provisions. Click here for copies of the bills:
It’s one of several energy-related hearings this week.
On Wednesday the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to approve two energy bills. One requires an increase in federal lands offered for oil and natural gas drilling if the administration decides to draw oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The second delays several EPA air pollution rules while a new interagency panel reviews how they will cumulatively affect gasoline prices.
Aslo on Wednesday, a House Judiciary Committee panel will examine legislation to streamline the environmental permitting process for developers.
On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on “weather-related electrical outages.” It continues a panel effort to explore the nexus between energy, weather and climate. The committee gathered experts last week to explore the effect of rising sea levels on energy and water-related infrastructure.
Also Thursday, a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel will take a look at maritime industry regulations and whether they can improve environmental safety while protecting jobs.
The Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing called “Gas Prices in the Northeast: Potential Impact on the American Consumer Due to Loss of Refining Capacity.”
On the federal spending front, committees in both chambers will mark up fiscal year 2013 Energy Department appropriations bills this week.
On Tuesday the Senate Appropriations Committee's energy subcommittee will hold its markup, while the full House Appropriations Committee gets to work Wednesday.
Off Capitol Hill this week, the White House will tout its conservation and green agenda on two fronts Monday.
Vice President Joe Biden will visit Everglades National Park in Florida and give remarks about the administration’s restoration efforts.
Also Monday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley will appear at a Washington, D.C., elementary school to announce the first “Green Ribbon” schools.
“The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools are recognized for reducing their energy use and environmental impact, creating healthy learning environments, and providing effective environmental education that prepares students to succeed in the 21st century,” an advisory states.
The events come after President Obama, on April 20, designated federal lands within the former Fort Ord in California as a national monument. The former military base provides more than 86 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, according to the White House.
On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will speak at the National Press Club, and is expected to address offshore drilling and other energy matters.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will meet Wednesday to discuss changes to regulations aimed at ensuring nuclear power plants can deal with a loss of power.
The changes are part of a series of new rules being put in place in the aftermath of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
In addition, the National Energy Marketers Association is holding a conference Tuesday and Wednesday. Speakers include Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and Reps. Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Lee Terry (Neb.), who are two of the top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
On Thursday the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host remarks by Nick Akins, CEO of utility giant American Electric Power.
High oil prices will boost oil companies that are reporting their first quarter profits this week.
ConocoPhillips will unveil its earnings Monday, Chevron’s report arrives Thursday while Exxon Mobil’s tally will be announced Friday.
Look for Democrats to revive calls to strip industry tax breaks as the profit reports roll in.


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The wildlife corridor route from Everglades National Park to the Okefenokee
April 22, 2012
Florida is blessed with numerous federal and state parks, preserves and forests that are refuges for endangered wildlife. But just as important are corridors — green ways, some wide and some narrower — that connect those lands. Like sidewalks or bridges, the corridors allow wildlife to travel from wilderness to wilderness. Many corridors, and rare wildlife, are imperiled by highways and development. The purpose of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition was to call attention to our state's many bounties and challenges.
Roads and developments pose the greatest dangers to maintaining wildlife corridors.
The Tamiami Trail, or U.S. 41, is a two-lane road that divides Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve. Vehicle traffic kills bears and panthers. Fences and "wildlife underpasses" beneath the roads help.
For years, panthers and bears were killed almost routinely by traffic traveling between Naples and Fort Lauderdale on Alligator Alley, also known as I-75. Wildlife underpasses in a few key spots have reduced the mortality. But wildlife is still killed while crossing lonely state and county roads to the north.
State Road 80, SR 70 and SR 60 are mostly two-lane roads that cross Central Florida's wildest public and private lands that connect the Everglades system to the rest of the state. A high-speed highway between Lee and Highlands County has been proposed but is currently on hold.
Interstate 4 is the Florida Wildlife Corridor's most significant barrier. Fences and traffic — 50,000 cars a day — block or kill traveling animals. But "Wildlife Underpasses" are planned for key spots. The Green Swamp near Lakeland will get one. The other will be located near the St. Johns River in Volusia County.
Worth reading:
Environmentalist goes 100 days and 1,000 miles through wilderness in Florida
Tampa Bay Times - by Jeff Klinkenberg, Staff Writer - April 22, 2012


Reduced Florida Forever program moving forward - by Lloyd Dunkelberger
April 21, 2012
TALLAHASSEE | Florida Forever — the state’s landmark environmental land-buying program — is moving forward.
Although it remains a shadow of an initiative that once had $300 million a year in funding, the land-buying program received $8.4 million from the Legislature for next year. Gov. Rick Scott, who had vetoed funding for the program last year, endorsed that proposal when he signed the new state budget last week.
This week, Scott and the state Cabinet will be asked to approve an “interim” land-buying plan to guide the program in the new budget year, which begins July 1.
The overall Florida Forever land-buying list includes 117 projects covering 2 million acres, with an estimated value of $11 billion.
Given the realities of the state budget, the Department of Environmental Protection will advance a much less ambitious interim plan for 2012-13, highlighting 14 projects.
And although the potential projects have been greatly reduced, environmental lobbyists say the interim list still provides some critical and important conservation areas that the state needs to protect.
“They are targeting how to spend the money in a thoughtful way,” said Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy. “We hope that the governor and Cabinet approve the list and that (the DEP) follows through and purchases the property and the Cabinet welcomes the purchases.”
Although the $8.4 million appears to be a paltry amount compared with historic funding levels, Bowman said the DEP has unused Florida Forever funding from prior years that could bolster purchases in the coming year.
The DEP developed the interim list by targeting projects that protect Florida’s water resources and projects that have joint funding partners, particularly those aimed at providing buffer areas for military installations around the state.
Other projects were selected because they involve conservation easements — where the state pays a fee to maintain the property’s conservation value but does not have outright ownership of the land.
Some projects made the list because they were substantially complete and the state can make minor purchases to help consolidate those holdings.
“It is important to capitalize on those projects that not only protect our state’s critical water resources, but also provide an added benefit of stretching acquisition dollars further,” the DEP said in a report to Scott and the Cabinet.
In Southwest Florida, the Charlotte Harbor Estuary — which falls into the category of a substantially completed project — made the interim list.
In Polk County, two projects are on the interim list, the Bombing Range Ridge Ecosystem and the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem. Both are considered “critical natural lands” projects.
In Central Florida, the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway is the on the list as a “critical natural lands” project.
Environmental groups hope to more fully revive Florida Forever in the 2013-14 budget year, when the state will finish paying off bonds that were part of the original Preservation 2000 land-buying program initiated by Gov. Bob Martinez.
The retirement of the bonds is expected to free up more than $250 million in annual funding, which environmental groups say should be used for Florida Forever.
Meanwhile, another major environmental initiative won approval last week with the signing of the state budget.
It included $30 million in the coming year for Everglades restoration projects. Scott had asked for $40 million, but he praised lawmakers for providing the $30 million in his budget message last week.
Scott noted the “significant” resources that the state and federal government have already invested in the project.
“I have worked continuously with our federal and state partners to build upon this important investment because I believe that a healthy Everglades is part of a healthy Florida economy,” he said.
The Everglades restoration efforts will draw more publicity this week as Vice President Joe Biden visits the area.


Sugar growers' efforts to clean up Everglades paying off; don't penalize them further – Editorial Letter by Paul Orsenigo, Belle Glade
April 10, 2012
"Time is long past due for Big Sugar to begin paying proportionate share of cleanup costs for pollution it causes in Everglades," is unfortunately based on a fundamentally flawed, privately commissioned Everglades Foundation report that's full of rhetoric.
Just because the report says it's so doesn't mean it's true. When did the media shelve their responsibility to verify information?
Here are the facts:
Since the Legislature implemented the constitutional amendment in question in 2003, farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area have met their obligation by paying the agricultural privilege tax ($200 million-plus to date) and by implementing agricultural best management practices at their own expense.
Unlike the foundation's grossly flawed assumptions, these best management practices are not cost-shared with governmental agencies and are widely different than what the report assumes. Why falsely assume something when the facts are easily verified by the South Florida Water Management District's South Florida Environmental Report?
According to a 2000 University of Florida study, it cost farmers $188 million to implement science-based best management practices from 1992-1999. These are ongoing expenses solely borne on the shoulders of EAA farmers.
In the 16 years best management practices have been implemented, EAA farmers have achieved a 55 percent reduction in phosphorus leaving the farming region — twice what's mandated. Last year, results were even better — a 79 percent reduction. Further regulatory requirements wouldn't guarantee better results. These practices represent the best results possible. More job-killing regulations won't help South Florida's economic recovery.
The Everglades Construction Project and associated water-quality programs have resulted in removing almost 85 percent of the nutrients entering the Everglades Protection Area — an overwhelming success measured by any yardstick. It's time for parties to stop pointing fingers, espousing half-truths and work together to preserve the Everglades.
Paul Orsenigo grows sugar cane and assorted vegetables in Palm Beach County.


Wildlife feels the strain of South Florida's drier-than-usual spring Ch5news – by Andy Reid, Sun Sentinel
April 12, 2012
On the other side of South Florida's levees, a drier-than-usual spring means much more than just crunchy lawns and dip in golf course lake levels.
At the peak of South Florida's winter-to-spring dry season, water levels from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades are receding and drying up marshes relied on for nesting and feeding.
Dried out marshes threaten the foraging grounds of the endangered Everglades snail kite.
Alligators are retreating to their self-made watering holes, awaiting relief from summer rains.
The number of wood storks and other wading birds are down, blamed on lingering effects from last year's drought.
South Florida since November has averaged about 45 percent of its normal rainfall.
Relief comes from summer rains that usually kick in by the end of May or early June.
But a late start to the rainy season would be added strain for wildlife already struggling from sharing water supplies with the homes and farms beyond the levees.
"So far this year we have seen less rainfall than we did last year," said Tommy Strowd, director of operations for the South Florida Water Management District. "Water levels will continue to recede."
About 75 percent of the marshes rimming Lake Okeechobee are dry due to declining lake levels and if it stays that way too long, that's trouble for the endangered Everglades snail kite, according to Audubon of Florida.
Snail kites are a medium-sized bird of prey that feed primarily on apple snails that live in Lake Okeechobee's marshes and the Everglades.
Lake Okeechobee's yo-yoing water levels – due to droughts as well as man draining water from the lake for flood control and water supply – hurt apple snail populations and the finicky snail kite.
Snail kite populations dropped from 3,000 a decade ago to between 700 and 900 today, according to Audubon.
So far this year, there are more than 30 snail kite nests in Lake Okeechobee's marshes. That is more than this time last year, Audubon scientist Paul Gray said.
The problem would be a repeat of last year, when lack of rain preceded by decisions to drain Lake Okeechobee water out to sea allowed marshes to dry out even more as the lake dropped to its lowest point since 2008.
"It's halfway back to normal. … It's a mixed story," Gray said about Lake Okeehcobee's wildlife habitat. "Hopefully we will have a wet summer and refill the lake."
In the dried-out northern reaches of the Everglades, alligator holes offer an oasis for fish, wading birds and turtles during the dry season – but also come with a dangerous host.
Alligators make "holes" in the soft sediment by thrashing their tails and digging with their legs.
They beat back grasses and other vegetation, creating deeper areas where water can collect in pools that remain after other parts of the shallower Everglades dry out without steady rains.
Some of the alligator holes are not much bigger than one alligator and only a few feet deep, while others get expanded through the years and can turn into small ponds.
Fish, turtles and wading birds can survive the dry season by sharing the alligator hole, though many of them also end up as the alligator's food supply.
"There's a lot of unexpected relationships," said Rebekah Gibble, a biologist at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County . "The alligator hole is necessary (habitat) for them."
More than 70 percent of the wildlife refuge has less than one foot of water and the northern portions are closed to airboat traffic because of low water levels, said Sylvia Pelizza, who oversees the refuge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
"We didn't get enough water when we needed it," Pelizza said. "Hopefully once the rainy season does start … the marsh will restore itself."
Wading bird numbers are down this year, blamed on low water levels and lingering drought casualties at the bottom of the Everglades food chain.
Endangered wood storks, great blue heron, egrets and ibis are among the wading birds whose numbers are on the decline compared to previous years.
For example, Lake Okeechobee bird counts in March identified less than 4,000 foraging wading birds, compared to about 12,000 the prior year.
Also, wood storks are late to start nesting in the Everglades. That could make it harder for the young produced from those 120 nests near the Tamiami Trail to survive, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
Fewer small fish as well as crayfish and other invertebrates that wading birds feed on are likely to blame for birds staying away.
The problem is, it can take two after a severe drought for the prey base of crayfish and other invertebrates to rebound to normal levels, Gibble said. A drier-than-usual spring didn't help the situation after last year's drought.
"Almost everything eats crayfish," Gibble said. "The frequency and duration of the droughts is what has the damaging implications."
Most wading birds are at the beginning of their nesting cycle and it's "too soon to tell" about their prospects this year, Gray said.


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St. Johns River

The St. Johns River
in North Florida

Here's good news for St. Johns River
Florida Times Union - by Ron Littlepage
April 20, 2012
There has been much movement recently on issues that affect our quality of life and the environment.
The news came earlier this week that the St. Johns River has become part of the America's Great Waters Coalition.
This is a big deal for the river, which, despite its importance to Florida, has had a low profile nationally.
Being a part of a high profile group that advocates for the nation's most important waterways will give supporters of the St. Johns a stronger voice in Washington.
Add to that the fact that the St. Johns also carries the coveted designation as an American Heritage River, perhaps lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington will pay more attention to making sure its health is restored.
Gov. Rick Scott took a step in that direction this week when he approved spending $5.6 million on restoration projects in the St. Johns.
Unfortunately, Scott vetoed $400,000 the Legislature had approved for the University of North Florida to do an analysis of the economic value of the river.
A similar study of the Indian River Lagoon in 2008 placed the annual economic value of that system at $3.7 billion.
Establishing the value of the St. Johns would make it clear why spending money on improving its health would have a good return on investment, something Scott preaches for state expenditures.
Hopefully, a way to fund the study will be found.
One way to benefit the river's health would be removing the Rodman dam and restoring the natural flow of the Ocklawaha, the St. Johns' largest tributary.
A step toward that came this week when the U.S. Forest Service said it would re-examine the impact the dam has on the migration of endangered species.
In February, Earthjustice, which is representing the Florida Defenders of the Environment, gave the required 60-day notice that it intended to sue the Forest Service. A substantial part of the dam is on Forest Service land.
In response, the service said it will look at the effect the 44-year-old dam has on manatees and shortnose sturgeons.
Every governor since Reubin Askew has supported restoring the Ocklawaha. It would be good if Scott joined that chorus.
On another issue critical to the environment, Scott told the Times-Union editorial board that he was "100 percent focused" on protecting Florida's waters.
That came in response to a question about the state's springs, which are drying up and becoming polluted with nitrates.
If Scott and those working for him are truly focused on saving our springs, here's a place to start:
The Adena Springs Ranch is asking the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit to pump 13 million gallons of water a day out of the aquifer.
That has stirred opposition because of the ranch's proximity to Silver Springs, which has lost 50 percent of its flow.
Meanwhile, the district's staff recently recommended letting three other ranches take about 40 million gallons of water a day from the aquifer.
Do you want to protect the springs?
Quit draining their source.



The Caloosahatchee

SFWMD board OKs flow to Caloosahatchee
Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander - by Jim Linette, Island Reporter
April 20, 2012
Relief is on the way for the Caloosahatchee River Estuary, but the question remains, will it be enough?
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) governing board agreed to direct staff to send short duration pulses of fresh water into the river to break up and minimize algae blooms. The board's decision late last week in West Palm Beach came one month after it voted 7-2 to cut off all water flow to the river from Lake Okeechobee.
"The good news is they heard us loud and clear," said Rae Ann Wessel, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation natural resource director. "The Mayor of Sanibel, other city and county officials and chamber of commerce took time out of their day to go and make our case to the board and put an exclamation point on it."
Daniel DeLisi, who represents Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Hendry counties on the governing board supports the decision.
"It's a huge victory. First of all, to get a consensus in public of doing something, that in itself is a victory," said DeLisi. "The agricultural community stepped up to allow the release and the environmental community stepped up."
SFWMD staff and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are sampling and mapping the water conditions to determine the size and number of releases needed to flush the algae. The first release over a three-day period is anticipated within 10 days of the April 12 directive.
"Even the agricultural representatives did not object to releasing water, but urged caution," said Wessel, who attended the board meeting. "That's a major step."
The board, however, did not address the rising salinity of the upper estuary where many commercial and recreational fisheries and other species live and reproduce.
"Of the choices on the table, the board delivered potentially more fresh water than the other two choices," said DeLisi. "In my opinion the 300 cfs per day would only exacerbate the situation. To flush the system and do a 300 cfs per day would far overstep our protocols comprehensively."
According to the official statement from SFWMD, "The recommended releases would take place for up to three days, if conditions warrant, to help circulate the water, improve water quality and limit the potential for algal blooms. These recommendations fall under options in the Water Control Plan, part of the guidance documents used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage Lake Okeechobee."
Wessel said the local delegation urged followup releases "of a minumum 300 cfs" to keep the estuary from becoming stagnant again, but the board stopped short of meeting that demand.
In March, the board made a decision to cut off all freshwater releases to the river, thus singling out the estuary as the only entity asked to conserve or be restricted from using water during this dry season.
Without flow the river stagnates upstream of the lock and becomes a breeding ground for the toxic algae blooms.
"On April 12 the Lee County Health Department issued a public advisory warning people against exposing themselves, pets or livestock to the Caloosahatchee water," said Wessel. "Hendry and Glades issued advisories in April 13."
The board agreed to flush and further look at its adaptive protocols for future releases, said DeLisi.


Biden to visit Everglades on Monday
Orlando Sentinel - by William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
April, 19 2012
WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden plans to visit Everglades National Park on Monday to talk about the Obama administration’s support for restoration.
You can expect more such visits from administration officials, possibly including President Barack Obama himself, as the election campaign unfolds. The administration has consistently proposed generous doses of federal funding for restoration projects despite tight budgets while burnishing Obama’s environmental credentials.
Florida is a swing state that the Obama-Biden ticket won in 2008. Obama promised support for restoration.

So far he has delivered, with cooperation from Congress. The White House said details of Biden’s tour will come later.
It didn’t take long for the Republicans to respond.
“Vice President Biden’s trip to Florida on Monday is a poor attempt to divert attention away from President Obama’s plans to increase taxes, increase spending, and grow the size of government. Floridians are not better off today than they were four years ago and voters will hold the President accountable for his failures in November,” said RNC spokesman Matt Connelly in a statement.

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Expedition team's cross-state trek ends here
The Baker County Press - by Joel Addington
April 19, 2012
The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team reached Ocean Pond in west Baker County last week after embarking from the southern tip of the Everglades and heading north last January.
Its goal: travel 1000 miles in 100 days to highlight the state’s natural resources and ongoing efforts to “re-connect and restore the fragmented lands and waters in Florida.”
The state’s natural landscape and water flow has been altered through more than a century of development and the expedition aims to showcase lands already protected while identifying where additional conservation is needed.
The team is documenting the expedition online with photographs, videos and social media updates, all accessible from the expedition’s website
The expedition team arrived at Ocean Pond the evening of April 13 and met with Florida Department of Environmental Protection [FDEP] Secretary Herschel Vinyard at Olustee Battlefield the following morning.
The expedition’s filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus recorded an interview with the secretary, who was then presented with poster-sized illustration of Florida and the expedition route. The poster also displays the tracts of lands needed to enhance the existing corridor for the benefit of wildlife and the state’s ecology.
The creation of wildlife corridors or “ecological greenways” has taken place in recent decades, but largely at the regional or county level, which has resulted in a patchwork of public and private conservation lands with limited connectivity in some areas.
Secretary Vinyard joined the expedition team — which consists of conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, biologist Joe Guthrie, photographer Carlton Ward, Jr. and Mr. Stoltzfus — on a 4-mile hike from the state park in Olustee to their Ocean Pond campsite after sharing breakfast with the group.
“I’m excited about being with the team today,” said Mr. Vinyard. “They’ve done a great job raising public awareness about what a fantastic job that the state and our partners have done in conserving land. Like I was telling them earlier, we just need to do a better job of telling folks to get out from behind their TV sets and get into the environment.”
Hear full interviews with Ms. Dimmitt, Mr. Stoltzfus, Sec. Vinyard and Mr. Guthrie here.
The team’s stay in Olustee lasted longer than the trip’s usual breaks, one day of rest for each week of travel, due to the roughly 35,000-acre County Line Fire and the team’s plan for a follow-up event at the Olustee Depot the morning of April 16.
“The fire has burned through the route we had planned in the Pinhook [Swamp] so now we’re under the advisement of the forest service on how to move forward,” said Ms. Dimmitt the morning of April 13.
The team arrived in Olustee after traveling along the Florida Trail between the Ocala National Forest and Osceola National Forests, also known as the “O2O” corridor.
The corridor itself is continuous, but some sections are “pinched” and more at risk than others, said Ms. Dimmitt. The stretch between Lawtey and Starke, for instance, needs larger buffers between the corridor and development.
“We were more in houses, subdivisions, crossing a major road [301],” she said. “It was less easy to route through natural land than other places in the corridor, and we’ve had a couple of areas where that is the case.”
The final leg of the journey will head north through the Osceola forest to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. The team intends to explore the refuge and participate in the Earth Day activities on April 21 to close the expedition.
Looking back on the trip thus far, Mr. Stoltzfus said it’s not the scenery or animals he found the most amazing. It’s the people he met.
“Of course, we’re interested in the landscapes and wildlife and all that, but I’ve been really impressed by the kind of people we’ve met all across Florida, whether they’re biologists, researchers, ranchers, farmers or just people who say, ‘We love Florida and we want to see this heritage continue.’ It’s not just the support that the expedition has gotten, but the whole idea of the corridor. Floridians want this, they really do.”


Lawn watering

UgMO is the first smart irrigation technology eligible for restricted watering day variance from SFWMD – by Kristin Schinella, UgMO Technologies
April 19,2012
UgMO saves 50% more water than 2-day per week watering restrictions.
KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa., April 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- On April 12, 2012, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) approved the first UgMO wireless soil moisture sensor system petition for a variance from watering day restrictions. This decision makes UgMO the first and only smart irrigation technology to be eligible for a watering day variance for residents and businesses within SFWMD. Variance eligibility is available to all those who reside in towns that do not have more stringent restrictions than SFWMD. Residents and businesses can request an appointment to install UgMO and become eligible for a watering variance by following the steps outlined at The variance is valid year-round, provided it is installed according to the program developed with SFWMD(1).
Through a controlled study, UgMO Technologies, a Pennsylvania based company, demonstrated to SFWMD that irrigation systems using UgMO saved more water than 2-day-per-week watering restrictions.
In June of 2011, UgMO began its ongoing study, in Palm City, FL, to document that properties with the UgMO system, allowed to water any day of the week, would use less water and be healthier than properties on 2-day per week watering restrictions without UgMO.
After more than six months of data, UgMO controlled properties used 50% less water than those properties being watered on a 2-day per week schedule and the landscape was reported to be healthier.
UgMO was also installed on a third of the Palm Beach Atlantic University campus last summer. In just 6 months, PBAU reported that UgMO had saved them 4 million gallons of water and $20,000 in water cost.
In response to the increasing demand on water resources and infrastructure, Water Management officials have implementing watering day restrictions. Unfortunately, in many cases, this has not resulted in widespread water use reduction. In fact, analysis has shown that property owners often dramatically over-water on days that they are allowed to water.
UgMO wireless sensors are installed below the surface of the grass or landscaping in each irrigation zone and read the moisture level and temperature of the soil. They wirelessly transmit this data back to a base station that is attached to the existing irrigation clock and takes control of the irrigation system. UgMO always knows how much water is in the soil and it keeps the moisture in the optimal moisture zone for the particular soil type. UgMO independently waters zone-by-zone, so each area of the landscaping is controlled separately, allowing for instance, shadier areas to receive less moisture then an area in full sun, which inevitably dries out more quickly.
Visit for more information..
About UgMO Technologies
Headquartered in King of Prussia, Pa., UgMO Technologies is a national environmental technology solutions company that designs, manufactures and markets innovative, wireless soil sensor systems and software.
(1) Visit for program details.


Wind farm

Backers hope new wind farm will save glades community - by Patricia Sagastume
April 18, 2012
WMFE - Late last week the Florida legislature passed a bill which will open the doors for tax credits for alternative energy development. This could be good news for a proposed wind farm in South Florida near the Everglades. Supporters say the project could provide jobs along with clean energy but opponents worry about environmental impacts and say the installation of more than one hundred turbines will be an eyesore that will lower property values.
There are no wind farms in Florida, yet but now there’s a proposal to build the first one near the tri-city communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
The gigantic windmills would stand nearly as tall as the Washington Monument. The blades, nearly half the length of a football field will stretch across more than 10,000 acres of farmland. In a state where tourism is king, will this wind farm become and eyesore or eye-candy on the horizon?
Kendra Snow, a real estate agent in Belle Glade, says it boils down to one issue. “Anything that will be bring job to the Glades we’re interested in”
But Drew Martin, from the Sierra Club, says the organization is not against wind energy. They just don’t like corporate wind farms in general because, he says, they’re ugly and harm wildlife.
“I think the people that live out there are ultimately going to regret the decision to put them out there.” Martin said. “Also there are problems of lighting and how that will impact migratory birds as well.”
At a local diner, I sipped tea with Mayor JP Sasser, who was born and raised a stone’s throw away, in neighboring Pahokee. He’s not thrilled when outsiders, like the Sierra Club tell him what his town needs.
“I’ve got citizens that need jobs and clothes on their backs and health insurance and everything else so birds don’t’ make my top ten lists.” Mayor Sasser said.
He believes the giant rotations of the blades across the skyline will inspire tourism. “Here in the Glades, the land is perfectly flat so all of them will be on the same level and they will be able to do somewhat of a geometric pattern.” He said. “I’m looking forward to bringing tourists here.”
It’s not a far-fetched idea. Peter Kelly, Vice President of Public Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association says across the country, people pay for a view or a tour of a wind farm.
“Interestingly enough, Atlantic City, New Jersey hired a pollster to ask tourists if they would they like to see these turbines.” Kelly said. “And they said yes make them closer so we can see them and already the five turbines in Atlantic City are the source of requests for hotel rooms on the side that faces the turbines.”
Boosters say more tourism in the glades area would be a God-send. This area, which is world famous for its sweet corn and sugar cane is also known for its historic poverty.
It was the featured locale for Edward R Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” documentary in the l960’s.
These days, unemployment hovers just below half the population. More and more farm labor is replaced by mechanization.
Sugarland Wind Farm officials say there’ll be hundreds of temporary jobs and about a dozen when the farm is up and running.
Eric Hopkins, along with several other farmers, leased large portions of their farmland fpr the project. Before he made up his mind, he went to Missouri to see a wind farm for himself.
“I was quite impressed that the wind farm was nice, fit into the farming community and they’re not an ugly thing, they’re actually sort of pretty.” Hopkins said.
Whether this wind farm breaks ground depends on money and more federal approval. Congress also needs to renew a wind tax credit that expires by the end of the year.
Without it, analysts say, most wind farms will fail or have to scale back.
But that won’t happen to the Sugarland project says it’s director, Robin Saiz.
“Those other wind farms you read about are in markets where there are a lot of wind farms and the market is saturated.” Saiz said. "By this being the first wind farm here, we have a little bit of a first mover advantage.”


South Florida environmental issues for 2012
Sun Sentinel – by David Fleshler, Environmental Reporter – Guest Column
April 18, 2012
Which South Florida environmental issues will we be talking about in the coming year ? Some predictions are easy – the Everglades restoration will continue to grind forward. Others are speculation – will the brightening economy doom a lot of pastures and farmland to be chewed up for housing? Here are six local environmental stories to watch:
Sea level rise or UN plot ?
A plan to deal with the impacts of climate change has been drafted by Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, a consortium that got together to try to protect one of the most vulnerable areas of the U.S. Among the strategies: raising low-lying roads, restricting development in areas likely to experience more flooding and drilling new drinking-water wells farther inland. But some South Florida residents accuse the counties of falling for the "hoax" of climate change, with some accusing them of unwittingly playing into a United Nations plot to weaken the U.S. The counties will decide in the coming year what concrete steps to take, when to take them and how much it will cost.
Off-shore drilling
Forget about the Gulf of Mexico. What's more relevant to South Florida is what's taking place off Cuba and the Bahamas. The Spanish oil company Repsol YPF has begun exploratory drilling off Cuba's northern coast, about 55 miles from the Florida Keys. Could a spill reach us? No one knows. Scientists are studying currents and dispersal scenarios to determine whether there could be a threat to South Florida's beaches. The Coast Guard has prepared contingency plans, drawing on the experience with the BP spill in the Gulf. Meanwhile, the Bahamas Petroleum Co. is conducting tests on potential offshore wellfields in the southern Bahamas, although oil drilling remains extremely controversial in that country.
As the economy revives, we could see a fresh push for development in western Palm Beach County. Areas likely to be in play include portions of the Agriculture Reserve west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, farmland around Loxahatchee and parts of northern Palm Beach County. With the backing of the building industry and Gov. Rick Scott, the state Legislature last year virtually eliminated state oversight over local growth decisions, and many observers expect this to open the way to the bulldozers.
Port expansions
Both Port Everglades and the Port of Miami are pursuing big expansion plans to attract the massive freighters expected to arrive from Asia when the widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014. But both projects face opposition from environmentalists over the impact on manatees, mangroves and coral reefs.
Everglades restoration
The slow, increasingly expensive and scientifically controversial Everglades restoration effort will continue to move forward. Hoping to move things more quickly, Gov. Rick Scott has begun a plan to emphasize the central Everglades, rather than the northern and southern fringes that had been the focus of earlier restoration work. The governor surprised environmentalists by putting $30 million into this year's budget for Everglades restoration. The coming year may see as much research and planning as construction work, as engineers and environmental officials work out ways to revamp the restoration plan to emphasize the central Everglades. Meanwhile, plans move forward for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, planned for sparsely populated lands north of Lake Okeechobee.
The new activists
A new kind of activist has emerged, emphasizing confrontation and direct action. Along the beaches of Broward County, the group Sea Turtle Oversight Protection has established all-night vigils to protect nesting turtles and rescue hatchlings disoriented by lights. In Broward and Miami-Dade counties, members of South Florida Smash HLS have picketed the homes of airline executives and the employees of a primate dealer to shut down what they see as the cruel trade in research monkeys. In Palm Beach County members of Everglades Earth First!  have engaged in tree sits to try to block plans by Scripps Florida for a biotech center in the Briger Forest of Palm Beach Gardens.


South Florida water conservation tips pushed at peak of dry season
Sun Sentinel  - by Andy Reid
April 18, 2012
Florida declared April “Water Conservation Month,” encouraging residents to take extra steps to cut water use at the peak of the winter-to-spring dry season.
South Florida has had a drier-than-usual dry season, averaging about 45 percent of the normal rainfall since November.
This follows a drought last year that dropped Lake Okeechobee – South Florida’s primary back-up water supply – to its lowest point since 2008.
“Droughts and water shortages in recent years have shown us that we all depend on water in our daily lives and have a responsibility to use it wisely,” South Florida Water Management District board Chairman Joe Collins said in a statement released this week.
Conservation measures that can help stretch water supplies include:
-Installing low-flow shower heads and other water fixtures.
-Adding aerators to kitchen and bathroom sinks to reduce water flow.
-Watering lawns by hand in targeted areas instead of running the sprinklers.
-Filling up the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand.
-Taking shorter showers.
-Turning off faucets while brushing teeth and soaping hands.
Audubon of Florida contends that residents should go further and rethink how they landscape to reduce water use.
Instead of thirsty lawns, Audubon advocates landscaping with native Florida plants that can get by on less water.
Half of South Florida’s public drinking water supply ends up getting used for landscape watering. Smarter landscaping could save more water for drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat, according to Audubon.
“By modifying the way we design backyard landscapes and use water indoors, we can dramatically reduce water consumption while providing food, water and shelter for birds,” according to water conservation recommendations issued this month by Audubon of Florida.
South Florida remains under year-round watering restrictions, which limit most of Broward and Miami-Dade counties to twice-a-week watering and allow watering three times per week in most of Palm Beach County.
Relief for local water supplies could be coming soon. The summer rainy season typically starts in mid May or by early June.



Pump-baby-pump - -

Water use shows lack of authority - Editorial
April 18, 2012
Back in October when representatives for Frank Stronach’s Adena Spring Ranch went before the Marion County Commission seeking a special-use permit, the numbers they laid out about the project were impressive.
A $30 million investment. Nearly 30,000 head of cattle. Some 24,000 acres of land. As many as 150 new jobs.
A commission eager to support new investment and jobs in our community did not hesitate and approved the special-use permit.
Then emerged another impressive number: 13 million. That is the number of gallons of water Adena Springs Ranch is asking to pump every day from more than 130 wells to irrigate the pastures for Stronach’s grass-fed herds. The St. Johns Water Management District is considering the consumptive-use permit, and there is every indication it will be approved sooner than later.
This scenario is just the latest example of what is wrong with Florida’s water laws. The County Commission is empowered to approve new development, including massive agricultural operations, but has no authority to base its decision on water usage, even such massive amounts as Adena Springs’.
More to the point, no one other than the St. Johns Governing Board has any authority to block the consumptive-use permit, and that body typically approves whatever its staff recommends, demurring at any notion that any single operation that draws as much water as the entire city of Ocala on a daily basis could be harmful to the aquifer and nearby wells and waterways.
Adding insult to the injury that is the county’s legal impotence in such water matters is the fact that St. Johns and the state’s four other water management districts have gone on record as warning communities, including ours, that Florida’s water supply is dwindling. And when the aquifer can no longer provide enough water to meet our potable water needs, alternative water supplies will have to be found and developed — and it will be the communities’ taxpayers, not the water boards, who authorized the unending assault on our water supply that will have to pick up the tab.
We saw evidence of this just a few years back when St. Johns proposed an $850 million plan to pump the Ocklawaha River to supply greater Orlando first, then Ocala/Marion County years down the road. When asked who was going to pay for the massive and massively unpopular idea, water managers said, you, the counties.


Algal bloom in the

A step forward for the Caloosahatchee estuary
April 17, 2012
Audubon Florida thanks the South Florida Water Management District for a taking a step in the right direction to manage water for the environment.
Last week the SFWMD Governing Board decided to allow pulse releases of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary to help curb harmful algae blooms. The board also formally recognized that the document that currently guides releases to the estuary- the Adaptive Protocols- should be reviewed by stakeholders, looking to improve the balance of environmental needs.
Audubon’s Lake Okeechobee Science Coordinator Dr. Paul Gray testified at last week’s SFWMD Governing Board meeting. Dr. Gray explained that small releases to the estuary would be prudent because the system desperately needs the water and dry season forecasts do not seem to indicate the need for water restrictions for other users or problematic conditions in Lake Okeechobee and the Water Conservation Areas.
The board’s decision comes on the heels of last week’s health warning from the Lee County Health Department, which advised the public to be cautious before exposing themselves, pets or livestock to the Caloosahatchee River and its tributaries due to sporadic, but potentially harmful algal blooms.
Meanwhile, the Caloosahatchee Estuary’s salinity problem has not yet been solved and habitats remain in peril. The impacts of high salinity are not limited to the environment, or tourism or real estate economies. The Olga Water Treatment Plant in Lee County was taken offline last week, due in part to water quality concerns from high chlorides from the Estuary’s salt water plume.
Audubon Florida is actively working with state and federal agencies to advise how to implement these pulse releases in the most effective way. We will continue to vigorously advocate for water for the environment in Florida.



DEP Launches Online Newsroom – by DEP Press Office
April 17, 2012
New website provides one-stop-shop for information on Florida’s environment and will be updated often with the latest in environmental news.
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today launched DEP News – Florida’s Environmental News Now, an online tool for media and the public to access up-to-date information on Florida’s environment. The website includes streaming video and audio, speeches, social media feeds and articles available for publication.
DEP News will feature information on a number of important issues facing Florida’s environment, including Everglades restoration, the latest Deepwater Horizon oil spill response and restoration efforts and DEP’s work to create a more efficient and accessible permitting process. The site also includes regularly-updated, ready-made environmental content that media outlets can download and publish.
To view DEP News, visit
DEP invites media and the public to visit the site regularly, as content will be updated and refreshed often. For more information, contact the DEP Press Office at (850) 245.2112 or
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the lead agency for environmental management and stewardship, is one of the more diverse agencies in state government - protecting our air, water and land. DEP is divided into three primary areas:
●  Regulatory Programs,
●  Land and Recreation, and
●  Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration.
Florida's environmental priorities include achieving regulatory efficiency, consistency and protection, getting the water quality and quantity right in Florida, and ensuring our residents and visitors have more opportunities to enjoy Florida’s award-winning state parks.


More than $12 million in water projects vetoed, but Scott keeps $5.6 million for St. Johns River – by Bruce Ritchie
April 17, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday vetoed more than $12 million in environmental, water and stormwater projects but spared other key projects such as $5.6 million for St. Johns River restoration and $8.3 million for the Florida Forever land-acquisition program, which he vetoed last year.
"I think Governor Scott has come a long way since last year," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.
But Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said the governor's spending plan failed to make up for last year's cuts to water management districts and the elimination of the Florida Department of Community Affairs.
The governor chose to highlight education spending as he went to an elementary school near the St. Johns River south of Jacksonville to sign the $69.9 billion budget, with its $142.7 million in vetoes.
The budget also includes $30 million in Everglades restoration and $10 million for beach restoration projects, as well as $4.8 million for Lake Apopka restoration supported by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla and chairman of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations.
Last year Scott vetoed $615 million in "special interest" spending that included $305 million in speculative funding for the Florida Forever. More land could be bought only if the state sold some of its present landholdings, but no one expected more than a fraction of the $305 million to be sold.
This year, the governor requested $15 million for Florida Forever, which still was only 5 percent of the annual amounts the program received from 1990 to 2009.
Scott last year also vetoed $10 million in restoration projects sought by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and Rules Committee chairman. This year the governor let the $5.6 million pass, saying that river supporters "all were very persuasive" along with advice from Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, a former Jacksonville shipyard executive.
"What you try do with your money is make the best decisions you can," Scott said. "And you get a lot of feedback."
He added, "I think everybody here has a good working relationship with Herschel. He is a good advisor."
The governor also vetoed $400,000 for a study of the St. Johns River's economic benefits along with the 21 environmental, stormwater and wastewater projects in Line 1683A totaling more than $12 million.
Florida TaxWatch had recommended vetoing all of those items including the St. Johns River restoration projects because they had not gone through a proper review and selection process through DEP. TaxWatch also had recommended vetoing $4.5 million for Tallahassee Community College's proposed new Wakulla Environmental Institute but Scott allowed that to stay in the budget.
Draper said environmental groups are awaiting action this week on SB 1986, a budget conforming bill that would remove property tax revenue caps imposed by the Legislature last year.
Republican leaders in the Legislature on Tuesday praised Scott's actions, saying the state had confronted a $1 billion budget shortfall in fiscal year 2012-13 without raising taxes. But Pafford said the state is falling behind on important issues including funding for environmental programs.
"I don't think the governor is any more sensitive to the environment than he was last year," Pafford said. "I think his overall record is not very good at all."



John M. DeGrove
, described by some as
the "father of growth
management," died
Friday at age 87.
Photo courtesy of
1000 Friends of Florida

John M. DeGrove, called Florida's "father of growth management," is dead at 87 – by Bruce Ritchie
April 16, 2012
John M. DeGrove, who was sometimes called Florida's "father of growth management," died Friday. He was 87.
DeGrove was secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs from 1983 to 1985, when the Legislature passed the Growth Management Act and the state comprehensive plan. He also was a founding member of 1000 Friends of Florida and was named president emeritus of the growth management advocacy group.
DeGrove died in Atlanta where he was being cared for by his daughter in recent years, said Jim Murley, executive director of the South Florida Regional Planning Council.
In 1970, DeGrove was asked by Gov. Rubin Askew to run a workshop on the water crisis when Lake Okeechobee dropped to new lows, Murley said. The workshop's strongly worded findings led to the establishment of state water laws and Florida's system of water management districts in 1972.
"He didn't shy away from tough issues," Murley said. He was a DCA division director under DeGrove and was department secretary from 1995 to 1999 under Gov. Lawton Chiles.
DeGrove also served as founding director of the Florida Atlantic University/Florida International University Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems from 1971 to 1998.
He was DCA secretary under Gov. Bob Graham, when the state developed its system of growth management laws that required local comprehensive plans to guide future growth while providing environmental protection.
The state system of growth management oversight established by the Legislature in 1985 was largely dismantled by the Legislature in 2011. The Legislature also dismantled the DCA, which Gov. Rick Scott labeled a "job killer" despite the department's approval 1.5 billion square feet of new commercial and office space and nearly 600,000 housing units from 2007 to 2011.
Graham told The Florida Current on Monday that DeGrove played "an absolutely central role" in the most important land and water laws adopted in the past 40 years in Florida.
"Sadly, in 2011, almost all of John DeGrove's legacy was either repealed or amended to the point that I don't think he would have either recognized it or wanted to be associated with it," Graham said. "I'm sorry John has passed away with so much of the thing that he was proud of, justifiably, having been erased."
DeGrove was instrumental in establishing the Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems in Fort Lauderdale and was a mentor to him and to other professors and students at the joint center, Murley said. He remained active as well in South Florida through the 1990s, among other things serving on the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida established by Chiles.
DeGrove, who retired to Gainesville, remained a staunch advocate for growth management. DeGrove's major regret, Murley said, was that the state repealed the sales tax on services that was supposed to pay for roads and other services needed to accommodate the rapid growth Florida was experiencing.
DeGrove felt that growth management laws were never perfect but they did need tweaking from time to time, as the Legislature did during the late 1980s and 1990s based on study group recommendations, Murley said.
"I think the major difference between the way the changes were made in those decades and was done (last year), it was just jumped into," Murley said. "There was no committee or task force -- no way to provide input."
In 2001, DeGrove told a University of Florida interviewer that he would encourage students to become planners because of its importance despite ongoing criticism.
"I am absolutely certain that the people in this country do not wish to see their quality of life further eroded by foolish policies for not managing growth well," DeGrove said. "The tide is going to turn."
John DeGrove, land-use planner, dies at 87           (The Palm Beach Post)
John DeGrove's legacy         (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
John DeGrove, Florida's father of growth management, dies      (


Florida must join the fight against invasive animals
Orlando Sentinel
April 15, 2012
When state regulators discovered a few years ago that the purity of Florida's native largemouth bass was threatened by crossbreeding with a northern species, they went after the problem with all the eagerness of a hungry fish going after a worm. They banned imports of non-native bass, and they've been running DNA tests to make sure the native fish remain pure.
Bass fishing is a $1.25 billion a year industry in Florida. The regulators' commitment to protect the industry from invaders that would compromise a trophy fish is commendable.
If only Florida had been as quick over the years to jump on threats from other invasive species. The Sunshine State is overrun with non-native animals and plants — from monitor lizards to the Old World climbing fern. They're wreaking environmental havoc and costing state taxpayers millions to control.
Some species, like wild hogs, came hundreds of years ago. Others, like Burmese Pythons, are relatively recent interlopers.
Those big snakes have been seen in the Everglades "since at least the 1980s," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is responsible for invasive-species control. The commission eventually responded to the python invasion with a pair of comically inadequate steps: the 2006 launch of an annual amnesty day for owners to turn in their exotic pets and the 2008 passage of a rule requiring owners of big reptiles to implant them with microchips and buy permits.
In 2010, state lawmakers finally banned keeping, trading or breeding pythons and some other big snakes. By then, thousands of pythons were living and breeding in the River of Grass.
Last year a report found that populations of small mammals and other snake prey in the area had been decimated. This damage to the Everglades' fragile ecosystem has occurred even as the state and federal governments have undertaken a multibillion-dollar effort to restore it.
There've been proposals in Congress to step up national protections against invasive species, including one that would require the threat from non-native animals and plants to be assessed before they're allowed into the country. But lobbying from the exotic pet industry has helped stymie any action.
Rather than wait for federal help that might never come, Florida needs to adopt its own stricter controls on non-native animals and plants. Other states have seized the initiative; both Massachusetts and California, for example, have banned ownership of exotic animals as pets.
Florida's climate makes it especially vulnerable to infestation from exotic species. Its lawmakers shouldn't wait for more invaders to follow pythons.


Normal light
Oil showing in UV light

Geologist Rip Kirby
examined the skin of a
graduate student who
swam in the gulf and
then showered.
Under regular light, his
skin seemed clean, but
ultraviolet light revealed
orange blotches —
dispersant-mixed oil.

Oil from Deepwater Horizon spill still causing damage in gulf 2 years later, scientists find
Tampa Bay Times - by Craig Pittman, Staff Writer
April 15, 2012
On Florida's Panhandle beaches, where local officials once fretted over how much oil washed in with each new tide, everything seems normal. The tourists have returned. The children have gone back to splashing in the surf and hunting for shells.
Every now and then, a tar ball as big as a fist washes ashore. That's the only apparent sign that the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history tainted these sugar-white sands two years ago.
But with an ultraviolet light, geologist James "Rip" Kirby has found evidence that the oil is still present, and possibly still a threat to beachgoers.
Tiny globs of it, mingled with the chemical dispersant that was supposed to break it up, have settled into the shallows, mingling with the shells, he said. When Kirby shines his light across the legs of a grad student who'd been in the water and showered, it shows orange blotches where the globs still stick to his skin.
"If I had grandkids playing in the surf, I wouldn't want them to come in contact with that," said Kirby, whose research is being overseen by the University of South Florida. "The dispersant accelerates the absorption by the skin."
As those blotches show, the gulf and its residents are still coping with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010.
Even before BP managed to shut off the undersea flow on July 16, 2010, observers ranging from Time magazine to Rush Limbaugh insisted that the ecological damage from the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spilled seemed far less severe than everyone had predicted.
Now, after his company has spent $14 billion on cleanup and restoration in two years, BP spokesman Craig Savage said this month, "the beaches are open, the tourists are back and commercial fishing is rebounding."
But biologists are finding signs of lingering — and perhaps growing — damage throughout the gulf, from the bottom of the food chain to the top:
• Scientists have confirmed that tiny creatures called zooplankton accumulated toxic compounds from coming in contact with the Deepwater Horizon oil. Because small fish and crustaceans eat the zooplankton and are then eaten by larger fish, that means those compounds could now be working their way up the food chain, they said.
• Three months after BP shut off the flow of oil, scientists searching the floor of the gulf found a colony of deep sea corals that were covered in what they described as "frothy gunk." They were in the area where undersea plumes of oil had been spotted. Nearly half were dead. Extensive tests resulted in a finding, released just last month, that the culprit was in fact oil from Deepwater Horizon.
• This month, crews from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fanned out to rivers across the coast to catch and take samples from sturgeon swimming upstream from the gulf to spawn. The reason: When scientists examined the sturgeon that swam upriver last year, they found "significant levels" of DNA fragmentation in the 300-pound fish that could have been caused by exposure to the oil spill, said wildlife service chief investigator Glenn Constant.
"It can lead to a number of abnormalities, such as cancer, tumors, challenges to their immune systems," Constant said. Reproduction could falter, too, he said.
• A survey last summer by USF scientists found that the highest frequency of fish diseases occurred in the area where the oil spill was. While scientists were initially cautious about attributing the lesions on red snapper and other fish to Deepwater Horizon, subsequent laboratory tests have all but eliminated everything other than the oil from the spill as the cause.
"It would be hard to argue otherwise," USF scientist David Hollander said this month.
• Biologists have become alarmed about how many bottlenose dolphins are washing ashore sick or dead across the gulf, from Texas to Florida — more than 600 during a time when the normal average is 74 a year. In Louisiana's Barataria Bay, where waves of thick oil washed in throughout the spill, dozens of dolphins have been found suffering symptoms of liver and lung disease and possible immune system failures.
Savage, of BP, points out that the jury is still out on most of those findings, and that much of the research being done on the impact of the spill is being funded by $500 million that his company donated to make up for the damage. Kirby's study is an exception — his funding comes from the Surfrider Foundation, a group founded by surfers to work on ocean protection issues.
Some good news has emerged since the spill. For instance, sperm whales apparently avoided contact with the oil, swimming clear of that section of the gulf. Biologists say bluefin tuna, which were spawning during the spill, appear to have suffered only minimal effects. And a "dirty blizzard" that USF scientists discovered littering the gulf's bottom with dead organic matter after the spill has now mostly dissipated, Hollander said.
Still, serious questions remain. A massive study of everyone who came in contact with the oil began last year, overseen by the National Institutes of Health. So far, thanks in part to an offer of a $50 gift card for participants, the study has signed up 8,000 people, half of them from Florida, said Dr. Dale Sandler, who's in charge. She hopes to have 40,000 by the end of the year and to follow the fluctuations of their health for a decade.
"People are concerned," Sandler said. "There are pockets of people there who have poor health and came into contact with the oil. Putting two and two together, they think the oil spill is responsible for their illness. Our job is to sort that out."
Kirby, the USF geologist, is concerned too, based on what his ultraviolet light has shown him.
The oil he found lies in what's called the swash zone, just below where the waves lap against the sand. When a "plunge step" forms there, small flakes of weathered oil or even large tar patties settle there, mingled with shell debris, he found.
Studies have found that the dispersant used to break up the oil slick, Corexit, can be toxic to the bacteria that would normally gobble up oil in the gulf. That's why the oil is still showing up two years later, he said. When Corexit bound with the oil, it prevented bacteria from consuming it.
The concentrations of toxic hydrocarbons in the flakes and patties are above the level considered to be dangerous under federal standards, he said. That's what makes him so concerned about how quickly the dispersant-mixed oil absorbs into human skin.
Kirby consulted with three toxicologists about it. Two recommended an immediate study of what level of toxic oil might be absorbed. The third, a state employee, was less concerned, he said.
According to Savage, only 8 miles of gulf beaches are still undergoing cleanup paid for by BP. Kirby thinks someone should be surveying every beach's swash zone every morning to check for the little oil-and-dispersant globs he found.
Given how toxic those globs might be, he said, "would you let your kid play in the shallow water and absorb toxic tar product? Wouldn't you rather have a sign that told you the beach was hazardous in certain spots ?"


mining rock

Palm Beach County's
South County Regional
Park west of
Boca Raton doubles as
a rock mine that provides
construction materials
for roadwork and other
(By Mark Randall
April 13, 2012)

Palm Beach County park doubles as rock mine
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
April 14, 2012
Recreation on one side, digging on the other.
West Boca— Swimming, golfing, water skiing, rock mining.
One of those activities — the one involving bulldozers and dump trucks — isn't advertised on the signs at a popular Palm Beach County park west of Boca Raton.
But just past the golf course, amphitheater, dog park, swimming pool, sports fields and picnic tables at South County Regional Park is a county-operated rock mine.
For more than a decade, county construction crews have used rock mined from unused portions of the park to help fix roads and lay the foundation for sidewalks, ball fields, parking lots and other projects across the county.
The holes and other scraped-away areas that are left behind become lakes and other attractions at the park north of Glades Road.
"We're not producing anything in the volume you would be seeing in a real (commercial) mining operation," said Tanya McConnell, deputy county engineer. "We quietly do our little thing in the back."
While some of the closest homeowners have complained about noise and dust, the digging and hauling goes largely unnoticed by park visitors and other residents.
One year, the park's Fourth of July fireworks display drew more complaints than its years of rock mining, said Sheri Scarborough, president of the West Boca Community Council.
"Most people probably don't even know that it is rock mining," Scarborough said. "They don't see it. They don't hear it."
The mining operation, located beside the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, also has managed to dodge the environmental objections focused on larger, commercial mining efforts proposed on western farmland that was once part of the Everglades.
Environmental groups in recent years have filed suit to try to stop thousands of acres of rock mining proposed in the Everglades Agricultural Area, south of Lake Okeechobee.
The county's rock mining at the park doesn't pose the same risk to polluting underground water supplies or eat up land potentially needed for Everglades restoration like "large-scale commercial rock mining," according to Lisa Interlandi of the Everglades Law Center.
Even though the park is next to the wildlife refuge, it's been a long time since it looked like the northern extension of the Everglades that sits on the other side of the levee, county Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call said.
Before the county got the land, it was used for agriculture. The rock mining and land clearing lays the groundwork for the lakes and park attractions that follow, Call said.
"It wasn't like pristine property. It had been farmed and strip mined," Call said. "We are kind of recreating some natural areas."
The rock-mine-to-park transformation of South County Park is similar to the county's Okeeheelee Park west of West Palm Beach, which emerged from what once was a rock mining operation.
The rock mine at South County Regional Park supplies construction operations at facilities throughout the county.
Sand from the mine is used by road crews, supplies county parks and even ends up at the airport.
Nutrient-rich muck dug up from the mining is mixed in as a soil enhancement for landscaped areas at county attractions.
Cap rock mined from the park, like the rock found at gardening centers, is broken up and used to stabilize bridges, docks and sea walls.
Shell rock dug from the park is used to repair road shoulder, cover shell-rock roads, create park pathways and provide a foundation for sidewalks.
Rock from the mine also provides a base foundation under sports fields, playgrounds and other attractions at county and school facilities.
County crews dig and haul rock Tuesday through Friday only, and typically only between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Public Works Supervisor Bill Trout said.
The curious who stumble upon the digging or those who call looking for information about the dump truck mingling with park-going SUVs and minivans are welcomed into the park trailer for an introduction to the tucked-away mining operation, Trout said.
He explains how the rock is used and how the holes left behind factor into future park improvements. The current excavation is scheduled to become a new water ski lake, Trout said.
"It's not just a hole that (we) dig and do whatever," Trout said.


Quality of water key issue in Martin County; some estimate annual recreation-related economy at $840 million in size, encompassing 27,000 jobs
TCPalm – by Henry Copeland, a lawyer and Realtor from Jensen Beach
April 14, 2012
Discharges from Lake Okeechobee, other pollution hurt lifestyle, health, have dangerous effects on estimated $840 million economy.
Martin County residents seem confused and polarized when it comes to the importance of environmental rehabilitation and preservation. At the extremes, some believe environmental activism should not stand in the way of growth-fueled (read: real estate development-driven) economic recovery, nor should it limit private property rights. Others are equally passionate that environmentalism, including ecosystem and wildlife/biological protection, trumps many other concerns. We need to find some common ground.
That common ground is water quality, the common denominator affecting everything around us. At monthly meetings of The Rivers Coalition, experts, citizen groups and guest speakers address the urgent need to improve water quality. Here's what I learned as a member of the public attending meetings since January:
Recall that in 2005 toxic freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee were so bad that the Health Department posted signs warning that contact with water in the St. Lucie River was dangerous. Direct human contact could cause severe skin rashes. Some pets drank it and died.
Ongoing and cumulative effects of pollution from Lake O discharges and toxic runoff are killing plant life and wildlife in our rivers and the Indian River Lagoon. Dolphin and other species are increasingly plagued by illnesses often associated with humans: viruses like herpes, MRSA and other toxic bacteria, methylmercury poisoning, and various ailments causing lesions and tumors, organ damage, necrosis and immune system failure. Is this the water quality you want running past your home or in the water where you boat, fish or jet ski?
Water pollution has caused an estimated decline of $500 million in property values along the St. Lucie River. When we can't fish or enjoy water recreation, we jeopardize the region's broad, water-related economy some estimate to be $840 million in size, encompassing 27,000 jobs.
Researchers are assessing ecosystem service values associated with Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project components designed to enhance water flow and water quality. These data aggregate far-ranging estimated economic impacts from direct employment, recreation, commercial fishing, tourism and a host of other sources of value tied to Florida's "natural capital."
The estimated annual economic value per acre of forested wetlands is $11,470. Likewise, annual value per acre for flow ways, stormwater treatment areas and deepwater reservoirs is estimated at $10,499, $8,643, and $6,590. Studies indicate that restoration projects often generate benefit/cost ratios exceeding 6 to 1.
Water quality drives our quality of life in South Florida, including Martin County. We must do a far better job balancing agribusiness, development, fertilizer use, water flow, water quality management and ecosystem protection and restoration. Our economy, property values, health, recreational opportunities and natural resources depend on ample supplies of high quality water.
Several initiatives require support. First, we must restore a flow way to move water south from Lake Okeechobee, as Mother Nature once did. Second, we must stop or severely limit Lake O discharges shunted east and west in wet years (like 2003-2005). Completion of work on the Herbert Hoover Dike will help, but we also must resist Big Agriculture's pressure for discharges that help keep growing areas dry. Last, we must significantly curtail runoff of toxic phosphorus and nitrogen from lawns, farms and ranches.
Local fertilizer ordinances are a good first step. Now, the untamed problem and challenge remains tightening controls of pollution at the source from agribusiness and ranches.
We need to dramatically improve water quality in Martin County and throughout South Florida. We'll know we're making progress when we no longer face the prospect of toxic green algae blooms caused by millions upon millions of gallons of toxic water dumped from inland sources.
As to water quality, we're all environmentalists now.


We’re drawing too much water from the aquifer
Florida Times Union - by Ron Littlepage
April 14, 2012
Mousing around the news of the day ... click.
Pumping massive amounts of water out of the Floridan aquifer and the resultant diminished flows in the state’s iconic springs are very much in the forefront these days.
One of the arguments made in defense of the giant pivots that irrigate crops is that the water returns to the aquifer.
Bob Knight, director of the Florida Springs Institute, says that’s not the case.
During a meeting earlier this month of the Silver Springs Alliance, Knight said that 70 percent of the water used for irrigation is lost and that the water that does make it back to the aquifer is polluted with nitrates.
That’s of particular importance for Silver Springs, which is flowing at half of what it once did and is overloaded with nitrates.
Now along comes the Adena Springs Ranch, which is asking for a permit to pump 13 million gallons of water a day out of the aquifer just north of the springs.
The ranch wants the water to irrigate grass that would feed 30,000 cattle.
That, by the way, would be the same amount of water that supplies the nearby city of Ocala.
So how much of the water in the aquifer is used to irrigate crops ?
The St. Johns River Water Management District compiled a report for 2010 for the 18 counties within the district.
Agriculture irrigation accounted for 413 million gallons of water a day taken out of the aquifer, compared to 573 million gallons a day used for public water supply.
To protect our springs, rivers and lakes, both need to be reduced.
Here’s another interesting water fact.
JEA uses between 2.5 million and 3 million gallons of ground water a day to operate the St. Johns River Power Park.
Why not take water from the St. Johns River, use it in the cooling towers and return it to the river instead of adding to the depletion of the aquifer ?



Yes - changes can be extremely beneficial - when wise and educated. Or disastrous - when wrongly conceived - like the story of the Everglades shows.
Or impossible - as recently proven by President Obama.
Let's not misuse the word, and the notion, of change - just because it tends to catch the imagination of (electoral) masses.

Change ? – Letter by Barbara Jones, Naples and Ontario
April 13, 2012
Thanks to local artist Paul Arsenault and the Daily News for sounding an alarm about the proposed draining/filling of the ponds near the Naples Zoo entrance to make parking more convenient.
Henry "Hand" Nehrling, who planted the acres of gardens now comprising the zoo, must be rolling in his grave. For years the county cooperated with David Tetzlaff in tearing out flora to stuff in more animals. Now Tetzlaff proposes to fill in a water feature to accommodate more vehicles, and the county is happy to oblige.
President of the zoo board (who is this man?) says this will be more "efficient" and makes light of environmental concerns as simply people being resistant to "change."
The original Florida settlers and the state and federal government insisted on "change." They changed the perfect Everglades system of weather (a cycle of water and clouds and rain) and now are trying feebly to address that drastic, expensive mistake, which will require more millions of dollars.
Change is not the issue. The issue is sensitivity to the ecology of the area and what makes it all tick along.
Will someone round up every turtle and fish? Frogs and other aquatic fauna will just have to hop it, I guess.
The zoo is money driven — pack in as many animals and vehicles as possible and now and then give a nod to saving this tree or that shrub. It's the same mentality which drove the governments to desecrating the Everglades.
Shame on the county for abetting this project.


In Florida, green is toxic  - unEarthed Blog –– by David Guest
April 13, 2012
As I write this, a new toxic algae bloom has broken out on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, filling the air with a sickening stench.
We are so infuriated at seeing this heartbreaking pollution disaster wreck our beautiful Florida so early in the toxic algae season. As you’ve read in this blog before, these outbreaks of toxic green slime are triggered by the excess phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage, manure and fertilizer.
During the past three months, our whole office of five lawyers have been working over 12 hours seven days a week reading documents, and getting ready for a trial challenging the legality of the state’s new pollution rules.
The rules were largely written by industry lawyers (yes) and are 26 pages of cross reference that make the Internal Revenue Code look like a 3rd grade reading assignment. It has been a hard case to put together, especially under the stress of short deadlines. In one exhausting 8-day stretch, we traveled to different city every day. We took depositions and prepared witnesses by day and traveled by night, checking into yet another motel and preparing for depositions until after midnight. One of the motels had recently been converted from a nursing home and still had that creepy hospital smell – yikes!
When we got back, it was 16 or 17 hours a day of document review and preparation and another long exhausting sprint up to trial day. When the trial started, there were a dozen industry lawyers and four agency lawyers at the other tables. Our witnesses had to run the gauntlet of cross examination by several lawyers, just like a tag -team match, but where only the other side gets to do the tag-teaming.
But our experts remained eloquent and graceful yet unyielding under withering cross examination. As the case hammered on, it became clear that it had really been worth it for us to stay up late reading the documents. And it was another two weeks of 16-hour-days getting our post-trial memos written.
These state rules will not protect us from toxic algae and the destruction the Florida we love. The state never should have adopted these rules – they should have sold them on Ebay. We are keeping our fingers crossed hoping that we win.
We’ll keep you posted.


Water releases good step - Editorial
April 13, 2012
Freshwater will be released anew into the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee.
Not as much as we would like, but it’s a start to ensure the river gets this life-giving resource.
So, we thank the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board for reversing course from its decision last month to stop such freshwater releases.
Board members agreed at their meeting Thursday to order the district to recommend that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers release pulses of freshwater into the river.
Salinity levels have increased and river watchers have seen blue-green algae blooms, toxic to plants and wildlife — detrimental to Southwest Florida’s ecology and tourism economy.
The pulses, which may start in five to 10 days, should help clear out the algae, but it won’t address the issue of balancing salinity levels.
We are aware that Lake O is below normal levels and that the water is a scarce resource in demand by other interests, including agriculture.
It’s a delicate balance, but Southwest Floridians must continue to stay alert and keep the pressure on water officials to improve the conditions of the Caloosahatchee and keep the river in mind in future decisions.
We had editorialized Wednesday that singling out the river was unconscionable and encouraged members of the public to let their board members know what they thought.
Local officials and conservation professionals and activists did their part to make their case for Lee County, and they should be commended.
We encourage the public to send its gratitude to board members but also to urge them to develop policy to responsibly release the right amount of water the river needs.



Broward partnering rather than competing for water
South Florida Times – by staff
12 April 2012
“The average person doesn’t realize that our water comes from the Everglades,” says Dr. Jennifer Jurado, director of Broward County’s Natural Resources Planning and Management Division. “Because water flows from our taps, and because we’re all so busy, it’s easy to overlook the challenges associated with providing enough clean, affordable water for all of our residents.”
Broward’s water provi-ders are aware that competition for a limited supply is growing and, as the population increases, the pressure for more water will increase as well.
Alternatives — such as reusing water, desalination, increased storage and a wide variety of technologies — are being considered across South Florida. One thing that all of these alternatives share is greater cost. South Florida will pay more for alternative water supplies than they do for traditional supplies.
The recognition that conservation is the most efficient way to make existing, supplies last is the main reason that 18 local governments and water providers are collaborating to encourage conservation. The Broward Water Partnership, along with the South Florida Water Management District, have set a goal to conserve 30 million gallons of water over the next five years — through conservation.
“If we can engage our residents, businesses and nonprofits we can meet our goals and more,” Jurado said. “That’s why we’re offering rebates for high-efficiency toilets and other incentives. It has been said before, because it’s true … if we all do a little, it adds up to a lot.”
Homes built after 1994 likely already have water-conserving toilets, thanks to newer building codes. But older homes could very well have toilets that use up to 7 gallons per flush. By contrast, the rebate models use a modest 1.28 gallons. Between the free incentives, such as aerators and low-flow showerheads, a home can save up to 30,000 gallons annually — a lot of water and money.
In addition to homes, multi-family properties qualify for the rebates and incentives, as do businesses and nonprofits.
“We share this challenge,” says Jurado. “We need to share the solution. We’ve tried to make it easy for people to participate and we think we have.”
Maria Esch of Margate confirmed that the process was as easy as Jurado and the Broward Water Partnership hoped.
“It was so easy. I went to www.ConservationPays.
com and applied. We were approved within a couple of days! Once the new toilet was installed I sent everything online and was able to track the progress,” Maria said. “I received the refund check approximately two weeks later.”
By replacing just one toilet the Esch family saved over 20 gallons of water on their last bill, which saved them $20.
“I'm not kidding when I say that I would cringe every time I flushed that toilet. The toilet I replaced was from 1976 (and) used about 7 gallons per flush,” Esch said. “Our new toilet uses only 1.28 gpf and let me tell you that it works more effectively than the water-guzzler. Contrary to what people might think about more water being needed to flush solids, I don't have to flush twice — ever.”
Jurado notes, “When the program is fully implemented, lots of families will save water and money, so will lots of businesses and nonprofits. The Broward Water Partnership worked together to make it possible for everyone to participate in this very unusual program. Together, we’ll do something that we could not do alone.”
Participating partners include the Broward County Water & Wastewater Services Division and the municipalities of Coconut Creek, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Hillsboro Beach, Hollywood, Lauderhill, Margate, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Plantation and Sunrise.
Information regarding Broward Water Partnership incentives will be featured during:
The Earth Day Festival, Saturday, April 14, 1-4 p.m., Sawgrass Sanctuary, 237 North New River Circle, Sunrise
Earth Day, Every Day, Saturday, April 21, 12-3 p.m., Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, 3109 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Coco Fest, Sunday, April 22, 12-3 p.m., The Promenade, 4451 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek


"River at Risk"
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Caloosahatchee – by Missy Layfield, Editor
April 12, 2012
By today, we’ll know if the South Florida Water Management District has agreed to release some fresh water to the Caloosahatchee River. They met Thursday on the East Coast to determine whether they would reverse last month’s decision to stop all releases from Lake Okeechobee into the river.
That’s a long way from here, you might think. It is, but we feel the effects of these kinds of decisions right in our back and front yards. Water from the Caloosahatchee flows into the Gulf and Estero Bay.
Let’s start at the beginning. Lake Okeechobee is used as a huge water storage basin, with tightly controlled water releases to an assortment of canals and rivers to provide agricultural irrigation and as a backup for Southeast Florida drinking water supplies.
Prior to the construction of the Hoover earthen dike around the lake and a series of canals and dams, Lake Okeechobee water flowed south to the Everglades. The 70 year-old Hoover dike is in danger of failing, so the lake can no longer serve as an effective storage basin for rainy season water.
The only consistent action taken to adjust to the shortage of water seems to be to cut off the water releases to the Caloosahatchee River. Other users are not asked to conserve or have their water allocation lowered, just the Caloosahatchee. East Coast media refer to water sent to the Caloosahatchee dismissively as being sent "out to sea.” (Sun-Sentinel, February 10, 2012). Meanwhile if water goes east, it’s being used to provide "key wildlife habitat.”
No mention of the water used for agricultural irrigation.
Apparently the wildlife habitat along the Caloosahatchee and in our estuaries is less important than any other use. The SFWMD says that each time they cut off all water flow to the river.
When fresh water releases from Lake O into the Caloosahatchee River are stopped, salt water creeps upstream and the salinity of the water increases. Tape grass, oysters, manatees and a variety of other wildlife depend on the low salinity to survive in the river. Salt levels go up and we lose the delicate habitat that many forms of wildlife depend upon to thrive. Our environment loses.
While the salinity increases below Franklin Lock, the water above the lock stagnates and blue-green algae or cyanobacteria proliferate. Just this week the Lee County Health Department issued a warning to advise residents to beware of the possibility of cyanobacteria in the river. It can cause harm to humans and animals.
Since freshwater releases were cut off from the river last month, this algae has already been spotted on the river.
The water and bacteria from the Caloosahatchee flow into our Gulf and Estero Bay. Sure, the large water bodies dilute it. Diluted poison is still poison.
The SWFL representative on the South Florida Water Management District is Dan DeLisi, who deserves credit for his opposition to the cutting off of all freshwater from the river.
It’s not hard to see why he might have trouble convincing other board members of the importance of protecting the wildlife and water quality in our area. While the SFWMD purportedly serves 16 counties in South Florida, the overwhelming majority of its meetings, events and offices are closer to its West Palm Beach headquarters than they are to SWFL. For instance, April is Water Conservation Month and the SFWMD is marking the occasion with at least 10 events, not one of them in SWFL.
It’s easy to dismiss a problem if it’s invisible and to all intents and purposes, we here in SWFL seem to be invisible to the SFWMD.
Rae Ann Wessel of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation recently urged local residents to lobby the SFWMD to provide freshwater to the Caloosahatchee and our estuary. She understands the connection between environment and economy. While protecting the environment is a worthy cause unto itself, a healthy environment is critical for our local economy.
Wessel asks only for fairness in water decisions, "These impacts also impact our local economy which is heavily dependent upon the quality of our waters to attract visitors,businesses and our quality of life. All we are asking is for fair access to life-giving water. If one user is cut back due to low water levels, all should be cut back in equal measure.”
We hope the SFWMD will surprise us all and restore freshwater releases to the Caloosahatchee River.
While they’re at it, they can begin to treat all their stakeholders fairly.


"River at Risk"
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Fresh water will be sent down Caloosahatchee River to deal with algal blooms
April12, 2012
Pulses of fresh water will flow down the Caloosahatchee River soon to get rid of algal blooms.
Today, the South Florida Water Management District governing board gave direction to staff and scientists to send pulses of fresh water through the system to break up and minimize algae blooms, said Terrie Bates, the SFMD Water Resources Division director.
“They were responsive to our concerns,” said Kurt Harclerode, operations manager for Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources. “They’re going to do releases to push out the algae and improve the conditions. We’re not sure when they’ll start or what the duration will be. We talked about 2,000 cubic feet per second, but don’t know how long that will last.”
Bates said water sampling is underway in order to give scientists and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers a sense of river conditions. Initial reviews, so far, have shown toxic algae bloom hasn’t occurred.
The fresh water pulses, which would be a one- to three-day period of 2,000 CFS, could take place in 5-10 days depending on data, Bates said.


Friends of the Glades Fight the Good Fight – by Greg Stepanich
April 12, 2012
Far from macadam, McDonald’s, and high-end malls, there’s another, ancient South Florida: sawgrass, wading herons, lurking alligators, and the stillness that comes with nature going about its timeless business. The Everglades, though protected, are only as healthy as the water that flows through them, and that water is at risk, both from pollution and development.
Once 11,000 square miles, the Everglades now cover only about 4,000 square miles from the south shores of Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay. Beginning in the mid-19th century, the watershed has been drained and redirected for flood control, farming, and development, and owes its fractional survival in part to being declared a national park in 1934. (It opened in 1947.) While its natural beauty and uniqueness are strong draws, it has economic value to us all: It is the primary source of fresh water for more than 7 million people in Florida, about a third of the state, and it supports industries on which we all rely.
“You can’t fill hotel rooms, build new schools, or attract residents to new homes that are built by our housing industry if you can’t supply them with water,” says Kirk Fordham, 44, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, based in Palmetto Bay. “Without that basic, elemental ingredient to economic growth, there’s really no reason to invest in the other things. Without water, we really can’t survive down here.”
The Everglades Foundation is a science-based organization that promotes a $13.4 billion federal-state restoration project for the Everglades that is designed to re-create a semblance of the system’s original water flow. That flow is critical to the health of the Everglades, not just because it fills the aquifer beneath them and gives South Florida its water supply, but also because it balances the salinity of Florida Bay. Without this equilibrium, seagrass beds become damaged, negatively affecting myriad fish such as snook, tarpon, mangrove snapper, pink shrimp, and spiny lobsters—which supply food as well as fuel a recreational fishing industry that has a $7.5 billion economic impact statewide. “We actually flush out to sea more than 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water every day, rather than storing it in the Everglades,” Fordham says. “You really have to install an artificial heart for the Everglades, so that you can mimic the water flow and storage capacity in a way that accommodates our current population and the agricultural industry.”
In turn, the quality of that water is of vital concern to Friends of the Everglades, founded by writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1969. “There are no other Everglades in the world,” she wrote in the very first sentence of her classic 1947 book, The Everglades: River of Grass. A Minneapolis-born journalist and former Miami Herald scribe, her landmark tome was part nature writing, part Florida history, and part environmental advocacy, and it became central to American environmental literature. Friends’ first mission was to stop the construction of a jetport in the “river of grass.” The group joined a national outcry that was successful in halting the airport’s completion. “We’re little but mighty,” says Connie Washburn, the group’s current vice president of education and outreach and cofounder of its Young Friends of the Everglades educational outreach division, which teaches students about the wonders and importance of this unique area.
“Friends of the Everglades is like the mouse that roared,” says Albert Slap, 62, the organization’s general counsel and a veteran environmental attorney. “It’s a very small group that has very limited funding, but through its niche—which basically has been [focused on] water quality in the Everglades and bringing very targeted federal environmental litigation for the past 20 years—it’s been extremely effective.”
Friends maintains in ongoing court battles that the fertilizers used by regional farmers, primarily of sugar cane, release catastrophic amounts of phosphorus into the water, damaging the ecosystem. “What we learn from the Everglades is that water quality is like a temperature gauge on our own health as a society,” says Alan Farago, 57, the group’s president. “And what we are getting back from the Everglades is that we have a fever.”
Two federal cases have been central to Friends’ current battles. The first, which dates back to 1988, came out of a lawsuit the US Department of Justice brought against the state for not doing enough to limit phosphorus pollution. The resulting consent decree in 1991 led to a massive cleanup project in the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) just south of Lake Okeechobee, which included the building of treatment marshes.
According to Clewiston-based United States Sugar Corporation, one of the major growers in the EAA, in the growing season last year its cane fields achieved a 79 percent reduction in phosphorus, the greatest reduction since the program was authorized by the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. “Pointing fingers and calling names isn’t going to clean one drop of water going into the Everglades,” says Judy Sanchez, the company’s senior director of corporate communications and public affairs. “On a lot of issues, we work very closely with [Friends], and we think it’s time we recognize that agriculture is playing a positive role in this.” Friends takes some credit for nudging everyone to the table.
The other case was filed in 2004 by Friends and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida against the US Environmental Protection Agency, and is designed to get the phosphorus in the treated-water marshes reduced to 10 parts per billion. State environmental officials say that above that level, harmful changes to plant and animal life begin to occur.
Slap says the two cases “are like a pair of bookends. Both are moving forward together somewhat in synergy, putting pressure on the state to do a lot more than it has been doing.” The group also is investigating the issue of methylmercury in the Everglades. Sulfur pollution from the sugar farms binds with metallic mercury left in the Everglades by coal-fired power plants, creating a poisonous compound, he says. It works its way up the food chain to fish, and thus the dinner table. “It’s highly toxic to humans, especially fetuses and young children,” he contends. “It’s not just the birds and the critters. Sugar’s pollution creates a huge human-health threat in the Everglades.”
Today Friends remains, like Douglas was herself, tiny but scrappy. The organization has one part-time staffer and only a dozen volunteer board members who work out of their homes and meet monthly. But they make their voices heard. Today, Douglas, who died at the remarkable age of 108 in May 1998, no doubt would be cheering on any group that enters the fray to keep the Everglades healthy. When it comes to the big picture, the Friends and other environmental advocates are exploring how, or even whether, urban life and Mother Nature can get along. “The battle for the Everglades is really, at its heart, a battle to see if we can organize ourselves to have both a productive economy and also an environment that will be as fruitful for future generations,” Farago says. “Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a very clear vision of the importance of the Everglades and what was needed to restore [them]. We have not strayed far from her purpose.”


"River at Risk"
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Lake O releases ordered
April 12, 2012
Pulses of fresh water to fight algae, improve conditions of the river in Southwest Florida.
Pulses of fresh water will flow down the Caloosahatchee River soon to control algal blooms.
On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District governing board gave direction to staff and scientists to send pulses of fresh water through the system to break up and minimize the algae blooms, said Terrie Bates, the SFMD Water Resources Division director.
“They were responsive to our concerns,” said Kurt Harclerode, operations manager for Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources. “They’re going to do releases to push out the algae and improve the conditions. We’re not sure when they’ll start or what the duration will be. We talked about 2,000 cubic feet per second, but don’t know how long that will last.”
Bates said water sampling is under way in order to give scientists and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers a sense of river conditions. Initial reviews, so far, have shown toxic algae bloom hasn’t occurred.
The fresh water pulses, which would be a one- to three-day period of 2,000 CFS, could take place in 5-10 days depending on the data, Bates said.
A group from Lee County attended the meeting, after the district governing board last month recommended the Army Corps not release fresh water.
Rae Ann Wessel, natural resource policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation, said the pulses probably won’t address the salinity issue.
“They made a conscience decision today to flush out the algae and make this release,” Wessel said. “But to not try to maintain salinity balance.”
The lack of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee to the river and its estuary raises salt in the river, which cause the algal blooms.
Wessel said she wants the governing board to follow the pulses with 300 CFS in order to keep salinity balanced.
Bates said the governing board isn’t resuming releasing the 300 CFS or 194 million gallons per day of fresh water into the river.
“Even if the board or the corp resumed the 300 CFS, it’s not enough to come through to push (salinity) back down, it would only be moderate,” said Bates, noting the pulses will have a short-term benefit and help not only eradicate the algae blooms, but reduce salinity.
One benefit from the meeting is board members and the agricultural community recognized the problem, said Harclerode. He said although the pulses are a short-term solution, everyone recognizes “crisis management” isn’t the best option.
“It’s too early to say if this is the thing we need to get to the wet season,” Harclerode said. “But we can see that finish line ahead of us and the wet season will be here soon. I’m hopeful what the district and corp put together will provide a low salinity zone and wash out the algae that is starting to bloom in the river.”


"River at Risk"
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Lake Okeechobee water sought to help Caloosahatchee River
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
April 12, 2012
Lake Okeechobee water could start flowing again to Florida’s West Coast, despite concerns about dipping into South Florida’s back-up water supply.
The South Florida Water Management District on Thursday endorsed resuming periodic discharges of Lake Okeechobee water into the Caloosahatchee River to try to reduce toxic algae blooms that threaten fishing grounds and drinking water supplies in southwest Florida.
Fourteen weeks of lake water releases to the west were stopped in March because of Lake Okeechobee’s declining water levels.
Resuming those water releases, at a reduced volume, could create an added water supply strain in South Florida if the winter-to-spring dry season lingers longer than expected.
 “It’s really a risk analysis,” said Melissa Meeker, district executive director. “We can’t get the water back.”
The releases could end up taking more than half a foot of water off the lake over 30 days, in addition to the lake’s steady decline from evaporation and other water supply uses.
The Army Corps of Engineers has the final say on whether to resume lake releases and that decision could come Friday.
Without more lake water, West Coast communities face increased algae blooms that threaten water quality and by extension tourism.
A drinking water treatment plant serving Fort Meyers that draws from the Caloosahatchee River already had to go off line because of spiking salinity levels.
“We have to come (and) beg for every drop of water that we get,” said James Evans, a biologist for the city of Sanibel, told district officials Thursday. “Our estuary is the lifeblood of our economy.”
Sugar cane growers and other farmers rely on Lake Okeechobee water for irrigation and the lake also is a back-up drinking water supply for South Florida communities.
If the lake drops too low that can trigger emergency watering restrictions that limit irrigation for farms and lawns alike.
South Florida agricultural representatives Thursday warned against a return to the larger volume weekly lake water releases that had been flowing in the Caloosahatchee for much of the year.
“There just isn’t enough water,” said Tom MacVicar, a consultant for sugar cane growers and other agricultural interest.
Draining Lake Okeechobee water to the east and west is usually done for flood control, to lower the lake during the summer rainy season and ease the strain on its 70-year-old dike. That brings a larger flush of water that can have damaging environmental effects on coastal estuaries.
But during the dry season, the Caloosahatchee River benefits from a lower volume infusion of fresh water from the lake. That can counterbalance spiking saltwater levels that threaten the health of sea grass and oyster beds, which provide vital marine habitat.
Until the last week of March, the Caloosahatchee River was getting an average of about 291 million gallons per day of Lake Okeechobee water. That’s enough to fill more than 441 Olympic-sized swimming pools per day.
The new plan calls for allowing a renewed infusion of water, but over shorter time periods. That could include three-day cycles of water releases into the Caloosahatchee as needed to break up algae blooms, which can lead to fish kills and make water unsafe for human use.
“We need to do something,” said Daniel DeLisi, who represents southwest Florida on the district’s nine-member board.
Lake Okeechobee on Thursday was 11.93 feet above sea level, more than two feet below normal. But that’s still slightly higher than this time last year, with the summer rainy season approaching.
If rains don’t increase, district projections show that Lake Okeechobee water levels in May could drop to the point that triggers emergency watering restrictions.
Long-term plans call for building a reservoir that could deliver water during the Caloosahatchee’s times of needs, instead of relying on the lake.
But that reservoir, like a host of other Everglades restoration projects, remains on hold as the state and federal government grapple with how to pay for billions in planned South Florida stormwater storage and treatment areas.


Health officials warn of algae bloom
April 11, 2012
LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Dan Dobson and his family are loading onto their boat at the W.P. Franklin Lock. They came from Michigan to spend the week fishing. But fisherman like Dobson are being asked to be aware before they approach the Caloosahatchee or any of its tributaries.
Health officials are giving a precautionary warning that algae bloom has been spotted in sporadic parts of the river. The dangerous bloom shut down the Franklin Lock last year. The green and pungent waters weren't safe for humans or pets.
"The greatest harm generally comes from ingestion," said Diane Holm with the Lee County Health Department, "also people with respiratory ailments may have some difficulties breathing around it."
The threat of algae bloom is common for this time of year. During the dry season, the bloom generally forms in the fresh and brackish waters in Lee County. The rainy season will help to wash the bloom away.
Luckily, many of the warning signs for the potentially dangerous algae are obvious. Look for greenish or off-color water, or if the water smells different that could be a sign.
"And if you see dead animals or dead fish floating nearby, then those are probably unsafe signs that you want to avoid the area," said Holm.


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The gray lines on the
embankment of Tampa
Bay Water’s C.W. Bill
Young Reservoir
repairs that have been
made to cracks, which
were discovered in
2006, a year after the
reservoir opened.

Jury rules against Tampa Bay Water in reservoir trial
Tampa Bay Times - by Craig Pittman, Staff Writer
April 11, 2012
TAMPA — After a trial that lasted a month, a federal court jury took less than four hours Tuesday to find that the company that designed Tampa Bay Water's reservoir is not responsible for fixing the cracks that have plagued the structure.
Instead, the cost of the multi-million-dollar repair work will likely fall on the shoulders of the 2 million ratepayers in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.
Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber expressed disappointment at losing a case where the utility had sought $73 million in damages from HDR Engineering to help pay for fixing the 15.5-billion gallon reservoir.
"We feel strongly that the public shouldn't have to pay twice for a fully functioning reservoir," Seeber said. "We hired HDR to design the facility. HDR certified its design and the construction to the state, so we believe HDR is liable."
Seeber and the utility's attorney, Richard Harrison, said they would meet with Tampa Bay Water's board members behind closed doors Monday to discuss their options, including a possible appeal of the verdict.
Seeber acknowledged that, unless the verdict is overturned, the estimated $122 million cost of fixing the reservoir will have to be "funded by the ratepayers and by grants from other sources." The original construction was paid for in part by state and federal tax money.
However, in response to a reporter's question, Seeber said that grants from state agencies such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District are a lot harder to come by now, thanks to budget-cutting by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.
As for federal funding, Seeber said, "I don't think anybody in the country is getting federal funding for projects of this magnitude."
HDR CEO George Little issued a brief statement late Tuesday saying he was "pleased the jury based its decision on the facts and found in our favor."
The verdict marked a major victory for HDR, the Nebraska firm that designed the C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in rural Hillsborough County. Last fall the company had agreed to settle the suit for $30 million, but Tampa Bay Water officials rejected that as too little.
Now the company doesn't owe its former client a penny.
The quick decision also marked another public relations setback for Tampa Bay Water, which has seen two of its boldest water supply projects — the reservoir and the Apollo Beach desalination plant — repeatedly become a source of headaches.
And it marked yet another twist in a saga that already involved a stolen laptop and accusations of a conspiracy.
The reservoir — the largest in Florida — opened in June 2005 as a place to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. The reservoir's walls consist of an earthen embankment as wide as a football field at its base, averaging about 50 feet high. An impermeable membrane buried in the embankment prevents leaks.
The embankment's top layer, a mixture of soil and concrete to prevent erosion, is where cracks were discovered in December 2006. Some cracks were up to 400 feet long and up to 15½ inches deep. Workers patched the cracks, but the patches didn't last.
The cracks have now shown up along two-thirds of the embankment, Harrison told jurors during closing arguments. More cracks are occurring even now as the utility draws down the water inside the reservoir, he said.
In 2008, Tampa Bay Water filed suit against HDR and two contractors who had worked on building it, saying they should pay for repairs. The two contractors settled the utility's claims for $6.75 million, and agreed to work with Tampa Bay Water on its suit against HDR. But no one from those companies was called to testify during the trial.
However, jurors did hear about how the laptop computer that contained HDR's only copy of its modeling of the design was stolen from an engineer's car, and how the employee that Tampa Bay Water assigned to oversee the work was still working on getting her engineering degree during construction.
HDR's attorney, Wayne Mason, contended in his closing argument that his clients "did deliver a terrific reservoir." Some cracking was expected, he said. Anything beyond normal was the result of construction errors, not any design flaw — and it's not serious, he said.
"That reservoir is just like most of us, ladies and gentlemen," Mason told the jury. "It's got a scar."
Mason contended that the utility's "sham of a lawsuit" was part of a conspiracy to make someone else pay for an expensive upgrade to the reservoir that he contended wasn't necessary.
Last year Tampa Bay Water hired Kiewit Infrastructure South to repair the reservoir and also boost its capacity by 3 billion gallons for $162 million. The company, expected to start work this fall, has promised to finish in two years — during which the reservoir will be drained dry, and the utility will rely more heavily on its seldom-used desalination plant.
"The whole notion that anybody at Tampa Bay Water has engaged in any kind of conspiracy is absolutely ludicrous," Seeber said after the verdict.
Despite Mason's prediction that losing the lawsuit would prompt the utility to cancel the Kiewit contract, Seeber said, "I believe our board will forge ahead with the work."


"River at Risk"
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Release water anew into river - Editorial
April 10, 2012
The Caloosahatchee River is being choked of life-giving freshwater, thanks to actions by state and federal officials.
Fortunately, they have a chance to redeem themselves.
The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board meets Thursday and can reverse its decision last month to recommend that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stop freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee into the river.
Southwest Florida was the only area targeted by this miserly policy.
The economy of our area, which is presently in drought conditions, depends on a vital environment and health river ecosystem.
River watchers have spotted blue-green algae that can choke tape grass and imperil or kill other sea life, such as oysters, manatees and smalltooth sawfish. The lack of freshwater has increased the salinity of the river.
All these elements are critical to a healthy ecology.
While it’s true that the freshwater in Lake Okeechobee is scarce and that a balance is required to meet other water needs, such as for irrigation of agriculture — another critical economic concern, which is getting freshwater — starving the Caloosahatchee of freshwater releases is not the answer.
We commend Dan DeLisi, Southwest Florida’s representative on the governing board, for opposing the policy, and we hope he can be more persuasive today with his colleagues.
Southwest Florida has historically received the short end of the stick when it comes to water policy decisions. Our region does not have the political clout of a Miami-Dade or Broward county.
However, governing board members cannot in good conscience allow their decision to be sustained.
In 2010 The News-Press produced a report called “River at Risk” showing the dangers to the Caloosahatchee of all sorts — too few releases, too much water, fertilizer runoff, pollution, sewage, etc. — and that little had changed over 20 years since the first time we had convened concerned citizens.
In a guest opinion article on Monday, Rae Ann Wessel of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation passionately argued for citizens to urge governing board members to reverse course.
She explained the consequences of the board’s earlier decision and wrote: “These impacts also impact our local economy, which is heavily dependent upon the quality of our waters to attract visitors, businesses and our quality of life.”
We urge her message to be heard loud and clear by the board.
Governing board members: You can make this right. Make it so.


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to enlarge :

Polluters should Pay
Nutrient & Phosphorus contamination
in the huge Everglades
Construction Project area
is a well known problem.
According to the
Florida Constitution,
"the polluters pay" for clean-up.
Now - WHO pollutes
and WHO pays ?
The study answers this.

Report - FULL TEXT
Download the PDF

Time is long past due for Big Sugar to begin paying proportionate share of clean-up costs for pollution it causes in Everglades
TCPalm - by Editorial Board
April10, 2012
What good is a constitutional amendment if it isn't being enforced ?
The question is highly relevant in the wake of a new study about pollution in the Everglades — and who is paying to clean it up.
In 1996, 68 percent of Florida voters approved the so-called "Polluter Pays" amendment to the state constitution. It requires those who cause pollution in the Everglades Agricultural Area to pay the cleanup costs.
Fast forward 16 years. The Everglades Foundation recently conducted a comprehensive study to determine who actually is paying the cost to remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the Everglades ecosystem.
The bottom line ?  The biggest polluters — agricultural interests — are not paying a proportionate share for the ecological damage they cause.
The study found that agricultural interests, including U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Crystals Corp. and others, are responsible for 76 percent of the phosphorus entering the Everglades. However, these polluters are paying only 24 percent of the cost to remove phosphorus from the ecosystem.
Oh, and the argument proffered by Big Sugar that areas north of Lake Okeechobee are a big source of the phosphorus south of the lake ?  Not so, according to the study, which found this accounts for only about 13 percent of the phosphorus south of Lake O.
So who pays ?  Taxpayers — in the form of higher property taxes, and state and federal cleanup programs, which also are funded with your tax dollars.
"We all agree that tax dollars need to be invested in projects to save this very special place," says Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. "But it is hard to imagine why the handful of heavily subsidized sugar companies that are producing most of this pollution should be allowed to stick us with the bill to clean up their mess."
This is especially disconcerting given the clarity of the "Polluter Pays" amendment.
The time is long past due for Florida lawmakers and state officials to begin shifting the cost of cleaning up the Everglades from taxpayers to those who are primarily responsible for defacing one of our nation's greatest environmental treasures.


Five seconds
Gainesville Sun
April 9, 2012
Lee Constantine knows all about the five second argument. He heard it ad nauseam during his decade in the Florida Legislature.
It usually goes something like: "Government regulation...horrible."
Short and sweet. And lawmakers love the virtue of brevity during their hectic annual 60-day sessions in Tallahassee.
"How do you explain in five seconds why we need regulations to protect the aquifer so our springs can be protected so we can have clean water ?" asked Constantine.
He joined former Gov. Bob Graham Tuesday evening at UF to tell Floridians why they need to mobilize to help protect the state's increasingly stressed natural environment.
Graham is a Democrat, and Constantine is a Republican. But they have put aside partisan differences to work in common cause under the umbrella of the Florida Conservation Coalition.
Its immediate mission: To explain to seemingly indifferent lawmakers — who have grown accustomed to digesting their input in five-second sound bites — why they can't keep treating Florida's water like dirt.
So here's Constantine's advice to Floridians who are appalled at the Legislature's decidedly anti-green turn and who want to give their elected state representatives an earful: Don't try to do it in Tallahassee. Just stay home.
"You've got to talk to them those other 10 months of the year, when they have time to listen to you," he said.
And there's no question lawmakers are in need of a good talking to.
These politicians, after all, have gutted Florida's growth management laws, abolished the Department of Community Affairs, neutered the water management districts, fought federal efforts to impose clean water standards and otherwise blindly bought into the five-second "Government regulation...horrible" argument.
They have done all that and more because they believe there is no political downside to reversing decades of environmental protection initiatives.
They may worry about being thrown out of office for raising taxes, crossing the gun lobby, being branded "job-killers," or for not opposing abortion.
But the rascals in Tallahassee are not at all afraid of losing their jobs for being pro-pollution.
So far, none have.
"The 2011 session was the worst year for the environment in the modern history of Florida," Graham said Tuesday evening. Following that session, he said, the Florida Conservation Coalition was formed try "to stop the bleeding."
"We had just been playing defense," Constantine added. "We had to go on the offense. Water belongs to everyone."
In the Coalition Graham has gathered together groups like Audubon of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy and others.
Those organizations all have their own lobbyists in Tallahassee. But none are nearly as influential as the well-paid suits who work for, say, the Chamber of Commerce or Associated Industries.
Nor will they be until the folks back home begin to tell their legislators to stop trashing Florida's natural environment.
Oh, and feel free to take more than five seconds making that argument.


Salt wounds life in Caloosahatchee River
April 9, 2012
Waterway's advocates want fresh water released from lake, despite agency's position
Everybody suffers during drought, but some Southwest Florida water watchers think the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary are suffering more than necessary.
Last month, the South Florida Water Management District governing board voted to recommend that the Army Corps of Engineers not release fresh water from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee River while allowing continued releases for agriculture.
Lack of fresh water from the lake raises salinities in the river and can cause numerous environmental problems, including harmful algal blooms.
Lee County officials and environmentalists will ask representatives to reconsider their vote at Thursday’s governing board meeting in West Palm Beach. They want the district to recommend releases of 300 cubic feet per second (about 194 million gallons per day), said Kurt Harclerode, operations manager for Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources.
“We’re not asking for the world,” he said. “Three hundred would keep the flow moving through the system.
“We expect it to get dry before the wet season. The demand for water for crops are high, but everybody needs water. All we want is that little bit to get us through dry season.”
With less than a month until the wet season starts May 1, most of Lee County is in severe drought conditions, while most of Collier County is experiencing moderate drought.
Lake Okeechobee is the heart of South Florida’s water supply.
During water shortages, the lake is managed for multiple purposes, including the environment and agriculture.
Although water is not being released down the Caloosahatchee, the agriculture industry is receiving water for irrigation, which river advocates say is unfair.
Agriculture representatives are discussing water releases to form an opinion that they will present to the water district at Thursday’s meeting.
“The farm groups are looking at this from all aspects,” said Ron Hamel, general manager of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association. “We’re trying to find an approach that will work for everybody.”


The idea of Florida
Gainesville Sun - by Ron Cunningham
April 8, 2012
Recently I spent a week with about 630 of my closest friends touring the back roads, pine forests and sparsely developed sea shores of the Big Bend region.
The cyclists who participated in Bike Florida’s Forgotten Coast Tour came here from all over America, from Canada and points beyond. We took them from Tallahassee to legendary robber baron Ed Ball’s old hunting lodge (now Wakulla Springs State Park) and then northwest through the Apalachicola National Forest to the point where Lake Talquin drains into the Ochlockonee River. From there it was an easy run (except for some very unFlorida like hills that needed to be topped) into Quincy.
We crossed the mighty Apalachicola River at Blountstown and then headed south past the chain of dead lakes into Wewahitchka, famous for its tupelo honey and where the movie “Yulee’s Gold” was filmed. They spent two days in Apalachicola; which is going through something of a small town renaissance these days; as a lively new arts and culture community settles in comfortably with the town’s generations-long oyster industry (think Cedar Key, only more so). From there, some riders headed west to Cape San Blas and the sugar-white dunes of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, while others opted for a 12-mile hop (11 of those miles over just two bridges) to nearby Saint George Island; which also has its share of trackless white dunes set amidst the turquiose waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The return journey to Tallahassee took them through the tiny communities of Carrabelle, Sopchoppy, Medart and St. Marks.
All in all it was a smashing trip through the heart of a scenic and natural Florida that many people don’t even know exists. And I only felt a tad guilty on the first day, when we routed cyclists past the state Capitol Building.
In retrospect it seemed a dirty trick, because that’s where the Florida Legislature seems to be doing its level best to obliterate everything that is special, unspoiled and unique about Florida.
Sometimes you have to wonder if our lawmakers have any idea what they’re doing to Florida. And I’m not the only one who is wondering.
Last week former Florida Gov. Bob Graham and Lee Constantine, a one-time state senator who was known in the Legislature for his environmental stewardship, were at the University of Florida making what amounts to a recruitment pitch for the recently organized Florida Conservation Coalition. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that coalition of environmental groups and activists came together more or less in self-defense after the 2011 session, which Graham called the worst session for the environment in modern Florida history.
Growth management ?  Gone.  The Department of Community Affairs ?  Disappeared.  Florida Forever ?  Defunded.  The water management districts ?  Emasculated. A new law to begin inspecting millions of aging septic tanks ?  Let ‘em leak. In the name of “jobs, jobs, jobs” lawmakers hacked away at clean water regulations, development constraints and any pretense of sensible planning for Florida’s future.
“They forgot that people don’t come to Florida because we have the best strip malls,” Constantine said. “People come to Florida for the idea of Florida, for what we take for granted. Our beaches and rivers and open fields and even our orange groves.
“They (lawmakers) think that if they make it easy for developers, all our problems will go away,” he added. “The idea of Florida, what we love about Florida the most is not our malls.”
He’s right about that. We didn’t schedule a single strip mall layover day during the Forgotten Coast Tour. The riders who came here from Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere spent a lot of money, but they spent it in the tiny shops of Apalachicola, the restaurants on St. George Island and in a painstakingly recreated, “old fashioned” downtown Port St. Joe.
Anyone who has been paying any attention at all these past several years knows that the Florida landscape has become littered with abandoned big box stores, once imposing shopping plazas now converted into flea markets and other sad relics of commercial urban blight that represented someone’s misguided “idea” of Florida.
And that’s the problem. Too many of our politicians have altogether the wrong idea about Florida. There is a huge baby boom generation on the verge of retirement, and to the extent that those boomers are going to come here to live, play and otherwise spend their golden years (and their disposable income), they are not going to be lured here by the siren’s song of multiple-lanes of congested traffic, endless miles of commercial sprawl and cookie-cutter exurban housing plantations.
They want the very idea of Florida. The real Florida. I only wish our legislators had the same idea.
Ron Cunningham, editorial page editor of The Sun, also serves on the board of directors of the non-profit Bike Florida.



Court decision could mean cleaner water for Florida
The Bradenton Times - by Staff Report
April 7, 2012
PENSACOLA – Florida’s polluted springs, lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters received another glimmer of hope for Clean Water Act (CWA) protection on March 30 when federal judge Casey Rodgers ruled in favor of three environmental groups and Linda Young who brought the suit against the US EPA in 2009. The suit was the fourth one against Florida’s “Impaired Waters Rule” (IWR) in the past 11 years, all of which have been won by environmental groups that filed the suits.
“These four cases resulted from an anti-Clean Water Act, Bush-era EPA that was in lock-step with politically powerful polluters,” said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida and a plaintiff in the case. “When Florida began its battle against the CWA during the Jeb Bush years, the Clinton EPA took a firm stand for the federal protections. When George Bush took over, EPA immediately reversed it’s position and started helping Florida and its polluters carve a route around the nation’s premier environmental law. We are hoping that this decision will be the point at which the Obama EPA makes a U-turn back in the right direction,” Young said.
The Northern District Federal Court ordered EPA to further develop “the administrative record with regard to the effect of the provisions of the amended IWR at issue in Counts I through V of the plaintiffs’ complaint on the state’s listing decisions according to the test prescribed by the Eleventh Circuit . . .” EPA also has the option to appeal the judge’s ruling (click here to download the ruling as PDF) .
“I sincerely hope that the EPA will not continue down the path that was created under the Bush administration which has not led to positive results for Florida’s waters,” said Young. “The Obama EPA has an opportunity now to return to a proactive, pro-clean water policy that adheres to Clean Water Act goals.”



Canal in cane fields

Miami Canal changes could bring more water to Broward County
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
April 7, 2012
Everglades restoration proposals have water supply ripple effects.
Reconfiguring one of South Florida's main drains in the name of Everglades restoration could send more water to Broward County.
The Miami Canal, stretching from Lake Okeechobee to Miami, is one of four major canals dug in the early 1900s that have allowed agriculture and development to take over hundreds of thousands of acres that were once part of the Everglades.
New Everglades restoration proposals call for potentially redirecting some water from the Miami Canal into northern or central Broward County.
Tinkering with the flow of water through the Miami Canal can have flood control and water supply effects that fan out from its 77-mile-long path through South Florida.
The idea of sending Miami Canal water into Broward remains only a preliminary option, among a host of others being considered in revamped Everglades restoration plans still taking shape, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
"At this point, this idea is just one of the measures that needs to be analyzed and further defined during the plan formulation process to see if it is cost effective, is compatible with other conceptual features and meets the objectives of the overall project," district spokesman Randy Smith said.
Redirecting Miami Canal water could involve sending more water into the North New River Canal, which extends into Fort Lauderdale, or the Hillsboro Canal, which stretches along the Broward-Palm Beach County border.
Water managers say the move would be part of other Miami Canal changes aimed at trying to restore more natural water flows to what remains of the Everglades.
The Miami Canal sends a rush of water through the water conservation area, which often results in water pooling too deeply on the southern end while the northern portion of the marsh dries out.
Restoration alternatives include backfilling or plugging portions of the canal to slow and spread out the flow of stormwater through the Everglades Water Conservation areas west of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The hope is to rehydrate marsh land and restore Everglades tree islands that provide wildlife habitat.
Redirecting Miami Canal water to the east could bring water supply benefits to Broward, which is under pressure to produce alternative water supply sources for a growing population.
The Hillsboro Canal borders the 2,000-acre "Wedge" property that Broward County absorbed from Palm Beach County in 2009 with plans for thousands of new homes that will need water service.
Developers that include a branch of business and sports magnate Wayne Huizenga's operations have proposed more than 1,800 homes on the collection of wedge properties being annexed into the city of Parkland.
While environmental groups support reconfiguring the Miami Canal to try to mimic the "sheet flow" of water that once replenished the Everglades, they are also watching to keep tabs on where the Miami Canal water could end up going.
"You always have various interests trying to get some benefit out of these projects," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club.



Blasting - -

Plan for reservoirs in southwest Broward may involve blasting
Sun Sentinel – by D. Fleshler
April 7, 2012
A plan to revive the Everglades could also revive a battle over blasting in southwest Broward.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to construct two "water preserve areas" on the fringes of Weston, Pembroke Pines, Southwest Ranches and Miramar, which together would be nearly twice the size of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
They would be surrounded by landscaped berms and a system of pump stations, canals and other supporting infrastructure. To the west would be a 14-mile strip of wetlands intended to prevent water from seeping out of the Everglades.
Environmentalists support the project, saying it will restore a more natural water cycle to wetlands and tree islands, as well as keep dirty stormwater from being washed into the Everglades from the suburbs. But the possibility it could require blasting is likely to lead to opposition from cities whose residents blame prior blasting at limestone mines and housing developments for cracking floors and foundations.
"I'm speechless," Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley said. "We don't allow it. It's bad enough we have blasting in Dade County. We're not going to allow it in our backyard."
The Corps just released an environmental impact statement for the project, with an engineering appendix that says blasting would be one of the options, primarily to construct a system of canals to the west of the reservoirs.
Jenn Domashevich, spokeswoman for the Corps, said explosives would be used sparingly in a technique called "rock fracturing" and only after all non-blasting alternatives had been considered.
"If rock fracturing is required, it would involve a very low level of explosives that would be embedded into the rock and used to fracture it so it can be removed by the excavator," she wrote in an email.
Miramar ordinances prohibit blasting, and although the Corps documents discuss requesting a variance, the mayor said they would be unlikely to get one.
"It would be extremely problematic for us," she said.
Weston Mayor Eric Hersh said he needed to hear more from the Corps about their plans.
"Blasting has been an issue in the past, but it depends on the proximity to homes and what they're planning to do," he said.
From the ground, the reservoirs will look somewhat like small-scale versions of Lake Okeechobee – landscaped berms of 8 1/2 feet and 15 feet, with pump stations and public access for hiking and biking. They would hold up to 4.3 feet of water.
The system is intended to address some of the classic ills of the Everglades inflicted by the arrival of people and their earthmoving equipment.
The reservoirs, which will total 3.3 square miles, will hold water that otherwise would have flowed into the Everglades at the wrong time, swamping tree islands inhabited by deer and other mammals. They would be able to send water into the Everglades during dry periods, serving as a source of water for Everglades National Park.
They would provide water for recharging underground sources of drinking water. And they would cleanse the polluted water currently flowing into the Everglades via canal from southwest Broward County, where it fertilizes the growth of cattails that eliminate habitat for fish, frogs, snakes and birds.
It's unclear when work could start. The project has not yet been funded. The $866,707,000 cost would be split between the state and federal governments. Environmentalists are lobbying Congress to appropriate the federal share.
"Audubon is excited to see the Broward Water Preserve Areas project move forward, as it is an essential piece in the Everglades restoration puzzle that will enhance our water resources for the environment and for Floridians," said Jane Graham, Everglades policy associate for Florida Audubon. "The project will improve water quality in the Everglades by reducing the amount of dirty water pumped into the Everglades from stormwater."
The Corps is accepting comments on the plan through April 30. They may be sent to or by post to Angela Dunn, Biologist, Planning & Policy Division, Environmental Branch, US Army Corps of Engineers, P.O.Box 4970, Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019.




How to tell the only two crocodilians native to the United States apart:
Croc: Narrower snout, more pointed, with the fourth tooth of the lower jaw protruding when the mouth is closed. Nostrils almost touch. Olive brown or green.
Gator: Broader snout. Nostrils separated by scaly skin. Gray or black in color.
Croc: They seek salt or brackish coastal waters. One of the best places to see crocodiles is the marina and the waters around Flamingo in Everglades National Park.
Gator: They prefer fresh water but also live in brackish waters.
Croc: Tends to shy away from people.
Gator: Shows little concern for people.

The croc comeback: As their numbers grow, so do encounters with people and pets
Miami Herald - by Curtis Morgan
April 7, 2012
Once down to a few hundred hardy stragglers, crocodiles have rebounded in South Florida.
Fishing in a canal outside Homestead Bayfront Park not long ago, Ed Castleberry fought hard to catch the biggest jack he’d ever hooked. But something else also wanted his 15-pound trophy, something lurking beneath the murky surface.
As the retired Miami-Dade firefighter reached down to land the fish, a dark shadow passed under it, instantly followed by an explosion of water and the scream of his reel as line zinged out.
An American crocodile at least 12 feet long had grabbed the jack. Ten minutes later, the croc surfaced, crunching the fish between toothy jaws, then gulping it down. It was like a scene from Jurassic Park, Castleberry joked.
“I’m just glad it wasn’t my hand,’’ he said.
Castleberry’s uncomfortably close call a few months ago was just one of an increasing number of croc encounters across South Florida. Last month in Key Largo, a 10-footer in a canal killed a 65-pound dog named Roxie. And last summer, crocs cruised into the canals of upscale Gables-By-The-Sea along Biscayne Bay, prompting the worried community association to add a “crocodile watch’’ to the crime and traffic watches on its website.
The American crocodile, or Crocodylus acutus, a salt-water species once reduced to a few hundred reclusive reptiles hidden among the mangroves of the deep Everglades, remains a rare creature. But the population has multiplied nearly 10-fold since the 1970s, with numbers now estimated at around 1,500 — even after a killer freeze two years ago that scientists say killed at least 150 adults.
The result is that crocs are slowly pushing back into coastal areas they long ago abandoned — places that now happen to have people living there. Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission fielded 106 “nuisance’’ croc calls — with more than 80 percent of those from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, which boast prime breeding grounds along Florida Bay and the highest concentration of crocs.
“There is no question that with the increase in the crocodile population, encounters are much more common,’’ said Lindsey Hord, a biologist in charge of FWC’s nuisance reptile program.
Compared to the state’s one million alligators, which generate some 15,000-plus nuisance calls from worried suburbanites every year, crocs pose a small problem — but a far more challenging one.
The recovery of crocs prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove their “endangered’’ status in 2007 but they remain a “threatened” and federally protected species that scientists say still needs to expand back into historic range to assure long-term survival. So unlike when an alligator invades suburbia, state trappers typically won’t move a crocodile until a third nuisance call.
“That’s not a hard-and-fast rule,’’ said Hord. “Realistically, public safety is our absolute first priority but we have to recognize the need of the species.’’
While each case is different, he said, the message is to learn to safely live with them.
That’s not the answer many homeowners expect — or want to hear. Last summer, homeowners were shocked when state trappers, responding to a call about a five-foot croc in a swimming pool in Gables-by-the-Sea, tossed the reptile back into a canal. It was only a few weeks after a dead dog with bite marks had been found floating in a canal.
It’s been frustrating for residents who fear for pets and kids and no longer swim or clean boat bottoms in their canals, said Marisa Feito, president of the Pinecrest and Gables-by-the-Sea Homeowners Association. She’s hoping technology in the form of some sort of anti-croc electronics or barriers may some day persuade them to move on.
“It’s a very difficult situation because it’s almost impossible to resolve right now,’’ she said. “They’re protected so you can’t just shoot them or hunt them.’’
There’s the additional problem that crocs, once they stake out a territory, tend to return to it again and again, no matter how many times they’re moved, making a beeline back within weeks or even days, from 30 to 50 miles away. Trappers have experimented with attaching magnets to their heads while moving them to disrupt their primitive but powerful homing systems but the results have been mixed.
In the last few years, crocodiles — most easily most easily distinguished from alligators by their narrower, snaggle-toothed snouts — have popped up in parks, yards and fairways from Biscayne Bay to Naples and nuisance calls have come as far down the Keys chain as Big Pine. Crocs have been pulled from swimming pools in the Keys and Palmetto Bay, been plucked from the waves in Jupiter and Cocoa Beach and photographed sunning in a yard on Tampa Bay — about as far north as the cold-sensitive reptiles have been recorded.
Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecology professor at the University of Florida, said the crocs are simply reoccupying territory they retreated from as their population dwindled under pressure from hide hunters and coastal development.
“This really pretty much mirrors their historic range,’’ he said.
A brutal freeze in 2010 actually knocked numbers back from a peak of perhaps 2,000 adults, said Mazzotti, who leads annual nesting surveys that biologists use to make population estimates.
South Florida is home to almost all of the nesting, with prime grounds stretching from Cape Sable on the southwest corner of Everglades National Park to the cooling canals of the Turkey Point Nuclear Power to the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Mazzotti and Mark Parry, a wildlife biologist with Everglades National Park, credit much of the population boom to a small restoration project done on Cape Sable in the 1980s that stemmed the flow of sea water into a vast and isolated estuary.
“We’ve had orders of magnitude increase in numbers of crocodiles nesting in that area in response,’’ said Mazzotti. “This shows that ecosystem restoration can work.’’
With crocs highly territorial creatures that feast on their own young, it’s unclear just how large a population South Florida can support. But scientists believe people will be seeing more of them in the future — at least if they’re paying close attention to an animal that has a reputation for steering clear of humans.
“They’re around a lot more than most people realize,’’ said Parry.
Experts who work with them consider the American crocodile far less aggressive than man-eaters like the fearsome Nile crocodile. There has never been a documented attack on a human in the wild in Florida but the species has bitten and killed people in the Caribbean.
“It sounds funny using the word, but they’re probably the most gentle of the crocodilian species,’’ said Mazzotti.
Still, the American crocodile is a formidable beast, with males growing larger than alligators — up to 14 feet or more. As their numbers grow, so does the risk, said Parry. “Sooner or later there will probably be, just like with the Florida panther, a first attack on a human.’’
The threat to pets is more immediate and real. Roxie, the Key Largo dog, wasn’t the first or last croc victim. The FWC’s Hord said reports the croc had leapt four feet from the water to snatch off a sea wall were based on speculation.
“Nobody actually witnessed what happened,’’ he said. “They heard a splash and made some assumptions.’’
But he still stressed that unsecured pets “are not safe near the water in Florida.’’ Both crocs and gators see them as prey, he said.
“They’ve been eating small animals for thousands of years.’’
Castleberry, the angler who lost his jack to a croc, shared his experience and photos in story published this month in Florida Sports man magazine.
He thought it would serve as a reminder that South Florida was full of dangerous critters. He’s seen rattlesnakes along the canal as well and a friend once caught a spitting cobra, he said.


In S. Florida, many anglers ignore mercury warnings
The Republic - by David Fleshler and Steve Waters
April 6, 2012
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Every day, anglers across South Florida reel in swordfish, king mackerel, largemouth bass and other fish that contain high amounts of mercury.
But many of those casting lines from boats, piers and bridges don’t know about the state’s detailed recommendations against eating too much of these species or don’t take them seriously. Although Florida has one of the worst mercury problems in the United States, the Florida Department of Health lacks the money to distribute its consumption advisories, which set limits by species and body of water. The department posts the material online, where critics say it’s too hard to find and too complicated.
Many charter captains and other experienced anglers discount the warnings anyway, saying they never got sick, they don’t know anyone who got sick and no one eats a particular species frequently enough to receive a dangerous dose of mercury.
“I was told you’d pretty much have to eat fish every day for a year to build up enough mercury in your system to hurt you,” said Capt. Jimbo Beran, of the drift fishing boat Helen S at the Hillsboro Inlet Marina. “That’s what I tell my customers when I clean fish for them, you have to eat it every day. I’ve never heard of anyone having a problem.”
Health authorities encourage people to eat more fish, not less, because it’s highly nutritious, can improve cardiac health and provides benefits to the developing fetus. And they say most South Florida species are safe to eat. But some species — generally large predators — need to be consumed with caution.
At Lake Delevoe, a broad expanse of water just south of Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, the state recommends limiting consumption of five species. But Chester Jackson, 53, who was fishing from a pier Friday morning, said he’s never heard of the advisories.
“When times were hard, you’d go out here and catch a meal,” he said. “I never got sick from anything I caught in this lake. We used to fish here in the ‘90s. No one got sick.”
Mercury, a metallic element discharged by coal-fired power plants, can build up in the human body over years, causing neurological problems, including memory loss and personality disorders. It presents the greatest danger to children, pregnant women and women who plan to become pregnant because it can damage the nervous system of the developing child.
The Florida Department of Health’s fish consumption guidelines run to 28 pages, organized by water body. If you look up Water Conservation Area 2 in the Everglades, for example, you will see that you should not eat largemouth bass of 14 inches or more, bowfin or gar, should limit consumption of redear sunfish, spotted sunfish, butterfly peacock and largemouth bass under 14 inches to one meal per month and limit consumption of warmouth and bluegill to one per week.
“We think it’s so difficult to communicate because it’s so complicated,” said Dr. Todd Sack, chairman of the Florida Medical Association’s Environment and Health Section. “Currently everything’s buried in web sites. It’s there, but you have to dig for it.”
He said the state’s message should be simple: Eat more fish, but get it from the store. For recreational fishing, he said, people should stick to catch and release, especially inshore where mercury levels are highest.
Ted Lange, a biologist who works on mercury issues for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, acknowledged the need for improvement and said the state was working on something more user-friendly.
“It’s very good information but it’s just too much, too arduous to dig through,” he said. “Next step, we’ve been working on a Safe Eating Guideline — most commonly caught and eaten species. I don’t know if there will be the money to print it. It will be on the web.”
Many fish caught in South Florida, of course, are perfectly safe to eat. They include brown bullhead, crappie, striped mullet, sheepshead, gulf flounder and many other species, according to the fish and wildlife commission. Fish with the highest mercury levels are large predators, such as sharks and largemouth bass, which contain in their flesh all the mercury from the fish they’ve eaten.
Fish bought at stores generally present less of a problem than fish from the mercury hot spot of South Florida, so long as you don’t overdo consumption. But even with store-bought fish, there has been extensive debate among the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups about the mercury risks versus the health benefits of seafood.
Despite their debate, “a lot of people still fish to feed their families,” said Andre Eggelletion, a Lauderdale Lakes barber who has learned to fish lower on the food chain to avoid mercury. “As the economy continues to contract, I don’t see that slowing down. Poor people tell you, ‘I fish for support, not for sport.’”
But many anglers are highly conscious of the risks. While scouting locations for an upcoming bass tournament near Everglades Holiday Park early Thursday, Bryan Windle reeled in a small largemouth bass, which he threw back into the water.
“You can’t eat any of the fish you catch out here; they’re loaded with mercury,” he said. “There’s a list of the fish you can’t eat, but it’s pretty much everything out here.”
“I was told you’d pretty much have to eat fish every day for a year to build up enough mercury in your system to hurt you,” said Capt. Jimbo Beran, of the drift fishing boat Helen S at the Hillsboro Inlet Marina.
Florida reported 13 cases of mercury poisoning in 2010, all but one thought to be related to consumption of fish, according to a state report. But experts say many cases may go unreported because they are milder and the symptoms are never recognized as stemming from mercury.
Although home tests for mercury are sold, some experts question whether they can do the complex analysis performed by professional laboratories.
Kendra Goff, toxicologist for the Florida Department of Health, said the state does its best with limited funds and with the difficulty of getting across a mixed message: Eat more fish but be careful which fish you eat.
“We try to educate people. But we can’t dictate what a person eats or what a person does,” she said. “We encourage people to eat 8-12 ounces of fish per week. That’s two meals.”
Capt. Casey Hunt, of Pompano Beach, said the indisputable health benefits of eating fish outweigh any theoretical dangers from mercury. Fish caught fresh from the ocean, for example, clearly is better than beef from an industrialized farm.
“Some of this cattle meat’s so full of hormones,” Hunt said. “And they’re worried about fish.”
What it is: A metallic element discharged by coal-fired power plants and other combustion sources.
How does it get in fish: Settles in water, transforms into organic methylmercury in bacteria and works its way up the food chain.
Some fish to strictly limit:  Top predators such as shark, swordfish, tuna and large specimens of largemouth bass.
Fish considered safer: sunfish, brown bullhead, crappie, striped mullet, Florida pompano, sheepshead, common dolphin.
Effect on the unborn: Brain damage, mental retardation, lack of coordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak.
Effect on children: Problems in the kidneys, nervous system and digestive systems.
Effect on adults:  Much less severe. Irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. It is considered a potential carcinogen.  The phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from the shakes, irritability, slurred speech and other symptoms displayed by 19th century hat makers who used mercuric nitrate to make felt.
Warnings not working:  A 2008 study of women of childbearing age in the Florida Panhandle found mercury levels were higher among those who had consumed fish the previous month and among those unaware of the fish advisories. Less than a third knew about the warnings.
Sources: Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control, Environmental Research, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission



Commissioner of
Hallandale Beach, FL.

The future is now for sea level rise in South Florida
OPB News - Climate Central
April 6, 2012
It’s not unusual for Keith London to run into people who doubt that global warming is really such a big deal. “I tell them, ‘the ocean is rising,’ ” he said. “They say, ‘so?’ It drives you crazy.”
London is no scientist; he’s a city commissioner in Hallandale Beach, Fla., a municipality of about 37,000 that sits on the Atlantic coast between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. But he talks to scientists and engineers all the time as part of his job, and the story they tell him isn’t pretty. “The average elevation in Florida is 6 feet,” London said. “Some places are as little as 3 feet above sea level. And sea level is going to rise as all that ice in the Arctic melts.”
For places like Hallandale Beach, along with much of South Florida, that’s a big problem — not just off in the future, the way climate change feels to some people, but right now. The sea has already risen more than a foot in this area over the past century, and new research by Climate Central shows that some 2.4 million Floridians are at risk of flooding from even a moderate hurricane-driven storm surge. The odds of a catastrophic 100-year flood by 2030 are now 2.6 times higher than they would have been without global warming.
Mindful of the danger, public officials in Monroe, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties — Democrats and Republicans alike — have organized the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact to coordinate their responses. But local governments have already been dealing with the effects of the rising sea, and Hallandale Beach is a perfect example.
“The two biggest issues,” London said, “are potable water and sewage treatment.” Hallandale Beach, like much of the region, draws water from the Biscayne Aquifer, an immense natural subsurface reservoir that supplies 1.3 billion gallons of fresh water every day for drinking, cooking, bathing and more.
Since the ground is relatively porous, though, the rising ocean has been pushing it’s way under the beaches and into the reservoir. “Seven-eighths of our wells,” London said, “have had saltwater intrusion.” The only solution: drill more wells several miles inland, at a cost of $3 million, probably on the golf course in the neighboring town of Hollywood. “This is a big investment for a city with a $100 million annual budget,” he said. “It should hold us for 30-50 years.”
Then there’s the torrential rainfall — another consequence of global warming that’s already becoming apparent, and which is likely to get worse. “We’ve had a couple of major storm events recently,” London said. “In ’09, we literally had 18 inches of rain in 30 hours.”
It’s not just the stuff that falls directly on Hallandale Beach itself. “If it rains out [to the west] in Plantation or Miramar, the water ends up here,” London said. “If it rains in Hollywood or Fort Lauderdale [to the north] it flows south.” To deal with the inundation, the city is building a $15 million injection well to shunt the stormwater 150 feet underground, untreated. “Luckily,” London said, a bit facetiously, “the aquifer is already compromised.”
For the city’s sewer system, the problem is both ocean intrusion and age. “We’re a 70-year-old city and the pipes are crumbling, partly because they’re being corroded by salty groundwater,” London said. The groundwater seeps into the pipes, putting an extra burden on sewage processing that London estimates at about $2 million per year. On top of that, the system currently operates by gravity, with sewage flowing downhill until it reaches the plant. As groundwater levels rise with sea level, the city will have to resort to pumping — another big expense.
Finally, there’s the ocean itself, creeping higher every year as ice melts and the water itself swells as it warms. The main threat here not the loss of a few feet of beachfront, or a slightly higher water level in the canals that crisscross the city. It’s the inundation that happens when a hurricane pushes a wall of water inland. When Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore in New Orleans in 2005, it was the storm surge, not the wind or rain, that destroyed much of the city.
Admittedly, Katrina’s surge of nearly 30 feet above sea level was a U.S. record, and not likely to be repeated anytime soon. It wouldn’t take anything close, however, to devastate South Florida. “I’ve lived here since ’79,” London said, “and we’ve been very blessed. We’ve had wind-event hurricanes, but very few water-event hurricanes. As the crow flies, I’m less than a quarter mile from the ocean. With a 6-foot surge, my house might be gone.” So, he said, would the first floors of many of Hallandale Beach’s oceanfront high-rises.
One stopgap solution might be to artificially create the sort of vegetation-rich sand dunes that can partly absorb the impact of storm surges, but, while London remembers at least three rounds of beach replenishment during his time in the city, there’s been no attempt to build dunes. “People don’t want to see palm trees where they could put a beach towel,” London said, but simply refurbishing a flat beach is, he argues, “the definition of futility. People are extremely short-sighted.”
So London has pushed a small-scale project that won’t interfere with anyone’s towel. He’s gotten a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for a pilot project to plant mangroves in the brackish water of some of his city’s canals. “It’s relatively small,” he said, “just a couple of acres.” The plants will not only absorb some of the impact of storm surges, but they also tend to filter pollutants out of the water, and provide habitat for fishes and nesting places for birds.
It’s an extremely modest effort, but London hopes people will see the benefit, and support the project’s expansion. And whatever pundits and politicians say to challenge climate science, he doubts that his colleagues in other South Florida cities and towns are paying much attention. “I do hear people on talk shows say this is phony science,” he said. ”But the people I tend to be at meetings with — most of us are on the same page.”
Like London, they can’t afford to debate arcane science when the evidence of climate change is right at their front doors.


Florida:  Drowning in climate change denial
NRDC Switchboard – blog by Rebecca Hammer
April 5, 2012
Bordered by water on three sides, Florida is arguably one of the states most vulnerable to climate change. Over 14 million people (75 percent of the state’s population) live in coastal counties, and Miami ranks first in the world in terms of total assets at risk to a 100-year coastal flood event. Hotter temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, more powerful tropical storms, and rising sea levels will threaten communities across the state.
Having grown up in Florida, it’s all too easy for me to imagine how these impacts will affect people’s lives. My grandparents’ house on the Gulf coast could be flooded more frequently. The well my parents use to pump drinking water from the Floridan aquifer could soon run dry. And the beautiful wetlands and coastal mangroves I’ve enjoyed my whole life could be lost to sea level rise.
These are just a few of the possible impacts. Here’s the bigger picture:
●  By 2070, nearly 5 million people and $3.5 trillion in assets could be flooded by a 100-year coastal flood in the Miami area alone.
●  Sea level rise of a little more than 2 feet would place 9 percent of the state’s current land area underwater at high tide (over 99 percent of Monroe County and nearly 70 percent of Miami-Dade County)—an area with a population of 1.5 million.
●  The bread-and-butter tourism industry could lose $40 billion annually by 2050 and $167 billion annually by 2100 if no action is taken.
●  Greater evaporative losses from surface water reservoirs would affect water availability.
●  Drought events could contribute to saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater aquifers, contaminating drinking water supplies.
Given the enormous risks to the people, economy, and resources of Florida, you would think that state agencies would be busy developing plans and policies to reduce vulnerabilities. Think again.
According to a new NRDC report released today, Florida lags far behind other states in preparing for climate change impacts. Under former Governor Charlie Crist, the state seemed well on its way to getting ready—statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals were set, and the Florida Energy and Climate Commission was established to implement actions to reduce emissions of global warming pollution and prepare for climate impacts.
However, under the administration of current Governor Rick Scott (who doesn’t believe in man-made climate change), the commission has been abolished and state agencies are doing very little to prepare for climate change. Thankfully, regional groups like the South Florida Water Management District and the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact are acting and taking leadership. Cities like Miami also are preparing for climate change (as detailed in our Thirsty for Answers report).
But state agencies play an instrumental role in prioritizing and supporting statewide planning. They still need to do their part and prepare for the looming impacts of climate change—our health, livelihoods, communities, and future generations depend on it.


Florida overhauls environmental permitting laws
April 05, 2012
People in the Florida real estate development and investment community know that environmental permitting laws can amount to bureaucratic quagmires, and be used by local government leaders as tools to drive personal agendas, but those days may be coming to a close with the imminent passage of HB503. The measure is designed to overhaul the last 25 years of environmental regulation, and the particulars of the reform have been endorsed by environmentalists as well as Republicans and Democrats. The news of its passage is turning heads in the real estate business as many expect an increase in development and transaction volume. For more on this continue reading the following article from JDSupra.
While everyone waits for Florida Governor Rick Scott to sign HB503 into law, and it's expected that Scott will do so - no veto here - Florida real estate developers and those who work with land development are becoming more and more excited about this new law. (See our last post for full coverage of the bill itself, including the Florida Legislature's Bill Summary.)
What's the big deal about HB503?
Originating with Panama City Representative in the Florida House Jimmy Patronis, HB503 does a fruit basket turnover of Florida's environmental permitting laws. For some, this bill is just one more example of the current Tallahassee trend of overhauling state regulations and throwing a lot of longstanding laws out (for more on that, check out my short ebook on last year's Florida Community Planning Act).
Last year's CPA booted 25 years of land reform laws out the window. Many are already crediting Tallahassee legislative housecleaning with an increase in state real estate development and land investment. Things are looking better now, we're getting to be cautiously optimistic about Florida's future, and HB503 coattails on this statehouse activity by impacting things like water management districts in a good way.
Lots of people anticipate good things to come from HB503.
For example, the solid waste management industry is happy with HB503 because it will help them, doing things like uping from 10 to 20 years the terms of permit extension of solid waste management facilities with leachate collection systems. (Facilities without leachate collection systems also see their terms double, from 5 to 10 years.)
Everyone in the Florida House was happy with HB503, since in passed by unanimous vote back in February with Patrois explaining that the new law is just "common sense." Democrats and Republicans both thought HB503 was a smart move.
Environmentalists dropped their opposition to the bill after HB503 was amended to address their concerns.
The news media reports that HB503 acts to effectively clean up the environmental permitting process, doing several things like stopping local government honchos from forcing developers to have some sort of state permit before they can get a local development permit. (Big help for real estate development here in Florida.)
HB503 also is being reported as gutting the need for approval from a government agency before building small stormwater projects. Good for development, again.
The bill is also getting news coverage for its establishing new, longer deadlines for some kinds of environmental resource permits. Again, nice for development efficiency.
Of course, not everyone is happy about HB503: Environmental Activists Ask Governor Scott to Veto HB503
Right now, there is an online petition that seeks support for Governor Rick Scott to veto HB503 because they are arguing that the new law acting together with SB716 would kill the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve Act and they are concerned that the movement of raw sewage from Miami Beach to the Viriginia Key Waste Water Treatment Plant will harm Biscayne Bay and its beaches.


Hillsboro Canal to get cleanup
Sun Sentinel
April 5, 2012
The Hillsboro Canal is usually a shady expanse of rippling water interrupted only by an occasional diving bird or jumping fish.
But the waterway separating Broward County from Palm Beach County is about to become an ant hill of activity.
The South Florida Water Management District has announced that for the first time since it was built more than 50 years ago, a 7.6-mile stretch of the canal will be revamped – cleared of brush and obtrusive trees and dredged. Then the newly cleared banks of the canal will be re-sodded.
The work will take place from Military Trail on the east to three miles west of U.S. Highway 441.
"We have 2,000 miles of canals in the water management district, and they are put on a schedule," said Randy Smith, district spokesman. "Quite frankly, we look at the worst ones first, and this is one of the worst."
The Water Management District is a regional governmental agency charged with the health and well-being of water resources in the southern half of Florida.
Roughly translated, that means the district is responsible for improving water quality, natural systems, water supply and flood control.
It is the latter task that is the concern in the Hillsboro Canal.
"In order to ensure flood protection for the surrounding area, the district has begun a multi-year effort to ensure … the canal … can effectively move water as designed for another five decades," said Rod A. Braun, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Programs.
According to District 4 Commissioner Bill Ganz, the project will involve studying the canal "from the ocean to the Everglades, eliminating hazardous trees and adjusting the right-of-way [and] clearing the canal bank so the dredging and the equipment for the project can access the canal."
The project affects landowners.
"Deer Creek Country Club will have to relocate two holes [on the golf course], and they will look at trees on a case-by-case basis," he said. "They will play the Lorax out there and stand behind each one asking, 'What about this one? What about this one? What about this one?' "
Marty Martinez, general manager of Deer Creek Golf Club, confirmed the changes. "A couple of tees are being moved slightly – lowered 2 feet and moved over 10 feet on both Number 6 and Number 3," he said of the work slated for June, July and August of 2013. "People aren't going to notice for the most part."
Residents at a recent meeting expressed concern about rodents displaced by the deforestation. Smith said those residents need to consider the bigger picture.
"If we left the trees there and had a hurricane and trees fell into the canal, there would be an extensive flooding problem. That's the bottom line," he said. "It is a definite threat to human safety if we leave potential debris along the sides of the canals."
A Water District analysis shows that of 59 docks on the stretch in question, 41 have permits and 30 have up-to-date transfer of owners' permits. That means some of the docks will be removed, along with encroachments like sheds and trees.




John Ogden, prominent Everglades scientist, dies at 73
The Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
April 5, 2012
John Ogden, an eminent authority on the Everglades and influential architect of the plan to restore it, died at his Homestead home on Saturday after a brief illness. He was 73.
As an ornithologist for Everglades National Park and the National Audubon Society in the 1960s and ‘70s, Mr. Ogden spent decades crawling through muck and mangroves to become one of the world’s leading authorities on wading birds — at the same time gaining a deep understanding of the complex life cycles of the Everglades.
Later, as lead scientist for the South Florida Water Management District, he would play a crucial role in driving and shaping the multibillion-dollar restoration effort.
He was the soft-spoken but steadfast voice persuading engineers, bureaucrats and politicians that simply pumping more water wouldn’t help reverse the decline of birds and wildlife that were the best barometers of Everglades health. That water had to be delivered at the right time and place, in the right amount.
Nat Reed, vice chairman of the Everglades Foundation and long-time champion of restoration, believes Mr. Ogden’s battles to protect the Everglades, often waged behind the scenes, place him in lofty company.
“John is as great a figure as Art Marshall and Marjory Stoneman Douglas yet he’s basically unknown to thousands of citizens who really care about Everglades restoration,” said Reed.
Mr. Ogden, whose graying beard, wry wit and signature uniform of Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans reflected his laid back demeanor, might feel uncomfortable on any icon pedestal. But he shared an unflagging passion for the Everglades, devoting more than 40 years of his life to reversing decades of abuse and mismanagement. His stances sometimes ruffled the feathers of bosses and powerful interests.
“Dad had almost a biblical belief in the power of science to help us make decisions,” said his daughter Laura Ogden, an assistant professor of anthropology at Florida International University. “He really pushed that in the face of incredibly daunting opposition.’’
Mr. Ogden, born in Nashville on Nov. 18, 1938, was drawn to the outdoors at an early age, his daughter said.
His mother, a nature lover herself, gave him a bird guide when he was home sick from school. As family history goes, he was flipping pages when he looked outside to see the exact bird in a photo he’d settled on — a thrill he never stopped pursuing.
He came to work at Everglades National Park in 1965 as a graduate student from Florida State University. His first foray — a bird survey in mangroves near Flamingo recently raked by Hurricane Betsy — didn’t go well. He struggled through a steamy, mosquito-infested thicket, emerging with a wicked rash from a brush with poisonwood.
But he had found his calling, spending the next four decades in positions of increasing influence with Audubon, the park and water district. Audubon hired him back in 2007 as director of bird conservation.
“He made the science make sense to people,’’ said Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida’s executive director. “You had to stop and listen to him.’’
Mr. Ogden literally wrote the book on restoring the River of Grass, co-editing a massive 1994 volume compiled by dozens of scientists, along with more than 85 other academic papers. In the 1980s, he spent five years with Audubon in California leading a program credited with helping bring the California condor back from the brink of extinction.
Nick Aumen, an aquatic ecologist at Everglades National Park, said Mr. Ogden served as mentor, inspiration and counselor to numerous colleagues, his stature putting him a select group that other scientists respectfully dubbed “the silverbacks’’ or “gray beards.”
Laura Ogden said her father’s studies — and a childhood spent slogging through the Glades or tending to baby crocs in the bath tub — influenced her own work as well, including her two books, “Gladesmen” and “Swamplife” which focus on the cultural history of the Everglades.
“My father was a fierce champion of my work and who I am as a scholar has always been tied to who I am as a daughter,” she said.
In addition to his daughter, Ogden is survived by his wife, Maryanne Biggar; son, Nicholas, and brother, David. The family plans a memorial at a later date.
Mr. Ogden’s boyhood fascination for birds remained until the end. Mr. Ogden, binoculars at his bedside, kept a list of species he spotted through his window at South Miami Hospital, said Roger Hammer, a retired Miami-Dade parks naturalist and longtime friend. It topped 40 species, including a peregrine falcon and a nesting pair of swallowtail kites.
“These bird watchers, you just can’t keep them down,’’ Hammer said.


Nutrients are being reduced in St. Johns River
Florida Times Union – Lead Letter
April 5, 2012
Florida Department of Environmental Protection realizes that the future of our state’s environment and economy depend on the health of our water bodies.
This is why a top priority for DEP is “getting Florida’s water right” in terms of both water quality and water supply.
In Northeast Florida, a major component of “getting the water right” is protecting the health of the St. Johns River by improving water quality.
Thanks to collaborative restoration efforts between local governments and other stakeholders, we’re seeing improvements in the river. In 2008, DEP implemented a series of five-year plans that established a road map to improve the health of the Lower St. Johns River and its tributaries.
These plans were designed to remove nearly 6 million pounds of nutrients per year from the river and dramatically reduce the level of bacteria in the river’s tributaries.
Last month, the stakeholder group met to celebrate the progress we’re already seeing, with reduced nutrient loads in the main stem of the river.
Our partners deserve to be commended for their efforts to improve water quality.
By updating infrastructure and implementing best management practices, local utilities and municipalities have directly contributed to a 63 percent reduction in nitrogen and a 79 percent reduction in phosphorous.
This progress is the result of actions by the Town of Orange Park, the City of Atlantic Beach, Clay County Utility Authority and JEA.
The U.S. Navy, the City of Green Cove Springs and Palatka have also contributed by implementing reuse projects that will reduce discharges of both nitrogen and phosphorous.
Recent scientific data show a significant downward trend in nutrients being directly discharged into the river and in total nitrogen levels in the river.
We are very encouraged by this progress, which shows that we are on the right path toward improving water quality and restoring the health of the St. Johns River.
However, we also know that much more work still needs to be done. We have additional projects planned to further reduce nutrients from both direct and nondirect sources this year.
These important projects will continue to achieve further reductions and move us closer to our goal of achieving the overall nutrient limits for this area.
We know that the public is passionate, engaged and invested in the long-term restoration and protection of the St. Johns River, and we appreciate your support and enthusiasm.
DEP and our restoration partners have taken important steps to restore our river, and we will continue to actively work with our stakeholders and our community to get the job done.
Greg Strong, director - Department of Environmental Protection’s Northeast District



Kevin RUANE,
Sanibel Mayor at the
swearing in ceremony

Water Quality campaign goes into overdrive
Sanibel-Captiva Islander – by Jim Linette, Reporter, Captiva Current
April 5, 2012
Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane was reelected to serve a second term as mayor and Vice Mayor Mick Denham likewise will serve another term in his role on the City Council.
The five-member City Council votes once a year in April to elect one of their own to take on the expanded duties as Mayor and Vice Mayor. Ruane and Denham took new Oaths of Office at the start of Tuesday's City Council meeting at City Hall before conducting other business.
The blockbuster announcement of the meeting was posed by Denham through his water quality campaign discussion.
"We must continue to fight for clean water," Denham said. "All 50 communities now have fertilizer ordinances, but we must go on the offense."
Denham proposes a two-pronged program through legislative channels and an education strategy.
"We have to control all harmful discharges by gaining the authority for local city and county governments to regulate it on a regional basis," said Denham. "We have to show the public that there are alternatives for fertilizing their lawns."
Denham wants to earn regional support for a state bill to take to the next Florida Legislature session.
The idea has roots in fertilizer legislation in recent years as well as the South Florida Water Management District's recent decision to stop all freshwater flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River Estuary. SFWMD's decision leads to toxic algae blooms and fish kills in addition to the excessive levels of fertilizer nutrients dumped into our waterways through rainwater runoff.
Denham's details earned preliminary approval of all councilmen as well as several residents who expressed an opinion to the dais.
It is an ambitious undertaking given the fact Denham wants to have appropriate language drafted for the bill by the next council meeting on May 1. With council's backing, he will take it to regional governmental bodies to win their support and line up state bill sponsorship.
"I want this to be a regional thing, not just for Sanibel," Denham said. "The intent is not to make it statewide, but when other regions see and like the idea it surely will spread."
Two proposed trail extensions came before council for approval Tuesday and both the Community Park path at Frannie's Preserve and the Pond Apple Park connection to the Shipley Trail projects will move forward.
The Community Park path is a half-mile long project at a cost of $5,800. Most of the cost, according to James Evans of the Natural Resources Department, is to construct an information booth and put up signage along the path.
The Pond Apple Park project carries a heftier price tag of $200,000. Boardwalk stretches necessary through wetlands areas helps raise the cost of construction. SCCF, however, has stepped up to share the cost 50-50 with the city, confirmed by SCCF Natural Resource Director Rae Ann Wessel before council. The city also has applied for grants to help cover the cost.
"We can't count on the grants," said Ruane. "We will have to put it in our budget, and more likely send it through two budget cycles."
The city has been offered the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land along Tarpon Bay Road between Sanibel Captiva Road and a vacant former restaurant building that adjoins SCCF Sanibel Gardens preserve property.
Ruane said city staff will be asked to do its "due diligence" to evaluate and assess the property with regard to development or added to the preservation area before "spending taxpayer dollars" in a tight economy.
Council made several appointments Tuesday, including that of John Talmage to the Sanibel Planning Commission. Talmage will fill the unexpired term (until January 2014) of Paul Reynolds, who submitted a letter of resignation which the council also approved. Talmage won the appointment by a 3-2 vote of the councilmembers over two other candidates.
With the retirement last month of Public Works Director Gates Castle, council had to appoint a replacement for his unexpired term on the General Employees' Retirement Plan Board of Trustees. Members ratified City Manager Judy Zimomra's appointment of Harold Law to that board seat.
Council proposed to expand the Financial Assistance Committee by adding two members, bringing the total on the committee to seven. Nancy Bender and Richard McCurry were appointed by council to serve on the Financial Assistance Committee. In addition, Ann Talcott resigned from the Vegetation Committee and Denny Jones stepped down from the Parks & Recreation Committee.
The paving of Nerita Street will move forward since council approved a resolution for the creation of a special assessment to residents to fund the public improvement of the dusty conditions of the unpaved roadway. The project first came to light in the mid-1990s. It was brought up and stalled several times since. The City of Sanibel will pay one-third the cost of the project with the residents being assessed for the remainder.
Residents along the road have spoken out both for and against the paving many times and did so again before council Tuesday. In the end, council approved the project to go forward.


CLICK for ruling

Judge wants EPA to do more work on water rule
April 4 2012
EPA has 120 days to comply.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -  A judge wants more information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before determining if Florida's impaired waters rule complies with federal law.
Chief U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers gave EPA 120 days to comply with the order she issued Friday in Tallahassee.
Linda Young of the Clean Water Network of Florida on Tuesday said it could result in cleaner water for Florida.
But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Drew Bartlett said it simply means EPA must do more "homework." He said Rodgers did not find Florida's rule was flawed.
Rodgers wrote that EPA failed to follow a methodology ordered by a federal appellate court in Atlanta for determining if the state misclassified some polluted waters as being clean.
An EPA spokeswoman said the ruling is under review.


Putnam says tea party lacks good information in opposing energy bill
The Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
April 4, 2012
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday farmers are paying plenty for Everglades cleanup and that tea party opposition to his energy bill "is rooted in a lack of good information."
During the regular session ending March 9, the Legislature passed HB 7117 containing Putnam's recommendations for expanding renewable energy and providing energy diversity. The governor has until April 14 to sign the bill.
The bill would provide $16 million annually in renewable energy tax credits, exempt electric vehicle recharging stations from being regulated as utilities, require a study of forest resources available for energy production, and require a review of the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (FEECA).
Last week, the Tea Party Network of Florida called on Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill because it picks "winners" in the marketplace.
But Putnam said the tea party supporters "ought to be thrilled" because the bill would repeal a 2008 law requiring the Public Service Commission to recommend a renewable energy standard for utilities. The PSC recommended a renewable standard in 2009 but the Legislature did not approve it.
The bill, he said, also expressly allows the sale of gasoline without ethanol for boats and small engines. "That is certainly something that I think fits the philosophical concerns of my friends in the tea party," Putnam said.
Tax credits, Putnam said, are provided only after companies have demonstrated competitiveness and built renewable energy projects.
"It is not picking winners and losers," Putnam told reporters during an informal Q&A with reporters. "It is unwinding a mandate and creating an atmosphere that supports what I think Florida's natural competitive advantages are in this new job-creating sector."
He also questioned whether another group calling for a veto, the Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association, still has an actual membership. And he said by opposing the bill and supporting the tax credits, the group "wants to have its cake and eat it too."
Last week, the Everglades Foundation released a report showing that 76 percent of phosphorous pollution entering the Everglades comes from agricultural operations while that sector pays only 24 percent of the cost. The group says the study shows that those who are causing Everglades pollution are not paying for the cost of cleanup as required by a 1996 constitutional amendment.
In response, U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Crystals Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida issued a statement condemning the Everglades Foundation for producing a report "riddled with so many erroneous assumptions … that it serves no purpose except to throw mud on productive restoration efforts."
In a Sunday editorial, the Tampa Bay Times called on Scott to end "the sweet deal for agricultural interests" as part of a plan he is negotiating with federal agencies for Everglades restoration.
Putnam said Wednesday that courts have found that the agriculture "privilege" tax imposed on Everglades farmers meets the state constitution's requirements.
"The report I think has some inaccuracies in it," Putnam said. "I think that it fails to take into consideration the extraordinary expenses borne by farmers and ranchers above and beyond the privileges taxes they pay where they voluntarily upgraded equipment, made changes to production techniques (and) spent a lot of money on best management practices which have been a hugely important tool in reducing nutrient loads in the 'Glades."
During the meeting with reporters, Putnam said he wanted to talk about the threat of another bad wildfire season because of long-term dry weather conditions. Since Jan. 1 of this year, 1,200 wild fires have burned 20,000 acres, he said.


Judge Rodgers

Federal judge rules EPA must review state rule on polluted waterways
Naples Daily News - by Eric Staats
April 3, 2012
A federal judge is making new ripples in a long-running legal dispute over Florida's rules for putting water bodies on its list of cleanup targets.
Environmental groups say Florida uses the rule to avoid cleaning up polluted water bodies, but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the rule establishes scientific criteria to target the most polluted lakes and streams.
In a ruling Friday in Tallahassee, Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review whether new parts of the rule are incorrectly tossing water bodies off the list.
"The impact of this decision should be fairly sweeping," said Florida Clean Water Network director Linda Young.
Young and the Clean Water Network have been trying to overturn the Florida rule with three other lawsuits since 2002. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper also are plaintiffs in a 2009 lawsuit in which the judge ruled last week.
In the 2009 lawsuit against the EPA, the groups sought a determination that the state rule is a new water quality standard that requires EPA approval before it can go into effect. The EPA had found that the rule did not need its approval.
"We believe when they do the review, they'll have to reject (the rule)," Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine said.
The EPA says it is still reviewing the judge's ruling, but the DEP is standing by its rule, according to a statement on the ruling.
"Judge Rodgers' ruling does not question the validity of the DEP's Impaired Waters Rule, nor does it suggest that the DEP's rule is flawed," according to the statement.
In last week's ruling, Rodgers writes that there was not enough evidence in the record to determine whether the Florida rule needs federal approval and gave the EPA 120 days to review the effect of the rule.
If the EPA finds the state's new rule took water bodies off the list even though they are just as polluted as they were before, that amounts to the rule being a new water quality standard that needs federal approval, according to the test the ruling requires.
In her ruling, Rodgers wrote that the EPA "argues convincingly" against that test, calling it "impractical and even ill-advised."
Still, Rodgers wrote, she is constrained to apply the test because it was handed down in by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in an earlier lawsuit over Florida's rule. In the event of an appeal, Rodgers wrote, the 11th Circuit should clarify how it meant the test to be applied.
Young, with the Clean Water Network, said the decision on whether to appeal the ruling will be the Obama administration's first chance to weigh in on the Florida controversy created when the second President Bush was in office.
"Now we have a new administration," Young said. "Let's get back on track."


Palm Beach County balks at funding water-sharing reservoir with Broward County
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
April 3, 2012
$1 billion price, past reservoir problems create hurdles
Financial support could be drying up for a $1 billion reservoir proposed to boost drinking water supplies in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday closed the public checkbook to paying for planning or construction of a reservoir that would be built west of Royal Palm Beach and send water south.
The projected cost — $700 million to $1 billion — coupled with controversies that plagued past reservoir projects, leave Palm Beach County and other local governments leery of committing to the new 24-billion-gallon reservoir.
"I'm a very big skeptic of this," County Commissioner Karen Marcus said Tuesday. "I don't want to spend any money on this."
Yet even while refusing to pay, the County Commission agreed to keep working with the coalition of South Florida utilities pushing for a new water-sharing reservoir intended to boost strained regional water supplies.
Palm Beach County is "not closing the door" on future support for the reservoir, Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said.
"We don't know what might happen," Taylor said.
The proposed reservoir would save some of the stormwater now drained out to sea for flood control.
Existing canals would move that reservoir water south, directing as much as 185 million gallons a day to drinking water wellfields in southern Palm Beach County, Broward County and potentially to Miami-Dade County.
Water customers whose utilities use reservoir would be expected to help pay for the project.
"Southeast Florida needs a new source of water," said Bevin Beaudet, director of the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department. "The answer is storage. … Store that water and re-use it."
Fort Lauderdale, Plantation, Pompano Beach, Dania Beach, Boynton Beach, Margate, Broward County and Palm Beach County are among a coalition of utilities that have pledged initial support for building a reservoir and sharing the water.
More of the 53 water utilities in the Broward and Palm Beach counties must join in order to move the project forward, Beaudet said.
Past reservoir controversies add to the cost hurdles for the new project.
The new reservoir would be built at the Palm Beach Aggregates rock mining company, where the South Florida Water Management District already spent $217 million on a 15-billion-gallon reservoir that is full of water but doesn't have the $60 million pumps needed to deliver it.
In addition, the district invested nearly $280 million in a 62-billion-gallon reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County that the agency shelved after changing Everglades restoration plans.
More water conservation and restoring wetlands that can naturally replenish underground water supplies are better alternatives to building costly reservoirs, said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club.
"We can't afford it," Martin said. South Florida needs to "change our whole philosophy for how we use water," he said.
Reservoir backers are calling on the South Florida Water Management District to help pay for the reservoir and to play a bigger role in getting utilities to support the project.
Also, Florida Power and Light Co. has agreed to consider helping pay for the reservoir, which could provide water to operate power plants. FPL has a new power plant beside the proposed site of the reservoir west of Royal Palm Beach.


CLICK for judge's
decision / order:


Environmental group claims win in ongoing challenge to state 'impaired' waters rule
Florida Current – by Bruce Ritchie
April 2, 2012
A decade-long legal dispute over Florida's process of listing waterways that require cleanups has taken another yet another turn.
Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in Tallahassee last week ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review Florida's revised "impaired waters" rule to determine whether it has caused some waterways to be dropped from the state's cleanup list.
Environmental groups, who say the state is attempting to drop waterways from its list rather than clean them up, are claiming victory in the latest ruling. An attorney for industry groups that backed the state rule at issue said it was scientifically valid as upheld by a state hearing officer.
Environmental groups in 2001 challenged the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rule that established the process for listing "impaired waters" as required by the federal Clean Water Act.
The groups said DEP was seeking to avoid forcing industries to reduce pollution by removing waterways from the list. DEP said in a news release at the time that the goal was to identify and focus restoration efforts on waterways that are truly degraded.
The 11th Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals has stated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must determine whether water bodies will be removed from the cleanup list under the initial 2001 rule and subsequent revisions. Rodgers ruled last week that the EPA had not done so and gave the agency 120 days to take action.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman said the agency was reviewing the order. A DEP spokeswoman said the agency stands by its state rule, which she said was not questioned by the judge's ruling.
"In fact, the judge’s ruling upholds every technical aspect of those sections of the IWR (impaired waters rule) that EPA has reviewed and approved," spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said. "It simply directs EPA to expand or further document its evaluation and analysis of those sections of the rule that EPA has not reviewed."
The judge's ruling is a huge boost for environmentalists who now want the federal EPA to give up its appeals, said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida. She said the EPA should review the list to determine what water bodies were being dropped because of the rule changes, not because they had been restored.
"Honestly I'm so happy about this ruling," Young said. "The Obama administration has been so disappointing in so many ways. I'm hoping and praying this will not be another disappointment."
Other environmental groups that are plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit filed in 2009 are the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The court earlier denied requests by industry groups seeking to intervene on behalf of EPA.
DEP has reported that the number of miles of impaired waterways increased from about 1,000 miles in 2008 to about 1,900 miles in 2010, according to a federal EPA web site. Impaired acres of lakes increased from 350,000 acres in 2008 to 378,000 in 2010.
The case is separate from the dispute over proposed federal water quality rules that has raged during the past two years and led to HB 7051 (Rules Establishing Numeric Nutrient Criteria),


Florida HB503: Excitement grows over this new law as a good thing for Florida real estate development - by Rosa Eckstein Schechter
April 2, 2012
While everyone waits for Florida Governor Rick Scott to sign HB503 into law, and it's expected that Scott will do so - no veto here - Florida real estate developers and those who work with land development are becoming more and more excited about this new law. (See our last post for full coverage of the bill itself, including the Florida Legislature's Bill Summary.)
What's the big deal about HB503 ?
Originating with Panama City Representative in the Florida House Jimmy Patronis, HB503 does a fruit basket turnover of Florida's environmental permitting laws. For some, this bill is just one more example of the current Tallahassee trend of overhauling state regulations and throwing a lot of longstanding laws out (for more on that, check out my short ebook on last year's Florida Community Planning Act).
Last year's CPA booted 25 years of land reform laws out the window. Many are already crediting Tallahassee legislative housecleaning with an increase in state real estate development and land investment. Things are looking better now, we're getting to be cautiously optimistic about Florida's future, and HB503 coattails on this statehouse activity by impacting things like water management districts in a good way.
Lots of people anticipate good things to come from HB503.
For example, the solid waste management industry is happy with HB503 because it will help them, doing things like uping from 10 to 20 years the terms of permit extension of solid waste management facilities with leachate collection systems. (Facilities without leachate collection systems also see their terms double, from 5 to 10 years.)
Everyone in the Florida House was happy with HB503, since in passed by unanimous vote back in February with Patrois explaining that the new law is just "common sense." Democrats and Republicans both thought HB503 was a smart move.
Environmentalists dropped their opposition to the bill after HB503 was amended to address their concerns.
The news media reports that HB503 acts to effectively clean up the environmental permitting process, doing several things like stopping local government honchos from forcing developers to have some sort of state permit before they can get a local development permit. (Big help for real estate development here in Florida.)
HB503 also is being reported as gutting the need for approval from a government agency before building small stormwater projects. Good for development, again.
The bill is also getting news coverage for its establishing new, longer deadlines for some kinds of environmental resource permits. Again, nice for development efficiency.
Of course, not everyone is happy about HB503: Environmental Activists Ask Governor Scott to Veto HB503
Right now, there is an online petition that seeks support for Governor Rick Scott to veto HB503 because they are arguing that the new law acting together with SB716 would kill the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve Act and they are concerned that the movement of raw sewage from Miami Beach to the Viriginia Key Waste Water Treatment Plant will harm Biscayne Bay and its beaches.
Don't count on Governor Scott to veto HB503.




Tax break will help Stronach cattle operation in Fort McCoy - by Fred Hiers, Staff writer
April 2, 2012
A little-publicized tax exemption approved by Florida lawmakers last month will benefit the proposed Marion County cattle ranch and meat processing plant called Adena Ranch.
At issue is a tax exemption for the purchase of electricity. It originally was designed just for farmers who grow and package fruits and vegetables. It was expanded to include meat processing and packaging operations.
The change brings Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach's future cattle and meat packing operation under the tax exemption umbrella.
Previously, the businesses in question paid 7 percent sales tax on the electricity they bought. The Florida House of Representatives' version didn't include provisions for meatpacking facilities; that language was added later.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a co-sponsor of the modified House bill, said the expansion doesn't negatively affect Florida's tax revenue because the operation hasn't yet been built.
"We're not doing away with present revenue," Baxley said during a telephone interview.
He said his support of the tax exemption didn't target Adena specifically, but he is glad it will help the operation. The meat processing plant also will include a biomass plant that is expected to generate additional electricity for the operation.
Baxley said the tax exemption helps Florida's economy and cattle operations because it encourages environmentally friendly businesses, keeps cattle in Florida rather than shipping them out of state to fatten and process, and generates local jobs.
And since Adena Ranch will raise grass-fed beef rather than corn-fed, Baxley said the operation — and the tax break — encourages healthier food production.
The cattle and meat processing operation will generate as many as 150 jobs. The operation will be based in Fort McCoy on some of the tens of thousands of acres Stronach has purchased in recent times.
Not everyone is so excited about the operation, though. The newly formed Silver Springs Alliance will hold a public meeting today to discuss Adena's request with the St. Johns River Water Management District to pump as much as 13.27 million gallons daily to irrigate 10,000 acres.
Jimmy Gooding, Stronach's lawyer, sent Marion County commissioners a letter in February saying he wanted to dispel "rumors and misinformation" about his client's water application.


Farmers should pay more for Glades cleanup
Tampa Bay Times
April 1, 2012
Taxpayers from Miami to Maui are spending billions of dollars to restore the Florida Everglades, a vibrant ecosystem critical to the nation's economy. But a report released last week by a leading environmental group shows that while farmers in South Florida are responsible for three-fourths of the pollution entering the Everglades basin, the agriculture industry pays only one-fourth of the cost for cleaning it up. The state and federal governments, which are splitting the cleanup bill, need to make the industry start paying its fair share.
The study commissioned by the Everglades Foundation found that 76 percent of all phosphorus pollution entering the basin ran off from agricultural operations such as ranches, nurseries and farms. Only 23 percent of the load came from urban sources, such as wastewater and runoff from homes. Yet farmers paid only 24 percent of the estimated $106 million per year it costs for cleanup operations; the balance was left to federal, state and local taxpayers, and in pass-through charges from industrial users.
This gross inequality is one reason the Everglades cleanup has dragged on for decades. Without a financial incentive, the agriculture industry will not act aggressively on its own to clean up the pollution flowing into the basin. It is eight times cheaper to keep fertilizer from entering the Everglades in the first place, the report found, than to come in later to clean up the water. But if farmers are not paying the bill, anyway, why would they better manage their operations on the front end?
The study highlights the urgent need for state lawmakers to implement the voters' will by fully implementing the 16-year-old "Polluter Pays" amendment. Florida voters overwhelmingly added the measure to the state Constitution in 1996 with the clear intent of forcing polluters to pay for the harm they cause. Despite nudging by the courts, the state has never acted to shift the cleanup costs back onto the industry. Failing to stand up to the deep pockets of the industry could undermine congressional support for maintaining federal involvement in the joint cleanup effort.
Florida will need the money if it seriously intends to resolve a long-standing court battle over how best and how quickly to improve water quality in the Everglades. Gov. Rick Scott is negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency over a long-term plan to restore an ecosystem that supplies one-third of Floridians with drinking water along with thousands of jobs in the tourism and fishing industries. The issue here is not taxation — residents across the country are already shouldering the bills — but ending the sweet deal for agricultural interests that cause most of the damage. The burden on the taxpayer is nowhere close to fair.



Interstate 4 a tough barrier for the Florida wildlife corridor expedition
WUSF - by Steve Newborn
April 1, 2012
As they thread their way north, members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition have come across one of their biggest barriers - Interstate 4. And if humans have a hard time crossing the busy highway -- what does that mean for wildlife?
Expedition members have paddled through the heart of the Everglades without seeing anyone else for days.
They've high-stepped through snake-and-alligator-infested swamps.
But perhaps the most dangerous barrier they've faced so far is man-made: Interstate 4.
This concrete ribbon stretching from Tampa to Daytona Beach is one of the biggest obstacles for wildlife migrating between south and north Florida - for instance, bears.
Daniel Smith, a biologist at the University of Central Florida, joins the group as they get a bear's perspective trying to cross the highway.
"We're five miles northeast of the State Road 44 interchange, going towards Daytona," says Smith. "And we're at the site where one of the large underpasses are going to be built to make Interstate 4 more permeable to black bears and other wildlife."
I-4 was one of the reasons the four travelers decided to walk, bike and kayak the length of the state. Several years ago, researchers - including current expedition member Joe Guthrie - tracked a black bear that roamed much of the central part of the state. He turned back at I-4 when he couldn't find a way across and doubled back to the south.
"The Florida Wildlife Corridor that you're doing right now - that is the major connection between south and north Florida and Georgia," Smith continues. "And so it's critical, as more development incurs - and chokes that off - we need our roadways that are obstructions to that corridor to be highly permeable - they need to be landscape-level connections. And so we need functional, multi-use crossings that allow all wildlife to pass through."
Smith says the money is already there to build a series of underpasses under Interstate 4. The plans were spurred by a study by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which was concerned about black bears trying to cross I-4 and getting into accidents with cars.
" The road will be widened from four lanes to six lanes, so the road itself will be wider, but we'll have three of these large underpasses in this section between DeLand and Daytona Beach, and the bridges will be landscaped with natural native vegetation, similar to what's in the habitat on adjacent sides of the road," Smith says, "and there will be fencing associated with the crossings as well to direct the animals toward them."
And with an average of 50,000 cars a day on this stretch of the highway, it's not an easy place to cross for humans, either. Expedition filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus says they found a spot where a bear appeared to break part of the fencing along the Interstate.
"We walk up to the edge and get ready to cross over the main highway, and we stay there and we wait and look and (makes car sounds) and it must've been three, four minutes before we could cross over," says Stoltzfus. "Of course, that's only half way - we're in the median. So I have to come back and get the camera, reset and eventually we get all the way across. So I can't imagine what it would be like if you were a bear or panther - I'm sure you would just give up or get killed - you know, you'd get hit."
Smith says there's only one other place along I-4 where a wildlife underpass is also being considered: near Lakeland, to connect the Green Swamp with the Peace River headwaters.
This section of highway in Volusia County is considered ideal for a wildlife corridor. It's girded on one side by the Tiger Bay State Forest; on the other side by an area set aside to protect a city water wellfield. Cathy Lowenstein with the state Department of Forestry was also on hand for the crossing.
"Our two forests are part of the corridor that connects this coastal strip of flatwoods that's very important to the statewide corridor over to the Ocala National Forest in the central part of Florida," she says. "So it's a very important linchpin here in Tiger Bay State Forest to corner over and go over toward Ocala National Forest, where the bear-roaming habitat can extend so much from the center of the state - where it's large - over to the coastal areas."
The group is hoping to raise awareness for more wildlife crossings under busy roads. In a couple of weeks, they'll get an up-close look at the next major man-made barrier they'll have to cross - Interstate 10.


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to enlarge :

Tamiami Trail 1928:
Construction workers
faced deep water,
poisonous snakes and
alligators as they worked
their way through the
On April 26, 1928,
Tamiami Trail officially
opened, linking Florida's
It was considered "the
greatest road built during
the 20th century."

The Tamiami Trail spans more than 274 miles
Naples Daily News - by LAURA LAYDEN
April 1, 2012
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Three
The road connecting Tampa and Miami linked the coasts while crossing seven counties.
The east met the west with the building of the Tamiami Trail.Opened up to traffic in Collier County on April 26, 1928, the long-anticipated highway was celebrated as the "greatest road built during the 20th century." Some have compared it to the building of the Panama Canal.
It was some feat — and one that looked like it might never happen until Barron Gift Collier came to town.
As early as 1895, Capt. J.F. Jaudon — one of Dade County's first tax assessors — dreamed of a highway linking the two coasts. He had large land holdings west of Miami in the Big Cypress and wanted to open them up to development.
In 1915, Jaudon worked with others to bring his dream to life in Tallahassee. The project began that year with various counties starting to build their sections, but it would be 13 years before the road was completed at an estimated cost of $8 million.
Some on the east coast fought the trail, saying, "You will destroy Miami. It will flood the whole city," wrote the late Maria Stone, a former Collier County school teacher.
The trail spans more than 274 miles and goes through seven counties. Seventy-six miles of the road are in Collier County. That was the longest and toughest stretch to build.
Lighthouse Project: Chapter Three
The road could have gone by another name. It was a natural squeeze of the words, Tampa and Miami, the cities it would connect at both ends, but some didn't like it.
"For a time, the spelling Tamyami was discussed, adding the 'y' for Fort Myers," wrote Ron Jamro, executive director of Collier County's museums, in his book, "Tamiami Trail: Florida's Modern Appian Way."
Back then, including Naples in the road's name wouldn't have made much sense because it was so tiny.
Construction on a section of the road south of Naples began in 1916, then later stalled after the state ran out of money. That's when Barron Collier stepped in, and the stop-and-go project got started again in 1923.
Collier wasted no time putting together an army of engineers and road builders in Everglades City — the county seat. He backed a $350,000 loan to get the project started and put his own construction company in charge of it.
Clearing crews hacked their way through trees and dense brush, driving in stakes every 100 feet to mark the center of the road. They had to lay iron rails to support a massive drilling machine. Later came the blasting crews and the dredges.
An estimated 3 million sticks of dynamite were used for the road-building project. By 1927, Florida had become the third largest consumer of dynamite in the country, Jamro wrote.
Some question whether such a project could be built today because of the damage it did to the environment.
Road workers slogged through water waist deep, battling alligators and rattlesnakes 7 feet long as they made their way through the heart of the Everglades. They worked in the sweltering sun and had to deal with raging wildfires and hurricanes.
Everglades City toasts Tamiami Trail
"The mosquitoes swarmed in black clouds day and night," Stone wrote in an introduction to her collection of stories about the Tamiami Trail. "It was reported that panthers attacked the camp from time to time, drawn by the odor of fresh meat."
Walking and floating dredges dug drainage canals for the road. What came out of the canals was used to build up the roadbed. Dredges ran in 10-hour shifts and there were two shifts a day. One of the dredges can be found at the Collier Seminole State Park.
Workers who stood for too long in the water got foot rot.
"We would get what we called 'muck poison' in our feet," recalled the late Meece Ellis, who operated one of the dredges, in Stone's book. "Our shoes would get full of water and sand would get in there, too, and we were walking around irritating our feet, especially the boys that worked on the dynamite crew."
It took about two weeks to kill the poison after getting medicine from the clinic, he said.
Ellis recalled a few accidents with dynamite and remembered only one death when a man fell off the dredge and "split his head wide open." In his book about the Tamiami Trail, Jamro wrote nobody died on the project.
Tamiami Trail marks 80th anniversary
When the project got underway, workers weren't easy to get or keep. At the time, Florida was experiencing a land boom and a surge in construction. Many of the road workers — who made 20 cents an hour — came from Alabama and Georgia. Indians worked on the project, too, and so did prisoners.
Later, when the land boom collapsed, men who had lost their jobs joined the road-building effort by the dozens.
An incentive program helped speed up construction from .7 to 1.1 miles a month, and the record was two miles built in a month, according to Jamro.
By 1926, Barron Collier had spent more than $1 million of his own fortune on the road and there were still 31 miles to go to reach the Dade line. The state soon came to his rescue, taking over the project in Collier County. Then-Gov. John W. Martin had campaigned on the promise to get it finished and he did.
For the grand opening, a motorcade of 500 cars made its way down from Tampa and behind them came the "Trail Blazers," who had pushed their Model T Fords through the wilderness along a treacherous 40-mile path to revive the project in 1923.
In Everglades City, there was a parade and a weeklong fair to celebrate the new road.
The cost of the Tamiami Trail was estimated at about $25,000 a mile. When it was completed, the Collier County News described the effort as valiant, saying: "The completion of the Tamiami Trail marks a new era in the progress of South Florida; opening a vast fertile section which is destined to become one of the most productive agriculturally in the whole United States."
The door — or road — was open to agriculture, tourism and development in Southwest Florida.
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Five: Sunniland the center of oil ...     (Naples Daily News)
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Five: Naples built literally ...    (Naples Daily News)
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Five: Hurricane Donna's legacy in ...   (Naples Daily News)
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Five: The Game Changers       (Naples Daily News)
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Six: If you build it they will come ...   (Naples Daily News)
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Six: Construction in SW Florida ...     (Naples Daily News)
Lighthouse Project - Chapter Six: Battle between development ...    (Naples Daily News)


Watering rules may be loosened for those using ‘smart’ irrigation
Plam Beach Daily News - by William Kelly, Staff Writer
April 1, 2012
Residents who water their lawns with so-called “smart” or advanced irrigation systems may soon be able to get a waiver from town-imposed watering rules during periods when there is no drought.
The town could not, however, grant the waiver during times when the South Florida Water Management District has imposed restrictions to conserve water during a drought.
Mayor Gail Coniglio and Town Manager Peter Elwell reached the understanding with the water district last week. Water district spokesman Gabe Margasak said it didn’t change its rules to accommodate the town, but clarified existing rules to allow for the waiver.
The town and Palm Beach Civic Association have been working to promote conservation by encouraging more residents to switch to advanced irrigation.
Advanced irrigation systems use conservation sprinkler nozzles and weather-based controllers that replace clock timers to regulate when and how much water is applied to each zone of a lawn.
Smart irrigation technology has slashed water consumption by 25 percent to 60 percent in a variety of communities throughout the United States, the civic association has said.
If used on a large scale, it could have a large impact on the town, where residents and businesses consume 2.5 billion gallons of water per year, roughly 80 percent of which goes for irrigation. The average Palm Beach single-family residence uses nearly 1,400 gallons per day, more than six times the Florida average.
Current restrictions
Currently, the district is allowing lawn watering one day a week. Odd-numbered addresses can irrigate from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesdays, and even-numbered addresses irrigate on Thursdays during the same hours.
But during non-drought periods, when the district removes its restrictions, irrigation in town is regulated by a local ordinance that allows watering three days a week.
Under the waiver system, residents who have advanced irrigation and register it with the town won’t be subject to that three-day watering limit, Elwell said.
How it saves water
Mike Brown, the civic association’s communications director, said the advanced systems save water by irrigating only when needed.
“If you can have these systems run based on weather, rather than a clock timer or the day of the week, that will be the most efficient way to save half of our water,” he said.
A town ordinance allowing the waiver will be reviewed by the water district and must be approved by the council before taking effect, Elwell said.
“This won’t take effect immediately,” he said. “But we want to move forward with it and have it as an incentive to provide relief to residents once we get into more normal weather patterns.”
Depending on the size of a property, the advanced controllers typically cost between $150 and $4,500 to install, Brown said. They are connected to a satellite or to a small weather station on the property.
It isn’t necessary to replace the entire irrigation system, provided it’s in good condition, Brown said.





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